So I was going to write a post about trapping Arctic Terns, which we’ve been busily doing for the past two weeks or so, but that ended when we started getting an influx of feathery fuzzballs, bursting out of eggs left and right.
Over the past few days I’ve taken more than my share of “faceys” (as my father would say..which, as I’m told, some people call selfies) with chicks of all types. This island is erupting, it’s avian population doubling or even tripling with these newly hatched, hungry little chicklings.
We started out with Savannah and Song sparrow fledglings bursting out of the grass with nary a tail not any kind of coordination. With them, we started to see spotted sandpiper parents squeal and make a ruckus to lead us away from their eggs which now turned into long-legged, fluff-butted, bobbing-tailed chicks with a long neck and beautiful, dainty eyeline. They pitter patter up and down our trails through the grass, using this dangerous highway for it’s the path of least resistance among the thick growth. We have to tread lightly, as we especially do in the tern colony. Nests are everywhere and they’re changing from spotted eggs to spotted chicks, except these spotted chicks don’t stay still. And there’s a lot of veg to hide in. We stick to the rocks, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a nest in the cracks where the grasses and sedum grow.
The eider chicks have been around for awhile, and we feel especially protective of them because the greater black-backed gull love to swallow fuzzy little ducklings whole. These magnificent gulls are the largest in the world, and they’ve got a big appetite. The other day we saw a gull nab one and all of the mothers in the group grabbed hold of the predator and dragged him half underwater before he let go of the baby and flew off, quite disheveled. The poor little guy had trouble keeping up with the rest of the mommas and young and his mother tried to urge him along but they fell far behind. The gull came back and made a pass at them but our eider chick protector extrordinare Johnathas and I yelled and clapped to fend him off. I think he was really deterred by the momma. We were losing hope for the chick who might have had a foot injury from the gull’s beak until suddenly, a big group of mommas left the other mommas and all the ducklings and swam out to join the pitiful duo. Who knows if this chick will be well enough to swim and dive for food, we can only hope for the best. Oh the wild world of nature, it doesn’t always provide a happy ending.
Today we were out on the south end of the island for gull and eider nest census and so of course we came across chicks along the way. The gulls are covered in a thick,
fuzzy, speckled down and, while we don’t particularly enjoy the fact that they eat all our other chick species, they’re pretty adorable as youngsters. We also did a razorbill productivity check and heard many “seeeeeeeing” babies
between the boulders. These special chicks are a known favorite, with their velvety gray down, dark on the body and lighter on the head. Using flashlights to find the eggs and chicks is always fun, as it is with the puffin prod checks, but these guys are new for me as we only had two burrows that were unsuccessful in 2005, whereas now we have 36 and counting.
Puffin-wise, we’ve head the babies and had glimpses, but they retreat further into their burrows where it’s hard to reach them. They’re the cutest black little fluffballs with silly little beaks, hardly even an echo of what sturdy, handsome, magnificent seabirds they’ll become.
Overall, we’ve been fawning over every little downy critter this island has to offer. It’s amazing to see what life this rich island has to produce. This is an ecosystem that offers food and a place to grow young for these birds that can’t necessarily find many other places, if any, to breed and successfully produce and raise young. By being here, we’re helping provide our less common seabirds a place to subsist, while keeping the gulls mostly at bay. It’s such a pleasure and an honor to be a steward to the existence and persistence of these glorious birds that are up against so much hardship in a world where man and nature have yet to come to terms.