Project Puffin video short!

*update: the video should work now!

So I’ll be keeping up with my Pining for the Field series now that I’m not in the field. It details my various bird jobs in locations including Puerto Rico and Canada. My upcoming post will be about my job working out west with burrowing owls in 2007.

But first..

I’ve been drawing on my multimedia skills, lately. Here’s a short video clip about Project Puffin. The photos and video are all mine except for the two clips labeled as explore.org video. It’s kind of like a teaser preview, short but sweet.

I’m fairly new to the video-editing world, but as they say, practice makes perfect, so get ready for more to come!

 

If you’ve not visited Project Puffin’s site yet, it’s a great resource for those of you I might’ve managed to get hooked on puffins. To learn a lot more about them, click below:

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And if you haven’t had a chance to check out my online store, here’s a link:

http://www.zazzle.com/feathersawryphotos

 

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Pining for the Field: Bay of Fundy

My first bird job out of college (after having two seasons of Project Puffin under my belt), I traveled north to New Brunswick, Canada to do warbler studies in and around Bay of Fundy National Park.

It was the summer of 2006.

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Female Black-throated Green Warbler

We were after Black-throated Green and Blackburnian Warblers, both little forest gems, songbirds that mainly spend their time high in the trees. Warblers are tiny little creatures and, despite their tropical-seeming plumage, not many among the non-birdwatching population can say they’ve actually had a good look at one. It’s not easy! These tiny birds don’t sit still. They’re primarily insectivores so they’re constantly shooting from branch to twig to leaf to pinecone in an endless search for that next protein-rich morsel. Doesn’t make for easy viewing.

I remember on one of my first birdwalks, holding a small pair of binoculars in my seven-year old hands and trying to get a hold on one of these darn birds, trying to keep even just one in my field of view as they’re darting among the treetops. I recall streaks of vibrant yellow, green and black on that early morning at Meadowside Nature Center, in the peak of spring migration when all the birds are extra frantic to eat – they’d had a long trip north and were hungry!

The study, which we carried out under researcher/biologist Brad Zitske and University of New Brunswick was to determine negative effects of habitat loss on these two species of

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Teeny color bands for teeny warbler legs

warblers by resighting male birds that had been banded within their nesting territory the previous year. Since these territorial birds come back to the same nesting location to breed each season, the birds that he’d captured (using mist nets) and banded with color-coded plastic bands in previous years, we could identify based on the color combination unique to that individual. The determining factor for survival of these birds over their territory depended on the amount of appropriate habitat available (the best being a mature forest of a mixed species matrix). And, in an area that is largely harvested for timber, birds are at significant risk of losing the habitat they depend on to survive and successfully procreate.

To determine the presence or absence of a bird on its territory depended on driving deep into the logging lands, down empty dirt roads to random-seeming locations until our maps, compass and GPS told us where to go. It was a cross-country effort, diving (on foot) purposefully into the woods, attempting to find that banding location (usually) marked with a piece of flagging tape tied to to a tree.

Armed with my binoculars, a tape player and a full-on rain suit to combat the clouds of mosquitoes,

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Black-throated Green, ready for a fight.

black flies, noseeums, horseflies and deerflies, I strode out into the forest with my directional tools until I found the next flag marker. That meant that I was in one of our previously-banded bird’s territories. There I’d throw in the species-appropriate tape and turn the volume up high, with either a Green or Blackburnian song blasting out of the player. Binoculars in ready position, I’d wait for what I hoped would be an irate male warbler wondering what the heck another warbler was doing singing in it’s territory and arriving with a vengeance, dukes at the ready.

When a bird comes in, binox go up and then there’s the fun of trying to identify the combination of four micro, colored bands resting on the toothpick ankles of these miniscule birds. So four different colors, say, red over yellow and blue over green. Was that left foot, right or the other way around? An irate warbler dancing around on the branches looking for his invisible arch enemy makes attempting to determine the color combination much less the specific leg each band is on is quite the feat! I might have cursed a warbler or two that summer..

What was sad was the nest site I was directed to to resight some nesting birds that, when I arrived to the GPS location, was no longer a forest. Just a ravaged, treeless hillside. Brad was comparing between birds nesting within the protections offered by the park (i.e., these birds won’t come back in the spring to discover their home non-existant) with those outside the park including logging lands. That’d be a bitch, wouldn’t it? You fly hundreds of miles south, leaving your nesting grounds behind for the winter and then turn around and fly hundreds of miles back north for the spring only to discover your home territory completely trashed. Then there’s the whole process of fighting your way into a new territory, hopefully adequate enough to win the hand of a mate.

Sometimes my forays into the forest could get quite exciting. I had the grand pleasure of a close encounter with a Northern Goshawk. I’d been alerted by a co-worker that there was a nest in the vicinity where I was working so I went out of my way to find it, seeing as how I’d never seen one of these imposing birds. They’re actually known for being highly protective while nesting and I stayed a respectful distance. When I lifted my binoculars to see her among that jumble of sticks that was her  nest, my heart swelled. I was dazzled by those eyes! So intense and calculating. I was completely caught by her spell and didn’t really notice that she was flying straight for me, filling my binoculars field of view with feathers, talons and hatred. It wasn’t until the last possible second that I completely just hit the forest floor and watched her purposeful figure shoot right across where my head had just been. I got out of there ASAP.

Another time I was somewhere out in the middle of the forest, playing some Blackburnian to the trees when I heard a distant thunder. I sat wondering what it really might’ve been when the answer came hurtling out of the trees: an enormous cow moose tore past, hooves pounding the ground, completely concentrating on getting herself the hell outta there. She was only a stone’s throw away and I could feel the ground thundering as she flew by. As I watched the dust settle, I couldn’t help but look in the direction she’d come, fearing the worst. I got out of there ASAP.

If you ever want to see a moose, go to New Brunswick. We saw them pretty darn often, both in and around the national park. One time we came across a pair of teenagers who

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Moose dressed up as Snowshoe Hare

were walking along one of the dirt roads we were following to our next resighting spot. Instead of peeling off the road, they both decided to start trotting in front of us as we followed. Picking up speed, my comrade in arms (aka. the driver) wanted to see what would happen. Well, one gave up and turned off while the other just didn’t seem to understand how easy it would be to just sidestep us by turning into the woods so he starts booking it down the road, picking up dust with his pounding hooves, running like a rabbit: front legs between hind legs style. Moose can run fast.

Another day, quite early in the morning and mist was rising off the ground, we happened across a huge bull with a full-on tree for a rack. In the early dawn, his huge form came out of the mist and, all around him, were ravaged trees and huge stumps. He looked very sad.

Another part of our job over the summer included helping with a  mist-netting operation in the National Park. We set up various nets in the forest and fields and checked them on a rotation over the course of the morning, catching other kinds of warblers (there are many) and all sorts of other species of songbird. They fly into the nets and we gently untangle them and put a BBL on (a USFWS-issued metal band with a unique, identifying number), weigh the little bugger, take some body measurements, determine sex and, if possible, age based on plumage. We can also check for a broodpatch, in which the bird (namely the female, sometimes the male) loses feathers to leave a bare patch of skin on its belly. This is so that they can sit on the egg or chick and provide warm skin-on-skin (or shell) contact.

Seeing these little jewels up close is a thrilling occurrence, as well as sobering. Such a tiny little spurt of life is up against so much in it’s life: the perils of the elements, predators and their entire existence is based around the need for healthy, suitable habitat to nest, migrate and spend the winter, spanning across home ranges that don’t consider state or country boundaries or whether a forest is designated to be clear cut or not.

 

 

 

 

 

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Why not sell out? Puffin style..

So now that I have a whole pile of puffin pictures from my work with these birds this summer as well as in 2003 and 2005, I figure, why not try and see if any of these suckers will sell? I figure, now with the holidays coming, who wouldn’t want a puffin magnet or a set of puffin-themed greeting cards?

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These are the very puffins I’ve had the pleasure of working with on Project Puffin’s Seal Island National Wildlife Refuge. These charismatic little seabirds now nest on islands off the coast of Maine in robust populations thanks to director Steve Kress and reintroduction efforts of his 40+ year effort under the umbrella of Audubon Society.

Feel free to have a browse! And keep checking in, because I’ll be adding photos and new gift ideas regularly. Also, if you see any photos on this site you’d like to see as a card or mousepad, just let me know and I’ll be sure to see what I can do.

Thanks for stopping by!

~stacebird

 

 

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Pining for the Field: Puerto Rico

So while I’m back to reality, much removed from the hidden world of birds, I’ll take a look back at other field jobs I’ve taken part in over the years. We’ll harken back to 2006 when I travelled to Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge to study Smooth-billed Anis..

I remember flying into the airport and the air was heavy, further weighing down my backpack which was filled to bursting with everything I’d need for the next several months working in the field.

Dr. Jim Quinn of McMaster University, renowned for his long-term work studying
smooth-billed anis in Puerto Rico, picked up my new acquaintance and fieldmate Eric and I. Jim drove us across the island, over the lush mountains, dripping vibrant green to puertofreako-043-2the southwest corner of the island. In stark contrast, this section of the island lies within the subtropical dry forest belt and looks like the African savannah dotted with acacia and mesquite trees. More than 200 years of overgrazing has led to much of the land becoming overrun with invasive species including the dreaded, leg-ensnaring buffel grass and guinea grasses that grow taller than I could ever hope to be. But through habitat management, this refuge is providing a protected ecosystem for local wildlife, wintering migrants and endemic species including the yellow-shouldered blackbird. The refuge is even specially designated as Critical Habitat for this particular endangered bird.

But the bird we were concerned with was one that wasn’t in any kind of critical condition puertofreako-033as far as population goes, as Smooth-billed Anis do well in and around areas of cultivation and are common in the tropics of Central and South America. But these feisty characters are worthwhile for study thanks to a barrage of fascinating attributes.

Anis are a communal species that lives in groups of around seventeen birds or so. On the refuge, we had more than ten different territories marked out that we determined by tracking birds we’d captured previously and fitted with radio-transmitters, one per territorial group. This way we could easily locate and observe the individual groups and it helped us find their nests which were monitored throughout the season.

What’s particularly unique about these birds is that each territory will communally build a puertofreako-006nest of sticks high in the trees and subsequently, every egg-laying female in that group will add each of her ovo-contributions to that sole nest. With their joined forces, a smooth billed ani nest has been known to boast up to 36 eggs. I recall climbing up the rickety 20ft ladder that swayed along with the branches and peering into a nest to discover a multitude of white eggs, each about the size of a half dollar coin.

Over monitoring the course of laying, we saw some eggs develop robin-egg blue scratches indicating at attempts to exude the egg from the nest. While the benefits of social living remain preferable – working together, looking out for each other – there still remains an instinctive desire within the females to pass on their own genes. Competition has developed in which the ladies will kick out the egg (the more unsuccessful attempted expulsions of an egg become evident as more and more of its milky coating is scratched away) and then settles down to lay her own!

What’s more, these rascally females are even known for covering up a previously laid clutch by placing a layer of leaves over them and then adding her own to the new “empty” nest. There have been nests found to be as many as eight layers deep, but only the top uncovered layer can be properly incubated by parents to hatching.

Exerpt from Birds are Far From Boring:

These strategies of competition allows for a better guarantee that the female and her mate will pass on their genes in the formation of the next generation. This may seem in contradiction to the sociality of these birds, that living in a social group provides better protection than if the birds lived solitarily. Nevertheless, the benefit of single birds within the social group would be that they are less likely to be preyed upon and therefore live to reproduce and, once in the act of egg laying, will further the chances of passing on genes.

Despite the competition, the babes that make it through the egg stage of life start to hatch in profusion, as we delightedly climbed the ladder day after day only to discover another handful of squirmy, wrinkled, naked chicks that have newly emerged. We visited each nest regularly puertofreako-195to note hatch date and start to measure growth.  Part of the study that we were participating in included taking blood samples of the chicks which could be matched to DNA samples gathered from the eggs, thus giving information on individual female productivity success using genetic markers in an examination of the complex mating system and reproductive tactics of these birds. While there is definitely a system of hierarchy going on, there’s still more to be learned.

While watching these birds over the course of the breeding season, between September and the end of November, we became familiar with the different groups, where they liked puertofreako-055to hang out, what were the best feeding patches where the lizards and insects skittered around in the grass, what trees they liked to roost in for the night. We spent a good deal of effort determining this because, by finding their roost tree, we could attempt to trap these wily birds so that we could place colored leg bands on for easy identification in the field. It was not an simple task. It meant that you had to follow the group for the entire evening, without disrupting them, as they decide upon a roost and then you must wait until they are seemingly settled in for the night before creeping silently away. Long before dawn, we’d slink back out as a group, netting and puertofreako-007banding equipment in hand. To capture these birds by this method, a lot of guesswork is involved as to where to set up the extend-a-pole nets that we situated in front of the tree in hopes that was the direction they’d exit at sunrise. Using headlamps, we worked as quietly and quickly as possible to set up the twenty-some foot high nets and then retreated into the undergrowth to wait for the first glow of the rising orb.

So yes, we got skunked several times. But when they do come flying out in the direction you’d so fervently hoped and flop into the giant, baglike mist net, the action starts. We all have a job, one person at each pole as quick as possible (we come blasting out of the grass, let me tell you) so as to rapidly de-extend it and the net flops over itself before the wriggling birds can escape. Then there’s the one or two people designated to extract the bird from the pile of soft net it’s now under while the other begins the banding process. While our success rate made it hardly worth the hours we put in, it was fun! That is, until the great pigeon massacre where we watched the anis fly out the tree in the totally opposite direction from what we’d determined while handfuls of pigeons pouring out of the tree pelted our nets, leaving us a mess of confused non-target birds to detangle and set free.

Bycatch is inevitable and sometimes frustrating, but it give a chance to have some neat views of birds in the hand.

As the nesting season wore on, we noticed some intense interactions among these highly defensive territorial groups, particularly at the boundary edges where two groups meet. Sometimes it’d be violent individual scuffles or the whole colony would aggressively torment an intruding spy until it retreated. The birds were often protecting or attempting to expand their territory. We had one group that persistently snuck into another group’s nest to crack eggs and maul the chicks, perhaps trying to drive out the colony from some prime habitat. One day we witnessed an invasion of one entire colony into a next door territory and a great battle ensued. This is what I love about fieldwork: you become part of nature, watching it so closely day after day that you become a part of it and it feels natural and you find yourself at home. You see things that few people have ever witnessed and you’re learning constantly through observation.

There is such great drama in the lives of the Smooth-billed Ani and I quickly grew very attached to them and that beautiful little corner of Puerto Rico. If you ever get out to the island, please check out the refuge and be sure to say hi to my birds!

More bird job stories to come, stay tuned and thanks for reading!

 

 

 

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eBird: Gotta catch ’em all!

So while I may understand the rage surrounding this summer’s release of interactive app video game Pokemon Go, I think I found a version even more perfectly suited for someone –a.k.a. a bird dork – like myself: an online bird checklist database known as eBird.

Before:                                                                       After:

pokemon                                                   1T9A5219

 

Watching birds, or rather, being aware of all the ones that exist with my audio/visual realm at just about every second I’m in a conscious state, makes for a rich view of life and fla-march-2009-047one’s surroundings. While I walk, jog, drive, bike or daydream through life, I’m unconsciously noting in my head what birds I catch out of the corner of my eye, the sound of their call note or the shrouded flick of a wingbeat in the shrubs. While I enjoy writing about or photographing the birds I’ve seen, I’ve never been much one for making lists of what I’ve encountered. Some people are meticulous about recording new birds as they see them, keeping years and years of bird lists. While I do have journals with the overall amount of species I’ve encountered on various different adventures and travels, I don’t keep it all in one place, I don’t have the coveted “Life List”. I have no idea how many bird species I’ve seen in my lifetime.

Well, here is where this handy app, launched in 2012, comes in.

I’d heard of eBird and how avid birders, young and old, are putting it to good use, I only decided to finally give it a go this past September, my final month out on Project Puffin‘s tern and puffin island, Seal Island National Wildlife Refuge. Seeing as how I’ve been a birdwatcher for my entire life, why not start on an uninhabited island that I’ve gotten to frolic around on all summer, which just so happens to be covered by unexploded ordinances and is therefore closed to the public? Aside from us researchers, the only eBird checklists made for Seal Island are from those who’ve only boated around it. One of the perks of being a field biologist (until that gets me blown up).

Working on my very first list, it was immediately exciting because I got to sit out on our cabin porch, staring out over the island, watching random migrant songbirds moving ancient-checklistthrough. Even when you don’t see anything especially out of the ordinary, making a unique list for that day, that time, that location, those species is important. It’s your contribution, your mark, what you’ve gathered and just jotting it down won’t just mean it’ll get lost in a dusty drawer ages from now. Instead, the information you’ve retrieved will get instantly downloaded into a huge database through the esteemed Cornell Lab of Ornithology. And by opening up this ability to the wider birding public through the ease of an app on your phone, information can be uploaded constantly.

In addition to the influx of data, there is also the invaluable investment by individuals who are even entering backlogged data they’d been keeping before the advent of the ebird phenomenon. As long as you’ve got the date and time and place, entering this information can be added to historic trends that can be extrapolated including bird abundance and distribution at a variety of spatial and temporal scales.

So on the 10th of September 2016 on Seal Island NWR, I started my first contribution as an eBird citizen scientist. That morning we had three different empidonax flycatchers

landing on one of the ropes that batten down our composting outhouse. Red-breasted nuthatches “meep”ed as they skittered under that porch awning and pecked away at driftwood. We had few young yellow-crowned night herons that hung around for most of the second half of the season, making them seem more like neighbors than confused wayfaring strangers. Even the influx of juvenile purple finches that hung around camp for days was exciting to add to the list.

Now that we’re into October, I’ve already made a total of 21 checklists so far throughout Maine, Virginia, Maryland and Florida with a total of 117 different species observed. I’m calling it my official Life List. I don’t mind starting from scratch. It makes getting the next “life” bird all the more thrilling, even it’s not especially rare. And since I’m not officially working in the field now that the season is over, it makes me feel like I’m contributing to something worthwhile. We all are.

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So now I have lists and data that tell me all about the species I’ve seen over the course of this Fall season and, not only can I look back at my lists, photos or notes on my sightings, I can look at everyone’s accumulated data organized depending on the area or time of year. I can find out what certain birds are migrating through or if any rarities are being seen nearby. While it’s all still new and shiny for me, I can see this being an ingrained hobby to add to my already-ingrained hobby. I was in Florida a couple weeks ago and, during a solo jaunt through the woods looking for Fall migrants, I happened across a few eBirders more than twice my age (and with a life list probably many multiples larger than mine). It’s evident that I’m behind. Gotta catch up with the times..gotta catch ’em all!

 

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Southward migration

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What a whirlwind the end of the season has been! The birds are all packing in those fat reserves with the fall harvest of berries and seeds and the insects that buzz over fallen booty from the fruiting trees. From Seal Island I found myself ferried away, watching this solomnpuff.jpgdramatic island float off and become part of the horizon, a far off dreamland that was once all my own, I’m struck by how lucky I was to live there these past four months. And now, this natural playground that now truly returns to nature as the first brisk winds suggest the creeping tendrils of winter taking over land and water. Imagine those puffins, now somewhere out to sea, fishing and floating and passing along with the days that grow shorter with impending darkness of long, cold nights. That’s a lot for a little creature, so new to this world, to endure! More than I ever could.

In 2009, Project Puffin researchers attached geolocator tags that, when retrieved by recapturing the same puffin two years later, tell us where they go during the winter,

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Recaptured GeoPuff

revealing information never before known about these sea-roving birds. It so happened that a tagged bird travelled north along the continental shelf alongside Nova Scotia spent January in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. He then travelled nearly 3,000 miles southwest to pass the rest of the winter over the shelf off the coast of the Mid-Atlantic United States. Two years passed before he was recaptured, having finished the second of two round-trip migrations amounting to more than 8,000 miles of travel. This information was stored in and obtained from the geotag worn by this bird, retrieved in 2011 when the bird was finally recaptured on Seal Island.

 

What’s especially cool about this information is how it can contribute to not only our knowledge of important areas throughout the lifespan of one bird, but that these areas

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A life spent on land and sea, reliant on the protection of both.

probably also harbor important resources for many other species which rely on the rich-though-endangered marine resources that we so desperately need to conserve for the benefit of the greater ecosystem, biodiversity and health of our planet. With these new data, obtained by the efforts of Project Puffin research, they can have impact on bigger decisions such as that made, as was this summer, to protect important areas for not just seabirds, but all marine life. The biodiverse zone of this newly designate Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument is the first marine monument in the Atlantic Ocean and it now protects 4,913 square miles of marine habitat, in an area about 130 miles southeast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

So, with a bit of much-needed good news for the puffins and other seabirds I had the privilege of sharing the nesting season with, south I go! My mother and I finished off my season of living in a tent by living in a tent for several more days before leaving the beauty of coastal Maine. We found ourselves on a lovely ocean-front campsite at Searsport Shores campground. I had fun with an ebird checklist  (I’m new to the phenomenon of taking a list and loading it to this rapidly growing online database of bird sightings. More on that later!..). But I saw some interesting hints of migration as we followed the rocky shoreline: a true flock of flycatchers (not really something you usually see as these are more solitary birds) that were hawking flies that swarmed over asealeaf sun-warmed patch of fallen apples, rotting under their parent tree. What a meal for these birds, desperate for any and all fuel they can store along their exhaustive journey southward. A shower of tree sparrows fell from the pine boughs and covered a grassy expanse next to a dirt road. They’d found something to fuel up on as well. The birds are on the move. The nesting season is over and they’re moving south. I’m just the bystander, but I get to tag along and document our entry into a new turn of the seasons. I’m still getting over being back in communion with trees and leaves, which I’ve missed so much on my grassy, rock island.

Now back at my main migration stopover, I’m back in the WDC. This city is so inviting this time of year. The summer-aged leaves are glowing extra yellow in the late afternoon sunlight, the temperature is bearable as the humidity has finally relented and a light jacket suffices for this agreeable yet fleeting climate. The ephemerality of the season makes you appreciate it more when it’s here, if only even for a brief spell. So, now that I’ve left my bird island paradise, it’s back to urban birds for awhile, many of which I’ve not seen for months. But even my grubby city birds are captivating. I’m easily entertained..

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Stay tuned as I continue to follow the snowbird path southward!

 

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Another summer soon departed..

Well, things are really wrapping up here on the island. Amid clouds of voracious mosquitoes, Frank and I finished taking down the last of the blinds. These somewhat rickety little enclosures, or hides, acted as my work cubicle for the summer and this island, my office.

Now as all the birds trickle southward, our purpose for being here is no longer necessary. The remaining cormorants on the southwest tip are becoming few and far between as the young venture further from the colony out to our side of the island and onward to other islands and locales. The great cormorants appeared to fare well this summer, in contrast to our terns and puffins.

There was only one corm nest that we knew of that abandoned and, now having the chance to walk the empty, cliff-bound nesting colony, there didn’t to appear to be any fallen chicks like those that litter the tern colony, lost to starvation and exposure. The fledger corms are inquisitive but shy. The white chins distinguish the greats from the double-cresteds and the juvie greats have white bellies with a defining partition on the breast between light and dark whereas the DCCO’s breasts fade more fuzzily from dark to white. As a rule, though, all the birds will turn away from you when you’re trying to count them and tell the difference among age and species, so all you see is dark bodies from the back.

With the thundering echoes of far-south tropical storm Hermine, the island has been enduring a near-constant pounding of thick swells that blast against our seaward-facing cliffs, shooting streams of frothy sea another fifty feet above the towering rock ledges. Endless swells march across the ocean, releasing their fury on our 66 acre island.

The Crack of Doom has been a great spectacle for the past several days as a portal through which the sea spews skyward, propelled by the force of the long-distant storm.

Aside from fog and a bit of wind, most of the power of the storm is water-bound. But when the fog finally relented, we were glad to reconnect with a wider world. We officially finished out puffin productivity a few days ago, finding all the burrows of the summer to finally be unoccupied. Unfortunately we are unable to satisfactorily call these burrows successful. Some of the empty burrows had, five days before,  held still-fuzzy chicks. When suffering from starvation, alcids are known to emerge early from their burrows in search of food. Even if they were able to make it out to sea, the reserves that these small birds require out on the winter ocean to survive the coming months just didn’t seem to be achieved this season. In three or four years, it will be very interesting to see how many of the pufflings we banded this season turn up. Some, however, we know are sadly here to stay. We watched this burrow, 645, over the course of the summer as part of our all-day puffin feeding study. Once a week we would man Darning blind, each of the team taking one three-hour(ish) shift so as to be present for the entirety of the day, from 4:30 until just past sunset. We would watch for feedings to a handful of burrows spread out among the boulders scattered in front of us. We’d record every time a puffin flew in with fish, noting what burrow it went into, whether it was banded or not and when it emerged to get an overall idea of feed rate. The parents of 645 were very wary, as this burrow was fullsizerender-6closest to the blind and they could always tell when we were present. I’d duck down,
staying low until the shy bird, fish hanging from its bill, moved toward the burrow to finally shoot in last-minute. It didn’t care about landing near a human-occupied hide, moreso it seemed to not want to give away what burrow it was headed to. Here is where the balance between human study and natural behavior become a little fuzzy. Nevertheless, the little chick awaiting its meal, never emerged at the end of the season. We do productivity checks every 4-5 days and we checked this burrow as part of the observed burrows. Well, we saw that growing little chick on every check, but on Sunday, it was no longer peering curiously back at me when I peered into the depths of the burrow. It felt feather light in my hands.

Another expired little puffling to add to the list..

On a lighter note, now that the storminess seems to have abated, the birdwatching is lovely. Just this morning, sitting out on our lovely little porch that looks out across the island, Frank and I each had a scope positioned in front of our own chair for some serious Geri-birding (get it?!). I posted my first ebird checklist complete with photos of what we saw over the course of the morning. Loons warbled in the cove and were joined by a small pod of porpoises, a cape may warbler landed on the fruit hammock hanging above my head and gave such a start upon first noticing me it almost tripped over itself in the motion of darting away.

Our resident guilly fledger is continuing to enjoy remaining in the still calm of the Spooge Pool, refusing to truly fledge. I call him Squeaker.1T9A5230.JPGHopefully his nickname doesn’t turn into Gull Bait.

We had great views of a difficult-to-identify flycatcher, they love hawking insects from the ropes that hold down the Thundermug (our composting outhouse..if you want to figure

out why it’s called that I point you to this lovely book, which I highly recommend).

A pair of orioles alighted on the ropes for a spell, too.img_5068

Small flocks of young PUFIs (much more fun to say than purple finches) and cedar waxwings flitted awkwardly among the tall grasses. A yellow warbler gave me a prolonged view as he preened furiously in the shrubbry (pronounced as spelled). One of the many red-breasted nuthatches that seemed to have rained down on the island weeks ago had no problem making my use of a scope entirely inapplicable.

A couple of loners hung out in the cove, an adult guillemot and a winter-plumage male eider. Most of the eiders are hanging out in huge rafts off the backside of the island, enjoying the motion of the ocean. The guillies are mostly gone except for this guy and Squeaker. As far as the puffins go, it seems as if the season is truly over.

So we’re closing up shop as we spend these final quiet days on the island. This spot in the world is one of the my favorite places to call home. Now we leave it to these guys for the winter:

Yep, Seal Island..would you have guessed it?..is home to one of the largest wintering colonies of gray seals in North America, serving as a prime pupping locale. And  you can watch the goings-on live starting sometime in January on explore.org. I think the big guy pictured on the bottom of the above photo-mosaic is scoping out my tent site..

Fall sights on Seal:

I’m not signing off yet! Even once this summer ends, I’ll keep posting to feathersawry, so stay tuned..and thanks for tagging along!

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