Blog on, stacebird, blog on..

Well wasn’t I just completely gobsmacked in the best way possible yesterday to find that, in no more than a week, I’ve grown from having fifty-two followers to More. Than. A. Thousand.

Holy wow…

I just feel so humbled and can’t express my gratitude for all of your interests in my blog. To know I’m reaching more and more readers is so uplifting and motivating.

So this post is me sending out huge love and thanks to everyone who thought FeathersAwry was worthy of a read and a follow.

Thank you!!

I particularly want to thank Project Puffin (which is how I began this fieldwork journey, it being my very first bird job in 2003), explore.org, all the lovely and passionate puffin cam viewers who I hold so dear in my heart, Bob McGuire who encouraged me to start this blog when I was headed out to work the 2016 seabird nesting season on Seal Island, my mother who took me on my first Backyard Naturalist birdwalk when I was seven and who helps me with editing this blog (which I’m gonna buckle down on now, I promise Momma!), my brother and father who have always had all the love, support, encouragement and all the rest of you invisible readers out there!

Well, I’m having a lovely wind-down from leaving the puffin island and reentering civilization. Two weeks isn’t enough for the true culture shock of spending the entire season on-island, certainly, but I’m taking some time to further soak in Maine’s stunning coastline.

I’m getting in a little camping with the Momma before heading back south to Florida. Should be interesting to see how Sarasota fared Irma. My grandmother endured a bit of power outage at her assisted living place, but we were definitely spared the brunt that the more southerly regions were dealt with.

So what’s next for stacebird? Well, I have some things percolating and, of course, birds will be on the docket, just as they always are and will be..

Thanks again, friends!

Peace.

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Explore.org Puffin Chat

 

So I’m now back on the mainland having finished my 2-week stint helping with Project Puffin‘s post-season and closed down the island for the winter. While I was sad to watch that magnificent, magical island disappearing into the mist, I admit I’m now gleefully reveling in the forested landscape that was lacking on that treeless island. But to live fully immersed in nature, I felt truly at home. That a 66-acre slab of rock set out in the Atlantic can hold such a rich diversity of life and that I had it just about completely to myself is an experience that I will treasure forever into my future. This being my fourth time waving goodbye to Seal as the boat motors us back to the mainland, as I’ve said to myself every time before, I said it again, I’ll see you again.

What was especially thrilling and a new experience for me was to be invited by explore.org to do a live chat from Seal about the puffin season, my work with the project, and to answer questions from the passionate and enthusiastic viewers who watch the Seal Island puffin cams which transmit live-feed during the nesting season various views on the island where the birds like to congregate, or “loaf” as well as a front row seat in the burrow of one of the hundreds of puffins that nest between the boulders around the island’s northern shoreline.

While answering questions, I touch on the island research and it’s importance in having amassed some four decades of science: monitoring of the birds, collecting data on productivity, banding terns, puffins and guillemots and carrying out feeding studies to see what forage fish the birds are bringing in to feed their young throughout the nesting season. This ultimately gives us an idea of how the birds are surviving in the face of human influence and how they might be affected by climate change.

So I invite you to sit back and watch a very enthusiastic talk by your very own @stacebird as I talk about an island I adore and a project that gives me great hope for the future and pride and joy to have gotten all the opportunities to be a part of.

 

 

 

 

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Project Puffin: Seal Island 2017 Season Summary

Since I rolled into Seal for only the post-season this year, I thought I’d brush up on the deets of what went on this summer with our beloved terns and puffins as well as the guillemots, razorbills, eiders and all the rest!

 

Keenan was once again the Island Supervisor, although was missing his co-command, Isabel, who started a graduate program that we were so excited to find out about last year while on the island! This will be Keenan’s second season as sole Seal supervisor (alliteration much?) which he also was in 2015 so he was absolutely up to the task this year and then some!

 

The puffins and terns start their nesting season in late May and, while the tern colony declined by several hundred pairs this year, the puffins had an excellent turnout with an estimated 592 active burrows on the island, surpassing a previous high of 568 pairs. The Black Guillemots are doing great on the island, numbering well over 700 pairs. About fifty pairs of Razorbills nested on the island this year, which has gone up exponentially since back when I first came out to the island in the early ‘aughts when we were excited to find even just one or two nest burrows! The island also boasts a healthy nesting population of Leach’s storm petrels, Great and Double-crested Cormorants, the ever-present Herring and Black-backed Gulls, as well as shy Common Eiders, plucky Spotted Sandpipers and our flitty friends around camp, the abundant Song and Savannah Sparrows.

 

Where’s the food?

Common Tern (COTE) productivity was really good this year, says Keenan. Now, when we say “productivity” this means the average number of chicks hatched and fledged per nesting pair, usually a number somewhere between one and two chicks per pair. To determine common and arctic tern productivity, the team monitors nests within four pre-installed study plots (~1’ mesh fenced enclosures) set throughout the colony from which productivity and growth data are collected on a regular basis for the entirety of the nesting season.

 

       

 

For each pair of common terns, on average, 1.15 chicks per pair fledged  this year, which is actually a great outcome, this being the third-highest productivity for COTEs since monitoring first began on Seal in the early nineties. Last year, when I was here for the duration of the nesting season, the COTEs only fledged 0.5 chicks per pair, averaging to what basically amounts to half a chick per pair. This is not sustainable for the future of any nesting colony, neither for population maintenance nor for population growth. Last year was a particularly bad year for the terns on Seal thanks to nasty weather at key points in the chicks’ development, along with an inexplicably poor food supply. But this year resulting in a more than doubling of productivity is a hopeful outcome, however uncertainty in food availability from year to year obviously does raise concerns for the future.

Arctic Terns (ARTEs) productivity also went up from last year from 0.79 to 1.1 chicks produced per nesting pair. While the year was successful for tern productivity, there was actually a significant drop in the size of both the arctic and common tern colony size. The COTEs dropped from 1,300 to 1000 pairs nesting on the island between the 2016 to 2017 season while the ARTEs declined from 950 pairs to 700. While we don’t know the exact reason this happened, there are some theories. With the changes in food availability, especially last year having been such a poor year for the birds, they may have moved to a different location in search of a more reliable food source for the nesting season. Keenan mentioned that a common tern colony in his home area of Cape Cod, Massachusetts had over 11,000 pairs of common terns and seems to be growing by about 1000 pairs per year with what appears to be great food availability and productivity success. Perhaps Seal Island terns have found that colony or another of any of the seven Project Puffin-managed islands where the food supply might be more reliable. While we are not 100% sure about any of this, our close monitoring of tern populations along with banding chicks and adults might reveal what’s happening with our birds in the future.

 

 

The puffins had a great year this season, bringing in huge bill-loads of sandlance, hake and herring and haddock. It was especially exciting to see herring coming in, says Keenan, because out of all the fish these birds are eating in the Gulf of Maine, herring have the highest fat-content This means more calories “per package” which is great for chick development and growth. This further emphasizes that the kinds of fish being brought in by parents to their chicks can be more significant than the amount, because, as some might recall, several years ago the famed “butterfish year” left many chicks starving because the baby birds were unable to swallow the large, coin-shaped fish which piled up next to the dying birds because that’s what their parents were finding the most of out at sea and therefore bringing in to feed their young. In 2005, Seal supervisor Carlos and I observed a high amount of euphausiids (krill-like invertebrates) brought in by the adult terns to their chicks, this over-abundant food source which seemed to lack the nutrients that fatty, bony fish could provide and could have had a detrimental impact on the productivity that year. All speculation, but you can see how many variables come into play when it comes to raising a healthy chick!

 

Something interesting that we’ve seen more of in recent seasons is that the puffins are starting to nest in new areas of the island where they haven’t typically nested in the past. The majority of the colony nests around the perimeter of the tern colony on the northeast point of the island but now they’re spreading out to new areas southward down the island. This is exciting, says Keenan, because it shows potential for increased growth to the colony with more available areas being identified by the birds for potential nests While it’s hard to monitor these additional nest locations being that most of our attention is on the main colony where most of our blinds are located, the Seal island team does its best to find new burrows as they occur to keep track of the expansion.

 

With this year’s abundant and healthy food supply, there’s been more birds loafing (hanging out on the rocks) as observed by the Seal island team and viewers of the explore.org cams compared to last year. This is a result of the birds not having to spend as much time searching for a sufficient food source, giving them more time to rest and socialize, meaning more of a show for our beloved cam viewers over the course of the season!

 

Before Keenan and the island team left at the end of the nesting season, they had an all-time high count on August 11th of 1,012 puffins rafting offshore. These congregations occur as the birds get ready to move out to sea for the winter. By the time Frank and I arrived, we only saw a couple remaining birds floating on the choppy waters. Waving goodbye, I can see them in my mind’s eye, riding the swells over the continental shelf eastward off the shores of New York state, where they’ll endure the freezing winter, floating and feeding and waiting for the spring to come.

Next post I’ll be getting up close and personal with our explore.org puffin chick Conrad!

 

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Seal Island NWR: An Instagram Video View

stacebirdFrom 23 miles out into the Atlantic Ocean, I present you with sights and sounds from around this beautiful, dramatic, biodiversity-rich seabird nesting island where I’ve been so fortunate to spend my time over the years. As we trickle into fall, the grasses slowly brown, the winds stir up and here we remain for the last weeks of the late-nesting cormorant season to ensure they survive to fledging.

These are some videos I’ve been posting on my Instagram which make for a great stacebird’s eye view of this island I’m so enamored with. Please enjoy!

Fish dinner cooked over the fire, a serene evening.. #islandlife #optoutside #purebliss #maine #islandgirl

A post shared by Stacey M. Hollis (@stacebird) on

Grey afternoon on the island. #aintcomplaining

A post shared by Stacey M. Hollis (@stacebird) on

Rocky island waves. #optoutside #maine #outdoors #island #hiking #islandguardian

A post shared by Stacey M. Hollis (@stacebird) on

If this makes you more curious about what I’m doing out here and the seasons I’ve spent here in the past working for Project Puffin, I invite you to visit my archives (see on right) for the months beginning with June–when I started this blog–through September for the entirety of the 2016 nesting season.

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Project Puffin: Back to the Island!

You can also see this post at WildLensInc.org/blog.

I am thrilled to bid you good day from 23 miles off into the Atlantic Ocean here on Seal Island National Wildlife Refuge where I will be living for the next two weeks on a remote island off the coast of Maine. I am here thanks to National Audubon Society’s Project Puffin, a seabird restoration program that monitors and protects island-nesting birds, including the charismatic Atlantic Puffin. This will be my fourth and shortest stint working on the Project islands, helping to finish out the post-season and close up the island for the winter. I’m absolutely ecstatic to be here!

Project Puffin was started in 1973 by a determined young scientist named Steve Kress who has dedicated his life to reestablishing nesting colonies of puffins and other Atlantic seabirds to what now amounts to seven actively managed Image result for steve kressislands off Maine’s coast. Kress, in collaboration with colleague Derrick Jackson, recently put out a book relating the success story of Project Puffin documenting its restoration of more than 1,000 puffin pairs to three Maine islands (read my book review here!). Further, the book describes how the efforts of reintroducing puffins have simultaneously benefited various other nesting seabird species restored to all seven, including three species of tern.

The restored colonies are now under active monitoring, applied research and predator management conducted by seabird biologists (aka Puffineers) living on the islands during the nesting season, which lasts from May through August. You can read about my experiences last year working the puffin nesting season here on Seal Island by hitting the archives links starting with June 2016 on the column on the right –>
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Here are some photos from the 2016 season on Seal Island:

In the mid 1800s, puffins, terns and many other seabirds species were nearly extirpated (locally extinct from a specific geographic location) from the their historic breeding grounds off of the coastal United States. These seabird populations underwent major eradication as a result of overhunting. The millenary trade further contributed to the detrimental  impact on the birds, which were targeted for their feathers to adorn ladies’ hats. Many seabird species were also harvested along Maine’s coast for their meat and eggs.

“In 1900, at their lowest ebb, eiders, cormorants, gannets, murres, and Great Black-back Gulls were completely eliminated from the Maine coast.”

Project Puffin

I first worked for Project Puffin in 2003 and returned in both 2005 and again last year during all of which I spent the entire summer on the islands. During the 2016 season I started this blog of our work out on Seal Island (which happens to be perhaps my favorite place on earth). As seabird researchers, we carry out various monitoring studies on the birds including feeding studies in which we document what fish birds are bringing in to feed their young; productivity and chick growth monitoring involves measurements and weighing chicks on a regular basis from hatching to fledge (when they fly for the first time from the nest). We also actively band all the birds we handle and use birding scopes to resight bands on returning adult birds to determine movement between islands and identify returning birds.

How many [birds there are] and how well do they do [productivity-wise], are two of the basic questions asked or addressed by policy and bird conservation planning efforts.  

-Project Puffin

This year I was invited to return to help finish out the season on Seal Island. I’m here with fellow biologist Frank Mayer to act as “island guardians”, in a way. While most of the other seabird species have left for the winter, the later-nesting cormorant colony is still active with large fledgers that are vulnerable to bald eagles which inhabit the island during the winter. Our continuing presence on the island deters the eagles until the young cormorants leave the island for good. Frank and I will be on the island for the next two weeks, protecting the cormorants as well as conducting shorebird surveys, recording the species stopping over on the island along their southern travels for the fall migration. We’ll also be closing down the island, packing all the gear and whatever else away into the 12×12′ cabin in preparation for the harsh winters of coastal Maine.

It’s already considerably cool here, a marked difference from the sunny climes of Florida that I’ve been enjoying for the past seven months. We’ve also got some pretty intense winds lately, over 30mph, that have stirred up the seas (and my tent walls!) making for some great wave action (check it out on the live video feed on explore.org!). I got here in time to see a few last remaining puffins and terns but overall, aside from the cormorants and gulls, a fairly quiet island remains. Some fun migrants passing through have included Lapland Longspur (my first ever!), Northern Waterthrush, Yellow Warbler, American Redstart, Pine Warblers, Cape May Warbler, Empidonax flycatcher species, White Rumped Sandpiper, Sanderlings and various other shorebirds.

To get a live look at the island (and perhaps see a short, dark blonde girl wandering by  looking for shorebirds and the crashing waves caused by the winds of late), check out the explore.org bird cams for some enthralling “Reality TV“.  After we leave, the cameras will be taken down and season highlights will stream, you can view puffins nesting in a burrow and their chick as it grows over the course of the 2017 season as well as “loafing” areas where the birds can be seen hanging out on the boulders. For the winter, one camera will be live-streaming the second-largest grey seal breeding colony in the United States and you can see the island looking almost  unrecognizable, lacking its carpet of colorful summer vegetation and often bearing snow. In addition to the enormous seals and their young, bald eagles are often seen and there’s the occasional glimpse of a snowy owl.

It’s funny to spend my first year on the island only working the post-season, I miss the raucous terns and the shy puffins, the sleek razorbills, goofy guillemots and elegant murres. Nevertheless, I’m absolutely delighted to be here and I know my future holds many more of these fantastical seabird encounters.

 

 

 

While off limits to the general public, you can get a look at the this mystical, dramatic, richly biodiverse island from the water, I highly encourage you to take a tour out to the area while the puffin nesting season is running.

To read more about my past experiences on the Project Puffin islands, check out my blog: feathersawry.wordpress.com, posts from the Seal Island are listed under the archived months of June through September, 2016.

Me with Project Puffin Executive Director and Founder, Steve Kress, 2016.

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I’m featured on Dispatches from the Field!

In case you haven’t heard!

(sorry, I know I’m being very vocal about this..)..

Just because I’m immensely proud to have been a part of this, not to mention wanting to toot (ugh I hate clichés) my own horn..I was this week’s featured guest poster on Dispatches from the Field! So check it out, as well as many stories from field biologists working with all manner of wildlife and things environment-related in locales both near and far. This has been a blog I’ve enjoyed over the years and it means so much to now have a place in it. All the thanks to the adventurous Dispatch ladies who’ve dedicated their lives to science for the opportunity of this feature!

 

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The Skimmers of Lido Beach

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“Yip, yip, yip!” The sound of seabirds greeted me as I crossed a strip of grassy dunes and was met by the sandy expanse of Lido Beach and the blue-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The sands were dotted with loafing seabirds called Black Skimmers and, upon closer inspection, their grown chicks, nearly ready to fly for the first time.

Black Skimmers are characters of the seabird world.  Handsome creatures with stark black backs and hoods that contrast against a crisp white belly, skimmers are a bit IMG_0046of an oddity with their mismatched orange and black beaks that, when opened, reveal a lower mandible that is much longer than the top. Flying just above the waters of the gulf, they’ll open their maw, dropping the lower bill so that it slices through the water in search of small fish. When the sensitive appendage detects one, it snaps shut in nearly the same instant, capturing the salty morsel in it’s “jaws”.

Stationed at the edge of the colony, scanning the birds through binoculars, I found Greg Taylor, Shorebird Project Coordinator for Audubon Florida.

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Taylor monitors the skimmers as well other seabird colonies on Lido, Longboat and Siesta Key, that line the coast of nearby Sarasota where the birds raise their young over the course of the season. These nesting seabirds return IMG_7937annually to these beaches where they were likely once reared themselves, now to raise their own young. Taylor regularly visits the colony, keeping count of adults and chicks while also monitoring for predation, something that is a constant concern in a colony of birds that nest unprotected on the ground. Further, he manages a group of volunteers along with whom he helps educate the public about these beach-nesting birds and the challenges they face.

Black skimmers are a state threatened species, explains Taylor, “we only have about 3,600 left in the state.” The Lido Beach colony is made up of about 700 adults, he says, which makes up about 20 percent of the entire population of the species.

Nesting seabirds face many challenges, being that they nest on beaches, competing for IMG_0051 3space with humans and suffering the consequences of their impact. Seabirds tend to nest in shallow depressions on open ground, so their eggs and young are vulnerable to both human and predator disturbance, as well as the heat from the beating sun. The adult birds will take flight upon any sign of danger, leaving their eggs and chicks exposed and vulnerable to getting trampled underfoot or eaten by opportunistic predators like gulls or crows which swoop in and grab an egg or a fluffy chick before the parents can return to defend their young. Dogs off-leash are also very dangerous to the exposed nests.

At this point in the summer, most of the chicks on the Lido colony are large enough that predation is now less of a concern. But Version 3earlier in the season, Taylor did see gulls and crows take eggs and young chicks on a number of occasions. “Gulls, just like crows,  are a human subsidized species, so there are more of them here because we’re here,” explains Taylor, “We probably saw them take about a dozen chicks.” But since Taylor and his volunteers are unable to patrol the beach 24/7, he assumes the total predation count to be several times that.

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As the nesting season is winding down the chicks grow in their flight feathers in place of the downy fuzz of their youth. Their coloration is a IMG_0053 2marbled pattern of blacks, tans and browns to help protect the still-flightless birds, their feathers allowing them to blend into the sand-scape. Hunched low, they remain fairly inert until they catch wind that their parent might be returning with food, upon which they burst to life as they toddle quickly towards the adult as it alights on the sand, holding their flightless wings pathetically drooped while begging incessantly, clamoring to be fed.

“We have about two-hundred and fifty chicks on the ground,” says Taylor, “so the colony has been successful this year.” Much of this can be attributed to the efforts made by Taylor and the volunteers, who patrol the outskirts of the colony daily and educate beachgoers about the birds and the issues they face.IMG_7946

Skimmers and other seabirds aren’t just affected by humans or predators, they also facea future of rising sea levels due to climate change which could mean the loss of the sandy beaches that they require for nesting. That is why our continued monitoring and protection of these birds is crucial, as is the education to raise awareness about these birds and the dangers they confront every day.

The crisp white and black of the birds contrast beautifully against the emerald waters as they cavort through the air. Soon their young will join them and grow into adulthood to one day raise young on the very same beach where they were hatched. So long as these important habitats are protected, we can hope to enjoy these birds for countless seasons to come.

 

How you can help protect beach-nesting birds:

-Never enter areas posted with shorebird/seabird signs.

-Avoid driving on or beyond the upper beach.

-Drive slow enough to avoid running over chicks.

-Keep dogs on a leash and away from areas where birds may be nesting.

-Keep cats indoors, and do not feed stray cats.

-Properly dispose of trash to keep predators away.

-Do not fly kites near areas where birds may be nesting.

-When birds are aggravated, you are too close.

 

Learn more about protecting our coastal nesting birds here!

 

 

 

 

 

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