The phenomenal migration this spring is slowly coming to a close but, we managed to see a few more highlights before heading back to the mainland on the 24th. An American Golden-Plover and a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher were two of my favorites.
The comical whining noises of the Gray Catbirds, angelic songs of the White-crowned Sparrows, and fun rarities like this Clay-colored Sparrow photographed below are unfortunately coming to an end. They will surely be missed! This pre-season we saw a total of 129 bird species including 22 species of Warbler! Our goal is 150 by the end of the season so I hope we can get the next 21!
Although the numbers of migrant songbirds are decreasing the breeding activity on the island is heating up. The number of active Puffin and Razorbill burrow are increasing! In addition, Tern eggs are seemingly falling out of the sky, making walking through the colony a stressful stroll to say the least. We are expecting chicks by the ides of June but, in the meantime I hope that you enjoy the Puffin Burrow and Loafing Ledge cameras that can be viewed on explore.org
The morning started off foggy and pretty gross so, after doing the morning weather data collection I dove back into my sleeping bag for a while. After I got back up the fog had cleared a bit and I could see that a good number of puffins were loafing on the rocks near the blinds. We ended up heading out and I chose Cadillac blind for my first stint.
It was a slowish stint in terms of number birds and since the terns were uneasy for most of the morning the puffins had a hard time settling in as well. But, I managed to get 14 band combinations which wasn’t too bad for a 2hr resighting session. My goal was to find some puffins that had been set up with geolocator tracking devices last summer so we could capture them and retrieve the unit. After we capture them we can connect the geolocator to a computer and see where the bird has been the last 10 months or so. Pretty cool stuff! Unfortunately, none of them were spotted this morning… But, overall it was a great first blind stint. One of the best moments of the morning was two Puffins copulating on the island. This was a first for me and is an unusual behavior considering Puffins usually mate in the water. Steve Kress the director of the project told me that this has only been observed a small number of times. Other courtship and pair bonding rituals were in full swing as well including some head bobbing and billing. Birds were also seen collecting nesting material!
Puffins Mating and nearby Puffins courting
Also, during my stint about 20 meters from the shore a small group of Harbor Porpoise were hunting a school of pollock. The pollock were brought the surface and it appeared as if the surface of the water was boiling. Ton of birds were attracted by the commotion including; Great and Double-Crested Cormorants, Puffins, Common Loons, Herring, Great Black-backed Gulls, a single unusual Lesser Black-backed* Gull, and Common and Arctic Terns. A very cool scene to watch for sure! Hopefully there will be more of this to come.
The boiling seas!
Harbor Porpoise and Puffins
Lesser-black Backed Gull
In addition to the blind stint this morning we conducted a Puffin Productivity check on 68 burrows and four of them had eggs! Hopefully our nest cameras will be up soon! I will post the link here when they are available to the public. Lastly, our annual visitor from the tropics a Red-billed Tropicbird fittingly named “Tropy” has returned to Seal Island for yet another summer!
Sorry for the late post. Work has been busy and by the end of the day I barely have the energy to open the computer. Anyways, Seal Island has been a wild ride so far. Temps are still averaging low to mid 40s at night and around 50 during the day. As I previously mentioned we have been picking up trash around the island. This is part of a grant through Toyota Together Green. Are “focal trash species” during the preseason has been lobster buoys and traps.So far we have filled over 50 contractor bags with buoys with most likely 100 more to go. We actually ran out of contractor bags and are currently waiting for a delivery. In the meantime we have been creating massive piles that will be picked up at the end of the summer by a fleet of lobster boats (hopefully…). Photographed below is our second largest pile on the island. Unfortunately you can’t see all 30+bags on the back side of the pile.
Spring migration has been incredibly diverse thus far, but unfortunately with low abundance. So far I have tallied 112 species as of today with my most recent addition being Ruddy Turnstone. Right now warblers are pouring into New England. So far I have seen 21 species to be exact! Highlights have included a surprising Orange-crowned Warbler (one of only a handful of spring records for this species in Maine), and several Bay-breasted Warblers. In addition to the warblers other unexpected birds have included four Bohemian Waxwing and a Clay-colored Sparrow. My warbler favorites are photographed below.
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
One of the things that I was surprised by out on the island is the amount that these migrants actually sing. Nearly every morning there is a small “Dawn Chorus” in which many of these warblers sing just like a typical forested habitat. Among the more common artists at work are the Ovenbird and Blackpoll Warbler. Below I have photographed a Blackpoll Warbler singing to try to attract the female of his species.
Blackpoll Warbler (Male)
Blackpoll Warbler (Female)
We are right in the heart of migration so get out there and enjoy this spectacle that often can even take place in your own backyard. The sights and sounds of these magnificent migrants will only be around for a few more weeks!
A patch of some unfavorable west winds put us out on the island a day late but we made it! Pulling up to the island I was simply amazed by it’s shear size compared to Eastern Egg Rock where I spent my summer last year. Upon arrival I was greeted by flocks of Razorbills and Atlantic Puffins that were loafing in the frigid waters (~40 Degrees) that bordered our shared summer home. I also enjoyed some Great Cormorants that were courting and starting to build their nests on the western head of the island also known as Area 5. When we pulled up to the landing I hopped into John’s dory and rode to shore. As I walked up the stairs I noticed how the cabin seemed to be in the middle of a barren wasteland. The tall grasses and bushes that will soon take over this island have been kept at bay this year do to the harsh winter’s snow, wind, and salt spray. I will be spending the next couple weeks preparing for our seabirds to start up their breeding season. Preparation duties include but are not limited to; erecting bird blinds, fixing productivity plots, cleaning up trash that has washed ashore (mostly lobster buoys and traps), and fixing tent platforms, stairs, and our cabin that has suffered quite a bit of damage over the winter.
In the meantime the spring migration of many songbirds is currently underway. Out here on the island may of the typical forest dwelling birds are seen on bare rock or in grasses as there are no trees on the island. The bird scene the past week or so has been dominated by sparrows such as White-throated, White-crowned, and Swamp Sparrows. Other migrants have included Palm Warbler, Hermit Thrush, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-and-White Warbler,
Other notable birds have included a Rusty Blackbird, Orchard Oriole and a Least Sandpiper that decided to Migrate back a little early. I am fortunate enough to have a great birding spot just outside our cabin. There is a large pool of water that attracts shorebirds and a really cool ridge known as the spine that migrating songbirds tend to really favor.
In terms of our breeding seabirds on the island Leach Storm Petrels have been heard and seen calling at night, Puffins and Razorbills can be heard calling and courting in the waters nearby the island, and terns have arrived a bit early despite the cold weather and have begun their display flights over the island.
In my next post I hope to include photos of our field site and specific study areas. Perhaps an insider look at some of the bird blinds and a little more on what puffin, terns and other seabirds are doing right now! Until then I hope all you birders are participating the Global Big Day being lead by eBird. I know I certainly will be!