On June 21st 1986 a young Arctic Tern chick hatched on Matinicus Rock Island and was banded by researchers working with Project Puffin. After this young chick fledged at the end of July it followed its family and other Arctic Terns north to the waters off England and then south along the coast of Europe and over the waters of the Atlantic off the coast of Africa until reaching productive feeding grounds along the ice pack of Antarctica. The Arctic Tern has the longest migration of any tern and it was a feat for this little tern to make it there. This was the last we knew of this little tern until this year on June 15th when it was captured on Seal Island. We were trapping Arctic Terns to better understand how individuals in the Gulf of Maine move between islands and to study the health of the population. Once captured unbanded birds receive a government issued bird band and birds that are already banded provide researchers with useful data. In the case of our little Arctic Tern chick banded on Matinicus Rock in 1986 we learned a lot! Here are some of the things we learned; this bird is 29 years old, one of the oldest Arctic Terns ever recorded. The oldest was a 34-year-old bird that also bred along the coast of Maine. It has likely flown over 800,000 miles in its lifetime and it is possible that is has had 26 nests! This little bird has seen a lot in its life and we hope to see it around the colony in years to come. It received a new band when it was captured: LA32. Good luck to our previous long lost friend!
Obviously you can’t send out paperwork to every tern nest on the island and expected to receive exact information on the number of parents and their eggs that are on the island. So, you may be asking how exactly do biologists living on Seal Island NWR get an accurate count of the number of terns nesting on the island? Each year between June 12th and 20th we form a line and slowly tip toe through the tern colony shouting out the number of nests and eggs that we walk past. We ziz-zag across the island as a designated recorder furiously writes down the information. Nearly the whole time we are counting terns are consistently pecking and dive-bombing at you head. (Can we some how put a link to the video that I sent you?). At the end of the long day we tally up our totals. This year we had a total of around 2200 tern nests on Seal Island! Around 900 Arctic Terns and 1300 Common Terns.
To get an accurate count on Puffins we must use a different method as they burrow deep into the boulder berm. Each year we follow a select group of puffin burrows to estimate the number of puffins breeding around the island. This is completed by looking into a select number of burrows, in addition to observational stints from bird blinds. To get a good look into the burrows you often have to contort your body into uncomfortable positions just to get a glimpse. It is hard to say exactly how may puffins are breeding this year on Seal Island but, last year we estimated around 492 burrows!