Thursday, May 24, 2012

Two Very Full Days Mashed into One Post

I've realized that much of what I prefer to write here is heavily dependent on whether I have photographic evidence to back it up. Unfortunately, my camera ran out of battery yesterday and was charging all day today so I have very little to say about today. But the reason for the death of the battery was a fairly spectacular day of birds yesterday, which I plan to write expansively about in this post, especially since its only 8 45 and I am already done for the day.

So, quick paragraph about today: woke up at the usual hour and went and measured a bunch of new eggs that had been laid in the nests I am monitoring. Gulls, as mentioned earlier, have a fairly constant clutch size of three but, interestingly, the three eggs differ in size and weight. They also hatch at different times - or, as the technical term goes, asynchronously – giving chicks that hatch earlier (chicks 'a' and 'b') a distinct advantage over the later chick (the 'c' chick). Thus it is important that we measure the dimensions and weight of each egg, and then later which chick hatches out of which egg, to see whether the largeness of an egg is determines its hatch date. It was a beautiful, misty morning, with the fog rolling in and a pair of Eastern Kingbirds (Tyrranus tyrranus) singing away on a sumac tree as I walked to the “Norwegian”.

The rest of the Field Ornithology class went to observe at the banding station where they caught and banded some cool warblers – a Canada Warbler (Cardellina canadensis), a bunch of Common Yellowthroats (Geothlypic trichas), a Magnolia Warbler (Setophaga magnolia) and an American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla). Later in the day Dave also gave us a talk about bird banding and its importance and uses and we practiced setting up mist nets. The plan is to set up some mist nets of our own, as opposed to the banding stations', where we can catch and band some birds for the class. Having just taken Dave's Bird Banding class, and enjoyed it most thoroughly, I can't wait to get my hands on some sweet warblers! Its a great experience, actually holding the birds you normally see perched far away on a tree with binoculars; an almost addictive pleasure, I think, having met a lot of banders who have been banding birds for years and who can process multiple birds per minute!

After lunch we got on the Heiser and headed to another island in the Isles of Shoals, Star Island, keeping our eyes peeled for any sign of a King Eider (Somateria spectabilis) that has been sighted around it. The fog, however, foiled our attempts and the most we could get was some really good looks at a few Purple Sandpipers (Calidris maritima). (And this is where I wish I had had my camera with me). Up on the island, which is home to a hotel and a lot of eerie monuments/cairns dedicated to dead people, we saw a bunch of beautiful warblers – Magnolia, Blackpoll, Chestnut-sided, Yellow, Wilson's – and also got to hear Dave's infamous 'agricultural talk' about a turnstile and some steps on the side of an old stone wall. Enough said.

Wow, that paragraph quickly turned into three. And indeed, today was a fun warbler-filled day that ended with a Bird List in K House (where the director, Willy Bemis stays when he's on the island) that involved a lot of laughter. I must say, I am kind of sad that this class is only two weeks long. The Bird List is a Field Ornithology tradition where someone plays a musical instrument and we go around the circle, listing the birds that we saw that day with generous interjections involving jokes, snide comments and much dancing when someone gets a lifer.

Speaking of lifers (and here's a convenient segue back in time so I can finally get to photographs), we were out on an “island cruise” yesterday when we spotted a Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus) flying perpendicular to our path. We got a decent look at it and then half turned to look at other birds on the water when Dave shouted, “It's coming back! It's going to fly over us!” And fly over us it did, almost as if it were trying to dive-bomb the boat. Or perhaps I'm just thinking too much gull. One way or the other, it made for a good photo.

Northern Gannet being majestic
Other neat stuff we saw on the cruise included a Black Guillemot up close (or as close as you can get to one before it skittishly flies away), another Northern Gannet sitting awkwardly on a rock full of gulls and cormorants, some gray seals bobbing in the waters and some Common Terns on White and Seely islands which are home to a very successful tern-restoration project.

Black Gullemot being skittish

Gray Seals
The awkward Northern Gannet
Cormorants, gulls, eiders and some seals!

View from the Island Cruise
Another view from the cruise

And the cruise ended, as a lot of things on Appledore tend to end, with a beautiful sunset.

To continue the trend of traveling back in time, yesterday morning went pretty well too with a very cooperative pair of Song Sparrows singing in a bush on my way to nest checks, a baby eider crèche and an epic Great Black-Back Gull fight which involved some vicious neck-grabbing action.

Baby Eiders
One of the Song Sparrows checking me out
Gull Fight
This post was going to be much more extensive and sarcastic, and exciting, of course, but I ended up skyping my boyfriend and am now ready to drop with exhaustion. So I'm just going to with this photograph that, to me, quite perfectly illustrates the appeal of gulls who, quite literally, rule this island.

The King of the Island -- a Great Black-Backed Gull flying over the vegetation

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