Archive for the ‘Birds’ Category

Snake Island marsh (CLT, 6.12.2012).

Good morning everyone.  Sorry for the delay in getting this out… we had a productive, though somewhat disappointing, trip to the islands last Tuesday, June 12th.  Our goal was to conduct our official visit island tern nesting areas within the State survey window and to check up on active AMOY pairs and eider ducklings.

Common tern nesting platform, Spinnaker Island, Hull (CLT, 6.12.2012).


Common Terns on nesting platform off Spinnaker Island (CLT, 6.12.2012).

We started the day with a visit to Snake Island where we confirmed 5 pair of territorial American Oystercatchers and 3 pair of Willets.  There were no terns nesting on Snake this year.  We then proceeded to the tern nesting platform off of Spinnaker Island in Hull.  Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to access the platform directly, but upon flushing birds, we estimated adult 163 Common Terns attending the colony.  This number is about in the middle when compared to recent years (2011: 133 adults; 2010: ~260 adults; 2009: 130 adults; 2008: 250 adults).



Bob and Tim counting Common Eider off Green Island (CLT, 6.12.2012).

 A boat-based survey in the Outer Islands turned up a total of only 16 eider ducklings attended by 25 females.  We detected another 274 females with ducklings in the area.  For comparison, on May 31st we detected 214 eider ducklings accompanied by 153 females, so these numbers have shifted dramatically.  In general, we have had our high counts for the season occur in mid-June.  This season was definitely a little ahead of schedule, but nonetheless, anecdotally appears to have been a year of high duckling mortality which is not uncommon for this species.  During eider crèche surveys we observed 3 adult American Oystercatchers feeding on Green Island and 1 additional adult on Calf.


Looking for Common Eider ducklings in The Graves (CLT, 6.12.2012).


We ended the day with a stop at the tern nesting colony on Lovells Island.  It appeared that the site did overwash during high tides the previous weekend, but there were 5 adult terns in the area and we located 4 1-egg nests, indicating a likely renesting effort.  A number of empty scrapes were also present, so numbers could be growing.  The Killdeer nesting on Lovells appears to have been successful and several cotton-ball Killdeer chicks were running around.  The two Great Black-backed Gulls were still in the area, but it did appear that their nest was also overwashed in the June moon tide.


Tracks on the beach at Lovells (CLT, 6.12.2012).


This week’s trivia question:  Can you identify all the tracks appearing in the attached picture from the beach at Lovells?  Hint: there are 4 species represented…

Hope everyone’s week is off to a good start!  -Carol


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Busy week, last week!  On May 30thwe had planned to visit Sarah Island to count nests in the wading bird colony located there, but a preliminary boat-based survey around the island indicated that we had already missed our opportunity for this season.

Boat-based survey of Sarah Island (CLT, 5.30.2012).

Many chicks were present in the colony, and some visible egret chicks were already quite large.  Visiting a colony when large chicks are present can cause tremendous disturbance with serious consequences.  If young are mobile enough to ‘branch’ when scared, you run the risk of young falling from the nest site.  Because herons and egrets are altricial and require parental care, any earlier-then-planned exit from the nest can result in abandonment and starvation… needless to say, this is not a scenario we want our survey efforts to produce.  Although we would have liked to have included Sarah with the other wading bird sites in the park this year, it will become a priority next May.  Boat-based observations did count 87 nesting Double-crested Cormorants on Sarah and ascertain that Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Black-crowned Night-Herons, and Glossy Ibis were all present and nesting there.


With a high tide in Hingham Harbor and no herons to survey, we decided to conduct a boat-based survey in search of American Oystercatcher pairs.  One pair of AMOY were detected on Button, as well as a pair on Bumpkin and one quiet adult that may have been one half of a pair on Slate.  Three pair of AMOY (1 with 2 chicks and 1 with 1 chick) were observed on Sheep Island, along with nesting GREGs, SNEGS, GLIBs, and BCNHs and 13 DCCOs. We also located a pair of AMOY and an extra adult on Hangman.  No American Oystercatchers were observed on Langlee, Ragged, Sarah, Grape, or any of the south facing beaches of Peddocks (including Prince’s Head).

We finished our day last Wednesday with a ground based survey of Rainsford Island where we observed 2 pair of territorial American Oystercatchers, one with 2 chicks.  We also observed 7 Spotted Sandpiper territories, but did not locate any nests.  No terns were active in the area. 

Friendly Mallard chasing the landing craft… (CLT, 5.30.2012).

However, while we were searching the island, Russ was befriended by a very social female Mallard.  She apparently became quite besotted with him (with no encouragement on his part) and hopped in and out of the landing craft trying to attract his attention.  Upon leaving the island she attempted to follow the boat, swimming along behind and taking short flights to keep up with us… A transplant from the public garden, perhaps?

Boat-based survey of the Outer Islands (CLT, 5.31.2012).

On Thursday, May 31stwe started the day with a boat-based survey in the Outer Islands where we counted 214 eider ducklings accompanied by 153 females.

Common Eider flotilla in the Roaring Bulls (CLT, 5.31.2012).


Generally, our highest counts of the season occur in mid-June, so this number may still be rising though everything has generally been a little ahead of schedule this spring…  We also observed 3 pairs of American Oystercatchers on Calf Island and 1adult from the pair nesting on Middle Brewster.  We did not see the pair previously nesting on the landing beach on Outer Brewster. 

Graves Light (CLT, 5.31.2012).


A ground-based survey of Great Brewster resulted in 2 pair of territorial American Oystercatchers and one Common Eider nest.  

Middle and Outer Brewster, from Great Brewster (CLT, 5.31.2012).

We ended the day with a visit to Lovells where 8 adult Least Terns were observed actively defending the colony site.  

Bob S. observing Least Terns on Lovells (CLT, 5.31.2012).

Unfortunately, we also observed a Great Black-backed gull nest with 2 eggs in the same area.  One pair of American Oystercatchers were observed loafing in the intertidal are on the west side of the island and 4 Spotted Sandpipers were noted feeding intertidally on the east side.  We were also confronted by an adult Killdeer doing her absolute best to convince us that she (with 2 broken wings!) was an easy target

Killdeer doing ‘broken wing’ display, Lovells Island (CLT, 5.31.2012).

and that we shouldn’t waste our time continuing on the path from the beach to the center island that just happened to have her nest, with four perfect eggs, planted right in the middle of it!

Perfect Killdeer nest on Lovells (CLT, 5.31.2012).


Till next week!  -Carol

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Hi everyone,

On May 17thwe did a ground-based survey on Outer Brewster looking for Common Eider and wading birds.  We conducted a thorough search of all but the very eastern tip of the island and found 42 Common Eider nests (average of 4.41 eggs).  We estimated approximately 135 adult Black-crowned Night-Herons, 27 Snowy Egrets, 7 Glossy Ibis, and 1 Great Egret in residence in the center island colony.  Upon closer inspection we were able to access and count 41 BCNH nests, 21 SNEG nests, and 3 GLIB nests.  Snowy Egrets appear to be significantly more abundant then when last counted (12 nests) in 2009.  Black-crowned Night-Heron nests were also more abundant then previous counts (36 in 2009).  A pair of American Oystercatchers was also observed nesting on the landing beach and a nest with 2 eggs was located.  Although (as you all know!) we focus our efforts EXCLUSIVELY on waterbirds, we also collectively (read – Bob & Wayne) managed to spot a variety of migratory species moving through the island, including Parula, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, American Redstart, Common Yellowthroat, Black-and-White Warbler, Black-capped Chickadee (!), Veery, Savannah Sparrow, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and an unidentified Empidonax flycatcher.

Snowy Egret nest in Outer Brewster colony (CLT, 5.17.2012).


On May 18th we conducted our first boat-based survey in the Outer Islands.  We confirmed what we think was a third pair of AMOY on the east side of Calf Island (2 nest sites were found on the 14th) along with pairs on the landing beaches on Middle and Outer Brewster and spotted a pair on the seawall on Great Brewster.  Cormorant and gull numbers appeared similar to previous years (see attached) and will be verified with comparisons to digital photos taken during the survey.  We also observed 5 immature Great Cormorants on the Graves and 3 immature Great Cormorants on Outer Brewster; no sign of nesting adults…yet!    Following our boat-based circuit, we landed on Middle Brewster where we detected 43 eider nests during a through search of the entire island.  For comparison, 28 nests were found there in 2009.  No BCNHs were observed on Middle Brewster, though we have found small numbers nesting there in the past.

Waterbird Monitoring volunteer Pat Dolan searching for eider nesting on Middle Brewster (CLT, 5.18.2012).



Nesting Double-crested Cormorants on Middle Brewster (CLT, 5.18.2012).

Hoping to avoid the rain and make it too Sarah in the morning!


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Tuesday was exactly the kind of day for which we wish!  Sunny and calm, not too hot…. Perfect!

Least Tern chick on Lovells Island (CLT, 6.28.2011).


The Least Tern colony on Lovells Island continues to be very active with approximately 80-85 adults attending.  We began a second complete nest count, but quickly chose to abandon the effort since many young chicks were present and we did not wish to cause unnecessary disturbance during such a critical phase of the breeding season.  The Great Black-backed Gull earlier reported to be nesting on Lovells was carefully brooding two chicks just outside the tern colony.  This is the first record I know of a nesting gull on Lovells – as Marc said earlier, ‘Nice to live close to where you eat.’  We’ll see…

Great Black-backed Gull Brood on Lovells Island (CLT, 6.28.2011).


A boat-based survey of the Outer Islands turned up 159 Common Eider chicks associated with 86 females.  An additional 357 females were in the area.  Compared to previous years, these numbers suggest only moderate success this season.  We also kept watch for any dead adult eiders on island beaches, but saw done.  In addition to eider chicks, we also observed a pair of territorial American Oystercatchers on Outer Brewster, and another pair with one fledged chick on Middle Brewster!  We spotted at least 3 gray seals around The Graves, several Wilson’s Storm-petrel east of the Brewsters, Spotted Sandpipers on Middle and Outer Brewster, and one immature Great Cormorant on Shag Rocks.

Common Eider females tending chicks (CLT, Green Island, 6.28.2011).

 A boat-based survey of the west side of Great Brewster resulted in one pair of territorial American Oystercatchers.  No accompanying chicks were spotted, but the fact that the adults are still on territory is encouraging.  There were also approximately 47 additional female Common Eiders in the area. 

 We finished the day with a complete boat-based survey of Rainsford Island.  No American Oystercatchers were observed, but lots of Spotted Sandpiper activity was noted and 9 additional female Common Eiders were in the area.   Back out on July 6th!  Happy Fourth of July!

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Our last trip before the Summer Solstice occurred on Monday, June 20th.  The weather was lovely with Our last trip before the Summer Solstice occurred on Monday, June 20th.  The weather was lovely with very light winds, so we took advantage of the opportunity to conduct a boat-based survey for Common Eider chicks around the Outer Islands. We ended up with a total of 199 chicks on our regular Outer Islands circuit – and then saw five more feeding off the rocks on Lovells a bit later in the morning. 

Common Eider with chicks off Shag Rocks (CLT, 6.20.2011).

This was our first real eider crèche survey this year and numbers seem reasonable given previous years data.  For comparison, in 2010 we counted 341 chicks on 6/16 (!) and had counts of over 250 throughout the season, but in 2009 we reached our high count of 196 in early June and plummeted from there.  It will be interesting to see what we turn up next week.


Double-crested Cormorant nesting colony (Middle Brewster, CLT 6.20.2011).

We also observed an incubating American Oystercatcher on the landing beach on Outer Brewster and an active pair on the landing beach on Middle Brewster.  No other AMOY were observed, so the fate of those we saw on Calf, Little Calf, and Green are unknown.  Though we did not see any Great Cormorants, nesting Double-crested Cormorants remain very active feeding young.  We also observed a couple of Wilson’s Storm-petrels in the area, and at least 2 harbor seals and 4 gray seals around the Graves.   

Hauled out Harbor and Gray Seal (The Graves, CLT 6.20.2011).


The Least Tern colony on Lovells remains active.  We did not conduct a complete count, since we had been there only 5 days earlier, but we did check in on adult numbers and they seemed stable.

Least Tern nest on outskirts of Lovells Colony (CLT, 6.20.2011).


Thanks to Marc and crew for posting signage in the area. 

Lovells Island Least Tern Colony (CLT, 6.20.2011).

Killdeer chicks we had previously noted on the beach last week also seemed to be coming along fine (does anything look more ridiculous that a baby Killdeer?) 

Killdeer chick (Lovells Island, CLT 6.20.2011).


Susannah and Pat also observed a pair of territorial American Oystercatchers on the north side of Lovells.  Although we did not find chicks, their behavior strongly indicated they had unfledged young nearby – a first for Lovells!


Hard-working Volunteers!

Enjoy these long days – maybe we’ll even see the sun sometime?!?


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After a slow start to the season, we’ve had two weeks of glorious weather and finished up May with a lot to show for our efforts!

The Graves, 5.25.11 CLT.

We kicked off the season for real on Wednesday, May 25th with a boat-based survey of the Outer Islands.  Have you ever visited the Graves on a day like this?!?  Incubating gull and cormorant numbers appear generally similar to previous years (see boat_counts_boha11.pdf, attached) – special thanks to Bob K. for observing and Pat for testing out electronic data collection with CyberTracker!  Upon reaching the Outer Islands, we were greeted by three pair of American Oystercatchers just south of Calf Island.  Based on observations during the rest of our loop, we believe that at least one pair is nesting on Calf and one pair on Middle Brewster.  The third pair may have come over from Great Brewster (see 5/26 report) or there may be a second pair on Calf.  We also spotted single adult AMOYs on intertidal rocks on Little Calf and Green Islands.  There were still lots of adult male and immature male Common Eider ‘hanging around’ and 42 eider chicks were observed in small groups around the Graves, Middle, and Outer Brewster.   (Although we missed our window to assess nesting eider this year, we will be tracking chick numbers beginning in mid-June.)  Other items of note were 2 Harbor Seals on the rocks near Green Island, a juvenile Great Cormorant also on Green, and an adult GRCO on intertidal rocks off Outer Brewster – a future nesting waterbird species perhaps?  On our way back to the dock on the 25th, we checked out the beach on Lovells where a few Least Terns were circling, but no nesting activity was noted.  We also observed 2 AMOY feeding off Lovells and counted 14 nesting Herring Gulls and 15 nesting Great Black-backed Gulls on Gallops.

American Oystercatcher nest with two chicks on Great Brewster Island (5.26.11, CLT).

We headed back out on the 26th, taking advantage of the high tide and starting our morning with a visit to Snake Island in Winthrop where we observed 5 pair of American Oystercatchers and 5 pair of territorial Willets.  In an effort to minimize disturbance, we did not search heavily for nests but territorial behavior was definitely apparent.  Two Least Terns and 2 Common Terns were spotted in the area, but there was no indication of nesting.  Also of note were Black-bellied Plover, White-winged Scoter, Killdeer, Ruddy Turnstones, Northern Rough-winged Swallows, and a Saltmarsh Sparrow (a species I had previously seen on Snake… though apparently Bob S. didn’t really believe me until he saw it for himself!)  A visit to Great Brewster yielded 2 additional AMOY pairs who both nested on the landing beach where one pair has been found in previous years.  The first nest held one egg and two brand new chicks being earnestly defended by their parents from interested gulls at the ready nearby.  (My advice to nesting oystercatchers is – DON’T BUILD YOUR NEST NEAR A GULL COLONY – they never seem to listen to me….) Combined gull counts on Great Brewster resulted in 108 Herring Gull nests and 9 Great Black-backed Gull nests, most of which held 3 eggs.  We also observed a Herring Gull with a green wing tag numbered 99, which appears to be a bird tagged as part of a DCR water supply study (see http://www.mass.gov/dcr/watersupply/watershed/study/index.htmfor more on this).  A loop around Spectacle on our way back in yielded a whole lot of nothing, but it does not look like mowing has taken place yet, so that is great news for nesting birds.

Carl & Susan nest searching on Great Brewster (5.26.11, CLT).

This past week we spent Tuesday, May 31st conducting boat-based surveys in the Dorchester and Hingham areas.  It appears to be a busy year for American Oystercatchers with a single adult spotted on Slate, 1 pair on Bumpkin, 1 pair on Sarah, 1 pair (with 2 chicks!) on Button, and 2 pairs with a possible 3rdon Sheep.  Gull and Cormorant numbers were similar to previous years:  Sarah (101 HERG, 11 GBBG, 85 DCCO), Ragged (1 HERG), Button (8 HERG, 2 GBBG), and Sheep (123 HERG, 4 GBBG, 15 DCCO).  Cormorant numbers on both Sarah and Sheep are up from previous years and Herring Gulls seem to be down, but I haven’t yet had the chance to run through all the numbers.  Also, although not our primary focus this year, wading bird colonies on Sarah and Sheep were quite active with all the expected species present.  Finally, a landing on Rainsford turned up 2 MORE pairs of AMOY, 2 nesting GBBG, 1 nesting HERG, and approximately 11 territorial Spotted Sandpipers – an extremely consistent figure, though we had little luck with nest searching in 2010. 

Sheep Island (5.31.11, CLT).

So for those of you keeping score at home, it appears we have at least 17 or 18 pairs of American Oystercatchers on territory in the islands, and we haven’t yet visited Thompson or Peddocks.  So, we are on track for consistently high numbers again in 2011!   We’ll be back out counting again the week of June 13th…  See you then!

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We had a productive, though breezy, morning on July 22nd with lots of good news to share from the islands!

The Least Tern colony on Lovells is quite active with numerous chicks present.  We decided not to enter the colony site since chicks were running around everywhere (!) but observed at least 26 adult terns present.  Several adults appeared to still be incubating nests, but most were feeding and tending young (see attached pics).    We also observed 5 Common Terns on Lovells, including one fully fledged juvenile still begging its parent for a handout (teenagers are all the same regardless of species).  Although we know these Common Terns did not breed on Lovells they were quite territorial – maybe they are prospecting new sites for next season?

We were prevented from visiting Snake due to a surprise LNG delivery, but did visit the Hingham Harbor Islands after receiving a report of an American Oystercatcher pair with chicks on Sarah Island.  We saw no sign of AMOY on Sarah, but did see one pair flying around the area between Ragged and Button.  We did not observe any chicks present, but sometimes they are pretty sneaky.

We landed on Sheep Island where we found 3 pair of AMOY.  One pair had a fledged chick and one of the adults from this pair was banded there in 2009 (yellow band – ‘CK’).  The other two pairs were very active and territorial, but we did not observe chicks or nests.  In addition to AMOY, Sheep also has very active gull and wading bird colonies; young Glossy Ibis were readily visible.

A visit to Hangman turned up little except gull chicks, though there were a number of eider and one White-winged Scoter in the area.  We finished the morning with a quick pass by Rainsford.  The AMOY pair that had been incubating on the tern nesting beach was not present there, but we did find a pair on the rocks by the landing beach.  No chicks appeared to be present with them, but we’ll take a closer look next week.

(See Bob Stymeist’s excellent photos from the trip at http://www.flickr.com/photos/rstymeist/4818840410/)


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