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Hi all!

We wrapped up the season last Thursday with boat-based surveys of Snake Island and the Outer Harbor.  We observed 7 adult American Oystercatchers with 4 chicks on Snake, as well as one adult on Fisherman’s Bend in Winthrop and one adult on the shore of the Logan runway.  Susannah reported 5 fledged chicks on Snake earlier in June.  Of the four we saw last Thursday, 3 were two young to have been observed in June, indicating that Snake has potentially produced at least 8 fledged chicks this season!

Searching for American Oystercatchers in the Outer Islands. (CLT, 7.26.2012)


Unfortunately, observations of oystercatcher productivity elsewhere in the Harbor have been less fruitful… We observed 2 adults on Calf, 1 adult on Little Calf, 1 adult on The Graves, and 1 adult on Shag Rocks, all feeding intertidally.  No other fledged chicks were observed.  A summary of oystercatcher observations throughout the 2012 season and our ‘best guesses’ for productivity outcomes are attached.

Harbor Seals and Common Eider on The Graves. (CLT, 7.26.2012).


Other items of note on Thursday were a Whimbrel on Green Island, and 6 harbor seals hauled out on The Graves.  We also noted feeding Spotted Sandpipers on Snake, Calf, Little Calf, Green, Middle Brewster, and Outer Brewster.

Harbor Seals hauled out in The Graves. (CLT, 7.26.2012).


Thanks you all for a wonderful season!


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Hi everyone!
Things are definitely winding down for the season in Boston Harbor (at least bird-wise). On Thursday we spent the morning following up on American Oystercatcher pairs observed earlier in the season. We detected active pairs on Button and Sarah in Hingham Harbor, as well as a pair on Grape Island. Oddly, one of the adults on Button appeared to be incubating, which seems unlikely given the late date… We also detected 9 adult oystercatchers on Sheep Island and another 3 on Hangman.

Cormorant colony on Middle Brewster (CLT, 07.12.2012).

During a landing on Great Brewster we found only a single pair of oystercatchers on the south end of the island. There were two pairs nesting on the landing beach earlier in the season. In a trip around the Outer Islands we observed 3 adult oystercatchers in flight on the south end of Calf and another adult on the rocks off the east side of Calf. We also detected an adult (may have been the same previously seen in flight) on the west end of Middle Brewster. There were no pairs observed on Green or Outer Brewster where we had observed them earlier in the season. No oystercatcher chicks were observed.

Other items of note: Wading birds colonies were still quite active on Sarah and Sheep. We spotted a Harbor Seal off Hangman. And we observed many Spotted Sandpipers feeding on the rocks all over the place! We also noted a handful of young eider in the Outer Islands, but remaining chicks are now large enough to be extremely difficult to distinguish from adult females, so no formal survey was conducted.

Hope you are all having a great summer! Our last trip will be on July 26th, after which I’ll provide a more complete summary of American Oystercatcher observations for the season.


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Yesterday’s effort ended in heavy rain at 8:20am, but we got in a solid hour+ of work before that came to pass…

It appears that the tern colony on Lovell’s has been abandoned for this season.  Rangers have reported a rat infestation and we saw ample rat tracks during our visit yesterday.  After being washed out by the early June moon tide it appears they’ve given for this year.  Good news is that, although two adults were hanging around, it looks like the Great Black-backed Gull pair that was nesting in the tern colony on Lovells also gave up for the season after being overwashed earlier in the month.  Adult and young Killdeer were still running all over the beach!


Searching for eiders off Green Island (CLT, 6.29.2012).

We began a boat-based survey for eider ducklings in the Outer Harbor and made it to The Graves before the rain came.  At that point we’d counted 113 females without ducklings and 11 females accompanying a total of 6 ducklings in 3 separate crèches.  For comparison, looking at a comparable portion of the survey from June 12th, we had 91 females without ducklings and 16 females with 10 ducklings.  Although I’d like to think there were a whole bunch of eider ducklings hiding out somewhere we didn’t get too, I tend to suspect this was a low productivity year for Common Eider in the Harbor Islands.  While in the Outer Islands Friday we also observed adult American Oystercatchers on Calf and Green Islands (we did not get to the Brewsters).

Hope everyone is enjoying a good start to summer and has a Happy Fourth of July!


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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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Yesterday (May 14th) was the official launch of the 2012 Boston Harbor Waterbird Monitoring Season!  

Polly & Wayne searching for eider nests on Calf Island. (CLT, 5.14.2012)


Common Eider nest on Calf Island. (CLT, 5.14.2012).

We had great conditions and started the field season with a ground-based nest count of Common Eider on Calf Island.  We were met at the island by a group of federal and state biologists interested in obtaining blood samples from the Boston Harbor nesting colony to further their investigations of ‘Wellfleet Bay Virus’, the newly described virus that is thought to be responsible for recent large scale eider die-offs on Cape Cod.  (Check out this recent Cape Cod Times Article on Wellfleet Bay Virus:http://www.capecodonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20120310/NEWS/203100335).



Avian Disease Coordinator, Sam Gibbs, & State Waterfowl Biologist, H. Heusmann band and obtain blood sample from a nesting Common Eider in Boston Harbor. (CLT, 5.14.212)


While the visiting researchers worked on the north end of the island, we counted nests on the southern end of Calf.  We found a total of 26 nests, which is a bit higher than the 18 nests found on that portion of the island when last surveyed in 2008.  Notably missing were the Black-crowned Night-Herons previously known to be nesting in the lilacs and willows in the center of the island – there were 13 BCNH nests and 30 adults in 2008, and only a few adults and no nests on this visit.  We also located two American Oystercatcher nests – one with 2 eggs and one chick!


American Oystercatcher nest on Calf Island (CLT, 5.14.2012).


If you have an interest in eider research, you may enjoy these beautiful photos from a project going on in my neck of the woods…. Common Eider Research in Rhode Island: http://coastalbirds2.blogspot.com/2010/01/wintering-ecology-of-common-eider-in.html

Back out in the island on Thursday…stay tuned.


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A perfect summer day in Boston Harbor!  Where were days like these back in May when we needed them?

Summer in Boston Harbor (CLT, 7.6.2011).


 We counted a total of 117 eider chicks during a survey of the Outer Islands (down from 159 last week).  Chicks were attended by 110 females, with an additional 326 females in the area.   This means a total of 436 females detected, as compared to 443 on our June 28thsurvey.  Pretty similar numbers! 

Gray seals hauled out on the Graves (CLT, 7.6.2011).


There was definitely a sense that summer had arrived.  We noted many Wilson’s Storm-petrels in the Outer Harbor, several gray seals were hauled out on the Graves, and Spotted Sandpipers were observed actively feeding in the intertidal zones of Calf,  Green, Middle, Outer, and Little Brewster.   We had several American Oystercatchers calling in flight near Calf and observed one adult on the landing beach there.  We observed 4 adults in flight along the east side of Calf later in the morning, though it was not clear if these were the same individuals or from where they were coming.  One AMOY adult was also observed on the landing beach on Middle Brewster where previously detected.    

Hardingworking volunteers (CLT, 7.6.2011).


The Least Tern colony on Lovells remains quite active with several chicks close to fledging.  There were approximately 35 adults attending the colony. Given the timing and the lower adult numbers (and two very fat gull chicks nearby) it seems likely that some predation has taken place, though in general the colony was still very active.  No American Oystercatchers were detected on Lovells.

Back out on a couple weeks!

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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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