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.



Alas, another season is behind us…  We finished up our 2011 efforts with two trips on July 19th and 26th

Boat-based Surveys (CLT, 7/19/2011).


On the 19th, we began our day with a boat-based survey in the Outer Islands.  We counted a total of 519 female Common Eider and 97 ‘distinguishable ducklings’.  (It was recently pointed out to me that ‘ducklings’, as opposed to ‘chicks’, is the preferred nomenclature for referencing juvenile eider.  I have further qualified it with ‘distinguishable’ since, by this point in the season, some ducklings are undoubtedly large enough to escape our notice and get counted as adult females.)  Anyway… in addition to 97 distinguishable ducklings, we also detected 2 adult American Oystercatchers with 1 fledged juvenile on Calf Island and another group of 2 adults and 1 fledged juvenile on Outer Brewster.  Foraging Spotted Sandpipers were noted on Green, Outer Brewster, Shag Rocks, and Little Brewster and 1 harbor seal was spotted on the Graves.   After a season counting eider ducks in Boston Harbor, some of you may be interested to know that this species has a long history of human interaction and sustainable eiderdown harvest still takes place in Canada, Iceland, and other areas of the Artic today.  The Norwegian Island of Vega was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004 and has since been added to my dream travel list (see http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1143).

Fishing the Graves (CLT, 7/19/2011).


The Least Tern colony on Lovells Island has dispersed after what appeared to be a successful season.  The Great Black-backed Gull that nested just outside the colony still lingers in the area with one fat and healthy chick.  A carcass found nearby may have been the second chick, who was not in evidence during our visit.  One Spotted Sandpiper, acting quite territorial, was also noted nearby on Lovells. 

In addition on the 19th, we also observed two adult American Oystercatchers with 1 fledged juvenile on Peggy’s Point on Gallops Island, but did not see any on Rainsford during a boat-based survey.  Eight Wilson’s Storm-petrels were working the water between Lovells and George’s and Spotted Sandpipers were foraging on both Gallops and Rainsford, presumably having completed their nesting efforts for the season.

Snake Island (CLT, 7/26/2011).

On the 26th, we took advantage of the morning high tide and landed on Snake Island where we observed 10 adult American Oystercatchers and 5 fledged juveniles along with 34(!) Willets.  There were 7 adult Common Terns in the area.  We came upon one abandoned tern nest with 2 eggs and then, quite surprisingly, found 2 very young Common Tern chicks on the beach.  Although we saw terns in the area during our initial visit in late May, the end of July is quite late for nesting terns.  Black-crowned Night-herons, a Great Blue Heron, a Great Egret, Least Terns, Short-billed Dowichers, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Semipalmated Plovers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Song Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds, and European Starlings were all foraging on Snake – more evidence that the breeding season is over and fall is shortly upon us.


Boston Skyline form Snake Island (CLT, 7/26/2011).

During a boat-based survey of the Outer Islands on the 26th we counted 426 female Common Eider and just 21 ‘distinguishable ducklings’.  Ducklings born in May or early June should be approaching full size and are quite capable of traveling across open water to feeding sites along the mainland.  It is not at all surprising that so few young ducklings were present and very much appears to have been a successful season for eider overall.  Adult American Oystercatchers were detected on Little Calf, Calf, Green, Outer Brewster, and Shag Rocks (with a fledged juvenile?).  One Great Cormorant and 1 gray seal were observed on the Graves and a single Spotted Sandpiper on Middle Brewster.

We ended our day with a landing on Sheep Island where we spotted 9 American Oystercatchers, at least one of which was a fledged juvenile.  One adult had a yellow leg band, one letter of which was ‘K”.  An adult with code YE(CK) was banded on Sheep in 2009 and re-sighted in 2010, so it may have been the same individual again.  Also on Sheep were nesting Herring and Black-baked Gulls, Double-crested Cormorants, Glossy Ibis, Black-crowned Night Herons, Snowy Egrets, and Great Egrets.  We noted at least 7 Spotted Sandpipers, along with Least Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstones, Semipalmated Sandpipers, and Semipalmated Plovers all foraging in the intertidal.


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!

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!

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?!?


After another bout of awful weather, we were finally able to get back to the islands on Wednesday, June 16th.  

Least Tern Colony, Lovells Island (CLT 6.16.2011)

Our reward was 75 Least Tern nests on Lovells!  (See above – not bad real estate, huh?)  There was also a pair of Killdeer with 4 chicks on the beach nearby.  

Nesting Least Terns and Killdeer (Lovells Island, CLT, 6.16.2011)

After leaving Lovells, we headed to the tern nesting platform off Spinnaker Island, near Hull.  At first it appeared there was little activity,

No Common Terns this year? (Spinnaker Tern Platform, CLT, 6.16.2011)

but once Russ brought the boat all the way in to the piling, VIOLA!  We estimated that (approximately) 133 adult Common Terns flushed from the platform.

Common Tern Nesting Platform (Spinnaker Island, CLT, 6.16.2011)

A cruise by the beaches surrounding Prince’s Head on Peddocks turned up no American Oystercatchers this year.  However, we did count 29 nesting or brooding Great Black-backed Gulls on Hangman, along with one nesting Double-crested Cormorant – a first for me!  There was also a pair of territorial American Oystercatchers spotted on Hangman, though no chicks were observed.  We attempted a trip to the Outer Islands, but were rebuffed by rough seas.

Hopefully, we’ll have better conditions for eider chick counting when we head out tomorrow!  Also of note, you may remember that we sighted a Herring Gull with a green wing tag on Great Brewster a couple of weeks ago – the following information about that bird was provided to me by Ken Mackenzie from DCR:

 Here is some specific information on K99:Captured 2/4/11 at South Bay Center, South Boston, MA; Capture location (GPS): 42.3297805, – 71.063811; Captured using a rocket net baited with crackers and bread; Adult male herring gull; Green wing-tags: K99; Red leg band: 55; Federal leg band: 1146-31807; Released on site:  Sightings:  This is the first sighting of this gull since its capture in February.  Thank you!

 Ken would love reports of other tagged gulls, so please keep your eyes open!


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!