Posted by: scourc01 | August 6, 2014

Every July, R92 like clockwork

Last month, Margo Goetschkes and Steve Grinley, gull-spotting enthusiasts, wrote to report a sighting of R92 on Plum Island in Massachusetts. Bill Clark dredged up the scoop on this bird from the gull database, and tells us that it was banded as a chick on July 18th, 2012. The next time it was seen, as it turns out, was by yours truly (guest blogger Sarah Courchesne)! I find this inordinately exciting. Here is the bird as it looked when I saw it in July 2013 on Salisbury Beach, Massachusetts:

R92 on the right, strutting sassily.

R92 on the right, strutting sassily.

Then, this July, as it was when Margo and Steve saw it:

Photo: M. Goetschkes/S. Grinley

We don’t have any wintertime sightings of this bird, but it seems to show some fidelity to this area in the summer, Salisbury Beach being just across the mouth of the Merrimack River from Plum Island. Hopefully, we will be seeing this bird back on Appledore to breed in another couple years, and possibly earlier than that to prospect and get beaten about by adult gulls.

We have another sighting to share as well: C17, dubbed in a previous post as “the local gull,” is proving the aptness of that title. This time, it was seen once again on Hampton Beach on July 12th by Michelle Brown. This bird was banded as a chick in 2005, making it nine years old now, and undoubtedly very savvy.

This bird looks extremely savvy, no? (Photo by M. Brown)

This bird looks extremely savvy, no? (Photo by M. Brown)

Posted by: scourc01 | July 7, 2014

Resight report

Greetings, larophiles!

Sarah here again, with a few resights for you, one of them made by yours truly. While I was out on my survey for the SEANET project, looking for dead seabirds, I chanced upon a very much alive Y30, loitering near some likely looking beach goers. As I tried to get a good view of the band, a man in a beach chair called out, “C’mon! I bet you could catch him!” I laughed and said, “I think I already did, actually–he’s got a band on and I may well have been the one who placed it!” The man and his wife looked closely at the bird as if for the first time. “Wow!” the woman yelled, “Look at that! He is wearing a band!” It occurred to me that even when operating right under the noses of most humans, these birds are not ever really seen. A shame, since maybe if people understood them a little better, they would be less reviled. Sigh.

Anyway, here’s my poor cell phone photo of the bird on Salisbury Beach Riverside Reservation in Massachusetts on June 30.


It turns out that this bird was indeed banded last year in July, and since then has been seen again trailing behind a cod fishing boat off Rhode Island in October 2013. A resourceful little youngster, this.

The second sighting I have for you comes from New Jersey, where Renee Franklin spotted this amputee gull on June 30. The right foot is missing, though the leg appears healed from what I can see in this photo. It’s a bit hard to read the band, but we think it says R37. If that is correct, the bird was banded in 2012 as a chick, with both feet intact, and this is its first sighting since then. How it came to lose the foot is not clear, though it’s not the first time we’ve seen that. Whether banded or not, gulls have a remarkable capacity for getting themselves into trouble. I’ve seen fishing line entanglements, burns, gunshot wounds and a host of other unexplained wounds and injuries result in the loss of a foot in gulls. They seem to adapt to the loss very well, as R37 seems to have done. Perhaps we will see it back on Appledore to breed when the time comes. After all, there was, for a long time, a one footed gull nesting successfully outside one of the dorms. Hopefully this is not the last we’ll see or hear from R37, and thank you to Renee for the sighting!

Tagged gull at Point Pleasant, NJ. (Photo by Renee Franklin)

Tagged gull at Point Pleasant, NJ. (Photo by Renee Franklin)

This is Carly Emes, reporting back with the promised “gory details” of how we band the gulls! I’d like to describe the step-by-step process of catch and release; and also touch on the importance of various samples we collect from each individual gull.

Participating in field research is not glamorous. As many of you are aware, Great Black-backed Gulls and Herring Gulls will stop at nothing to defend their little patch of territory – especially when mates have invested so much energy into a clutch of eggs. This strong parental behavior is an important factor that we use to our advantage as we proceed with caution into the thick of the colony.

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The colony of aware and vigilant parents.

This May, our team focused on banding Herring Gulls. Nowadays, scientific research typically uses the most specialized gadgets adapted to collect necessary data at the highest efficiency. However, our methods do not fall into that category. In fact, most of our techniques are quite comical and simplified (but nevertheless they are great at getting the job done).

Fully clad in our fashionable hat-underneath-helmet look paired with gull poop stained jackets, the team seeks for reasonably level terrain to set up several buckets of our more clinical tools for banding. Meanwhile, two or more members will branch off and look for unbanded Herring Gulls with a notably strong instinct to incubate their eggs. If the gull is dedicated to staying seated, then we can simply and safely pluck them off of the nest and into a gull-sized cloth bag. If not, then we have a choice of using two different traps.

Sean Jeffery and I attempting the tactile approach (as the wary mate above watches our every move).

Sean Jeffery and I attempting the tactile approach (as the wary mate above watches our every move).

Our trap of choice (based on the convenience of nest location this year) was the “Wiley trap.” Aptly nicknamed after Wiley Coyote, this trap is comprised of a box propped up by a stick attached to a string.

The classic cartoon trap positioned for our next prospect.

The classic cartoon trap positioned for our next prospect.

Once the gull is in custody, we bring them to basecamp to process them in a timely and quiet manner.

The first step is to obtain a blood sample. This is an important element of genetic analysis which can be useful for tracing breeding relationships among the returning population.

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After bleeding, we place a federal band (USGS) on the right leg, and a field band on the left leg. This is a key component of Julie Ellis’ research which allows her to track where the gulls are located on a global scale, and if they are alive and well. Of course, this is made possible by the helpful citizens who report their sightings.

Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 8.57.23 AM Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 8.57.39 AMNext, we weigh the bird and take several different measurements including the length of the tarsus, back of the skull to the tip of the bill, and wing chord. At their adult stage, documenting body dimension is another useful piece of data that we like to keep in our bank of records. Lastly, In order to not further disorient this troubled bird, we must release him or her within the range of its own territory.

Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 8.57.45 AMDuring our week stay, we try our best to complete this course of action as many times as possible. As you may imagine, these activities have left me with phantom binoculars and an irrational paranoia of dive-bombing gulls. Even with the scientific duties we performed as a team, at the end of the day I can only describe this experience as rowdy and rewarding.

Happy gulling and thanks for your time!

Posted by: scourc01 | June 4, 2014

Reflections post-banding

I have traded the sound of gulls calling and stomping on the roof for the trill of tree frogs here at home in mainland New Hampshire, and, now that I am clean and somewhat rested, and the gull restraint bags are washed and drying on my clothesline, I thought I might write you all a line or two in summary of our banding week.

The final total was 39 adult Herring Gulls caught, bled and banded, and 5 Great Black-backed Gulls (caught on a day when we needed a dose of the instant gratification only Black-backed trapping can provide). Carly Emes, gull team member, has a post planned with all the gory details on how it’s done, so I will limit myself to generalities and mainly focus on praising the hard working team we assembled. Pictured in our official team photo: Bill Clark (kneeling), gull guru and stalwart supporter; North Shore Community College grad Sean Jeffery; yours truly, Sarah Courchesne; Sarah Chieng, soon to be official veterinary technician; Carly Emes, pondering graduate study; and Kristen “K-Cat” whom we poached from the songbird ranks for a day or so–thanks K-Cat!



F07, hybrid offspring of our resident LBBG was indeed seen again, and Lauren Kras has been kind enough to share her photo of this specimen. What do you think? Would you pick this bird out of a crowd as a hybrid?

F07 with a putative mate. (Photo by L. Kras)

F07 with a putative mate. (Photo by L. Kras)

Lauren also happened to take a photo of F07 back in 2011 when it was a callow youth alongside its dapper dad.

One day in July 2011. (Photo by L. Kras)

One day in July 2011. (Photo by L. Kras)

One final item of note: during the week on Appledore, I spent a few hours entering data from an observer who watches gulls visit his pile of deer carcasses and restaurant and butchery wastes. Bald Eagles and ravens also frequent the pile, but among the gulls are several who sport the bands of Appledore. In an odd coincidence, Davis Finch, the proprietor of the pile, lives half a mile from my house in East Kingston, New Hampshire. When I go running on unexpectedly warm winter days, when the pile has thawed a bit and is stinking, I have had occasion to curse Mr. Finch. And indeed, on hour three of data entry from his meticulous record keeping, I felt I had occasion again. But in truth, I am grateful. His sightings have shown us that some of these gulls are routinely making the commute from Appledore to East Kingston and back, a distance of almost 20 miles each way, as the gull flies. It’s a small pleasure to think that I might band a gull in the morning, and then that same bird, bands jangling, could fly right over the backyard where my kids are playing on its way to the infamous bone pile.

Now, I must go gather those gull bags from the line; the forecast promises rain overnight. This’ll be my last post for you all for the foreseeable future. Thanks for reading, and happy sighting!

Posted by: scourc01 | June 2, 2014

Resight roundup

I’ll be posting more of a summary of our week’s final tallies, our banding successes and failures soon, but I also wanted to share with you some off-island resights that have come in over the past few months. After all, your usual Gull Team Captain, Julie Ellis, welcomed her own chick about a week ago when her second child was born! So, you’re stuck with me for a bit.

3U4 cruises over the waters of Lake Michigan. (Photo: A. Ayyash)

3U4 cruises over the waters of Lake Michigan. (Photo: A. Ayyash)

The first very cool sighting came from Amar Ayyash, who posted on his site anythinglarus, about GBBG 3U4 who’s made it all the way to Lake Michigan! Amar also had some very kind words for Julie’s project and our banding endeavors, so thank you, Amar; it means a lot when we are just finishing up the week and are four days without a shower and feces besmirched.

This next photo is of a gull bait closer to home–5T9 was spotted by Eric Labato at Sandy Point Reservation on Plum Island in Massachusetts. This bird was banded as a chick in 2011, and since then has been seen a handful of times, mainly at the very same beach where Eric spotted it.

Banded as chick in 2011, this 3 year old frequents Sandy Point. (Photo: Eric Labato)

Banded as chick in 2011, this 3 year old frequents Sandy Point. (Photo: Eric Labato)

Finally, David Baake wrote to tell us he’d seen 2E2 on Plum Island as well. Check out his post with the details and a lovely photo as well! 2E2 is currently nesting here on the island, a stone’s throw from where I sit typing right now. Tomorrow, I head back for the mainland in what will be, for me, an hour’s boat ride. We will undoubtedly watch many a gull speed past making the same trip in less time, but with far higher stakes. The chicks have started hatching, and provisions must be gathered.

As ever, keep your eyes peeled, larophiles! Thanks for your forbearance during Julie’s absence.


Posted by: scourc01 | May 30, 2014

Better days for banding

Bill and Carly wait for bird deliveries.

Bill and Carly wait for bird deliveries.

Today was a great day for banding and resights; though the Herring Gulls continue to be sneaky and evasive, we got our hands on about nine more today. We’re now just leaping into the shrubbery trying to catch them without traps. We are having some success with this technique.
We also went on a resighting mission around some of the lesser visited parts of the island and detected several birds that have not been seen since they were banded in 2011, or in one notable case, 2009!

Sarah makes new friends.

Sarah makes new friends.

A bird of particular interest showed up two days ago, but not since, much to our chagrin. One of the hybrid offspring of the Lesser Black-backed Gull (F05) and a Herring Gull mate turned up on the rocks not too distant from dear old dad. F07, a hybrid, was banded as a chick in 2011 and had not been seen since. We saw him/her standing beside a Herring Gull and gazing out to sea. Since that sighting, we have failed to find the bird again, and not for want of trying. Perhaps it’ll be back to try and nest in earnest next year.

Sean contemplates the sea (and waits for a bird to enter a trap.)

Sean contemplates the sea (and waits for a bird to enter a trap.)

The weather should be favorable through the weekend, so we’re hoping for two more days of good banding before our departure on Monday.

Posted by: scourc01 | May 28, 2014

The rains descend on Appledore

Yesterday, we caught a brief window of dry, though cool weather, and managed to band and draw blood from three adult Herring Gulls. Alas, at that point, the wind picked up, and later in the day we started to get some rain as well. We devoted a few hours to scouring the island for any banded gulls and appear to have picked up a few subadults who may be back for the first time since being banded as chicks. After lunch though, the weather drove us inside and we’ve been pinned down since. Now, we’re hunkered down, sheltering from a steady rain. But that means more time to blog for you all. We’ve had some interesting sightings lately, but more on those later.

Sarah Chieng and Sean Jeffery search for banded birds during our brief weather window.

Sarah Chieng and Sean Jeffery search for banded birds during our brief weather window.

For now, I introduce our May gull team: the intrepid Bill Clark is here of course, and your guest blogger (Sarah Courchesne still) and our student recruits: Carly Emes of SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry is back for another round; Sean Jeffery, who just graduated from North Shore Community College; and Sarah Chieng, who also just finished up at North Shore with a veterinary technician’s degree. We are looking forward to clearing skies and warmer temperatures in the coming days so we can go on a banding spree and search for ever more banded birds as well. We will keep you posted on our progress, and I’ll share any and all news while the weather keeps me rainbound.

Posted by: scourc01 | May 26, 2014

We’ve made landfall on Appledore!

Sarah Courchesne here, updating you all this week. The gull banding and resighting team (May edition) arrived today and is now getting settled in. While out checking on F05, we encountered a dead bird that looked a bit different from the juvenile gulls to whose corpses we are fairly accustomed. Upon examining the bird, we determined that it was the mummified and skeletal remains of a Snowy Owl. The owls were seen hunting the island over the winter, and indeed, the muskrat population here has been decimated. Still, this owl met a bad end here somehow.

Later this week, we’ll have some actual gull related updates for you, but until then, here’s a pic of the owl we found today out among the Herring Gull nests. Another Snowy carcass was apparently spotted over on Smuttynose Island today too. What led to their demise? Much to my chagrin, there is nothing left to necropsy, so your guess is as good as mine.

Snowy Owl remains on Appledore.

Snowy Owl remains on Appledore.


Keith Mueller, as you may recall, is an avid birder and incredibly talented artist.  He saw Y30, a young Herring Gull banded in July 2013, during a cod fishing trip off the coast of Rhode Island.  On October 3, Keith was on a boat on the southeast corner of Coxes Ledges, approx. 32 miles southeast of Point Judith, Rhode Island.  Y30 was in a flock of approximately 50 gulls that were attracted to a chumline Keith was running that was baited with catfood and beef suet (yum!) to attract Shearwaters and Fulmars.  He posted an account of the day, including beautiful photos of a variety of bird species, at his blog: New England Coastal Birds.

cox ledges, RI


Y30 looking for yummy chum. Photo by Keith Mueller


Nice leg shot of Y30 in flight. Photo by Keith Mueller


In late September 2013, V57 was observed in Rosenhayn, an unincorporated community located within Deerfield, New Jersey.  The bird was reported to the Bird Banding Lab and the “How Found Code” indicated that it was found injured.  I’ve contacted the observer and am hoping to get more details.  V57 has traveled a long distance for its short life:  it was banded as a chick in July 2012 and was seen at Brownsville Municipal Landfill in Texas in February 2013, then in at Reeds Beach in Burleigh, NJ in May 2013, and now at Rosenhayn.   I’ll post an update on the status of this bird as soon as I hear something back.

Jon Worthen had another productive day at Hampton Beach, NH in late September. I’ll just report on a few of the birds he saw.  Jon saw Herring Gull K50 who was banded as a chick in July 2010 and was subsequently observed at Hampton Beach in April, May, & Nov 2012.  It returned to Appledore for the first time since banding (as far as we know) this past summer.  This is the first mainland observation of the bird since the summer.


K50, photo by Jon Worthen


M37 in winter plumage. Photo by Jon Worthen

M37 also showed up at Hampton.  M37 was banded as an adult in May 2012, returned to Appledore during summer 2013, then was seen by Jon W in Jan & Sept 2013.


A first winter X65. Photo by Jon Worthen.

X65 was also at Hampton – this bird was banded as a chick in July 2013 and this is the first time it has been seen on the mainland.

Thanks to everyone for contributing to this week’s resight report!





















In answer to the question posed in the previous post, “why do gulls stare at their feet?,” we received this comment by Phil:

I did read (somewhere) that gulls stare at the ground when they’re torn between two different courses of action and they’re not immediately sure what to do. For example, a gull may see a human with food and be unsure whether to flee a potential predator (as would be the natural response), or approach closer because the gull has learned through experience that some humans will give free food to gulls. It’s like a pause for consideration – maybe something similar to a human scratching his nose or picking beneath his fingernails when in an uncomfortable situation instead of taking action. Or something like that.

Interesting idea!

Another hypothesis comes from Niko Tinbergen, author of the “The Herring Gull’s World.”  For anyone interested in gull behavior, this is a must-have book!  In a section called, Care of the body surface”(pgs 41-42), Tinbergen notes the following:

Lastly, I have often noticed a type of behaviour which might have to do with keeping the feet clean.  In the breeding colony, gulls can often be seen looking down at their feet quite intently, as if inspecting them. Usually nothing more happens, but occasionally they may gently peck at them.  However, I never succeeded in making sure that they picked up anything; if they did, the particles must have been tiny.  Yet the deliberate nature of their looking down to the feet suggests that is has some function.

Are the gulls looking down to inspect their feet or does looking down serve as a “pause” before taking action?  I’ve seen many a gull with very dirty feet looking down at them, but not cleaning them. So, I must say I’m skeptical of Tinbergen’s hypothesis. Perhaps additional study of this topic is needed!


Just in time for Halloween:  The Headless Herring Gull, T76. Photo by Kurt Schwartz.

On to some recent resights we just received from the Bird Banding Lab.  Herring Gull T76 was seen at Cape May, NJ on Sept. 11 by Kurt Schwarz.  Kurt apologized that he took photos focused only on the legs, but these photos are still very useful!  It’s always good to have photo confirmation of a band reading.  T76 was banded in July 2010 and was seen at Cape May in July of 2011 and again in August and September 2013.  Seems that this bird may have settled in the New Jersey area.

We received two reports of hatch-year birds that were injured and had to be euthanized.  Great Black-backed Gull 9J9 was banded in July 2013 and was submitted to the wildlife rehabilitation center, Center for Wildlife, on Sept 5 with a fractured mandible. Unfortunately, fractures were too extensive to be fixed and the bird was euthanized.  Herring Gull, Z86, also banded in July 2013, was found with a broken wing in a parking lot in Jamaica Plain, Boston.  One Sept 8, the bird was sent to the MSPCA in Boston for possible rehabilitation, but the wing injury was irreparable.

In cheerier news, Herring Gull M23 was observed in Chatham, MA in late August, 2013.  This bird was banded as a chick in July 2011 and the only other time it has been seen was in mid-July 2012 at Huguenot Memorial Park, Jacksonville, Florida.  Huguenot park, FLThis is a pattern for some young gulls that spend their first year of life wandering far away from the Northeast. Like M23, some of them make their way back north by their 2nd or 3rd year.

Keep those resights coming in!

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