Logger data. Sweet, sweet logger data.

Last month, in addition to our annual adult banding activities, we had the good fortune of having scientist Kate Shlepr on island to show us how to safely deploy solar powered GPS loggers on our birds. While Great Black-backed Gulls can be intimidating to work with, their large size means we can attach loggers with good size solar panels, allowing frequent pings to the satellites, and therefore a read on where the birds are every 15 minutes.

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Loggers are attached via a leg harness and sit low on the bird’s back. So far, we have had no issues in any of the birds.

Since we deployed the loggers a month ago, we’ve been performing weekly downloads (thanks to our intern, Brett, for staying on top of that) and can visualize the data via Google Earth.

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Pushpin icons indicate a known position, ordered numerically. The bird’s logger i.d. in this case is 29, and the number preceding that is the position.

Each bird’s data is downloaded to a base station on Appledore whenever the bird is in range. At the end of the breeding season, once the gulls disperse, we will take down the base station since the birds will not be in its vicinity all winter. We will wait, with bated breath, until next May when we redeploy the base station and, hopefully, start to pick up signals from the tagged birds as they return to nest again. Return rates for adult gulls on Appledore are upwards of 80% each year, so our chances of seeing these individuals again are good.

While much of our choice on which birds to tag was opportunistic, we tried in at least some cases to select birds that have not been re-sighted previously anywhere off island. We are deeply curious about where these birds overwinter, roost, and forage.

So far, the loggers indicate that some birds are vastly more pelagic than others. In the past month, some of our tagged birds have not visited the mainland once, preferring to forage exclusively offshore. This would explain the dearth of sightings by humans on shore. Knowing that birds forage offshore is not sufficient in gulls, however, since they could either be fishing for themselves outright, or begging for scraps off fishing vessels. Brad Natti, lobsterman and gull re-sighter, has suggested that we use AIS data to see how the tracks of where ships have been traveling overlaps (or doesn’t) with our gull logger data, and we think this is a very exciting line of inquiry that we intend to pursue once the field season winds down.

There are so many questions these loggers can help us answer, and if you have any, we welcome yours too. Watch this space for more on these special gulls.

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The look a gull gives you when you are complicit in placing a logger on its butt.

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Copious thanks to thank after May banding

The bramble scratches are healing, and the bruises from gull bites are faded to yellow, so it’s high time to offer you all a wrap up of our May banding week this year.

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An all NECC Team: (L-R) William Thu, Molly Cronin, Sharon McDermot, Mary Everett, Sarah Courchesne, Jessie Taveras, Kiara Sanchez

The overall numbers may not look impressive versus previous years (25 new bands placed, 29 birds sampled for testosterone and cortisol, and 5 GPS loggers deployed), but given the range of the projects, and their newness to us, we are very pleased with the outcome.

More than anything else, I want to offer my thanks to everyone who makes this work possible. It has occurred to me that no one currently working on the Gulls of Appledore project draws any salary. This is entirely a volunteer based endeavor, and we could not do this work without the donations, in both time and money, of many generous individuals. For this week in May alone, we have to thank:

The Northern Essex Community College student team (Molly, Jessie, William, and Kiara), who have jobs, and needed to take time off work to come do a week’s unpaid labor on the island with us.

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Jessie learns to band while William expertly restrains.

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Fortunately for us, Molly discovered a love of careful data recording.

Sharon McDermot (NECC), Brad Natti (lobsterman and frequent offshore gull sighter) and Megan Natti (NOAA), who not only came out to assist us in our work, but paid their own way to do so. This frees up our funds to allow more students to join us in the field, so it’s a double benefit. Sharon even donated extra funds to help with the expenses of the students’ stays on island.

Kate Shlepr, who gave her own time to fly up from Florida and spend two days with us teaching me to place GPS loggers on the birds.

Dr. Kristen Covino, who donated her research days to us to partially offset our costs to stay on the island.

Tracy Holmes and Bill Clark, whose incredible generosity has made this work financially possible, and have made it an opportunity for students who could never travel to the island on their own dime. Their funds have also enabled us to offer a paid internship to one or two students each summer for the past three years. This year’s beneficiary, Brett Davekos, has fully immersed himself in the Shoals Marine Lab life, in ways both literal and figurative. Thanks go to him too, for spending 10 weeks away from family, friends, and real life to work on our project.

Bill Clark also gives enormous amounts of time to the project, responding to each and every member of the public who writes in with a report of a banded gull. Bill sends back a full life history on each bird. It’s only because of this kind of public engagement and education that we sustain this army of larophiles on the lookout for our birds.

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Mary Everett (L), Sarah Courchesne, and Julie Ellis all in one place at one time.

Mary Everett co-leads this project with me for no pay, and spends more time in the field mentoring our interns than I am able to. She brings a suite of skills to the project that I can’t match, and without her, none of this would run.

Finally, thanks to Dr. Julie Ellis, who started the project almost 15 years ago, and who entrusted it to us. The honor is all mine.

Commencing testosterone and behavior project

Last week we headed out into the field for an unusual and eclectic mix of projects involving the gulls of Appledore. Normally, our goal is to focus solely on resighting any and all banded birds nesting (or just hanging around) on the island, and on banding any unbanded mates of our birds. We did try to get that done, especially the resighting, but this year, we are working on two new projects that took up a good deal of time. Here’s the scoop on the first one.

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Brett Davekos has jumped right into the work and to life on the island. The gulls may be less enthused.

Our summer intern, Brett Davekos, recent graduate with an Associate’s degree in Biology from Northern Essex Community College, is looking into whether or not variability in nest defense behavior is correlated with plasma testosterone in Great Black-Backed Gulls. This work is a collaboration between us and Dr. Kristen Covino, gullumnus, postdoc at Canisius College, and soon to be Assistant Professor at Loyola Marymount University.

The first phase of this work involved collecting blood for baseline testosterone. This meant sampling the birds before they got too amped up by our presence. From the first sign of alarm in the bird, we had ten minutes to trap, capture, and bleed. Fortunately, we discovered that we work a lot faster than I had thought, and we managed to collect 27 useable samples within the time constraint.

The second phase of the project will be Brett’s. He will be testing the behavioral responses to human approach in the sampled birds. It may be some months before Kristen’s lab is up and running to process the plasma samples, but keep an eye on this space for more on Brett’s work.

Kiah Walker Reports Behavior of M99 and Z09

M99-Z09 photo by Kiah Walker Apr 17 2018 Plum Island (2)

Photo of M99 and Z09 sharing food by Kiah Walker at Plum Island, MA on April 17, 2018

Kiah comments: “I’d be very surprised if M99 and Z09 weren’t a mated pair. Why else would they bring each other food like that (especially in consecutive years)? Very interesting!”

Both M99 and Z09 are ‘known age’ gulls.  Both Herring Gulls were banded on Appledore Island in Maine. M99 was banded as a chick July 16, 2012. DNA indicates M99 is female. Z09 was banded as a chick July 14, 2013, the DNA sample for Z09 has not been run..

Last year, 2017, Dave Adrien also observed M99 and Z09 on April 20 in very close association at Salisbury Beach. Dave’s comment was: “So tell me, is there any history between M99 and Z09? They sure were acting chummy.”  Z09 was on Appledore in May 2017 but no nest was recorded and M99 was not reported on Appledore Island in summer 2017 but that does not mean that they did not nest as a pair on Appledore Island or elsewhere.  They will be worth watching for this summer on Appledore.

We have several reports now of gulls pairing up, “chummy” as Dave says, during March and April. Some bonding appears to be exhibited ‘off-island’.  The well-known 2E2 and 5T9 have repeatedly shown very close association in late winter at Sandy Point more than 20 miles from their nesting area on Appledore Island .

Thanks to the many individuals who take the time to report banded gulls and behavior.  Kiah’s behavioral report and photo are appreciated as were Dave Adrien’s last year and the many, many, others.

Herring Gull Z00 in Fresh Plumage

DSC_6004 Herring Gull Z00 by Suzanne Sullivan Mar 16 2018Photo by Suzanne Sullivan. The photo was taken at Silver Lake in Wilmington, MA on March 16, 2018.

Z00 was banded at the North Head of Appledore Island, Maine while a nestling ready-to-fledge on July 16, 2013.  Justin Stilwell was the bander with support from the entire banding team.  Watching the teamwork of the ‘chick banding team’ is amazing; what a hard working group.  Justin is now “Dr. Justin Stilwell”, Veterinarian.

Suzanne’s report with the photo is the first ‘Off-Island’ report for Z00.

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  • Banded as a chick                            7-16-13                 Appledore Island
  • Observed                                            6-01-16                 Appledore Island
  • Observed                                            8-20-16                 Appledore Island
  • Observed (possible nest)                 5-17-17                 Appledore Island
  • Observed (possible nest)*               7-14-17                 Appledore Island
  • Observed                                            3-16-18                 Silver Lake, Wilmington, MA

*’possible nest’ based upon two observations along Sirens Trail in 2017, a nesting area, and Z00 having reached four-years of age, the normal age for nesting.

The re-sight team will be looking for Z00 this nesting season on Appledore Island.

33E – Mate of U10 – Also in Fresh Plumage

DSC01887 Herring Gull 33E Claire Humphries-Sandy Point State Reservation- Mar 18 2018

Photo by Claire Humphries.  Herring Gull 33E was at Sandy Point State Reservation, MA on March 18, 2018.

33E was banded on Appledore Island in Maine May 26, 2016.  At the time of banding 33E was an adult gull, already a minimum of four years of age and possibly much older.

33E was the nest mate of U10 in 2015 when banded.   U10’s mate the prior year, 2015, was not banded and could have been 33E.  33E also nested with U10 in the subsequent years of 2016 and 2017.  The nest was not monitored in either 2015 or 2016 but two chicks were recorded in 2017.

Off-Island reports for 33E are from March 30, 2016 and March 23 2017.  Both reports are from the Sandy Point area and both mention U10 nearby.  Claire mentions when she took the photo in March 2018 that another banded gull was near 33E but the other gull slipped into the water before she could read the band; perhaps U10?

I am beginning to see a pattern in these March sightings.  The bond between U10 and 33E seems to be quite strong.  The banding and re-sights teams will be watching to see what happens this coming nesting season on Appledore Island.  As always, I wish we had more reports.

Thanks to Claire, Suzanne (see Z00 below) and the many persons, such as Dave Adrien (reporter par excellence), who contribute to this long-term project with their reports.

 

 

 

 

 

Valentine Greetings from 62H: “I love handouts.”

62H greets Lora at Birdseye Boat Ramp in Stafford, CT
Herring Gull 62H greets Lora at Birdseye Boat Ramp in Stafford, CT
Herring Gull 64H brought Valentine Day greetings to Lora R at Birdseye Boat Ramp in Stafford CT on February 14.  Or was this well-known Herring Gull simply engaging in a favorite routine of ‘hamming it up’ in hopes of a feed?

I liked Lora’s description of 62Hs approach: “I was quite surprised by a seagull who jumped on the hood of my car and stared at me seemingly unafraid. Usually the gulls just gather on the ground around the cars. I was so taken, I grabbed my cell phone and took the attached pictures. Then I noticed the band. It was almost like the bird was saying “Hey, you need to tell them where I am, look at me.”

Lora did a bit of searching and reported 62H. Each gull report is greatly appreciated so thanks to Lora for the photos and update on 62H from all the banders and researchers who work on this long-term research.

Results of a DNA sample from 62H indicate that the gull is a male.  He was banded as a chick, almost ready to fly, on Appledore Island July 17, 2015.  Since Herring Gulls require four years before they display full adult plumage the photos show that 62H is ‘on schedule’ starting to show adult-like plumage on the wings but retaining some juvenile plumage.

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All reports of 62H received to date have been from the Birdseye Boat Ramp area.  Although the total number of reports is over 50 there are time gaps where 62H may have moved some distance.  Some young gulls disperse as far as Texas or Florida but for 62H the only reports are for Birdseye so far.

BAND From   Location Notes
62H 07/17/15 Herring Gull Banded as a chick on Appledore Island Nest 15H400                       DNA=male

 

Bill Clark, Volunteer, Gulls of Appledore