2017 field season wrap up

Chris Martin (in hardhat) and David Mesta work on banding a gull. Amisha Malhotra (in hat) and Danielle Robidoux in background.

While the gulls are still tending the remaining fledglings (and there were some very late nest attempts this year), the humans involved in the Gulls of Appledore project are all off island now. After ten weeks in the field, our interns, David and Amisha have returned home. We banded around 200 chicks this July, which, given the marked decline in numbers of nests this year, is fairly respectable.

Next week, the summer interns on Appledore will present their research and projects at the first annual SML research symposium and we’re looking forward to this all day science extravaganza.

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Franciel Moreno and Mary Everett head into the poison ivy fields to map nests.

We managed to GPS every nest on almost the entire island, having to leave only the southeastern-most swath undone–a torment to us as we raced to finish the work on our last day, but still a solid job nearly completed. It’s that mapping effort that allowed us to backup with data what we had sensed already: that the numbers of gull pairs on island took a substantial dive this year. In light of overall, multi-year declines, we are growing increasingly alarmed by this trend. Colleagues on other colonies throughout the Gulf of Maine are seeing similar drops. Why this is occurring is not known as of yet. We are hopeful that the numbers rebound next summer and this is not the start of a truly precipitous population crash in the birds.

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Volunteer Jane Wing (left), Lawrence High School student Franciel Moreno, and Jinette Galarza (Northern Essex Comm. College student) enjoy a bit of downtime.

One thing we know for certain though, we are well into the dozens of students and other volunteers who have gotten a chance to come out and assist with banding and other activities. We have private donors, foundations, and grant agencies to thank for making that possible. For most of those who join us, time on Appledore among the gulls profoundly changes their outlook on the natural world, and on these oft-maligned, mostly overlooked birds. We are grateful to those generous funders, and look forward to bringing students and volunteers out for many years to come.

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Close to the whole team in one place. Front row, left to right: Jinette Galarza, Malcolm, Alex, Rene Borrero, Sarah Courchesne, Simon. Back row, left to right: David Mesta, Mary Everett, Becky Suomala, Chris Martin, Danielle Robidoux, Eve Hallock, Franciel Moreno

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Seabird interns hard at work

This summer, we have two outstanding interns monitoring the gulls of Appledore, recording data, assisting with banding and blood draws, collecting prey remains, and, on top of it all, conducting their own independent projects. It’s time you met them.

FB_IMG_1498587477709Amisha Malhotra graduated this May with her Bachelor’s degree in Animal Behavior from the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine. She came to us with stellar recommendations from her UNE professors, and she has lived up to the praise. Amisha is hardworking, detail oriented, and a self-starter not intimidated by learning new skills. Within days of arriving on the island, she had decided to do her independent project on mate fidelity and divorce in Great Black-backed Gulls. She dove into the database, and has been teaching herself R, a data analysis program used commonly by biologists and other scientists. Amisha plans on going on to grad school of some stripe, and we have every confidence that she will be immensely successful.

 

 

 

 

20170619_142218David Mesta finished up his Associate’s degree in Laboratory Science at Northern Essex Community College this May. He joined us for a week of gull banding last year, and after that introduction, it was abundantly clear to me that David had what it took to spend a summer on the island doing field research. David is a keen observer, quietly taking everything in. Countless times, I would realize I needed a particular tool and look up to find David silently handing it to me, like a practiced surgeon’s assistant. David wants to continue his education by transferring to a 4 year institution to work on his Bachelor’s degree. His interests lie in the microbiology field, and his summer project on Appledore is focused on blood parasitism in Great Black-backed Gull chicks. We will be making blood smears on hundreds of fledglings during chick banding week this month, and spending our evenings hunched over microscopes scanning for the telltale signs of invaders infecting the gulls’ red blood cells. We can’t wait to see where David goes from here.

The Famous 2E2 Continues Commute from Appledore to Sandy Point

Many individuals have seen 2E2 at the Sandy Point area of Plum Island.  Dave Adrien has reported 2E2 present there and verified that 2E2 was also seen at the nest on Appledore the same day.  Dave has also provided many pictures of many Appledore Gulls.  Now Charlee Breen has provided a picture from June 30, 2017 of 2E2.

2E2 JUL 30 2017 Charlee Breen

Since we have more than 160 reports on 2E2 we are most anxious for every other report that can be obtained since this provides the best detail on the travels and behavior of any of the banded gulls from Appledore. Your reports are most welcome on 2E2 or any banded gull.

They grow up so fast. 😢

herring chicks

It seems like just yesterday that these herring gull chicks were born. They live outside of Hamilton, where the main office on Appledore is located, so everyone who ran into me that day made sure I knew the chicks had hatched; I had to tell them that while that’s great news and they sure are cute, I only monitor the nests of black-backed gulls!

In reality, these chicks are about two weeks old. Even without passing them every day and watching them grow up, you can guess a chick’s age based on the extent of the coloration and covering of their contour feathers, which cover the surface of their body.

Herring gull eggs hatch after 30-32 days of incubation. The chicks will then replace their down with feathers. After 42-48 days, they will be able to fly, or have fledged. Most fledging occurs in late July to early August. Though the two species are similar, black-backed chicks grow a little differently than herrings. They hatch from their eggs 21-28 days after incubation, and their time to fledging has been described as anywhere from 30-40 days to 7-8 weeks.

Chicks of both species will pass through several distinct plumage stages over the next four years before reaching adulthood and hopefully returning to Appledore to breed! Our next week has been dubbed “Chick Banding Week”: we will have a team of researchers, students, and volunteers working together to get bands on this year’s chicks before they are able to fly and we lose our chance!

M36 Enjoys French Fries at Water Country Park Near Portsmouth

M36 was banded as an adult at a nest on Appledore Island in May 2012 and has probably nested on Appledore every year since then, but apparently commutes the Water County to enjoy the french fries.

Charlee Breen provides a picture on June 26 2017 of M36 along with this comment: “Was very healthy and appeared to be the Alpha gull if there is such thing…lol. He/she was certainly in charge of french fries kids tossed…not allowing the other gulls in there.”

If you see M36, be sure to send the time, date, and place to us. Photos are very much encouraged!

Thank you Verizon!

Without the support of granting agencies and private donors, we could never afford to run the gull research program on Appledore. The costs of transport and housing for our students run to the thousands of dollars each season. This year, we were fortunate to receive a substantial grant from the Verizon Foundation that covered the majority of our student costs, and also allowed us to purchase supplies for a tracking project we are excited to implement next year, so a thousand thanks to Verizon!

After our team returned home from banding in May, I received thank you notes from two of my Northern Essex Community College students that I wanted to share with all of you blog readers. I share their gratitude, and want to thank everyone who has, and continues to support access to this opportunity for students who could not otherwise participate.  Here are those students in their own words.

“Hi, my name is Yexis Hechavarria and I had the opportunity to go to Appledore Island this year to help in the gull banding project. I was born in Cuba and I have been in the country for around four years; the mere idea of me being in this country is something to celebrate, but having the chance to do things like going to island and spending there a few days is something me or my family cannot afford and that’s why I wanted to thank you all for this opportunity. I met new people and this was my first time living on an island (besides Cuba, but that doesn’t count). I have to highlight how great the food was, every day I spent there I tried something new and the people living on the island are by far the nicest people I have ever met. Living there was like having a different point of view of nature. Before the trip I didn’t really paid so much attention to song birds until I got the chance of holding a hummingbird while staying on the island; now every day I wake up I can hear them sing.

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Yexis (in purple) prepares to release a songbird.

The island has the idea of water conservation and now I pay attention to how much water I can save. I learned a lot about how seagull live, and now every time I go to the Market Basket I find myself checking them to see if they are banded. I’m very grateful that I was able to go the trip, and since this was my first time there I wasn’t really prepare for the journey, but if I’m able to go next year I will make sure my time is well spent. Again thank you so much the experience otherwise I wouldn’t be able to do it, and I’m looking forward to see how the gull banding project evolves.”

Luis Robles, also passed along his gratitude:

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Luis was still smiling at this point, gearing up for the field.

“I am grateful for the opportunity of being part of your gull banding team. There is so much that I learned about the gull banding process, birds, ecology and even some history. The people were great and the island was beautiful. I also liked the library very much and the wide variety of science books that they had.

This is the type of adventure with memories that stay with you for the rest of your life. I wouldn’t have been able to afford this trip out of my own pocket so I am very grateful to have been chosen and being able to participate. I would definitely repeat this trip and would also encourage other students to do it as well.”

Who’s in the mood for a chick flick?

ddf gull chicks

The first black-backed chicks of 2017 have hatched! The honor of being the first parents of the year belongs to 3P2 and 1R0 for the second year in a row. This couple has three fluffy chicks, but are too protective of their young to let us get pictures. The runner-ups are the unbanded parents of these adorable guys pictured above, who are located at Devil’s Dance Floor on Appledore.

The older of the two chicks has been marked with black Sharpie on his belly and the younger with blue Sharpie to be able to differentiate between the two until they’re big enough to receive poultry bands of the same colors. Hidden behind them is the last egg in the nest; when that one hatches, it won’t receive any markings until it gets a white poultry band at around five days old. My partner intern, David, and I will be visiting these nests daily to see how many of these chicks make it to fledging. At this point, they’ll receive federal bands and a field-readable band. We can only hope that after that, they’ll leave Appledore and be resighted elsewhere by all of you guys until they come back here to breed in a few years!