Posted by: scourc01 | July 14, 2015

“Crossed Slowly Seaward”

{One of our May gull team, Mary Everett, provided this post-banding reflection. I know you will all want to read it.}

When I was first informed of the Shoals Marine Lab gull banding program, it was described to me as a wild affair involving minimalist accommodations, transportation via boat, and bike helmets to protect one’s skull from the onslaught of birds hell-bent on ensuring their reproductive success. I was immediately intrigued.

We departed for Appledore Island and the Shoals Marine Lab from downtown Portsmouth in the late morning. The boat ride out was a sunny and pleasant one. Dr. Courchesne, our fearless leader and expert Gull wrangler, pointed out the other islands in the archipelago & some passing terns, we gawked at the massive mansions dotting the coast, and talked a bit about what to expect the first day. The Gull group very briefly acquainted ourselves with one another, just a few words here and there between taking in the sights or resting on the boat’s concrete deck. When we arrived at Appledore Island, all the passengers on the boat – the gull banding interns, the summer course students, instructors, and a few research interns – created a long human chain on the ramp leading up from the rocky inter tidal to the dirt and grass path where two small John Deere Gators waited to carry our decidedly light baggage to our equally modest bunks.

The walk to our bunks revealed a few things about the island: it was covered in gulls and a forest of poison ivy, somehow fire ants had made it there, yet despite or maybe because of all this, it was a beautiful place. Once we got our things settled, we headed to a brief orientation. All of the employees and researchers who spoke at that first meeting had a similar message about Appledore Island: this Island is unique, in its ecology and its research projects, and the time one spends here is doubly so. For the next 6 days, I myself came to know how true that was.

Our group assembled, finishing introductions and receiving some instruction on how to properly carry out our practices – trapping, restraining, bleeding, banding, measuring, and releasing Great Black Back & Herring Gulls – before Dr. Courchesne spotted an unbanded herring gull outside of the classroom, and had it captured in her bare hands within moments. It all seemed so simple and easy, with that capture. How naïve we all were!

Mary, possibly nursing ant bites, or some other typical island-induced injury.

Mary, possibly nursing ant bites, or some other typical island-induced injury, waits for a trap to be triggered.

For the week following, we learned what trapping gulls really takes, for us non-superhuman interns. Honestly, the seasoned skills of our leaders, both Dr. Courchesne and the program’s head, Dr. Julie Ellis, actually caused other ornithologists on the island to stop when passing and whisper to their students “Watch this, she’s the master. It looks easy…it is not.” It takes patience, in waiting for reluctant gulls to ignore giant metal ACME-style traps teetering over their nests and step inside. It takes strategy, in figuring our the best way to fit a sandwich-bag sized cloth sack over the business end of an angry gull armed with a 40mm + beak without suffering bodily harm. It takes a cool, calm demeanor to try and swiftly, safely, and quietly draw blood, measure, & weigh a terrified bird with a five-foot wingspan, and it takes a weird, only exhibited by Drs Courchesne and Ellis, wrist strength to actually get those unwieldy bands on the birds. Once those bands are on however, you have a bird that will (ideally) give back to the program. When someone 400 miles away in Jersey sees a Herring gull with a green field readable band, stealing a sandwich from a toddler, the program gets data – and that person gets something too. There is a unique type of excitement, being part of research in this way. While on the island, I found a few old bands, weathered and nearly unreadable. Being able to look these bands up and see that they were banded on the island years and years ago, seen in New York or Florida for a few years after that, back on the island to mate, was amazing.

I am passionate about making information regarding our environment accessible and relatable. Having experience in safe handling of wildlife, knowledge of local animals and their behavior, and an appreciation for the processes behind field science aids me immeasurably in being a better informed & more well-rounded resource, wherever I may end up. I am delighted that I had an opportunity to work under Dr. Courchesne and Dr. Julie Ellis. That I had the opportunity to meet and converse with them, to discuss ideas and even just listen in on others during meal times, was incredible. I met researchers and professors from all over, and the absolute nerd in me was a bit star-struck, I must admit. They’re like ornithology rock stars! Published! In journals! Science Friday on NPR featured them! When I told this to my husband in a rare and brief call home, I could tell that the silence that followed my exclamations was filled with a smirk on his end of the telephone. He barely kept himself from laughing as he said “I love you, Mary….” an I love you that clearly meant “My wife is the biggest dork in the whole world.”

The persistent and lone Herring Gull amidst the Black-backeds.

The persistent and lone Herring Gull amidst the Black-backeds.

These gulls  return each year once mature, to mate and fledge their young. They return with an amazing fidelity. One brave Herring gull, nested among a particularly aggressive Black Back colony, had been banded in that same area, and sighted on that same location on the island ever since. It is amazing to be a part of this, to know this information because you were a part of it. And so, after a week of bracing ourselves against dive-bombing Black Backs, nursing fire ant bites and sunburns, we loaded our bags up into the hold of the boat. Looking back up the rocks at this now-familiar place, I felt exhausted and satisfied but hopeful that I, like these innately compelled gulls, might return some day.

Posted by: jellis04 | July 13, 2015

Chick Banding Team off to Good Start

The 2015 chick banding team is off to a good start with the first morning of banding completed.  The team focused on chicks from monitored nests and banded parents.

Photo by Shailee Shah  Jul 13 2015

The Banding Team starts work for the 2015 chick banding week. Photo by Shailee Shah Jul 13, 2015

2015 Chick Banding Team

The team places a USGS metal band and a Field Readable 3 character band on each chick and obtains a small blood sample for DNA analysis.

Hopefully persons who observe a banded gull will report the sighting (Band Number, Date, Location, and Behavior) back to the program.

Posted by Bill Clark

Each report of a banded gull has significance for the Gulls of Appledore research team and Billy Clifford has recently joined the league of reporters with several reports and photos of some well-known gulls who frequent the Plum Island/Parker River NWR/Sandy Point area of Massachusetts. Billy Clifford’s reports are a welcome addition to the growing database showing where and when gulls travel, forage, nest, and loaf.

As a result of many reports, 2E2 is known to travel between a nesting area on Appledore Island to the Sandy Point area on a frequent basis. Clifford provided photos on June 22 and July 7 of 2E2 at Sandy Point.  The other frequent visitor at Sandy Point/Plum Island, 5T9, was also reported and photographed by Clifford on July 7, 2015

Great Black-backed Gull 2E2 at Sandy Point, MA by Billy Clifford June 22 2015

Great Black-backed Gull 2E2 at Sandy Point, MA – by Billy Clifford June 22 2015

Dave Adrien also recently reported 5T9 on July 3, 2015 at Sandy Point.  The same day, Dave reported a tagged ring-billed gull to Dan Clark at Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation for their research program.  Join Billy Clifford, Dave Adrien and others in aiding gull research by reporting each and every sighting of a banded gull.

Great Black-backed Gull 5T9 at Sandy Point, MA by Billy Clifford July 7 2015

Great Black-backed Gull 5T9 at Sandy Point, MA – by Billy Clifford July 7 2015

Thanks to Billy Clifford, Dave Adrien, and the many other reporters for their reports and photos of ‘Appledore Gulls’

Posted by Bill Clark for J. Ellis

Posted by: jellis04 | July 2, 2015

Two ‘Same Age’ Herring Gulls Compared by Robbie P.

On July 1, 2015 Robbie photographed several ‘Appledore Gulls’ including 82C and 55C.  Both gulls were banded at their nests on different sides of Appledore Island where they had hatched .  Both were almost ready to fly at the time of banding. Robbie’s photos, taken about a year after hatching, allow comparison between gulls within days of the same age.

Appledore Gull 82C at Hampton Beach State Park, NH July 1, 2015 – Photo by Robbie Prieto

Appledore Gull 82C at Hampton Beach State Park, NH
July 1, 2015 – Photo by Robbie Prieto

Appledore Gull 55C at Hampton Beach State Park, NH July 1, 2015 – Photo by Robbie Prieto

Appledore Gull 55C, on the right, at Hampton Beach State Park, NH
July 1, 2015 – Photo by Robbie Prieto

Posted by: jellis04 | June 29, 2015

Dave Adrien Scores More than 1100 Banded Re-sights

Appledore Great Black-Backed Gull 9T5

Dave Adrien’s photograph of 9T5 is a recent addition to Dave’s 1100 plus sightings of gulls with field bands 

When it comes to finding and photographing banded gulls Dave Adrien of Massachusetts is a real record holder.  Dave has provided more than 1100 sightings of banded gulls, many of them Appledore gulls, but also gulls from Massachusetts, Maine, Nova Scotia, and Quebec.  That, folks, in a years time is a major achievement.

Dave’s reports and photographs have proved to be a treasure for a number of research projects dealing with banded gulls.  His photos show ‘known age’ gulls banded as chicks in different plumages as they develop over four years into mature adults.  For example 9T5, pictured above in adult plumage, was banded as an almost-ready-to-fly chick on Appledore Island July 15, 2011.  Dave’s record is the first recorded for 9T5 since banding.

Dave, I understand that 9T5 was photographed at Brown’s Lobster Pound in Seabrook, NH.  How many lobsters did it cost you for that photo?

Iceland Gull photo by Dave Adrien

First year Iceland Gull at Hampton Beach State Park on June 26 2015. Photo by Dave Adrien

Dave also sees a number of interesting non-banded gulls like this 1st year Iceland Gull on June 28 at Hampton Beach State Park, NH.


Posted by: jellis04 | June 27, 2015

June 2015 Photographs at Hampton Beach by John Worthen

U32 26 JUN 2015 Jon Worthen

U32, a one year old Herring Gull at Hampton Beach on June 26, 2015 – Photo by Jon Worthen

Jon Worthen has furnished a number of reports and photos of Appledore Gulls over the years and now provides a series of photographs showing Herring Gulls at different ages.  The first two photos compare year-old Herring Gulls, banded last year just before they could fly in July 2014 . Note the similarity of the brown flecked plumage of these year old HERGs.

This is the first sighting for U32 since leaving Appledore Island after banding.  Nice to know U32 survived the first winter.

35C 26 JUN 2015 Jon Worthen

35C, a one year old Herring Gull at Hampton Beach on June 26, 2015 – Photo by Jon Worthen

35C is another survivor of that tough first year for young gulls. Also a first report since leaving the nesting colony on Appledore Island.





Y20 is a two-year-old gull hatched in June 2013.  Note the gray in the wings while overall still rather brown and dark.

Y20 26 JUN 2015 Jon Worthen

Y20, a two-year-old Herring Gull at Hampton Beach on June 26, 2015 – Photo by Jon Worthen










M39 is a fine example of an adult Herring Gull in the traditional white and gray of the breeding season.

M39 26 JUN 2015 Jon Worthen

Adult Herring Gull, M39, at Hampton Beach on June 26, 2015 – Photo by Jon Worthen

Thanks to Jon and the many others who take time to report and photograph Appledore Gulls

Posted by: jellis04 | June 23, 2015

Robbie P. Reports his Second Gull – R03

R03 JUN 22 2015

R03 at Newcastle Commons on June 22 2015  –      Photo by Robbie P.

Robbie reported an Appledore Gull earlier this year and now this young re-sighter sends a photo of another Appledore Gull – R03 – taken at Newcastle Commons June 22, 2015.

Note that R03 has brown in the wing and black in the tail unlike full adult Herring Gulls.  The plumage indicates that R03 is a third year old gull.  Gulls reach full adult plumage at four years.

Therefore, looking at the records, it is not surprising to find that R03 was banded as a chick at nest 12H308 on Appledore Island on July 16, 2012, three years ago.  At that time R03 was able to ‘run like blazes’ but the wing feathers were not developed enough to fly so the college students who help with banding were able to catch R03 and Dr. David Bonter of Cornell Lab of Ornithology banded R03.

R03 was a ‘C’ chick, meaning R03 was the last of the three eggs in the nest to hatch.  Since the nest was a monitored nest we know R03 was hatched June 16, 2012.

Not many ‘C’ chicks survive to leave the nest and the first year for young gulls is very difficult.  Only about 20 percent of the chicks survive the first year. This means that R03 had good parents who provided adequate food and is an exceptional individual, having found food through the first winter and survived to age three.  It is likely R03 will now survive to nest next year and raise a family.  Perhaps we will find R03 on Appledore nesting next year.

R03’s parents were M36 and M35.  M36 is currently nesting again on Appledore.  R04 is a sibling but there are no reports for R04 since banding.

The first time R03 was seen off Appledore Island was on Dec 5, 2013 at Hedgehog Pond by Kyle W.

The next 20 sightings of R03 were in East Kingston by Davis F. between January 15, 2015 and April 2, 2015.
Thanks Robbie for the report and photo.
Posted by: jellis04 | May 31, 2015

2015 Banding Team at Work

Banding Gulls

Mary, Alicia, Dr. Ellis and Dr. Courchesne Busy banding two gulls with Facundo, an ornithology intern, observing.

The “Gulls of Appledore” banding team is concluding a busy and productive week at Shoals Marine Lab on Appledore Island.  Field readable bands were placed on more than 50 gulls, both Herring Gulls and Great-Black-backed Gulls.  More than 500 sightings of banded gulls from prior years were recorded on Appledore Insland.

Students learned first-hand about field work and the challenge of proper recording, flagging nests, and record keeping.  They also learned that catching gulls is hard work requiring patience, care and ingenuity. Student volunteers were from Virginia, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Maine.

GBBG with Chicks

GBBG chicks started hatching this week.

Nesting Herring Gull

Herring Gull nesting on Appledore Island 

Posted by: jellis04 | May 27, 2015

F07 Offspring of Lesser Black-backed Gull F05

F07 is the 2011chick of F05, the Lesser Black-backed Gull from Appledore Island, and a Herring Gull.  F07 was banded as a chick and has now returned to Appledore Island.

F07 is the 2011 chick of F05, the Lesser Black-backed Gull nesting on Appledore Island, and a Herring Gull. F07 was banded as a chick and has now returned to Appledore Island.  For the story of this ‘Three Star Photo’ see below.                                                                                                                                                                                   Photo by Dave Adrien

The Gulls of Appledore Research depends heavily upon the public to report sightings of banded gulls either directly or through the USGS “Report Banded Bird” site.  Two of the champion field band reporters of Appldeore gulls are Dave Adrien and Davis Finch.

Dave Adrien has reported more than 300 field bands during the past two years, many more than once, .  The other champion is Davis Finch who has reported as many as 40 or more field band sightings per day.  The above photo was taken at Davis Finch’s field on May 13, 2015 by Dave Adrien of F07 thus linking together three ‘stars’ of the on-going research.

Jim Sonia has been photographing many, many banded birds and providing quality photos of gull plumage development.  Thanks  Jim.

And thanks to all who report bands including Robbie P. who provided K82 at New Castle last week.

Posted by Bill Clark

Posted by: jellis04 | May 27, 2015

2015 Gull Banding Team Starts Work on Appledore

The 2015 banding Team is on Appledore equipped for work.

The 2015 banding Team is on Appledore equipped for work.

The “Gulls of Appledore” banding team has arrived on Appledore and has completed their first full day re-sighting previously banded Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls and banding additional gulls.  Lead by our veterinarian/professor/super-bander Dr. Sarah Courchesne the team focused on Herring Gulls that are part of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology student projects here at Shoals Marine Laboratory.

Bill Clark posting for Dr. J. Ellis

Older Posts »



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.