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.


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.


Jessie learns to band while William expertly restrains.


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.


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.

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.


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.


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.


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

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.


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:


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!

Adult banding week 2017


The team, from left: Sury Matos, Sarah Courchesne, Tracy Waldron, Yexis Hechavarria, Mary Everett, Amisha Malhotra, David Mesta (back), Jane Wing, Luis Robles

Last week, a team of community college students, summer gull interns, a songbird bander and gull enthusiast, and a public librarian assembled on Appledore for adult banding week. The weather was sideways rain and battering wind for a day and a half, so we got off to a slow start, but by the end of the week, we had captured, bled, and banded 23 birds, and had swept the entire island for any banded birds and tagged and GPSed their nests as well.


Tracy, Sury, Mary, and Jane at work

Rather than band any old bird at hand, we tried this year to focus on getting mated pairs banded. This allows us to do a better job in the future tracking things like mate and nest site fidelity, individual breeding success, and also the success of the offspring of each pair. We managed to get 27 banded pairs by the end of the week, and were quite pleased.


Yexis takes a break from gull work to release a songbird with the aid of Peg Ackerson

As always, the purpose of banding, at least for me, is always two-fold: data collection, and education. None of the Northern Essex Community College students who came out with us this May had ever had an experience like this, and they returned home, heads brimming with ornithological and ecological knowledge gleaned first hand. I can’t think of a better way to measure success.

Hopefully, you will soon be seeing posts from our two summer interns, Amisha Malhotra (University of New England) and David Mesta (Northern Essex Community College). Both graduated last weekend, and are now staring down 10 weeks of life on Appledore. Watch this space for more from them soon.

Finally, our very great thanks to the Verizon Foundation, without whose generous funding my students could not have participated. We couldn’t be more excited about the things we can do because of their support which they have just renewed for a second year. Thank you Verizon!

Welcom Back Dave

L52 Welcomes Dave Adrien Back to Hampton Beach from Chasing Great Grey Owls in Montreal

L52 Welcomes Dave Adrien Back to Hampton Beach from Photographing Great Grey Owls in Montreal

Dave Adrien continues to supply sightings of Appledore Gulls as well as other banded gulls and banded shorebirds observed at sites along the New England coast.  His major contribution to research includes thousands of reports of hundreds of different banded birds.  Dave has a treasure trove of photographs of ‘known age’ Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls to accompany his myriad list of bands seen.

L52 was banded while a chick at a nest on Appledore Island July 13 2011.  DNA indicates L52 is a male.  More than 80 sighting reports are on record for L52 showing providing considerable information about his movements.  L52 favors the Hampton Beach area of New Hampshire.