Back to the Beach

8 06 2012

At 40km long with only five year-round (human) residents, Sable Island is probably Canada’s biggest and most fantastic beach.  That is if you like pounding surf, blowing sand, horizontal rain, fog (and more fog) and a few hundred thousand seals that leave “gifts” on the shores.  Donning mitts, touques, full rain/wind gear, and “invisibility cloaks” (see the upcoming blog entry by Ingrid), our research team has assembled on Sable for the 2012 field season.  The team has doubled this year to account for quadruple the work load planned.  Ingrid and Rob have returned for another season of gull wrangling and brought Zoe and Jess, two Masters students from Acadia University.  Both are starting new projects tied in with the gull study but they seem to have a preference for the smaller birds that don’t draw blood when they bite.  Jess will be studying the foraging habitats and diets of terns around the island and Zoe is tracking the migration of the Ipswich Sparrow, Sable’s endemic sub-species of Savannah sparrow.

The new gull crew from Acadia University providing navigational aid to passing traffic on North Beach, Sable Island. From left to right: Rob, Zoe, Ingrid, and Jess.

Admittedly we’re a little behind in blog entries since we’ve been here 3 weeks already.  We arrived May 15th, earlier than last year, so we could catch Great Black-backed Gulls, a task most easily done when they are incubating their eggs.  Too late for that, the chicks were already hatching during our first few days on the island so we had to switch tactics.  We started catching Black-backs by setting traps around dead seals that they forage on (illustrated guide below… “how to catch a Black-backed Gull in 4 easy steps”).  No guts, no glory!

Building on last year’s project with Herring Gulls, this year’s mission is to deploy VHF tracking tags on Herring Gulls, Great Black-backed Gulls, terns, and Ipswich Sparrows to study their movements around the island, interactions with offshore gas platforms, and migrations to the main land.  Full speed ahead since day one, we’ve deployed 50 tags on gulls, colour banded almost 100 Ipswich, and nearly caught a horse (unintentionally of course) that walked through and dragged down one of our mist nets.  A special technological treat for this year are the 6 solar-powered satellite tags that will allow us to track Herring Gull movements year-round for 2 years (stay tuned for maps in future blog entries).

Since I’m bad at keeping the blog entries up to date I’ll be sure to get the rest of the crew to write a few words over the coming week before we finish up.

Rob Ronconi

Main Station, Sable Island

Step 1 – The Bait.   Jess and Ingrid hide traps (leg-loop carpets) in the sand around a dead seal. Black-back Gulls can’t resist!

Step 2 – The Wait. The intrepid researchers wait and watch until the black-backs get caught.

Step 3 – The Catch (and watch out for the horses). Horses pass by as Zoe and Jess run to grab the gull caught in the trap.

Step 4 – and Release. After tags are attached a black-back springs free.




3 responses

13 06 2012

Great job, guys!

24 06 2012
Jane Alexander

Thanks for this blog. I visited Sable a year ago with Ian McLaren and some others but we only stayed a few hours. The seals, the Ipswich sparrows, the Arctic and Common terns and the wild and windswept sand are glorious indeed. Keep letting us all know how things are going there.

20 05 2013
Seasons of Colour on Sable | Sable Island Gulls

[…] during different seasons.  We’ve been there in May and June for the spring nesting season of gulls and terns, in August to work with Ipswich sparrows before their fall migrations, and in January to […]

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