Seasons of Colour on Sable

20 05 2013

Throughout this project I’ve had the privilege and the pleasure to visit Sable several times and 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 download data from our tracking receivers.  Each season seems to have its own mood and colours.  White is the colour of winter with blowing snow, heaping seas and thousands of white coated seal pups.  The spring skies are grey with seemingly perpetual fog when the warm(ish) air blankets the still cold ocean, but a little bit of green starts to poke out as the vegetation comes back to life.  By mid summer Sable Island takes on its lush green grass, blue skies, and golden sand, speckled with flowers of yellow, purple and red.

In preparation for upcoming fieldwork, this year we had a short trip to the island in late March which can only be described as brown; from east to west, winter has sucked the colour from all the vegetation which blankets the brown sand dunes, accented only by brown horses.  As harsh as this sounds, the island somehow retains its beauty through all its seasons and colours.

After winter storms of rain and snow, freshwater ponds on the island are full.

After winter storms of rain and snow, freshwater ponds on the island are full.

The horses are a constant but the other wildlife of Sable come and go with the seasons.  March is well past the pupping season for seals and too soon for breeding birds.  But during our visit there were still plenty of gulls throughout the island.  Some have probably been there all winter and others are returning in anticipation of their breeding season.  Herring Gulls and Iceland Gulls were in the minority and Great Black-back Gulls rule the island at this time of year.  Through our travels over two days that covered only about half of the island’s shoreline, I counted almost 800 Great Black-backed Gulls.  We spotted one with a turquoise wing-tag (tagged January 2012) and one with a green wing-tag (tagged May 2012), so the Black-backs on the island in March are probably a mixture of the winter and summer populations.  No sign of the pink-tagged Herring Gulls.

Great Black-backed Gulls gather around the freshwater ponds.  This mound is a popular roosting and preening spot later in the summer.

Great Black-backed Gulls gather around the freshwater ponds. This mound is a popular roosting and preening spot later in the summer.

Late March brings the early signs of spring to Sable when the breeding Great Black-backed Gulls start to return for their nesting season in May.  As I write this, me and our Acadia crew are anxiously awaiting our return to Sable so we can start our research again.  Our flight has been delayed 5 days (and counting) due to the usual suspects of wind, rain, fog, low clouds, and a flooded runway.  Gulls have it easy when it comes to getting off and on Sable Island.  We wait.

Rob Ronconi

Halifax, NS

An Ipswich Sparrow perched on the top of a whale bone.  Ipswich usually migrate back to Sable Island in April but some spend their whole winter on the island.

An Ipswich Sparrow perched on the top of a whale bone. Ipswich usually migrate back to Sable Island in April but some spend the winter on the island.

A horse yawns...maybe tired from the long winter.

A horse yawns…maybe tired from the long winter.

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