Spring time in December?

28 12 2013

Yikes!  What happened to the spring…and summer.  I last posted on this blog back in May when we were eagerly awaiting our flight to Sable to begin our spring fieldwork.  With good intentions I have been meaning to write several posts since then but the summer field season slipped away, and, well…here we are in December.  The new year is almost here so this is my last chance to redeem myself and make a post in 2013.

I can barely remember what I ate for dinner last night so remembering all our Sable adventures over the summer will be a hard one for me.  So here is a quick recap of our spring trip with lots of photos to share some highlights and jog my memory.

Charter plane landing at the Sable Island "airport" guided by a Parks Canada truck bearing a wind sock.  Photo: Rob Ronconi

Charter plane landing at the Sable Island “airport” guided by a Parks Canada truck bearing a wind sock. Photo: Rob Ronconi

Heavy rains in the spring caused some flooding at the Sable Island “airport” which delayed our arrival by 6 days.   Finally the water receded from the beach leaving a narrow landing strip for the charter plane to touch down between the dunes and some still flooded sand flats.  May 21…the new bird team had arrived with returning grad students Jess and Zoe, newbie Dani (with a huge grin on her face as she stepped out of the plane onto the Sable sands for the first time), and myself, Rob.

Acadia University research team for Sable, May/June 2013.  Jess, Dani, Zoe, and Rob around a whale skull.

Acadia University bird research team on Sable, May/June 2013. Jess, Dani, Zoe, and Rob around a whale skull.

Packing cameras and field gear, Zoe, Dani, and Jess are ready to catch some gulls.  Photo: Rob Ronconi

Packing cameras and field gear, Zoe, Dani, and Jess are ready to catch some gulls. Photo: Rob Ronconi

Already behind schedule, we quickly got to work with the first task of catching gulls.  As with previous years our goal with the gulls was to catch and deploy.  Having put out enough wing-tags for our studies in 2012, we are now deploying only VHF tags and satellite tags to track their movements electronically, but each bird still gets a colour leg-band each coded with a unique combination of three letters (like AFJ).  For keen gull watchers out there we still want your reports of these colour bands and there are plenty of wing-tags still out there flying around since 2011 and 2012.

After banding and tagging, Dani releases a Great Black-backed Gull.  Note the green leg bands.  Photo: Rob Ronconi

After banding and tagging, Dani releases a Great Black-backed Gull. Note the green leg bands. Photo: Rob Ronconi

Second mission for the spring trip was VHF tag deployments on terns at their two main colonies.  A network of receivers around Sable and on offshore vessels is set up to monitor the comings and goings of terns from their colonies.  This is Jess’s project for her master’s of science degree with the goal of learning more about their foraging patterns and identifying important foraging areas around the island.

After measurements, banding and tagging, a tern is released at it's colony by Jess.  Photo: Rob Ronconi

After measurements, banding and tagging, a Common Tern is released at its colony by Jess.  Photo: Rob Ronconi

Third mission was to track down VHF tagged Ipswich Sparrows.  In April, as part of her master’s project, Zoe tagged 21 Ipswich sparrows on Conrad’s Beach on the mainland of Nova Scotia.  A network of receiver towers deployed along Nova Scotia were set up to track their movements along the coast and their departure point for migration to Sable Island.  During May and June, Zoe spent many days climbing and walking the dunes to track down these sparrows on Sable to confirm their safe arrival.

VHF receiver station powered by solar panels.  This temporary station was set up at the last of the western dunes on the island to monitor VHF tagged birds that use the western spit for roosting and foraging.  Photo: Rob Ronconi

VHF receiver station powered by solar panels. This temporary station was set up at the last of the western dunes on the island to monitor VHF tagged birds: gulls and terns roosting at the west spit and Ipswich Sparrows coming and going during migrations to the mainland. Photo: Rob Ronconi

Final mission was a to conduct another census of the gulls and terns to confirm our findings from last year and get better estimates of population size for the island.  On Sable, gull nests are spread out all over the island making it near impossible to count nests directly, so gulls were censused by counting all visible adults that were standing in the dunes or flying overhead.  Fortunately, the island is long and narrow with good vantage points…it was good exercise to climb to dune tops and ridges every 200 or 300 m of the island!  The terns, on the other hand, were much more cosmopolitan and they nest primarily in two very large colonies at the east and west ends of the island.  To census terns, we did counts in quadrats (e.g. 10 by 10 meter plots) to estimate nest densities which were multiplied over the total area of the colony.   Census completed two years in a row now, we are working on a paper which summarizes the current population size and changes over time since surveys began in 1969.  This information will help Parks Canada establish a base-line for future long-term monitoring of these populations on Sable Island.

With a lack of pebbles, terns on Sable will build their nests out of whatever they can find.  Here are two Common Tern eggs laid in a nest of bits and pieces of coal, bricks, glass and wood... debris at the base of one of the old lighthouses.  Photo: Rob Ronconi

With a lack of pebbles, terns on Sable will build their nests out of whatever they can find. Here are two Common Tern eggs laid in a nest of bits and pieces of coal, bricks, glass and wood… debris at the base of one of the old lighthouses. Photo: Rob Ronconi

Okay, enough said about our spring trip and I promise to post again soon about our August trip to work with Ipswich Sparrows.   My New Years resolution is to post more frequently.  In the meantime I leave you with some random pictures of of Sable in the spring.

Rob Ronconi

Halifax, NS

On the eastern end of Sable Island there are very few fresh water ponds so horses dig holes in the sand down to the fresh water buried below.  Once the hole is dug, all the family members take turns slurping up the water.  Photo: Rob Ronconi

On the eastern end of Sable Island there are very few fresh water ponds so horses dig holes in the sand down to the fresh water buried below. Once the hole is dug, all the family members take turns slurping up the water. Photo: Rob Ronconi

From time to time the waves uncover shipwrecks from the sand.  I found this one near the west spit of the island in a place I'd never seen a wreck before.  Here one day, gone the next...I never saw this wreck again for the rest of the summer.  Photo: Rob Ronconi

From time to time the waves uncover shipwrecks from the sand. I found this one near the west spit of the island in a place I’d never seen a wreck before. Here one day, gone the next…I never saw this wreck again for the rest of the summer. Photo: Rob Ronconi

Small motor-sailing vessel Wanderbird anchored off of Sable Island at sunset.  Lead by Sacajawea Tours this vessel was here to visit the island the next day.  Now that Sable has become a National Park, there has been growing interest in tourism to the island.  Photo: Rob Ronconi

Small motor-sailing vessel Wanderbird anchored off of Sable Island at sunset. Lead by Sacajawea Tours this vessel was here to visit the island the next day. Now that Sable has become a National Park, there has been growing interest in tourism to the island. Photo: Rob Ronconi

Sable shoreline at dusk.  Photo: Roo Ronconi

Sable shoreline at dusk. Photo: Rob Ronconi

Harbour seal pup with it's mother on the Sable beaches.  A small number of harbour seals give birth to their pups here in early June.  Photo: Rob Ronconi

Harbour seal pup with it’s mother on the Sable beaches. A small number of harbour seals give birth to their pups here in early June. Photo: Rob Ronconi

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3 responses

28 12 2013
James W. Wolford

Rob, just to encourage you in your resolution to post more reports to naturens, THANK YOU! for this commentary and photos, too, from one of your readers who is no-doubt speaking for many of us out here in cyberspace. Cheers from Jim Wolford in Wolfville.

Begin forwarded message:

> From: Sable Island Gulls > Date: December 28, 2013 8:27:23 PM AST > To: jimwolford@eastlink.ca > Subject: [New post] Spring time in December? > Reply-To: Sable Island Gulls p8f@comment.wordpress.com> > >

28 12 2013
Lynn Ronconi

Great to read all about your work!!!

24 05 2014
nldesignsbythesea

Such a beautiful place. Really enjoy reading about your dedication to the birds. I volunteer for harbor seals here in San Diego, California and found you from your seal photo. Love, love, love the horses and the info about how they live. The whale bones are amazing. We have gray whales here. I’m following your post now. Thanks so much for all you do. http://www.nldesignsbythesea.com

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