Gulls love New York

12 02 2013

Sable Island birds seem to have a liking for New York (state that is).  Last year Herring Gull AAF was spotted more than once in New York state before it moved a little further south to New Jersey for the winter.   Last week we posted an entry about Ipswich Sparrows on the beaches of Long Island, NY.  Now, on new year’s day 2013, Herring Gull AFX was spotted on the shorelines of Long Island, only 10 days before the Ipswich sighting.

The bird was spotted and photographed by Angus Wilson who runs his own blog about birding on Long Island.  Here is what Angus had to say about his encounter with a Sable Island Herring Gull.

The location (Fort Pond Bay, Montauk) is a shallow, boulder strewn bay with a road running along the edge of the sandy beach providing access to a few houses and summer rental places. AFX was on the small lawn of an occupied house with some other Herring Gulls, hence my brief study. Perhaps the occupant put bread out? I usually check this beach when I’m in the area because it’s popular for loafing gulls, especially migrant Lesser Black-backed Gulls passing through in September and the occasional wintering individual. The peninsula (South Fork of Long Island) is very narrow at this point and gulls routinely shuttle over from the Atlantic Ocean side (<1 mile) to bathe in the freshwater of Fort Pond and loaf on the beach. I suspect most of these birds feed offshore or wait to intercept commercial fishing boats returning to nearby Montauk Harbor.  

AFX was spotted at the northern tip of Long Island, NY.  Photo courtesy of Angus Wilson.

AFX was spotted at the northern tip of Long Island, NY. Photo courtesy of Angus Wilson.

Taken together, these sightings of Sable Island gulls in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island are starting to give us a clear picture of the winter-range for this population.

Thanks again to the keen gull watchers out there.

Rob Ronconi

Halifax, NS





Ipswich migrations

4 02 2013
A banded Ipswich Sparrow running along the beach this January.  Photo courtesy of Paul Gildersleeve.

A banded Ipswich Sparrow running along a beach on Long Island, NY, this January. Photo courtesy of Paul Gildersleeve.

The Ipswich are on the move!  With successful banding and radio tagging completed on Sable Island in August, we have been eagerly watching as the results have been coming in.  With our radio towers set up along the coast of Nova Scotia, we are hoping to learn more about their initial southward migration along the coast.  Although most birds are now out of range of these towers, we still want to hear what the Ipswich are up to!

Previous studies have shown that male and female Ipswich Sparrow’s winter separately, with males wintering as far north as Nova Scotia, and some females making it as far south as Florida.  Any resightings of banded birds along their migratory route or on their wintering grounds will help us increase our knowledge of this species later in their migratory journey.  They prefer sandy dune habitat along the coast and can be tricky to see foraging low on the ground.

So far there have been 2 reported sightings of banded Ipswich Sparrows.  Both were seen on January 11th 2013; one adult female on North Monomoy Island MA, 850 km from Sable Island, and a juvenile on Long Island NY, 1180 km from Sable.  Both these birds were banded on Sable Island in the spring of 2012 and it’s very exciting to hear they made it safely down south for the winter.

Thank you to those who have already reported color banded Ipswich, and please keep a lookout for any others and report sightings to Zoe at zcrysler@gmail.com.

Zoe Crysler

Wolfville, NS

Standing upright on xxx beach, this purple banded Ipswich was banded as a nestling on Sable Island in early June 2012.  Photo courtesy of Paul Gildersleeve.

This purple banded Ipswich seen on Long Island, NY, was originally captured and banded as a nestling on Sable Island in early June 2012. Photo courtesy of Paul Gildersleeve.

A red banded (adult female) and purple banded (first year bird) Ipswich Sparrows were spotted on their wintering grounds i the eastern USA.

Red banded (adult female) and purple banded (juvenile) Ipswich Sparrows were spotted on their wintering grounds in the eastern USA.





Where’s Waldo?

28 01 2013

It’s time for a little game.  Anyone who was a kid in the 1980’s would remember the “Where’s Waldo” books that tormented and delighted children (and maybe some adults) for hours on end.  It involved tiny cartoons of hundreds of cats, rats, people, wizards and dragons crammed onto two-page spreads.  Each page depicting a theme from pirates to sky scrapers or sea monsters to teddy bear picnics.  Your quest was to find Waldo, in a red and white striped shirt, hidden among the crowds.

Back in October I received a gull sighting report (and picture) that reminded me of a Where’s Waldo scene.  A Great Black-backed Gull wearing turquoise wing-tag AEE was spotted at a landfill site.  Thanks to the picture from Rodney Gallant you can have a crack at picking out the tagged gull among the gulls and garbage of the East Prince Waste Management Facility in Wellington Centre, PEI.  The wing-tags almost act as camouflage!  So far I’ve found only one tagged gull in the photo but be sure to let me know if you find any more.

Rob

Halifax, NS

Spot the Sable Island Great Black-backed Gull among this mess of birds and trash.  Hint: its wearing a turquoise wing-tag.  Thanks to East Prince Waste Management Facility for this photo!

Spot the Sable Island Great Black-backed Gull among this mess of birds and trash. Hint: it’s wearing a turquoise wing-tag.  Click on the image to zoom in for details. Thanks to East Prince Waste Management Facility for this photo!





New Year’s Gales on Sable

22 01 2013

Happy new year everyone!  The gull research world has been very busy lately which has made me quite neglectful of this blog since the summer field season.  I just got back from another trip to Sable Island which reminded me to update you on some of our gull work.

This winter’s trip to Sable was especially cold, snowy, and WINDY which made for difficult gull catching.  The Sable Island weather station recorded maximum wind gusts of more than 60 km/h on 8 of the 13 days we were out there and gusts of 93 km/h, or 50 knots, estimated on January 11th…the day we were supposed to leave but our flight was canceled.  With these blowing winds the whole island feels like sand blasting in a wind tunnel and evenings are spent wiping sand from the corners of your eyes.  Nonetheless, we managed to catch 12 Great Black-backed Gulls (same as last year) and deployed colour leg bands on each of them.  Like last year, our captures were assisted by carcasses….of seals.  The gulls are ravenous in the cold winter days so we set our traps around the dead seal pups where the gulls flock to scavenge on tasty blubbery morsels.  This year’s captures were assisted by one extra rotten and extra large carcass that fed dozens of gulls at a time… a large male sperm whale had washed up on shore some time ago and was decaying in the surf while being pecked at by gulls.

Washed up by tides and waves, a large male sperm whale decays on the beach.  Two full grown people easily fit jaws of this beast.  Photo by Rob Ronconi.

Washed up by tides and waves, a large male sperm whale decays on the beach. Two full grown people easily fit into the jaws of this beast. Photo by Rob Ronconi.

Here are a few pictures to share the awesome sense of the Sable land and seascape in the cold winter months.  Stay tuned to the blog over the next couple months and I’ll bring you stories of Sable gulls that have been spotted this past fall at garbage dumps, beaches, 100’s of km offshore, and even a cemetery.

Happy gull watching in the new year!

Rob

Halifax, NS

Sable horses take shelter in the valleys between the dunes.  Photo by Rob Ronconi

Sable horses take shelter in the valleys between the dunes. Photo by Rob Ronconi

In the past Sable was known as the graveyard of the Atlantic where hundreds of vessels met their fate.  Winter storms move mountains of sand revealing portions of shipwrecks.  Poking out of the sand for only 2 days, the remains of this wreck may not be seen again for decades.  Photo by Rob Ronconi

In the past Sable was known as the graveyard of the Atlantic where hundreds of vessels met their fate. Winter storms move mountains of sand revealing portions of shipwrecks. Poking out of the sand for only 2 days, the remains of this wreck may not be seen again for decades. Photo by Rob Ronconi

Gale force winds blow the tops off waves on January 11th when winds gusting to 93 km/h were recorded at the Sable Island weather station.  Photo by Rob Ronconi

Gale force winds blow the tops off waves on January 11th when winds gusting to 93 km/h were recorded at the Sable Island weather station. Photo by Rob Ronconi

Blowing sands pile up against sleepy seals on the beaches (note the passing gull ... for the sake of the blog about gulls).  Photo by Sarah Wong

Blowing sands pile up against sleepy seals on the beaches (note the passing gull … for the sake of the blog about gulls). Photo by Sarah Wong

In the late daylight hours, passing clouds let in only a few rays of sun far out to sea from Sable.  photo by Rob Ronconi

In the late daylight hours, passing clouds let in only a few rays of sun far out to sea from Sable. photo by Rob Ronconi

Sanderlings dodge the frigid waves on the shores of Sable January. Photo by Sarah Wong

Sanderlings dodge the frigid waves on the shores of Sable January. Photo by Sarah Wong

Dressed head to toe in insulated rain gear, a researcher walks among the debris field of the old East Lighthouse that has been destroyed by decades of wind and shifting sands. Photo by Rob Ronconi

Dressed head to toe in insulated rain gear, a researcher walks among the debris field of the old East Lighthouse that has been destroyed by decades of wind and shifting sands. Photo by Rob Ronconi

Frozen sand and cutting winds carve these temporary sand sculptures in the dunes. Photo by Rob Ronconi

Frozen sand and cutting winds carve these temporary sand sculptures in the dunes. Photo by Rob Ronconi

A female grey seal swims around in iced water in one of the temporary ponds from winter storm surges that flood the beaches. Photo by Rob Ronconi

A female grey seal swims around in iced water in one of the temporary ponds from winter storm surges that flood the beaches. Photo by Rob Ronconi





The Ipswich are back!

1 10 2012

Each of the 44 Ipswich that got released with a VHF tracking tag also got a unique two colour combination of bands on its left leg. The right leg has a standard metal band with a unique number registered to the Canadian and US banding offices.

We returned to Sable Island at the end of August to deploy
transmitters on the Ipswich Sparrows.  This time around the weather
was great, it was hot and sunny every day and we managed to find time
for a couple swims in the ocean with the seals.  The Ipswich were
finishing their breeding season and they were everywhere.  It was
incredibly easy to capture this years chicks, they often started
flocking to the mist nets as we were setting them up.  The adults were
more weary of these strange new “perches” and we spent a lot of time
trying to figure out a plan of attack.  In the end we became expert
sparrow chasers and got 20 adults, but we were outsmarted by many
more.

Blending in with its surrounding grasses, this Ipswich shows a white VHF tag on its back and red and yellow combination of bands on its leg.

We tagged 44 in total and banded them with unique color bands on their
left legs.  We are hoping to track their migration down the Eastern
coast of Nova Scotia this fall through radio telemetry and reports of
any sightings.  If you see any color banded Ipswich Sparrows, please
report the color combination or send a photo through this blog, or to
Zoe Crysler at zcrysler@gmail.com.  This will provide important
information on their movements for the project and improve it’s
success.

Once again the work on Sable was a whirlwind of an adventure, but I’m
looking forward to finding out what these birds do once they leave for
the winter.

Zoe Crysler

Two banded and tagged Ipswich side by side. The bird on the left shows its white VHF tag for tracking their movements and the bird on the right shows off its yellow and green colour leg-bands.





Island leaving…Island living

21 06 2012

Gulls – check!

Terns are tagged, gulls are geared, sparrows are spreading… our job is done, yet we are still here.  This is part of the hazards of working on a somewhat remote island:  you never know when you are getting on and certainly never know when you are getting off.  Up until a few days ago, there were 8 of us (human that is) on the entire island.  That’s about 0.23 people /km2, or the equivalent density of the Falkland Islands.  Five horse-loving tourists arrived on the island a few days ago.  The island is suddenly over populated, it’s time to go, yet we are still here.   As we see it, we are sharing our accommodation with them.  In their eyes, it’s probably more them who are sharing their accommodation with us as we were supposed to leave on the same day as they arrived.  But the weather decided otherwise.  After a beautiful month with limited days of rain or fog, the fog arrived earlier this week, in all kinds of shades and thickness, and no plane can land in this weather on the hard packed sandy beach that we familiarly call the “airport”.  It’s now Thursday and we are getting ready to spend another extra day (or is it days?) on the island.  Once the frustration is put aside, it gives us the opportunity to tweak our set-up, to check on the status of our birds, and to catch /band a few more sparrows.  As much as we appreciate being here and would gladly spend more time on the island, we all have plans for the rest of the season, and are getting itchy for the next adventures.  Not knowing if today is going to be the day we are flying home makes for awkward planning…. Island living, there’s nothing like it.

Ingrid Pollet (still on Sable Island)

Sparrows – check!

Terns – check!

 





Ipswich-aroo

13 06 2012

Although this is a blog about the magnificent Sable Island gulls, I think there is a bit of leeway to (Ip)switch species for a moment and talk about some of the other feathered friends that live on the island.  We are also working on Ipswich Sparrows while we’re out here.

The Ipswich work has been a lot of fun so far and we’ve even started banding chicks.  We catch them using mist nets and call playbacks so we all know the Ipswich song very well by now.  It’s hard not to hear them all around you while you sit and wait for the much larger gulls to be trapped.  It’s once you have a sparrow interested in the speaker that the action starts.  The best way to catch them seems to be to run at them and flush them into the net.  Sometimes they outsmart us and escape the net at the last moment, but we don’t give up!  We’ve managed to catch most of the sparrows we’ve set our eyes on with one or two exceptions of some particularly wiley individuals.  No one likes being outsmarted by a sparrow.

Jess sets up a mist-net just out of reach of a passing horse.

 

We’ve caught a few surprises too; magnolia warbler, cedar waxwing, northern waterthrush, and a blackpoll warbler.  It can also be a challenge working around wild horses, one has run through our net (both the net and the horse made it out in one piece), but they have also managed to chase sparrows into our nets which has been a huge help.

 

Zoe delicately removes an Ipswich Sparrow from a mist net.

A male Ipswich Sparrow with a red leg bad and metal (numbered) band. Females get blue bands. During the breeding season it’s easy to determine the sex of birds (females have a brood patch and male don’t). We’re banding sparrows now with colour bands so it will make it easier to tell apart the males and females in late August when we return to tag them.

 

Getting the chicks is a bit trickier at first, since the nests are so small and well hidden in the dense ground cover.  Once you find one you just have to wait until they are big enough to band but not old enough to be forced out of the nest too early.  Then you can just reach in and get them.  They start out with just a bit of down along their head and back which looks like a little Mohawk, and the rest of the feathers grow in after that.  After waiting 6 days for the first set of chicks we were finally able to band our first nest yesterday.   We should have a couple more ready in the next few days and we’re all very excited to band more little Ipswich chicks!

Zoe Crysler

Ipswich conceal their nests among grass and shrubs on Sable. Each summer pairs raise up to three clutches of 3 to 5 eggs.

After only 12 days of incubation, these hungry little mouths emerge.