Real time reporting from Wood Harbour

15 03 2012

I’ve worked on projects tracking birds where we get movement data via satellite tags in near real time.  Still, by the time the data is transmitted, processed, and uploaded to computers, typically more than an hour or two has passed.  Today I got a near “real time” reporting of a location from a wing-tagged gull!!!  Within 42 minutes of being spotted on Falls Point Wharf in Woods Harbour, NS, a DFO Fisheries Officer had emailed me a picture of Black-backed Gull ACX.  Fisheries Officers of the Barrington Detachment found this bird wandering the wharf yesterday.  Thanks for the report and photo.

Rob Ronconi

Halifax, NS

A first-year Great Black-backed Gull wanders the wharf in Woods Harbour, NS.


Offshore gulls

7 12 2011

Most people think of gulls as coastal birds rather than living life large on the high seas.  Of course we see Herring Gulls along our coasts and around our cities year round, but without eyes and ears in our offshore waters we have no clue how many Herring Gulls might be spending their time patrolling the open ocean.  This tagging project has started to provide some clues.

This project started as a partnership with Encana Corporation who operate the Deep Panuke natural gas platform near Sable Island.  ExxonMobil also operates 5 platforms in the region.  All offshore platforms with personnel-on-board (POB) have stand-by vessels that transport cargo and wait nearby in case of emergencies.  After tagging Herring Gulls on Sable Island in June, I notified the captain and crew of these support vessels about the project and asked them to keep watch for our pink-tagged birds.

This fall I received 19 separate reports of pink-tagged gulls in offshore waters around Sable Island, including one from a fishing vessel and the rest from platform support vessels.  The crew sent me photos and stories about what they saw.  One gull (AAJ) was spotted 5 times over the span of a month!  On another occasion, two tagged gulls were perched side-by-side on the bow of a vessel (photo below).  Although gulls are known to roost on vessels and platforms, these birds are also there for a good feed.  At night the deck lights of the ships shine bright into the water which seems to attract small fish to the surface where the gulls can grab them.

Bow riding gull. Pink-tagged gull perched on the bow of an offshore supply vessel. Thanks to Jason for the picture.

Thanks to the captain and crew of the Ryan Leet, Panuke Sea, Venture Sea, and Atlantic Condor for keeping a lookout for these birds.  There have been no sightings since October 24 but hopefully you will catch wind of the first birds returning to Sable in the spring!

Gulls AAP and AAJ perched together on the guard rail of an offshore supply vessel.

Pink beacon on Beacon Street

11 10 2011

AAF loafing around Beacon St. dam in Glace Bay, NS. Photo courtesy of Allan and Cathy Murrant.

Flashing its pink wing bands, Herring Gull AAF is becoming a beacon for passers-by on Beacon St. in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia.  Local bird enthusiasts, Allan and Cathy Murrant who run the Cape Breton Birds website, have seen AAF on October 3rd and 7th, loafing around Beacon St. Dam which seems to be a bit of a hotspot for gulls in transit.  Allan and Cathy had this to say about the pond:

Beacon St dam is a man made pond that was made for one of the coal mines.   When the mine closed they planted grass and made a little park and walking track around it.  The gulls roost and bathe and get food from people feeding the ducks.  We had 8 species of gull there in a 15 minute period one spring.  Its a real good place for ducks, geese and many rarities show up.  We found [AAF] around 3pm on Oct. 3, 2011 and because we visit the dam every day I can say that was the only day we saw it.  We get a lot of one day visits from gulls and we found a banded gull in November one year it was banded in Witless Bay NL we got photos of that and it came again the next year around the same time. 

Eight species of gulls in such a short period of time is quite impressive considering only 4 species of gulls breed in Cape Breton.  Glace Bay is out near the eastern tip of Cape Breton Island which sticks far out into the Atlantic, perhaps making it an attractive stop-over site for many migrant gulls and other species.  This and other reclaimed ponds could provide important roosting habitat for migrant waterbirds during long journeys.  Lets hope that Allan and Cathy can provide us with more sightings before the winter freeze sets in.

AAF spotted on the eastern tip of Cape Breton Island in northern Nova Scotia.