Sunday, November 9, 2014

Project Puffin 6: Puffin grubbing

Earlier this summer, aquarists Austin Brayton and Jackie Anderson camped on a remote island in Maine to assist with Project Puffin, an Audubon Society project designed to restore populations of these clownish little seabirds. In this post, Austin introduces us to other seabirds (besides puffins)  also studied with Project Puffin on Seal Island.

June 21, 2014 
Razorbills (and Puffins)

Despite the program’s name, I spent much of my time as a volunteer for Project Puffin working with other seabirds, especially terns (within Audubon, the program is in fact now known as the Seabird Restoration Program). Another seabird that I got to know was the Razorbill, an awesome bird that I think is really underrated compared to its relative the puffin.

Razorbill with a nice catch | Photo: (Uploaded by Markos90), via Wikiemdia Commons

Razorbills have a striking appearance and a really interesting life history.  They nest in rocky crevices or burrows near the sea.  Before the chick can fly and when it is still less than half of its adult size it leaves the nest and goes straight for the ocean, accompanied by its father. They will spend months together at sea as the chick learns how to catch fish. Although Razorbills are abundant in Iceland, in the US there are only about 300 pairs nesting on islands in the Gulf of Maine, so I felt lucky to be able to see them.

I got to see a razorbill and puffin chick close up during monitoring of their nests. We sought out their nesting sites among the rocks along the shore. Certain nests are monitored to see how many potential burrows are occupied, when the chicks hatch, what they are being fed and if they survive to fledging. This information helps researchers to understand how these re-introduced populations are faring and how changes in the oceans due to natural fluctuations or to human influences like climate change or overfishing affect them.  Searching for puffin and razorbill nests, eggs and chicks is called “grubbing” and it is hard and dirty work as you have to lie down and stick your head into the crevices between boulders to find the elusive nest sites.

There are two people grubbing in this photo.

But it is exciting when the search pays off!

The black chick on the left is a puffin and the gray one on the right is a razorbill.

Jackie with a puffin chick on the Matinicus Rock


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