Reflections on some cool seabirds
I was supposed to leave Matinicus Rock today, but there are some really large waves crashing against the boat ramp, which would create a very dangerous scenario for the small dory that would be rowing myself and my gear out to the lobster boat that would take Austin And I back to Vinalhaven. The owner of the lobster boat had called us on the radio last night to let us know that he didn’t think he would be able to pick me up. I then called my boss to let him know that I would not be back to work today.
|Frank Mayer and Aspen Ellis weigh and band tern chicks during a tern productivity study on Matinicus Rock|
In case he reads this blog, I was disappointed to not be able to return to work… but secretly, I loved my time on this island so much that I did not want to leave. I had become so connected to the birds I was observing, so wrapped up in their stories; like the tern in nest 5 of my feeding study who would get angry and attack her neighbors, and the group of female eider that were swimming their ducklings in the tidepools in front of my window, and I wanted to stay as long as possible.
|Eider ducklings in tidepools|
I also loved the people I met here. There is a common thread that runs through people who are passionate enough about wildlife and seabirds to spend their summer (or two short weeks in my case) on a remote island like this that enables us to be great friends. Most of the people who I have talked to about my experience at Project Puffin asked if it was difficult being off the grid, or not having a shower, or using a composting toilet. Those seemed to be very minor inconveniences for the amount of good that came out of this experience.
|Razorbills photographed from the researchers' blind|
I learned more about seabirds than I had ever known before, and a lot about field work that I had put aside after college, and I am certain that the work we were doing for this project; collecting data that will be used to draw conclusions about the long term population of seabirds, was a far more important use of my time than going to the beach, going out after work, and eating ice cream. So instead of leaving Matinicus rock on June 25, I spent the day checking up on puffin and guillemot nests, doing one more tern feeding study, entering the data from my field notebook into the database, and doing tern productivity.
On June 26, a gray and drizzly day on Matinicus Rock, the lobster boat picked myself and another volunteer up, then went on to pick up Austin at Seal Island and brought us all back to Vinalhaven. We rode the ferry back to Rockland Maine, where we were picked up by Project Puffin staff and brought back to the Audubon base camp. Austin and I then drove back to Boston, after making a stop for ice cream on our way home.
|One last look at Matinicus|
And now, in the beginning of November as I am thinking about my Project Puffin experience this summer, I found an article from the end of August about how seabird populations have been negatively affected by warming ocean temperatures in the Gulf of Maine and subsequent declines in the availability of their preferred food fish. The data from this year indicates a pretty successful breeding season, with 75% of the puffins on Seal Island and 66% of the puffins on Matinicus Rock successfully fledging chicks, which was a lot more than last year’s 10%, but not as much as before 2012, with a 77% success rate for all of the islands. This success rate appears to be directly correlated with the cooler ocean temperatures we experienced this year.
|Razorbill in the early morning light|
Just this month I saw a guillemot from the passenger ferry on my way in to work, (it flew by faster than I could get my camera out), and I have begun to see eider ducks in Boston Harbor. This was a good reminder to me that even here in Boston, we are closer to cool seabirds than you think.
A small taste of what it's like to observe the birds on these remote islands in Maine.
All in all, Maine’s seabirds are important animals to monitor as indicators of global climate change, and as sensitive species who were driven away from Maine by human activities in the 1800’s and early 1900’s, and recently restored and monitored by the Audubon Society and Project Puffin. Their success depends upon a complex web of ecological cause and effect, and on people caring… people like you.
Learn more about Project Puffin and to live a more ocean- and seabird-friendly lifestyle.
Learn more about what Jackie and Austin did while volunteering with Project Puffin: