by Zoe Diaz-Martin, Intern USF&WS
Friday, June 7, 2013:
Our first week on Falkner has proven to be an exciting and busy one. We arrived on Monday the 3rd, soaking wet, only to be greeted by mobs of common terns that were not
as happy to see us as we were to see them. After opening the field station and moving our gear, we started to settle into our daily routine. First, we check all of the common tern productivity plots on both the top and bottom of the island. As expected the bottom of the island has more common tern nests than the top because it provides better nesting habitat for the birds who prefer rocky surfaces to lay their eggs on. We then begin searching for roseate tern nests, which are often cryptically hidden away in the revetment along the bottom of the island. Finding a roseate nest requires a lot of patience while you sit and observe an area for hours on end, in both hot and cold weather, waiting to see if a roseate visits a nest site. But the feeling you get after discovering a small, concealed and beautiful little nest makes it absolutely worthwhile. Reading bands on the legs of the adult roseates is another important task of ours which allows us to find out information on the bird such as age, sex, location of birth and if this bird has previously nested and where. This is another meticulous task that requires an inordinate amount of patience. So far we have 62 common tern nests in our productivity plots, 21 known roseate tern nests on the island, and 22 resighted adult roseate terns. Lastly, we do a predator watch every evening to keep an eye out for species, such as the black-crowned night heron, that can wreak havoc on tern colonies, devastating productivity.
Coming to Falkner Island was my first experience on a tern colony. Although I had known that the common terns were aggressive, I don’t think I completely understood the intensity of the experience of walking around, let alone living, on one. My first ten minutes on Falkner were jarring, to say the least. Let me explain that common terns protect their nests using three main methods. First, they scold the potential predator by making loud clicking type sounds. If a predator gets too close to a nest they continue to try and ward them off by dive bombing, trying to peck the predator on the highest point of their bodies, usually the head, to deter them. They also defecate on predators, also aiming for the head, and some individuals have pretty good aim. Yes, being on Falkner can feel like being in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 film “The Birds.”
These terns do not know that we are here to help them and that we have no interest in eating their eggs. So, as soon as we step out of the field house all three defense mechanisms are employed against us. We conduct all of our data collection not only while the hundreds of terns are trying to fight us off but also as we try to avoid stepping on their nests, which are often very close together and very well camouflaged. Luckily, we have our own defense mechanisms we use against the common terns. We wear layers of old clothing that can get soiled. We also wear large sombreros with flags on top so that the birds hit the flag instead of our head when they dive bomb us and so that their poo doesn’t easily reach our faces.
Although the first day on Falkner was kind of a shock, I have learned to adapt to the environment and I’ve become adept at finding a mental state of zen when walking around the island. What has really helped me is fostering an appreciation for common terns for being good, protective parents.
Meet the Crew
Introducing our very talented and hard-working crew that is out on Falkner Island this year. I had them each write a paragraph about themselves and send me a photo. Zoe will be writing blogs for you throughout the season to detail the progress out on the island.
Patty Kusmierski: I have been actively working as a conservation biologist in beach, wetland and coastal scrub habitats of the US since 1990. My work has also taken me to remote areas of Nicaragua, Costa Rica and the US Virgin Islands. The conservation of marine turtle and shorebird populations have been my primary concern. I also work as a NOAA certified marine endangered species observer during dredge and seismic operations and was involved with sea turtle relocation when the Deepwater Horizon Gulf Oil spill occurred back in 2010. Home sweet home is now my current outlook as I was given this opportunity to work with my home state’s wildlife here in Ct starting last July 1st when I quickly departed for Falkner Island. I am looking forward to participating in a full 2013 nesting season to learn all there is to know about these precious roseates and fiesty commons.
Fumika Takahashi: My name is Fumika Takahashi and I will be one of the Falkner Island interns this summer. I graduated a year ago from Cornell University with a degree in Natural Resources. I have always wanted to do bird conservation work and volunteered at a local bird rehabilitation center in high school. Last year I interned at Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge working with Common and Roseate Terns and monitoring other shorebirds as well. I really enjoyed working with terns there and I can’t wait to get started working with the birds at Falkner Island.
Zoë Diaz-Martin graduated from Connecticut College in 2012 with a degree in Environmental Science. Zoë is pursuing a career in ecology and conservation biology and is especially interested the relationships between plants and birds. She hopes to apply to graduate programs within the next year. This is her second summer working for Stewart B. McKinney NWR.