Friday, November 29, 2013

Bon Portage pt. 3 - LESP

I'm now back in the Sault and should have a fair bit of free time to work on these posts, so hopefully I can crank them all out in the next few weeks! I have about 3000 photos to go through so there should be enough material to last me until my next adventure.

One of the other cool things about living on the island is that it plays host to a very large colony of Leach's Storm-Petrels (LESP) - possibly the largest in Atlantic Canada? (edit: not even close! Thanks Alvan for the correction - one colony in NFLD has 3+ million pairs!!!) An estimate from the 1990's has the total colony size pegged at 50 000 pairs, which is quite a lot! Two different groups were doing research on the petrels through the fall, so I got to help out a fair bit with grubbing, banding, bleeding and measuring the chicks/adults. What's grubbing you ask? Basically you stick your hand down a burrow and pull out the chick/adult (carefully) in order to band/measure it, then put it back. It's dirty work but pretty fun as it can be a challenge to get the birds out of the long, narrow burrows! In August and early September you could also hear the petrels coming in at night to feed their chicks (if you stood outside anytime between about 11pm and 4am) - see here for a recording: - the 'purr' is what they do in the burrows, and the cackle is their flight call. After about mid-September the birds came in silently, and we were still seeing the occasional bird into late October - apparently some of the chicks don't fledge until early December in some years!

As I mentioned earlier, we also had a few storm-petrels while seawatching, which was pretty awesome, but not the weirdest sighting. Our most bizarre storm-petrel sighting came on September 20, when both of the storm-petrel researchers were getting on the boat to leave the island for good. Keep in mind that the storm-petrels mostly come in to/leave land under the cover of darkness (to avoid predation by gulls and hawks). As the researchers were getting on the boat at noon, a (likely young) storm-petrel flew out of the trees to the north of us, narrowly missed a net as it flew down the shoreline right in front of us and then went out right over the wharf and the petrel people! Just going to say good-bye I guess.

Anyway, here's some pics - all taken with my phone and unedited...

Our first day on the island we got an intro to the Storm-Petrels - here's an (unfertilized) egg

Burrow - you had to be careful where you walked as any high spot of ground had multiple burrows in it!

Teenage chick

An adult - my first successful grub

Me with the first petrel I banded

Chick in a burrow (this is through a little peephole, not the actual entrance)


Your arms get pretty filthy

Young chick vs. older chick - they take about 45 days from hatching to fledging, and can get extremely fat during this time. The largest chick we weighed was about 105g - in comparison the adults are only 35-45g!

When you walk around at night with a headlamp on, the birds can be attracted to the lights and actually fly right into you - this makes them fairly easy to catch

The resident Great Horned Owls (2 pairs) take full advantage of the huge numbers of petrels. During our stay there we found well over 100 owl pellets, about 98% of which contained petrel parts - this one has 2 skulls in it (meaning the owl ate 2 petrels in rapid succession)

The first pellet I found and picked apart had a surprise in it! A leg bone with a band still on it! This bird was banded in 2007 on the island as an adult. Since they don't return to land to breed until the age of 6, this bird was at least 12 years old. One of the petrel researchers regularly checks the area where I found this so we know it was a fresh pellet.

My phone has this cool feature on it that makes the photo look like an oil painting - anyway here is the measuring setup (there is a petrel in that bag being weighed)

A petrel chick almost ready to fledge!

While trying to catch owls one night, we caught a petrel with a very old, worn band on it! I haven't heard anything yet as to when/where this bird was banded but hopefully that info will come through eventually. The band looks like it has been partially disintegrated by constant contact with seawater.


Alvan Buckley said...

I'm enjoying your NS posts!

There's several LESP colony off the coast of NL, one island (Baccalieu Is) has over 3 million pairs!

ljb said...

Love this account of your experiences. Keep them coming.