SEANET goes offshore

26 05 2010

First off, the SEANET blogger wishes to recognize the comment from Mary Wright begging to differ with my assessment of guinea fowl. She claims they do have a purpose in life, and you should read her full comment at the bottom of the previous post. I think perhaps I am biased by keeping chickens who earn their keep in such an obvious, egg-shaped way every day, but Mary, your point is well taken!

The Gull Team: Justin Stillwell (left), Julie Ellis, and Bill Clark

Moving on to current events, the SEANET blogger has just returned from Appledore Island off the coast of southern Maine. Appledore is the site of our own Dr. Julie Ellis’ long-term gull study, and the entire staff of SEANET Central (meaning Sarah and Julie) were out there for the past five days capturing adult Great Black-Backed Gulls.

The goal of this week’s work was to band both mates in a pair of nesting gulls, and take blood samples from each bird. Once the eggs hatch, blood samples will be taken from the chicks as well to determine whether or not the male of the mated pair of birds is actually the father of the chicks. In many bird species, the female will seek out “extra-pair copulations” with males other than her mate. In Great Black-Backed Gulls, it is not clear how often this occurs. Hopefully this past week’s work will shed some light on the subject.

Justin and Bill face off with a gull. The hazards of this work are considerable.

The team out on the island was quite impressive. Julie had her long-time volunteer Bill Clark along on the expedition. Bill’s knowledge of the island and of the gulls nesting there is truly remarkable, and his management of the data collected is indispensable. Bill also brought along 100 cloth bags (sewn by his long-suffering wife) for restraining the gulls, as well as a whole slew of gull traps, some of which he made himself, and some which were made by his neighbor, who just happens to be a welder. Bill is truly amazing and really critical to this operation’s success.

In addition to Bill, a newcomer on the scene came along this year: Justin Stillwell, an undergraduate at the University of New Hampshire, took to the gull banding like a true natural. He spent the past five days sprinting around the island, setting traps, retrieving and restraining gulls, drawing blood, and being a fantastic asset all around.

We also had an influx of help in the form of graduate students, professors and post-doctoral fellows from Cornell’s Laboratory of Ornithology. Everyone worked incredibly hard and the result was a very commendable 40 pairs of nesting gulls sampled and banded!

Dr. Ellis post-banding. Note both the aluminum, federal band on the right leg, as well as a black, field-readable band on the left leg.

The whole stint culminated in the banding of Dr. Julie Ellis herself, who was chased down, thrown in a bag, wrestled to the ground, measured, weighed, and then banded on both legs. It appears that the experience gave Julie an even greater appreciation for what the gulls go through during banding.

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