Saturday, July 15, 2017

Great Gull Island: Part Four, Everything Else!

Great Gull Island has a few things besides terns. And that's what we'll check out here. Some of these creatures are quite adored by the folks who spend time on the island, and rightfully so, as I think many of these birds find respite from the terns around our buildings and habitations. The terns are not kind to other species, and heck, even each other, so it makes sense that other species stick close to human habitats and the very few non-nesting spaces.
Anyway, without further adeu, here are "the others..."

Milkweed was abundant on the island, so it was good to see at least on monarch caterpillar!
Common eiders were always floating around the island, this one, an immature male.

These are diving ducks, specializing in eating mollusks like mussels.

On one of the evenings a large number of red admiral butterflies passed though in the evening. hey gathered in the area called the pines, where 3 or 4 small pine trees grow and terns don't nest. It also happens to be where the biting flies live too.

Using the ruins of the structures to sun itself in the fading sunlight. 

In addition to always seeing eider in the water, we also always saw cormorants and grey seals.

On July 4th we were treated to a special sight...

A great shearwater!

Large in size, but likely not a threat to the terns-- but they didn't see it that way.
This bird feeds out at sea, following fishing boats, catching things out of the water, and scavenging. The terns did not read up about this guy and its habits, just went right into defense mode, which involves poop. Lots of it too!

During our free time many of us would check out the pines to see who was lingering. We found there were some freshly fledged Carolina wrens!

Catbirds were a favorite, as they often approached us, looking for raisins or some of our watermelon rinds we'd leave out for them. They scavenged in our dishwashing station for scraps. They were treated with admiration, they rarely ever "meowed!"

A lot of song sparrows too, you could make out their songs among the loudness of the terns.

Also, the skulkiest red-wing blackbirds ever. If they claimed a perch too high, they'd get dive bombed.

Night herons are not welcome. The terns chase them off, as they are huge predators of chicks. We were told they once found one that claimed the lives of 37 chicks, in one meal!!

Often overlooked, but super important to the nesting colony are meadow voles! They were introduced by the museum to help control the vegetation. And that they did, helping to maintain a habitat that is hospitable to terns.
You would see these guys dart across paths or poke out from an edge, never getting too long of a look.

song sparrow.

The flowers on the island did attract pollinators, bees, butterflies, and others took advantage of them all!

Fledgling Carolina wren-- one of these young guys found their way into our room one afternoon. We helped him out, after having it nearly fly into our faces.
Then the next morning, we woke up to an adult Carolina wren walking, or hopping, more like, around our room. Again waking up and carefully opening and closing doors to help escort him out. This experience was a true test-- how much do you REALLY love birds?!

I wonder if the song sparrows here have to sing louder than usual in order to be heard, with all the constant noise.

The pines area also housed a house finch family-- here is the female.

The male house finch sang and showed off those colors.

Mom Carolina Wren, singing her "Tea-kettle-tea-kettle" song.

The wrens were so not shy. It was a treat to enjoy such great views of them!

Another song sparrow friend.

Despite the name, Great Gull Island is not home to gulls. Great Black Backed Gulls are huge foes and not liked by terns or staff. They eat chicks. The gulls and herons occupy the island next door, Little Gull Island. Often flying by and causing a ruckus among the terns.

Spotted sand piper (pictured) and killdeer ran around among the island.
That thing about the terns not being nice... they resulted in the death of this spotted sandpiper chick. They flew in with it and dropped it right in front of the headquarters building.
The sea around us also had much life-- a sand lance is the popular food for terns. This one was "thrown" at me by a bird.
Asian Shore Crabs, an invasive species were easily found under rocks at the coast of the island. We ate them, and they were delicious. I suppose in the name of ecology, it's not a bad thing!
You can see why fisherman gather near the island, this bluefish was caught and gifted to us by Carl Safina. We prepared it, and again, it was delicious. There was something very special in living here and finding sustenance in what was around us. While reading a book that talked a lot about land ethic, it gave me a warm fuzzy feeling inside, it felt good to be part of the island ecology.

On the last morning, a rainy one at that, a swallow out of the ordinary- we mostly see barn swallows, but this tree swallow was a treat!

Remember how I said the wrens are NOT shy? Well, I was sitting inside headquarters, and see a not uncommon sight. The wren has a secret entry through the window, hops around the stove and counter to help itself to leftovers and then goes back out the window.... even if the door is wide open!

My favorite sight, Helen.
This trip was amazing and really impacted me in such a great way. I want to come back again. I enjoyed working under the wing of Helen Hays. She is such a beautiful host, she greets you when your boat arrives and bids you farewell when you leave. This island holds a place in her heart, you can feel it when she talks about the birds or asks you if you'd like to try dissecting something. What a treasure she is to the ornithological world!

Until next time!
(Because there will be one!)