No terning back!
I’ve caught it.
I’ve caught what some people call the “bird bug” – AKA the overwhelming joy that follows after working with cool avian critters.
I took in the full expanse of the beach, with lapping waves and a calm endless stretch of sea. It was about 8 in the morning. I waded up to my knees carrying my provisions above my head. As I climbed aboard the boat, I buckled my life vest and grabbed the metal pole beside the steering wheel. Kate Iaquinto, Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge’s wildlife biologist, took the helm and we started across the open water. The ocean smelled amazing. It was clear skies and sunny, and the rush of the speed and ocean breeze made it very comfortable. The little furry brown heads of seals popped up from time to time, curious about our passing.
After about 10 minutes, we dropped anchor and we waded our way through the water past trails of horseshoe crabs and onto shore. As I looked ahead, birds were everywhere. As I wasn’t too confident in my bird identification abilities yet, I asked myself were all of these birds terns?
I followed behind Kate until we came to the camp site set up with tents. In a stretch of sand about 7 miles long, I was informed there were 11,723 pairs of common terns on the island! After not being in the tern colony for more than 2 minutes, poop flew down from the sky onto Kate’s face barely missing her mouth. It was inevitable really, and it could only mean good luck, right?
I was informed to grab a yellow hard hat with marker flags to protect the terns and my head, and off I went with Kate and four Student Conservation Association interns.
Four speckled white and black eggs in the sand. I was surprised at the tern interns’ intense enthusiasm about these eggs. We had passed dozens of nests already. I shortly learned, these were very different. The four interns told me this was a skimmer’s nest. I had never heard of a skimmer bird. Apparently, there had not been a skimmer’s nest observed on the island for quite a long time. What a success!
As we went out into the field, we surveyed the nesting plots where nesting adult terns and their chicks resided. And boy are the little ones expert hiders. They can find the smallest pieces of vegetation, and under its protective cover they blend in perfectly with the sand.
I read off their band numbers ensuring they were present and healthy, while admiringly looking at the squirmy bodies of fluff. This process of surveying helps Kate and the tern interns identify success of terns nesting on the island. As we moved from plot to plot, laughing gulls called out in hysterical ‘has’ and I couldn’t help but also laugh myself.
Common terns fledge, developing feathers for flight, between 22-28 days old. Their eggs come in a variety of colors: green, creme, turquoise, and brown, with speckled dark spots. They generally have a clutch size of about 1-4 eggs. Roseate terns, a federally endangered species, often reside within common tern colonies. Although common terns are not endangered, they are a species of concern in Massachusetts.
Throughout the course of the day, I had banded four birds with the help of Kate. As I sat on the beach taking pictures, the sun cast a fine glow of colors across the horizon and a pair of oystercatchers moved along the shoreline nearby.
Overall, it was amazing going out into the field at Monomoy and I am grateful to have experienced this unique adventure during my inTERNship.