by Selu Adams
Selu Adams was the 2018 recipient of the Edward Barnsley Scholarship for Youth offered each year by Atlanta Audubon. The scholarship covers the cost of registration and airfare for one teen, between the ages of 14 and 17 to attend Audubon’s Coastal Bird Studies For Teens Camp on Hog Island, Maine. The scholarship application for the 2019 Camp will open in early 2019.
Last June, thanks to Atlanta Audubon Society, I had an amazing opportunity to attend Audubon’s Coastal Maine Bird Studies For Teens in Bremen, Maine. Using the 330-acre Hog Island as our base, 19 other teens and I spent about a week birding and learning about conservation.
Our first birding outing was a boat ride around Hog Island in the Muscongus Bay where we spotted Common Eiders, Surf Scoters, Black Scoters, and the first of many Black Guillemots and Double-crested Cormorants. The highlight of the trip was seeing three Long-tailed Ducks—a male and two females—gracefully gliding through the water as everyone scrambled to one side of the boat to get a good look at them. Later, we watched a banding demonstration and learned the how’s and why’s of bird banding as well as what equipment is needed. A Ruby-throated Hummingbird was caught right before our eyes. We watched, fascinated, as Sandy Lockerman, a master hummingbird bander, carefully banded the hummingbird and explained modifications to the banding process for hummingbirds, such as using much smaller than normal bands. After the banding demonstration, we returned to the mainland for a short visit to Mad River Decoy, a bird decoy shop that made the puffin decoys used on Eastern Egg Rock, the site of Audubon’s puffin restoration efforts. It was interesting to learn how decoys are made, and how effective they can be in attracting birds in conservation efforts around the world.
The next morning we woke up early to look for thrushes that had been banded by one of the instructors at last year’s camp. Although we weren’t able to get close enough to any thrushes to tell if they were banded, we did find some other birds along the way, including Blackburnian Warblers, Black-throated Green Warblers, Northern Parulas, and Red-breasted Nuthatches. After breakfast, we gathered in the Queen Mary Lab, a small building near the dock and the artist-in-residence on the island, Jennifer Anderson, gave us some tips on drawing birds. One of the instructors, Courtney Brennan, talked to us about study skins. Courtney, who prepares birds specimens for a museum by turning them into study skins, explained to us that study skins are a form of taxidermy where instead of preparing the birds for display, they are prepared for scientific research. Measurements and details such as how much fat is on the bird or what is in the stomach are recorded on a slip of paper, and after it is completely prepared, researchers can use the collected data and examine the birds for additional information.
Although most of our time was spent on Hog Island, we did spend a day birding on the mainland. We stopped on a small gravel road, finding Black-throated Green, Canada and Nashville Warblers, as well as Northern Waterthrushes. I was especially struck by a Veery we heard, whose song brought to my mind a falling maple samara (seed) spinning round and round until it gently lands on the ground. At another one of our locations, we spotted an Alder Flycatcher, a lifer for many of the other campers, including me. We joked about how funny it seemed that we all were trying to catch a glimpse of the flycatcher, a drably colored bird compared to a nearby bright orange Baltimore Oriole that seemed to be showing off its meticulously woven nest.
My favorite experience of the week was visiting Eastern Egg Rock, an island where Project Puffin had successfully restored the Atlantic Puffin population. Earlier in the week, Stephen Kress, who began Project Puffin, told us how Atlantic Puffins had disappeared from Eastern Egg Rock, and how he and his team have been able to get them back. Following the colonial days, hunting on Eastern Egg Rock decimated the puffin population, as well as other seabird populations on the island. But, in the early 1900’s, several bird protection laws that were passed, including the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (1916). This coupled with the addition of Audubon wardens helped increase seabird populations. However, these protections alone weren’t enough for the puffins because they usually return to the island where they hatched at for nesting, and since no puffins were on the island, none would come back. Starting in 1973, Kress and his team transplanted puffin fledglings from Newfoundland to Eastern Egg Rock and placed them in artificial sod burrows where they were fed every day. The puffins were banded before they left for 3 to 5 years on the ocean before returning to nest. Kress and his team also had to deal with the threat of the gull population on the island, since gulls are predators of puffin eggs and chicks. They set up tern decoys, hoping to attract terns to the island because terns could keep the gulls away and make the island a more attractive place for puffins to nest. The tern decoys worked, and puffin decoys and mirrors were also set up to encourage puffins to explore the island’s nesting habitat. Finally, in 1981, puffins were observed nesting on the island for the first time in nearly 100 years. Last year, 172 nesting pairs were observed on the island!
Eastern Egg Rock was a 45-minute boat ride away from Hog Island. After meeting the interns who were conducting research and living on the island for the summer, we carefully made our way to where the interns were based, keeping our eyes peeled for the well camouflaged tern eggs on the rocks. The interns had warned us about how terns would dive bomb our heads (or the highest point they saw), so I held a stick up into the air to avoid getting hit by them. We gathered in front of a small shelter that the interns used before splitting off into three groups. An intern led me to a 3 x 3 foot blind from which I saw a spectacular sight. I was surrounded by hundreds of nesting terns, mainly Common Terns. Every few minutes, a large flock of them flew up into the air, each loudly sounding off kip or kee-ar calls, before landing back onto the ground. Closer to the water, Black Guillemots hopped from rock to rock, and beyond them, I spotted a couple of puffins in the water! They stayed pretty far out on the water for the most time I was in the blind, but the puffins flew closer towards the island a few times, letting me get a better look at them.
One of the best things about the camp for me was being able to meet and talk to other people in working in the field of ornithology. It was interesting to hear about what got them into birding, and the instructors and guests also gave insightful programs about current problems and efforts concerning birds. Meeting the other young birders at the camp was very inspiring, and it was great to get to know more young people as enthusiastic about birds as I am! I can’t thank Atlanta Audubon Society enough for making it possible for me to have a once in a lifetime experience!