Greetings from Anvers Island! The front of the U.S. Palmer Station doesn’t usually have many icebergs, but this summer, the waters around the station have become something of an iceberg parking lot. The last few days have been breezy with a couple inches of summer snow, but that has not stopped us from making our rounds. Throughout the area, the seabirds are busy raising demanding chicks while humpback whales are swimming by.
The south polar skuas are just starting to hatch and we are seeing their chicks on a couple of the islands. The brown skua chicks have grown significantly. Their primary flight feathers are starting to come in and they are becoming more challenging to measure. The sneaky youngsters are often hiding behind rocks away from the nest. They are quick on their feet and run from us when we approach. The ages of the southern giant petrel chicks vary with some newly hatched and others barely fitting under their brooding parent because they’ve grown so much. Often as we walk by, we’ll see a fuzzy white head sticking out under mom or dad.
All of the penguin chicks are growing rapidly but the gentoo chicks are the smallest, with many still fairly young. These chicks are very cute; their beaks already show orange and somehow the young birds manage to stay very clean.
The chinstrap chicks are also tidy-looking and have grown significantly. The Adelie colonies are thinning out as the parents are spending more time out foraging. Their extremely messy chicks are forming groups called crèches. At this stage, the young birds are really starting to grow up and are willing to venture away from their nest to hang out with other chicks. The oldest chicks are in the process of molting their down and many look quite funny. They are partially covered in down with some of their first molt showing. This next generation of penguins is developing quickly, which is important as the quick Antarctic summer is flying by.
As I reflect on this wonderful journey, I continue to marvel at the purity of Antarctica’s environment. Please try your best to respect the environment wherever you are and leave behind the smallest footprint you can. We share an incredibly beautiful world and it’s all of our responsibility to protect it.
Thank you for reading.
– Matthew Porter is a bird department zookeeper for the Detroit Zoological Society and has spent the last few months at the U.S. Palmer Station in Antarctica for a rare and extraordinary scientific opportunity to assist a field team with penguin research.
Paul Buzzard, Ph.D., is the director of conservation for the Detroit Zoological Society.
Since 2007, the Detroit Zoological Society has been working to restore the population of common terns on the Detroit River, and more recently on Lake St. Clair. DZS staff monitor, improve and create suitable nesting habitats respectively on Grosse Ile, Belle Isle and the restored lighthouses on Lake St. Clair through a partnership with the Save Our South Channel Lights organization. Each year, staff members also attach colored leg bands to common tern chicks to monitor their movements in the Great Lakes.
In early July, several staff members successfully attached leg bands to more than 30 chicks at one of the lighthouses on Lake St. Clair. Gathering the flightless chicks is a hazardous time for staff as the adult terns swoop down to protect their young. Amid the squawking adult terns, DZS staff quickly and gently placed several chicks at a time into small holding corrals. Other staff then attached leg bands promptly and efficiently to avoid undue discomfort to the chicks. The chicks were then released close to where they were collected to avoid additional stress. A total of 118 chicks have been banded by DZS staff over the last two years.
This year, with water levels especially high in the Great Lakes, some common tern nesting sites have been flooded out. Thus, the nesting sites at the Lake St. Clair lighthouse and also on Belle Isle are particularly important. DZS staff have improved the habitat at both of these areas by clearing vegetation and, in the case of the Belle Isle colony, establishing a predator-proof fence. So far this season, two common tern chicks have fledged (reached sub-adulthood) at Belle Isle. In addition, the first chick from Belle Isle was banded. In the past several years, only one common tern chick has fledged at Belle Isle.
This year’s high water has also delayed the life cycles of many animals – including common terns – and more than 100 eggs still remained to hatch when we banded the first chicks on July 1. DZS staff will continue banding and monitoring to enhance common tern conservation.
– Paul Buzzard
Dr. Ann Duncan is the Chief Veterinarian for the Detroit Zoological Society.
In 1998, the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) started providing veterinary assistance as part of a collaborative effort to reintroduce ospreys, a fish-eating raptor, to southeastern Michigan. The Department of Natural Resources, Kensington Metropark, the DZS and DTE worked together to help this majestic species return to the area after being impacted by use of the pesticide DDT. Ospreys had historically been found in our area, but there were no known nesting pairs in southeast Michigan when the project was initiated.
Between 1998 and 2007, osprey chicks were brought down from northern Michigan, raised in elevated platforms on lakes and released at Kensington Metropark, Berry County and Stony Creek Metropark. All chicks were banded so that they could be identified by a network of volunteers and biologists devoted to their monitoring and recovery. At the end of the summer, these chicks then migrated to their winter grounds in South America and, after reaching maturity returned to the place in southeastern Michigan where they fledged, or began flying and feeding on their own. The first chick returned in 2002, and numbers have increased steadily since that time.
This year, there are more than 30 nesting pairs in southeast Michigan, most choosing to nest in cell towers. There is now a self-sustaining population of ospreys in the southern half of the Lower Peninsula. Beginning last year, funding was secured to fit a few of the chicks with backpack transmitters that send a GPS signal and allow the birds’ migration patterns to be tracked.
The DZS was initially involved in helping to feed and care for the chicks in the towers; we spent time monitoring the chicks in their nests and providing food, nutritional supplements and veterinary care. Now that we are no longer moving osprey chicks from northern Michigan, our involvement is limited to conducting exams and collecting blood samples for health monitoring and gender determination of the chicks produced by our now resident ospreys.
Over the years, the chicks have generally been incredibly healthy and robust. A few have been slightly dehydrated and some have had parasites, but none have had serious medical issues. It’s been incredibly rewarding to be a part of this successful reintroduction program. The biologists and volunteers involved in this effort are talented and dedicated to the success of this wonderful native Michigan bird.
– Dr. Ann Duncan