Thursday, June 28, 2018

Review of article on Murre egg at Matinicus Rock from National Audubon Puffin Project website.

This article is from the National Audubon Society Puffin project website.
(My comments are inserted in the body of the article)
Common Murres Nest at Matinicus Rock!

Discovery Result of  (really?) Audubon’s 17-year Effort to Restore the Penguin-like Seabird to Maine Coastal Islands
For the first time in more than a century, a Common Murre (Uria aalge) egg has been discovered south of the Canadian border, boosting hope for the success of valiant (?) efforts to restore the species. The rare egg was discovered by an intern working for Audubon’s Seabird Restoration program on Matinicus Rock, one of 50 islands in Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge.
"We are absolutely elated. This is a small egg, but with a big promise," said Dr. Stephen Kress, director of the Seabird Restoration Program."We have high hopes for the successful hatching and fledging of this egg, and for greater numbers of murres in years to come."

The egg marks the first time since 1883 that the species, which spends most of its life at sea, has nested south of the Canadian border on the U.S. east coast.
(This would have been a good time to describe the regional murre population and its recent history you could say something like  “the first 20th century record of this species breeding in the Gulf of Maine was in 1973, the population has been growing from about 50 pairs in 1981 to in the order of 1500 individuals by 2012, who breed on crowded ledges about 100 miles east of Matinicus Rock at Machias Seal and Yellow Murre ledge”.
The rhetoric used appears to be deliberately misleading apparently chosen to maximize the appearance of accomplishment rather than to educate.)
It was discovered on a rocky cliff by intern Maria Cunha, after she noticed a pair of murres in typical incubating posture. The nest was surrounded by about 50 murre decoys, and artificial eggs, and close to a sound system that emits murre calls to encourage the long-absent birds to establish new nests.  (As if the urge to breed was somehow latent in this population, also Murre don’t have nests)

While widespread on the Pacific coast from Alaska to California, and breeders in Canada’s Maritime Provinces,
Common Murres were eliminated from their Maine breeding sites in the 1800s by people hunting the birds for food. Collecting of eggs—a popular pursuit at the time—may also have contributed to the disappearance.
(another good chance to mention the swelling murre population in the Gulf of Maine)
Common Murres are especially vulnerable to oil spills and predation, so new colonies within their historic range offer the best assurance for their survival.  (Is there any threat to the survival of this species? you could just say something like.. Its nice to have them in the region again) Audubon and partners from the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge have spent 17 years trying to bring the Common Murres back to the islands.  (after a decade of which murre chose to established breeding on Machias Seal island instead (100 miles East of Matinicus Rock 2.5 hours by Murre), where there was no “murre attraction effort”.  What was that the result of? Discussion on the subject absent this reality is not a serious evaluation of the use of social attraction in this case.
 Skeptics might be inclined to see the murres choice of Machias Seal as pretty good evidence that the social attraction effort was irrelevant. There is also a growing population of well over a thousand Razorbills, a very similar species, who attend Matinicus rock, ~400 breeding pairs.
 Which has been more important for attracting murre to this site, hundreds of very similar birds commuting many miles between feeding grounds and the Island or a bunch of plastic decoys that you have to be within 100m of to see?)
Regardless of the fate of this specific egg, its presence signals a success story in the making.  (clearly the author ? knew the egg was consumed by a predator.  The murre distraction equipment was set up on a site chosen by people, it was out in the open, the successful murres on Machias Seal have laid their eggs under boulders where they have shelter from gulls. By distracting the murre to this human chosen open vulnerable place, away from where their instincts, geography and their little feet would have taken them, it seems as likely that the “murre attraction effort” delayed the successful re-colonization of this site as it is that it accelerated the process.)
"Each new colony offers another margin of safety for Common Murres and other seabirds," said Kress. "The return of the Common Murre to its long-lost nesting grounds shows that conservation works – even against great odds."
(Against great odds? The continued expansion of this species was predictable considering the swelling population at crowded colonies on small islands not far to the east. In this sense conservation means only not rowing out to yellow murre ledge and collecting all the murre eggs every year)
Common Murres are not the first seabird species that Kress and his team (this article is on the puffin project website, written by Kress or “his team”) have helped restore to Maine.   (never miss a chance to reinforce the myth that there were no Puffin in the Gulf of Maine in 1975,  (there were  1,000 pairs, capable of producing in the order of 10,000 new Puffins during the 15 years during which the NAS valiantly added about 70, At the cost of over 1,600 others.)

 Pioneering the use of decoys (this is an appropriate time to acknowledge that Richard Pough and colleagues used decoys when trying to re-establish terns to Great Gull Island in Long Island Sound during the late 1940s)
and sounds now employed to attract the Murres, 
The team began working to attract Atlantic Puffins to the Maine coastal islands in 1973; four breeding pairs nested at Eastern Egg Rock in 1981, after an absence of nearly a century. Today, Project Puffin protects more than 42,000 of Maine’s rarest  seabirds on thirteen islands. (“rarest” implies some scale of rareness to help establish conservation priorities, the track record indicates otherwise, and if there are 42,000 of them what is so rare about that)
 Their techniques (Eliminating predatory gulls from nesting sites) have also helped establish 12 new tern colonies in Maine and are proving useful for helping endangered seabirds in California, the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador, and Japan. At least 40 seabird species in 12 countries have benefited from seabird restoration techniques developed by Audubon.

Credibility is perishable and given the degree to which National Audubon has misrepresented the import of their work here in the Gulf of Maine I am inclined to be very skeptical of stories of the alleged success of the use of social attraction at seabird islands elsewhere in the world where I have no idea what’s going on.

An organization that is doing important seabird conservation work is ”Conservacion del las islas”, a Mexican organization with a staff of 50 and seasonally employs twice that.  This group has worked for years to clear seabird islands of destructive vermin primarily rats, cats, goats and pigs. They have done this on very large islands in the Caribbean the Gulf of California and the Pacific.  That is the important hard work needed to enable the reestablishment of seabird colonies. 
Social attraction works when? When that is probably what was going to happen anyway.  When there is a site from which predators/vermin have been eliminated or never existed, where habitat is suitable or has been made so and most importantly there needs to be a population of birds looking for a place to nest.  Which occurs during times of growing population or when a former breeding site has been disturbed.  In the first case managers don't need to do anything and in the second case better the managers priorities be to look into disturbance at the source site.

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