Puffin time on Eastern Egg Rock

Have you heard of the Atlantic Puffin, a species of seabird in the auk family? It is the only puffin native to the Atlantic Ocean.

Two Atlantic Puffins on Eastern Egg Rock

Atlantic Puffin on Eastern Egg Rock

I have been lucky to see this bird on both, the eastern and western   coast of its breeding range. In 1996 when I studied at Bangor University in Wales, UK I first encountered Atlantic Puffins off-shore from Puffin Island, an uninhabited island off the eastern tip of Anglesey, Wales. The island, as you may have guessed, was named after a breeding colony of Atlantic Puffins. Unfortunately puffins no longer breed on this island after the introduction of a fierce predator of eggs and chicks, the brown rat. On the other side of the Atlantic Oceans puffins faced similar problems, they were extirpated from many areas by a combination of egg collection, hunting for meat and feathers, and displacement by expanding Herring and Great Black-backed Gull populations. Now, thanks to Dr. Stephen Kress, I have seen Atlantic Puffins off the coast of Maine, on a small island named Eastern Egg Rock.

Eastern Egg Rock is a small, treeless island in the outer Muscongus Bay area. It is designated the Allan D. Cruickshank Wildlife Sanctuary in honor of Allan Cruickshank, a Maine ornithologist and photographer.


In 2015, when I taught at one of the Hog Island Audubon camps, I was lucky to land on Eastern Egg Rock as the instructor of a group of teenagers enrolled in the Coastal Maine Bird Studies for Teens.

Crossing in DoryWe landed on the island in one of the traditional fishing boats, a dory.

Access to Eastern Egg Rock is strictly limited, a small group of researchers spends the summer in the single hut on the island monitoring the numerous birds that breed on the island. Common Terns and Laughing Gulls are probably the most common species on the island that establish nests. Less common breeders are Arctic and Roseate Tern, Black Guillemots, Common Eiders and also Atlantic Puffins.


The Atlantic Puffins are a success story for conservation, the world’s first restored seabird colony. When Dr. Stephen Kress started the project in 1973 the last puffin breeding on the island had been seen in 1885. He was determined to bring a population back to this area and with the translocation of nearly 1,000 young puffins from Newfoundland, and social attraction through decoys and mirror boxes he succeeded!

Atlantic Puffin and decoy on Eastern Egg Rock

Atlantic Puffin (right) and decoy (left) on Eastern Egg Rock

The first pairs of puffins began nesting on the island in 1981, now more than 100 pairs nest regularly on Eastern Egg Rock and can be seen in the waters of near-by islands.


When we visited the island for the day, we each had the opportunity to spend some time in a small hut (bird hide) of which numerous are distributed across the island. There you sit in solitude, well hidden from the breeding birds that surround you and get to absorb views and sounds.


I brought my recording equipment (a Audio Technica 8035 microphone connected to a Marantz PMD670) and captured the multitude of sounds:

Listen to this recording of Laughing Gulls (note the gull chicks calling in the background!):


Listen to this recording of Common Terns (also with chicks calling in the background):


It is a truly unforgettable experience to become part of this fragile ecosystem for a few hours! You can visit Eastern Egg Rock on a puffin cruise which leaves from New Harbor, ME daily during the summer months and circles the island to provide amazing views of the Atlantic Puffins and other seabirds.


About the Author: Angelika Nelson is the Curator of the Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics and instructor of Hog Island Audubon camps.

Songbirds no longer take a break

With temperatures dropping below freezing again and the potential of heavy snowfall in the next days, spring is not the first thing that comes to mind. At least not to us humans. Songbirds on the other hand are already preparing for the next breeding season and spring may well be on their minds.

singing Carolina Wren

Singing Carolina Wren © CheepShot

You may have heard the song of a Carolina Chickadee or Carolina Wren outside your window, often early in the morning when the temperatures are particularly frigid. For these resident birds it is important to defend a territory and after a long, cold night let everyone know that they are still alive and yes, the territory is still taken!

Did you know that almost 80% of our songbird species that commonly breed (and thus vocalize) in Ohio, maybe even in your backyard, do not spend the winter with us? You may not notice the dramatic decline in bird diversity, because some birds are replaced by winter visitors from the north. Sometimes even within a species, such as the American Robin.

Many of our summer American Robins move south while birds from more northern populations come to our area for the winter. So next time you see a robin in your garden, remember that it may not be the familiar bird whose song you enjoyed all summer. American Robin

If you have a bird feeder in your backyard, you may be familiar with some of our regular winter visitors. Maybe you have noticed Dark-eyed Juncos and American Tree Sparrows among the more familiar residents such as Northern Cardinal and Carolina Chickadee. Have you seen any of the more irregular visitors yet such as Red-breasted Nuthatch or Pine Siskin? According to the Winter Finch Forecast – a report researched and written by Ron Pittaway of the Ontario Field Ornithologists each year since 1999 and published on the World Wide Web – we should be very lucky to see either of the aforementioned irregular visitors in large numbers at a feeder in Ohio this winter because of a heavy cone crop on Balsam Fir in many areas that should provide ample food for these birds in the areas north.

A few months ago even the hardy birds, who spend the winter in Ohio, were quiet. Walking through a woodland in December, you would have noticed how quiet nature can be, hardly any animals made a sound then. Still now the bird chorus is quite limited, you can easily count the species that join in. This is a good time to practice your birding by ear skills. Find your favorite birds on the website of the Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics where you can listen online to hours of sounds. Or consider listening to nature’s music on one of our lab’s CDs with animal sounds – please contact the curator for details for any of the following CDs: Voices of Ohio Birds, Calls of Ohio Frogs and Toads, Sounds of Insects and Amphibiance, and for these produced in collaboration with ODNR – Common birds of Ohio, Warblers of Ohio, Waterbirds of Ohio and Owls of Ohio.

CDs by Borror Lab of Bioacoustics

Our latest production is of birds commonly heard on and around Hog Island, Maine, a stark contrast to the other CDs that focus on animals in Ohio. Why Maine?

Don Borror on Hog Island

Don Borror teaching on Hog Island in 1940s © Friends of Hog Island

Don Borror, entomology professor and founder of the Borror lab, used to teach some of the Audubon summer programs on Hog Island, Maine through his retirement in 1977. For the past two springs I have been privileged to follow his footsteps and also teach on the island in the Muscongus Bay.

I have taught participants about the skill of ‘Birding by Ear’ as well as ‘How to make Audio Recordings of Bird Sounds’ (stay tuned for more about these topics in one of our future posts!).

Angelika Nelson on Hog Island

Angelika Nelson teaching on Hog Island in 2015

To aid my instruction I put together a CD of sound recordings of species that we are likely to encounter on the island and along the coast of Maine. Each track starts with the common song of the species, followed by the identification and some more, often less commonly heard sounds. Participants have enjoyed listening to the sounds, many of them were recorded in the field by Don Borror.

I will be teaching again on Hog Island this year during the sessions Field Ornithology (12-17 June) and Hands-on Bird Science (19-24 June) – Registration is now open with an early bird discount until February 15th. Come join me on Hog Island!

Early morning view of Muscongus Bay from Hog Island, Maine

Early morning view of Muscongus Bay from Hog Island, Maine

About the Author: Angelika Nelson is curator of the Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics at The Ohio State University. Photos taken by the author unless stated otherwise.

Examples of sibling species


As described in the 25 September post, differences in the courtship sounds that males use to attract females are often the best evidence that two groups of animals are different species.  Pairs of physically very similar animals that are regarded as distinct species are called “sibling species.”  Upon closer study, scientists can usually find structural differences between members of a sibling species pair, and there are often subtle differences in habitat preferences or geographic range.  Two pairs of sibling species are shown below.

Willow flycatcher (left) and Alder flycatcher (right). Photo: Powdermill Nature Reserve

Willow flycatcher (left) and Alder flycatcher (right).
Photo: Powdermill Nature Reserve

The first pair is the alder and willow flycatcher, two song birds commonly found in the eastern US.  Even in the hand they are difficult to distinguish, but their songs are distinct!

Click on each name to listen to the song of each species on the Borror Lab’s website.  Click on the play button in the gray bar to listen to the sound and to see a scrolling “voice print” or sound spectrogram of the song.




Gray tree frog (top) and Cope's gray tree frog (bottom). Courtesy of Wikipedia and Encyclopedia of Life

Gray tree frog (top) and Cope’s gray tree frog (bottom). Photos: Courtesy of Wikipedia and Encyclopedia of Life

The second pair contains the gray tree frog and Cope’s gray tree frog. In addition to the difference in their calls, these species differ in the number of chromosomes (the gray tree frog is a tetraploid, or has twice the usual diploid number of chromosomes).



These are just a few examples of the sounds in the Borror Lab’s collection.  Feel free to browse the archive!


About the Author: Dr. Doug Nelson is Director of the Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics.