Saturday, April 30, 2011

Day 20: Fine art

The gulls have turned this door into a work of art. This is the entrance to one of our study blinds. It's called the Sea Lion Cove blind and it was build just a few years ago to allow us monitor another Brandt's Cormorant colony and create easily accessible Murre habitat. There are ledges built on the sides of the bind that were designed for Common Murres to breed on. Every year, a few more birds begin breeding on these ledges. Eventually we hope to be able to capture birds from this blind for more in depth, hands on studies. But for right now, the blind provides to most intimate, close-up viewing opportunities of any blind on the island. And the gulls have decorated it's copper siding beautifully.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Day 19: The View

The wind kicked up some nice swell today. I could see my computer screen in the house shaking with the gusts. But there are very few things the wind will stop us from doing. Most of our work goes on as scheduled. Which makes us all the more grateful to have a house and a warm meal to come back to at the end of the day.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Day 18: Too cute

I know I just had a Cassin's chick photo but I couldn't resist this one. We had a big Cassin's auklet breed check today. We were checking empty nest boxes for new breeding attempts as well as checking occupied boxes for hatching and weighing chicks that were on their own. We had quite a few new breeding attempts today and lots of hatching chicks. Good signs. This chick in a nest box is still being brooded its parent and is just poking its head out from under the right wing. Definitely one of my favorite things to see, it's almost too cute to handle.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Day 17: Got water?

Fresh water is a precious commodity on the island. We collect all our drinking water from rainfall leaving us at the mercy of the weather gods. As a result we employ strict water conservation measures. Showers are limited (once every 4 days at most), our gray water is recycled and used to flush the toilets, and leaky faucets are outlawed. This one is not actually leaking, just dripping from the rain.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Day 16: Farallon feast

 Food features prominently in our daily life on the island. The research assistants here are all volunteers, their only compensation is food and a roof over their heads, so we try to have good food. And since there are limited entertainment opportunities, much of our downtime is spent either cooking or planning things to cook. That's especially true now since it is still early in the season and fieldwork is relatively light. We typically rotate dinner cooking duties and eat dinner all together. But the baking bug bit the house today so we had a community effort for dinner tonight: delicious homemade spaghetti and a green salad by Russ, freshly baked bread by Greg, and strawberry rhubarb pie by me. Not bad for a field camp.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Day 15: Cruising

I thought it was time for another gull picture. The gulls are incredibly graceful in the air. When the wind picks up they cruise along effortlessly, hardly needing to flap, controlling their motion only using subtle adjustments of their wings. They seem completely at home and at ease. I was trying to capture that feeling of rapid gliding  with this shot.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Day 14: A kinglet and his crown

We've had this little Ruby-crowned kinglet hanging around the island for the past few days. These little birds are one of my favorite spring time visitors. We usually get a few waves of migrating landbirds showing up in the spring and fall. Some individuals actually appear to make this island a regular stopover. We have a Golden-crowned sparrow the has spent every winter since 2007 here! This spring the landbirds have been scarce so we were quite happy to see this kinglet.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Day 13: Cute chicks

First Cassin's auklet chick weighed today! Once chicks are left alone by their parents, usually after about 10 days, some of them are weighed every five days so we can document how quickly they are developing. This tells us about their health and also about how much food is available for their parents to bring back to the colony. In years when food is scarce, chicks are underweight and slow growing. Jen was pretty happy to be able to hold her first Cassin's chick here. This guy weighed in at a healthy 58 grams.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Day 12: Cart Blanche

 This cart is part of Farallon history. Although the current incarnation has not been around that long, it's constantly being rebuilt, repaired and given a fresh coat of whitewash by the gulls, a Farallon cart has been an essential part of Farallon life since the 1800's. It's a simple design, a push cart with small railroad wheels that run on rails along a path. That path is our life line. It runs from the landing, where we crane gear on and off the island, to the powerhouse that houses our solar power system, and ends at the houses where we live. Tomorrow is a boat day, which means we are getting a much needed resupply of food. We will be putting the cart to use moving all that food to the house.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Day 11: On the attack

Getting buzzed by a Peregrine Falcon is like getting buzzed by a small fighter jet. Well, perhaps not as loud, but you get the distinct impression of danger. Two years ago we had a pair of Peregrine falcons breed on the island for the first time since the 1930's and they appear to be breeding again this year. We can't see into the nest so we probably won't know for sure until there are chicks later in the season. Even when we don't see the falcons we find daily evidence of their presence from the carcasses of seabirds they leave behind. They seem to really enjoy the Common Murres. Probably because they are the most numerous seabird and their short little wings don't give them much maneuverability in the air.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Day 10: Rising tide

I noticed this harbor seal during my evening stint in the blind. Harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) frequently haul out in the intertidal and are determined nappers. This one seemed oblivious to the tide rising around it. There can be over a hundred of these little seals on the island this time of year. One very pregnant female was spotted yesterday so we may have the first pup of the season soon.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Day 9: Strawberry fields

 We made our annual spring trip to Jewel cave today. We have to have a nice low tide to get in there but it's so worth it. There is large tide pool in Jewel cave that holds many small wonders. So many I had a hard time deciding what to post. This is a Stawberry anemone (Corynactis californica) surrounded by orange sponge. The anemone is actually not an anemone at all but more closely related to coral and it's about a centimeter across. Still, it looks good enough to eat.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Day 8: Rainy days and Mondays

 It was damp today. A sort of dreary, foggy, drizzle persisted all day. Yet even the poor weather has its upside, draping everything in gorgeous droplets. I was particularly fascinated by the drops in the bushy tops of the grass. Most of the grass here is invasive and becoming a serious problem as it moves into new areas and alters habitat. The auklets are especially affected as they seem to avoid digging their burrows in the grassy areas. Nevertheless, it does make for pretty pictures.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Day 7: Gullduggery

Gull resighting is one of our primary activities this time of year. This involves going into the colony, looking for banded gulls, and reading their band number with our binoculars. Easier said than done. Gulls have a particular habit of always keeping the same side of their band towards you. As you circle around them to read the other digits, they turn with you so that you always see the same numbers you've already read. My favorite method of getting the necessary digits is to look away, pretend that I'm looking at another bird, then suddenly turn back taking the original bird by surprise. Before it has a chance to hide it's band number I've got it. I swear it works. We keep track of banded birds in the plots by painting white stakes with their recruit numbers. The stakes here are for two banded birds, 0305 and 9907, that are a happily bonded pair. This is me trying to trick 9907 into showing me it's band.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Day 6: Think inside the box

Cassin's auklet check today. This involves checking some of the 400+ nest boxes like this one (there is a box in there under all that Farallon weed).  Cassin's started breeding extremely early this year, one of the earliest starts on record, but they seem to be struggling lately. Occupancy is good but many of the boxes that should be hatching chicks at this time appear to be abandoned. It's early yet so there is still lots of time for birds to relay but it is a bit worrying.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Day 5: The Fog

The fog rolled in this afternoon. It claimed the lighthouse for its own and blanketed everything in mist. It always amazes me that this makes absolutely no difference to the birds. Their internal navigation is so good they can find the island and their nest sites even when we can't see past our noses.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Day 4: Fly on the wall

I made the hike to the lighthouse today for the first time since I've been back on the island. I discovered this beautiful little fly hanging out on the lighthouse lichen. The lighthouse was built in 1853 and, like many of the buildings out here, is covered in all kinds of amazing lichen in many shapes and colors. The walls are truly alive. If you look closely you can see my reflection on the fly.

This photo featured on National Geographic's daily dozen today. Check it out and vote for it to make it in the magazine!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Day 3: Bloomin' Weeds

This time of year the island is green. I mean really green. The main culprit is this plant, fondly known as Farallon Weed (Lasthenia maritime). It's one of the few plants that thrives in the high nitrogen environment of the seabird colony. The birds, especially the cormorants, love it for their nests and they spend much of their time busily weeding and arranging into piles as they prepare for the breeding season.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Day 2: Spring Love

It's nest building time for Brandt's cormorants. An activity I am very happy to see them engaged in. After 3 years of very poor breeding success for Brandt's, they have begun returning in earnest over the past few days and birds can be seen courting, choosing mates, and building nests. Numbers are good for this time of year making me very hopeful for a successful season to come. The pair here can be seen showing off their bright blue gular (throat) pouches to each other as part of their courtship display.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Day 1: Windy day gull

After a few days of nice weather, the wind returned today. The gulls are just beginning to hold down their breeding territories so they simply face into the wind and hunker down to ride it out. We always joke that you can tell wind speed by how closely the gulls hug the ground. Today's wind speed: moderate.