Thursday, June 30, 2011

Day 66: I love biology

No this is not a picture of Russ being swallowed whole by some unseen creature. He's checking what he calls the "I love biology" Rhino Auklet crevice in Rabbit Cave. The cave was carved out of the island eons ago when the sea level was higher. It is now well above the water line and Rhinoceros Auklets love to breed in it. So of course we have to monitor some of the accessible sites. Whether this site is accessible might be debatable. It gets it's name from the fact that you really have to love biology to squeeze your body headfirst down a sloping crevice and crane your neck as far as you can to the side in order to determine if the site is occupied. Today, Russ was able to see that it is in fact occupied by a downy Rhino Auklet chick.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Day 65: Neon sky

After the storm yesterday, the sunset turned the clouds an unreal shade of pink. Seriously, there is no color editing on this photo. Amazing.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Day 64: Soggy

More rain today to add to our record rainfall for June. Last time it rained though we didn't have any gull chicks. Today, there were many sad, soggy, gull chicks around the island. Most are too big to be incubated so they just had to suffer through it. And some didn't make it. We saw several chicks that looked like they had died from cold. Gulls are having a terrible year. Very few chicks are surviving and those that are still alive are probably in poor condition.  Getting totally soaked was just too much for some.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Day 63: "Cruel of Beak and bottomless of maw"

I found this at the back of the house this morning. The gull didn't even notice me open the door to take this picture because the wing of its victim is blocking its eye. As you can see, it's grisly on the island right now. Lots of death by gull, even more than usual.  The naturalist William Leon Dawson described the Western gull, and the destruction they wreak, much better than I can: 

"Much that is good and all that is evil has gathered itself up into the Western Gull. He is rather the handsomest of the blue-mantled Laridae, for the depth of color in the mantle, in sharp contrast with the snowy plumage of back and breast, gives him an appearance of sturdiness and quality which is not easily dispelled by subsequent knowledge of the black heart within. As a scavanger, the Western Gull is impeccable. Wielding the besom of hunger, he and his kind sweep the beaches clean and purge the water-front of all pollution. But a scavanger is not necessarily a good citizen. Call him a ghoul, rather, for the Western Gull is cruel of beak and bottomless of maw. Pity, with him, is a thing unknown; and when one of their own comrades dies, these feathered jackals fall upon him without compunction, a veritable Leichnamveranderungsgebrauchsgesellschaft. If he thus mistreats his own kind, be assured that this gull asks only two questions of any other living thing: First, 'Am I hungry?' (Ans., 'Yes,') Second, 'Can I get away with it?' (Ans., 'I'll try.')"
  • William Leon Dawson, Birds of California, 1923
P.S. Bonus points if you can identify the bird going down the gullet

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Day 62: All day dietwatch #1

First all day murre dietwatch today. Most of us spent a good chunk of the day staring out one of these windows in the murre blind identifying the fish the murres were bringing into the study plot to feed their chicks. We're seeing a lot of Northern anchovy, juvenile rockfish, smelt, and lingcod this year.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Day 61: Rhino in the net

We completed our first session of Rhino netting tonight. A session consists of four nights of netting for Rhinoceros Auklets for about an hour each night. Rhinos come in just after dark to feed their chicks. They bring back a bill load of fish (they sometimes carry over ten fish at once!) and we set up a net to catch them and collect the fish so we can identify what they are eating/feeding their chicks. Katie is extracting a Rhino that has just hit the net (it didn't have any fish). It's pretty amazing to see what they are finding out there in the ocean and how that changes from year to year. We also band and measure the adults to look at adult survival and condition.  They are don't move around much so we catch a lot of birds year after year at the same sites.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Day 60: Walking on water

Here's another shot from our boat survey the other day. Alcids, the family of seabirds that includes Common Murres, Cassin's Auklets, and this Pigeon Guillemot, have relatively short wings for their body size. This makes their wings ideal for propelling them underwater while diving, but doesn't make them so great in the air. In order to take off from the water, they have run along the surface for quite a ways to get up enough speed to lift off. It always makes me laugh to see them skittering across the surface.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Day 59: Chicklets

Pigeon Guillemot chicks are hatching. This is one of our followed sites that has two fresh chicks. PIGU chicks, like Rhinos and Casssin's Auklet chicks, get weighed every 5 days so we can track their development. Because the eggs typically hatch a few days apart, the fist chicks to hatch can often be much larger than its younger sibling. If the younger sibling can survive until the first chicks fledges, it will often gain weight rapidly to make up for lost time.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Day 58: Mini Murre

Murre chicks are hatching! These little guys have the cutest hairdos of frosted spikey down. Most chicks are still very small and are being constantly brooded by their parents. Murres feed their chicks by bringing back whole fish, carried lengthwise in their bills. Because the fish are visible, we can actually identify what they are feeding the chicks. The chicks are very good at scarfing down their meals as soon as they arrive so we have to identify the fish as they are flown in. We'll do this in daily two-hour shifts we call "diet watch." Feeding rates vary throughout the day so we also periodically do all day diet watches, dawn to dusk, involving everyone on the island doing multiple shifts throughout the day. This diet watch data is some of the most interesting data we collect. The proportions of different species in Murre diet changes every year and tells us a lot about how the fish populations are responding to the environment.

Day 57: Counting

Russ and I got out on the water today for a boat census. Not censusing boats, but doing a census from the boat. Last week, we did the land based census for cormorants (Brandt's and Pelagics). This is how we get our annual estimate of the breeding population and it's done by counting the number of birds sitting on well-built nests around the island. Unfortunately, there are some places we can't see from land so we have to go to the boat to count those areas. But counting birds from a boat is no easy task and requires good, calm conditions on the water. Today we had a break in the wind so we went for it. Conditions were a bit rougher than is ideal, but we managed to get the count in. And in between counts, I managed to get a picture of a Rhino on the water.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Day 56: Cute little Phoca

I found this little Harbor Seal pup (genus is Phoca) in hanging out next to an Elephant Seal in one of the gulches this morning. The Elephant Seal gives some sense of scale so you can see how tiny this little guy is. Harbor Seals pups are quite independent when they are young. They are frequently seen swimming and hauled out alone, without their mother, quite soon after they are born. But somehow they still manage to find mom again for their essential nourishment.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Day 55: Zaloafers

I saved the most numerous pinniped for last, the California Sea Lion (we call them by their genus name, Zalophus). This is a picture of the pile of sea lions that occurs daily at North Landing. It always amazes me that they are so tolerant of each other. They can sleep on, walk on, jump on, each other with very little distress. They do get barks of protest occasionally, but that never seems to faze them. We just saw our first Zalophus pups the other day. This time of year there can be several thousand adult Zalophus here, inevitably piled on top of each other around the island.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Day 54: Band it

The little blue foot there is the foot of a mostly feathered Cassin's Auklet chick and it's about to get some jewelry. Once the chicks are nearly fully grown, they get an individually numbered leg band. This band will last their entire lifetime and it allows us to track this individual across years. If it returns to breed as an adult, the band number tells us how old the bird is.  These known-age birds are especially valuable since they allow us to answer questions about how survival and reproduction change with age and how many young and old birds there are in the current population.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Day 53: Stellar Steller

Another non-bird island resident, Steller's Sea Lion. The Farallones are one of the southern most breeding rookeries for this endangered pinniped, most of their significant colonies are in Alaska. Numbers here are low, between 100-200 individuals at the most, so we don't often get close looks at them. This male and immature were hanging out at North Landing, relatively close allowing me to get this picture.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Day 51: Moon wing

Today was National Nature Photography day (according to the North American Nature Photographers Association). Everyone was supposed to take a camera somewhere the could walk or bike to and take a picture. Fortunately, I happen to have some wildlife outside my door. It is a full moon tonight so I went out to catch the moonrise. This gull obligingly opened it's wings in front of the rising moon while I was shooting.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Day 50: Crypto chick

The first Black Oystercatcher chicks were spotted yesterday. Oystercatcher chicks are the most precocious of the Farallon seabirds, ready to run practically as soon as they are out of the egg. They are also born knowing what to do when their parents are alarmed: run and hide. Because of this they are very hard to photograph. I spent a good amount of time hiding behind a ridge, attempting to get a good photo of the chicks. This was the best I got. This pair has three chicks but I only saw one at a time. Their cryptic coloring helps protect them from the marauding gulls but doesn't make them stand out in a photograph

Monday, June 13, 2011

Day 49: The other Cormorant

There are other cormorants on the island besides Brandt's Cormorant. I tend to forget that sometimes. This is one of the other common cormorant species, the Pelagic Cormorant. Distinguished from Brandt's by their white rump patches, skinnier neck, red face, and beautiful purple iridescence on their neck. These are cliff dwelling birds, building their nests on small ledges on the cliff faces and leaving the flat areas to the Brandt's. Pelagics out here tend to have a boom or bust breeding cycle: they either do really well, or fail completely, very little in between. They started laying late this year, like many species, and numbers are low but they seem to be sticking around.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Day 48: Today's forecast--Windy

The weather box plays an important role in island life. This houses our official thermometer and off to the left, at the end of the boardwalk, is our rain gauge. PRBO staff have been collecting weather data multiple times a day for over 40 years and the US Coast guard was recording the weather many years before that. Today we record essential weather data three times a day, continuing to add to this incredible long-term data. Once a day we also record the 24 hour precipitation and sea surface temperature. These days, sea surface temperature increasingly collected via special satellites but the remote sensing time series in many cases do not extend back more than 20 years making the hand collected data prior to that very valuable. I for one am very grateful to all the people who have collected this data over the years, making it possible for me to use it in some of my current research.

Day 47: Tight sqeeze

I've been seeing this Pigeon Guillemot popping in and out of this crevice for the past few weeks. It's just on the way up to the cormorant blind where I do most of my fieldwork. Today I took a peek in there and noticed a bird incubating but one of it's eggs has been kicked to the front of the crevice. This may or may not have been on purpose. Guillemots can lay up to two eggs per clutch but in poor years the second eggs is just insurance in case something happens to the first. If both chicks hatch in a poor year, the second one frequently dies or is kicked out. It's a bit too early to tell what this year will bring for guillemot chicks.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Day 46: Fluff muffin

We're starting to get a few Rhinoceros Auklet chicks now. They have some of the most luxurious down of any chicks. It's so thick it can be nearly impossible to see their eyes. Bonus points if you can find them on this chick. Hatching Rhino chicks means the adults are now bringing fish back to the colony at night to feed them and we will soon be sampling these fish. More on that when it happens.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Day 45: Blending in

Ever feel like you stick out in a crowd? Desperately trying to blend in and go unnoticed? I bet that's what this Pelican feels like. I found this immature Brown Pelican hanging out on the water catchment pad (also known as the gull bachelor pad) with a crowd of gulls. It didn't seem to notice that it was about twice the size of it's neighbors. We've only recently started seeing pelicans cruising around again. They've all been down south breeding so showing up here means they must be finishing up.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Day 44: The Emperor's Bathtub

I love this spot and so do the sea lions.  They are constantly frolicking and chasing each other in and out of the pool. When the swell is big from the north, it periodically pours water over the back creating temporary waterfalls that the sea lions splash around in. It must be quite deep because while I was sitting taking pictures of it, a large elephant seal surfaced in the middle of it, apparently having been in there the whole time.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Day 43: Bird on a pole

Our landbird wave was short lived. Just a couple Western Wood Pewee like this one, a couple Wilson's Warblers, and a Yellow Warbler stayed today.  We did have six new Eurasian Collared Doves. We now have a small flock flying around, tempting the Peregrine.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Day 42: Yellow things

Landbird wave today! We haven't had many little birds here this spring so any influx seems like a  wave. We ended up with 25 species on our bird list today, including 10 of these little Wilson's Warblers. It's fun to see little yellow birds buzzing around the trees. We're Ashy netting tonight so this is a short post.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Day 41: Gull, gull, goose

Yes this picture was taken on the Farallones, and yes, those are Canada Goose goslings. That's right, for first time ever, there are a pair of breeding Canada Geese here that appear to be holding their own against the gulls. Last year we had the first ever recorded breeding attempt by Canada Geese but the nest failed. This year we had two pairs attempt to nest and one has managed to hang on to two goslings. They are quite large now, too big to be at risk from the gulls, and they appear to be doing well. I've been trying to get a decent picture of them for weeks but they are quite wary and keep a good distance from us. This is the best I've managed to get so far. Perhaps if I get a better one I'll post again but this will have to do for now.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Day 40: Rain?

We've been experiencing some crazy weather here. Last night and this morning we had record breaking rainfall, just over an inch in total. In one 24 hour period, we more than doubled the previous record for the entire month of June (according to PRBO records since 1969). Most of the birds seemed to have weathered the unusual storm fairly well, with perhaps a few Murre eggs lost due to the rain. The wind was also strong from the east, leading to some big waves and spray on the east side of the island, very unusual for this time of year. Neither of our boat landings are sheltered from that direction so we had to cancel the boat that was scheduled for today. Luckily it was only put off for a day so we should have our fresh food tomorrow.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Day 39: It's so fluffy

Just when we thought the island was loud, the gull chicks started to hatch. And the volume kicked up another notch. Even the gulls still on eggs take the cue and scream with increased urgency. The gull chicks are polka dot, very similar coloring to the eggs they just came out of, and they blend in surprisingly well. They are so cute at this stage that you can't help but melt a little whenever you see them. Still, it's a gull eat gull world out there (literally) and the earliest chicks often disappear quickly despite their camouflage.

Day 38: PIGU party

The Pigeon Guillemot are finally laying eggs. After a very slow start, the last two checks have turned up many new eggs. Pigeon Guillemots (PIGU is their four letter id code so we call them "Pee-goos") breed in rock crevices and some seem to like the nest boxes we put out for them. They lay 1 or 2 speckled eggs and spend a lot of time socializing and chasing each other outside their crevices. They seem to particularly enjoy showing off their bright red gapes to each other.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Day 37: I wish they all could be California Gulls

Notice anything different? That's right, it's a gull but not a Western Gull.  The green feet, red and black spots on the bill and smaller size make this a California Gull. These gulls just started breeding here a few years ago. But their less aggressive nature has made it difficult for them to succeed. Their chicks tend to disappear as soon as they hatch. We have yet to see a California Gull chick make it to independence. This pair laid their eggs in the middle of a bunch of Cassin's nest boxes, probably the same pair that attempted in the same spot last year. They failed to raise any chicks last year but maybe this year will be better.