Saturday, July 30, 2011

Day 82: Puppy Love

California Sea Lion (Zalophus californianus) pups are everywhere right now. This little guy was causing quite a ruckus in his pile o'Sea Lion. He was jumping on every other pup he could find and wrestling them into submission. Pretty cute to watch I have to say. We had a recent uptick in Zalophus numbers, their numbers tripled in the last week to just under 10,000. Most of these are adults coming in from colonies. Usually when we have high numbers like this it is because they aren't breeding/ failed breeding elsewhere.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Day 81: Guillemot gang

Pigeon Guillemots are furiously feeding their chicks right now. Chicks are big, getting ready to fledge, and eating up a storm. PIGU's generally feed small fish that they find close to shore so they feed frequently. This makes them regular targets of gulls trying to steal their fish. You will often see PIGU's sitting on a rock with a fish in their bill, waiting for the gull by their crevice to get distracted so they can sneak in to feed their chick.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Day 80: Guadalupe Version

Okay, we're on a roll with our storm-petrels. We netted again last night and caught yet another unusual visitor. This time it's a subspecies of the Leach's Storm-petrel. We catch Leach's here regularly and we know small numbers of them breed here. Leach's are distinguished from Ashy Storm-petrels by their white rump patch, longer wings, and larger head and bill. We were confused by this little one because it had the while rump of a Leach's but its wing was too short and its head, bill and overall size were smaller than an Ashy. After consulting our books we determined that this was in fact an individual from a subspecies of Leach's that breeds on Guadalupe Island in Mexico! This is the first time we have documented this subspecies on the island and the first time it's been seen this far north in California. Not a bad night!

Day 79: Cassin's in a box

Cassin's auklets are one of the few species that are still in the midst of breeding right now. We had a very high rate of double brooding this year. After pairs raised one chick they decided it was so much fun they wanted to do it again so they started over. Many of these second broods are now hatching, and young chicks need to be fed. This photo was taken around 10:30pm and this Cassin's probably just came in to feed its chick in the nest box and is now hanging out near the entrance tube. Cassin's are very vocal at night and socialize quite a bit outside their burrow and boxes. Their calls have been described as sounding like crickets on steroids.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Day 78: Fish food

We had our last night of Rhinoceros Auklet netting tonight.  That means we also processed our last fish. Rhinos bring in these fish to feed their chicks and we collect a sample of them to identify, measure and weigh. The species they bring back change every year and, in addition to the Murre and Guillemot diet data, gives us a good idea of what fish are available in the ocean in a given year. This year, Rhino's started out eating a lot of juvenile rockfish, a favorite seabird food, but then switched to Pacific Saury like the one Jen is measuring here. We have also seen a fair amount of squid.

Day 77: Tern around

I somehow missed yesterday's posting so you get two today. We were visited by some Elegant Terns yesterday. There was a small flock of them circling around just east of the island, making a ruckus. We are just now starting to see some more non-breeding species showing up so hopefully that trend continues. Our daily bird list has been woefully thin.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Day 76: Nighttime visitor

We had this unusual visitor show up in our net last night as we were netting for storm-petrels. Yes it's a storm-petrel but it's a species we've caught only a few times in 40 years, the last time was in 1992. As you bird folks may have guessed, it's a Fork-tailed Storm-petrel! We were super excited to get this guy. These birds typically breed much further north, from Washington to Alaska, but this bird did have bare brood patch. That is something breeding birds develop when they are incubating so perhaps this bird is breeding nearby? Non-breeders can have brood patches too so it's not definitive but it is intriguing.

7/29/11 Check out our latest Storm-petrel visitor here

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Day 75: Gull pack

Most of the gulls are done breeding now. Unfortunately, most of them failed. We have very few chicks on the island right now. Once they've failed, most gulls suddenly revert to the mild mannered birds they usually are. They stop defending their territories and begin to gather in large flocks on the terrace.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Day 74: Greenery

The island is in bloom again. All the late rain we've had means the island is surprisingly green for this time of year. Of course most of the plants currently blooming are not native to the island but the Farallon weed is making another go of it as well.

Day 73: Chickeroo

Because I just can't get enough of these guys, here's another Murre chick. This one is getting close to fledging but he's still got the spiky hairdo. In the evenings, the bigger chicks get very active, sitting up on rocks, flapping their wings, being generally very cute. And then one day, they or their father, decide it's time to go and they are off into the wide, wide ocean.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Day 72: Tail of a Whale

We've had some gorgeous weather this week. No wind, excellent visibility and the seas were flat. And then there were the whales. We've had fairly low numbers of cetaceans this year but they showed up with a vengeance a couple days ago. We had over a dozen blue whales, 40+ humpback whales, our resident gray whale, and a pod of Risso's dolphin's and northern right whale dolphins. All of these were observed from shore so I don't have any pictures but I do have a picture of us doing what we call "porching." It involves taking advantage of the good weather to hang out on the porch and watch the whales go by. There are worse ways to spend an evening.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Day 71: Name that rock

This is the view of the island from the West. Virtually every rock, ridge and mound on this island is named. Most were christened by the Coast Guard when they occupied the island but we've added a few of our own. The mound on the far left is Sugarloaf, the middle peak is Lighthouse Hill (the highest point on the island) then Maintop and Great Arch. And all the little peaks have names too. I spend most of my time on Corm Blind Hill, a smaller peak that from this angle blends in with Lighthouse Hill.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Day 70: Celebrity sighting

If there is a celebrity on the island, it's this bird. The Tufted Puffin is perhaps the one bird that everyone knows and wants to see when they visit. Is it the bright orange bill? The white face? The blond plumes? Whatever the attraction, this bird is attention grabbing. The Farallones are the southern limit of the breeding range for this species, with 100 - 200 nesting birds each year. We've had a few extremely calm days out here so we took the boat out yesterday for some buoy maintenance and to have a look around the island. I got this shot while we were out.

Day 69: Close call

Murre chicks are fledging right now. "Fledging" typically refers to when chicks leave the nest or become independent. In the case of murres, chicks leave the colony with their dads and spend up to several months at sea with their parent, being fed and learning how to find food. The unusual part is that they do this before they are fully developed. Chicks are less than half grown and can't yet fly when they are led to sea by their fathers. This makes them vulnerable when they are in the process of fledging. They have to make their way through thousands of murres to the water's edge where they often have to jump off a cliff to make it to the water. It's one of the most amazing events to watch. The male parent solicitously leading its offspring to the edge, jumping in the water and calling to it's chick until it finally works up the courage to jump. Gulls are constantly on the look out for these unprotected chicks so they have to make up their minds quickly. Even in the water they are not out of danger. Although the chicks know instinctively how to dive, gulls still occasionally grab them off the surface. The chick above dove several times before this gull finally nabbed it by a foot. The parent gave chase though and the gull eventually dropped the chick. The reunited pair made their way very quickly away from the island.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Day 68: Patrolling the Bay

Back on the island! Russ and I arrived back this morning courtesy of Laurie Chaikin on the Charleete II. Laurie and Charleete II (a lovely 45ft catamaran) are part of a group of skippers called the "Farallon Patrol." These skippers volunteer their time and their boats to bring supplies and people to and from the island, an essential service we are eternally grateful for. Laurie wanted to catch the ebb tide early this morning so we loaded our gear last night as stayed on board in Sausalito. It was a beautiful night in the bay and I couldn't resist getting my camera out. This is technically not a photo from the island but a patrol run is part of the Farallon experience so I thought I would include it.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Day 67: They grow up so fast

This is cheating a bit since it's really 6 pictures but they are all showing the same chick. This is a chick from one of our nest boxes. I took a picture of it every time it got weighed (every 5 days) until it fledged just a couple days ago so we could see the progression of its development. First picture is probably 5-7 days old so this chick fledged between 30-35 days old. As you can see, it was looking good, nice fresh feathers and a fantastic cowlick. Most chicks from the first attempts by Cassin's have fledged and a substantial number of those adults are now incubating eggs again, going for a second chick. This double brooding is rare among seabirds and Cassin's can only do it in the southern parts of their range.

Photo a day (and me) will be taking a two week break starting tomorrow. But never fear, I will return!