Friday, November 30, 2007

Last Night on the Rock - Day 40

Well I leave the island tomorrow, so tonight is my last night. The seas are looking a bit choppy tomorrow, but still fine for a boat to come out. A sail boat will come out tomorrow morning, drop off four biologists, and then we'll get on the boat and sail back to the mainland. I'm ready to go, but not ready to go. The time flew by. The birds have slowed down though, so I'm ready to go somewhere with birds. There are supposed to be 16-18ft swells on Tuesday, and I'm bummed to miss that. Got to take the opportunity to leave tomorrow. Gotta run and do some cleaning and packing. I'll write one more entry when I get back, when I have more time and reliable internet. If things work out I'll be back next year.
Last sunset....

Fully bearded and happy

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Rock Sandpiper!!!!! - Day 39

Yesterday I found a Rock Sandpiper. They have about 20 records of this species over the past 40 years, so it's a rareish bird. It is also a lifer for me, so that's awesome. For the past 38 days I've been looking through the Black Turnstones hoping to find a Surfbird or Rock Sandpiper. We haven't had a new bird in awhile, so this was a welcomed surprise.
Lifer Rock Sandpiper

Only a couple days left on the island. I'm trying to make the most of it. We have to get some data entered and do some cleaning, all part of the experience. I'll try to get one more post in before I depart.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

More stuff - Day 34

Still having a blast out here. Exploring new spots and taking more pictures. The other day we were out in the boat looking for shearwaters and we had a Great White Shark swim right below us. It was out of this world. If I had to guess, it was probably around 16ft long, not huge but big enough to bite a person in half. We saw a few Sooty Shearwaters out there and had a few Black-legged Kittiwakes as well. Today I spotted a shark attack. It was a pretty good one. That means the shark was at the surface for 10 minutes or so. Depending on what the prey is, it floats or sinks. If it sinks, you usually don't get to see the shark for very long. This one floated so the shark came back several times to bite off more. I got to see the head come up out of the water.

The island from the boat

We caught a couple of Burrowing Owls the other night. That make a total of 14 caught this fall. They are studying the owls because some spend the winter here and then in early spring, when mice populations are low, they eat Ashy Storm-Petrels. About 80% of the total world population of Ashy Storm-Petrels breeds on the island, so they need to keep an eye on the effect the owls are having. The amount of barring on the wing can help us tell the age of the bird, hence the following photo.

The beard's filling in nicely

Friday, November 23, 2007

Killer Waves - Day 32

The bird waves have basically ended (we had five American Robins show up today) but the ocean waves have been cranking. There are a few places around the island where the waves break pretty nicely. Since I've been in California, I've started to surf, so I'm looking at waves a lot more. You would be crazy to surf out here though, but it sure is tempting. As far as I've heard, no one has ever surfed out here. There's a story that I heard a couple times about a group of guys that were going to surf here several years ago. They drove up and the biologists on the island could see them suiting up and getting their surfboards ready. This was sometime during the fall, when the waves are good and the most sharks are around. The biologists called the boat on the radio and explained how dangerous it was to be in the water here and how they drag a surfboard around to attract sharks for research purposes. The guys on the boat weren't taking them seriously. The biologist convinced them to at least throw a board out in the water until they finished suiting up, and if they still wanted to go after that, then fine. Some 10-15 minutes later a shark came up and bit the board. They hauled the surfboard in and took off without saying a word to the biologist. I'm still tempted to get out there, but luckily there aren't any wet suits handy.
The Mirounga Bay Break (great but a bit rocky)

The break off Indian Head (lay back in the barrel)
Closeup of the Mirounga Break

Here are a few other pictures from the past couple days. The first is of a sea anemone. The low tides have been very low making it easy to check out the tide pools. There are sea stars and urchins around as well.

The last picture is of one of the Northern Saw-whet Owls we banded a couple nights ago. It roosted in the tree next to our house two days in a row. We could see it looking out one of the windows. Cute little buggers.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Trying some video - Day 30

Took a few short vidoes with my camera. Thought I'd see how they look on the blog. The first is of thousands of Common Murres on the island. Every once in a while they decide to land, but most of the time they're out in the water. Murres are the Northern Hemisphere equivalent of peguins, but better. They have that cool black and white tuxedo look and they dive under the water, but they can fly too.

The other is a couple Elephant Seals fighting and making noise. Not the best but still kinda cool.

The weather has been much better, but there are still very few land birds. Only about ten days left on the island. Time has just flew by. I still have things on the island to check out, so hopefully I can squeeze it in. Oh, yeah we caught two Saweeet Owls (Saw-whet Owls) tonight. They are so awesome. I'll try to get a picture or two up.

Still smiling, though the world seems to have tilted

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Neighborhood - Day 26

Well, we've had three straight days of thick, thick fog. Visibility has average 1/4 mile. Makes it hard for us to see birds out in the water, but more importantly the migrating birds can't see the island. Consequently, we have had very few land birds and the ones we do see are the same ones we've been seeing for about a week. The Harris's Sparrow is still hanging around, a Golden-crowned Sparrow (S/OOY) and a White-crowned Sparrow (S/GOB). We are hoping for a break in the fog soon and maybe a few more birds before the season ends. We seem to be seeing less oiled birds, but are still checking all the birds we see.

The Farallon Islands are within the city limits of San Francisco, so technically I'm living in the big city. San Francisco is split up into many neighborhoods with their own quirks. The Farallon section of town is no different.

It's kind of a dirty place. Most of the residents make their home right on the ground and others in cracks and crevices. They tend to be noisy and smelly, including us biologists. It can get crowded out here so everyone has to get along or keep to themselves.

The Elephant Seals are pretty lazy. The spend most of the day hauled out on land sleeping, making burping farting noises the whole time. But you can't get mad at them because they have these big, dark, round puppy dog eyes.

The California Sea Lions never shut up, barking day and night. Luckily the rocks they like to hang out on are far enough from our house that we can sleep. If they're not causing a ruckus on land, they're goofing off in the water. They hang out in groups swimming around and porpoising. Sometimes they go surfing, riding inside the waves as they break. Looks like a blast!

Some of the most ubiquitous birds on the island are the Western Gulls. They are always around, but mostly keep to the shoreline. When the conditions are right (only the gulls know) they land all over the island, seemingly picking a nesting spot. It's a bit eerie, all of the sudden there are a bunch of gulls evenly spaced around the island. By noon the next day most of them have moved back to the shore. They won't start nests for another 4 months or so.
When the do start to nest, biologists on the island will be ready to study them. The gull nests that they monitor get these addresses. I've seen hundreds of these placards around. During the nesting season the gulls become the worst neighbors around. They attack anyone near their nest by pecking and pin point aerial fecal bombs.

Many of the birds are still recovering from the earliest human inhabitats who decimated the populations of just about every organism on the island. To help them out, friendly humans have built them artificial homes. A kind of Habitat for Avianity. These boxes are for the Rhinoceros Auklets.

The cormorants (Brandt's and Pelagic) build nests made of Farallon Weed on the sides of hills. All around their nesting areas the ground is covered in stinky cormorant poo. When it rains the poo gets very slick, so you have to hop from rock to rock. This nest near the top of a small hill has quite a view.

Over all I'd say the neighborhood is pretty cool. Now we just have to keep the yuppies away.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Full of Holes - Day 23

Let's see, lots going on, like always. We are still monitoring for oiled wildlife. I went out on the boat yesterday to look for oiled birds. We saw a few. Thankfully we are only seeing a handful of oiled birds each day. Sadly, even a small spot of oil can prove fatal. Either the bird ingests the oil while preening, or if it's a diving bird the lack of insulation could lead to hypothermia. I know things are much worse at the coast and several of my PRBO co-workers are putting in 16 hour days cleaning birds.
A few days ago three of the crew left and three new people arrived on the island. I was sad to see Jenny, Sophie, and Tony go, but you have to leave sometime. I've still got another 2 1/2 weeks to go. The birds seem to be slowing down, but a migrant wave could still come.

Good birds lately have been Long-eared Owl and Harris's Sparrow.

More island info. The Farallones have been beaten by the weather for a long time and consequently it's full of holes. There are two big rocks with holes in them, Arch Rock and Great Arch. There are several small arches, like Low Arch and Funky Arch. Along the shoreline are numerous caves that the water rushes in and out of. Some of these have openings many meters inland. There are some other caves above the waterline that were formed when the sea level was higher, including a pretty big one called Rabbit Cave. Then there are the innumerable small cracks and crevices which the Cassin's Auklets and Ashy Storm-Petrels love to nest in. So pretty much anywhere you look, you'll see a hole. This place is falling apart!
Arch Rock (rock on the right with a hole in it, duh)

Low Arch (because it's low)

Blowhole Point (water rushes in a cave and comes shooting out a small crack)

Rabbit Cave (deep in the bowels of the island)

Another gorgeous day (preceded by some rainy, foggy ones)

Friday, November 9, 2007

Oil Spill - Day 18

This will be a short note. If you hadn't heard a cargo ship hit the Bay Bridge in San Francisco Bay on Wednesday morning. It leaked some 58,000 gallons of fuel oil. Not as bad as crude oil, but still causing problems. Oil has made its way out of the Golden Gate and up along the coast. We've been having east winds which has made the oil slick move towards the island. We don't have oil in the water around the island, but it might reach us. We saw oiled birds on Thursday morning and did some more complete surveys today. There are a couple dozen oiled birds around the island, some having 90% of their bodies oiled. Unfortunately, we are not equiped or trained to deal with oiled birds, so we are doing what we can by documenting the number of oiled birds. If things get worse we'll have to get someone else out here to help. It's really sad to see these birds suffering and not being able to help.

Other than the spill island life is continuing to be great. When I get more time I'll write more about the cool stuff on the island.
Snot nosed weiner (Elephant Seal)

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Wave Day - Day 15

Today was a great day. Birds, birds, and more birds. On the island it's known as a "wave" day. When the weather conditions are right, lots of birds show up on the island. Apparently, last night was pretty good. The biggest wave days come in early October. Today would be okay for October, but is great for November. We had a total of 61 species, not including the dozen species that breed here. When I got down to the kitchen, Jim (the head biologist) said that he heard lots of birds outside. So I wolfed down breakfast and headed out the door. At first I didn't see that many birds, but there were some flying around. By mid morning I had seen an Orange-crowned Warbler, Townsend's Warbler, Killdeer, and Great Egret. All of which had not been on the island the day before. There were loads of Yellow-rumped Warblers, most of them the eastern subspecies. We banded 25 of them and a total of 67 birds. We didn't find anything too rare, but there were always birds around to watch. Tomorrow will be interesting. They all may leave or some new ones may show up.

As a side note, we had a boat with 15 San Francisco 49ers come to the island. They didn't come onto the island, only biologists are allowed on the island. I didn't meet any of them, but they're not that good anyway.

Another beautiful sunset over Mirounga Bay
Black Oystercatcher - a resident

The beard grows...

Friday, November 2, 2007

Birds - so far - Day 11

I've had a few inquiries about what birds have been out here, so I thought I'd give a list of some of the more exciting ones. Some of these birds may seem common, but even common birds can be rare out here. In total I've seen 97 species of birds on or around the island.

Horned Grebe
Western Grebe
Flesh-footed Shearwater
Short-tailed Shearwater
Brown Booby
White-winged Scoter
White-tailed Kite
Wilson's Snipe
Parasitic Jaeger
Bonaparte's Gull
Mew Gull
Northern Saw-whet Owl
Townsend's Solitaire
Northern Mockingbird
Sage Trasher
Nashville Warbler
Sage Sparrow
Lapland Longspur
Baltimore Oriole

The rarest bird for the island was the Sage Sparrow, only a handful have been seen on the island. Here are a few pictures, nothing too exciting.

Burrowing Owl

Palm Warbler

Western Meadowlark

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Island - Day 10

The Farallones have been treating me well so far. A good number of birds. The internet is working. The weather hasn't been too bad. No complaints. Thought I'd share a few pictures of the island, so you know what it looks like. This first one was taken from a boat and shows the main part of the island. The house on the left is the PRBO house and the one on the right is the Coast Guard house. And the building to the far right is the power house, where the generator lives. As you may guess we live in the PRBO house.

The next picture is the lighthouse on top of Lighthouse Hill, very creative name. We stand up here and watch for shark attacks (on seals) and whales. If it's not foggy, we take 2 hour shifts up there for the whole day. It's got a beautiful view, and on clear days you can see the Golden Gate Bridge.

You can never stop birding here. You never leave the house without your binoculars. A cool bird could show up anywhere at any moment.

This is our front yard. Just like any other. A bike, some pumpkins, a big net, and a dead Rhinoceros Auklet.

Here's a close up of our pumpkins. Ooooooo... scary sharks, owls, shearwaters, and murres. We always have birds on the brain.