I had a great time out there and hope to go back next out there next year. Thanks for reading!
Thursday, November 20, 2008
I had a great time out there and hope to go back next out there next year. Thanks for reading!
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
I keep forgetting to mention that biologists out here also have a blog (losfarallones.blogspot.com). They’ve been doing it for a couple of years and it has some cool info about the island and the other work that is done out here.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
In this post, I thought I'd tell you about the Farallist. A lot of birders keep lists of birds they've seen for a number of different areas. People have North American lists, world lists, state lists, county lists, and even yard lists. It gets to be a bit competitive at times, but usually is used as motivation to go out and look for new birds in a given area. The Farallones are no exception. A while back, one of the biologists took the time to organize the island lists of everyone into a single database, which is now an Excel spreadsheet. Anyone who spends time on the island is welcome to add their name and check off the birds they've seen. Now there are over 50 people who've done so. There have been some pretty well known individuals from the bird community who've spent time on the island, so it's exciting to pass one of them up. Recently, I passed David Allen Sibley on the Farallist. For those not in the loop, he's probably the most well known American birder and has published one of the best field guides out there. But on the Farallist, I'm ranked higher than him.
There have been about 420 bird species recorded on or around the island. The person with the most on his list, has seen 360 of those. But he spent 2100 days on the island over 20 or so years. We also have a yard list for the house, which consists of birds that were seen in the yard or by someone standing in the yard. That list is at 357, which is pretty astounding. I am currently at 171 and am ranked 36th. If I get out here next year, I'll have a good chance at breaking 200.
Haven't taken many pictures lately, but I figure that I have to throw a few into each post. It would be pretty boring just reading about a list of birds.
Indian Head through the fog
Sunrise in the fog
Yet another sunset
Monday, November 3, 2008
We definitely moved a ton of dirt, feathers, bone and guano (nice way of saying bird poop), but I think most of you would be hesitant to drink any water that flowed over what was left. Luckily, there is a sophisticated system set-up to treat the water so that it's potable. It starts with a settling tank, where dirt and whatever settle to the bottom. Then the water at the top is pumped into another holding tank. From there, when we need water, we pump it from the holding tank, through a series of filters, to a gravity tank half way up the hill behind the house. While in this tank, it is ozonated to kill any bacteria that made it through the filters. And lastly, down at the house, the water passes through one more filter before flowing out of the tap. It's not the best water I've ever tasted, but it's all part of being off-the-grid out here.
Yesterday was a pretty nice day, but today was stormy again. I had to be outside for several hours in the driving rain, looking for birds, of which there were very few. I know, I know, "Boo hoo, Mark, I have to stand out in the rain for a couple days." It really is a privilege to get to spend so much time out here, and if all it costs me are some sore muscles and callouses, then I consider myself lucky.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Below are some pictures from the last week or so.
Beard - Day 33
Saturday, October 18, 2008
PRBO has been studying Cassin's Auklet populations on the island for many years. Unfortunately, their breeding population has been on the decline. A couple years ago they had complete nesting failure, meaning not one chick successfully fledged. They believe it was related to the fact that their main food source, krill, were not very abundant that year. The krill weren't abundant because the usual ocean upwelling (cold water brought to the surface by winds) wasn't as strong. The reason for that is up for debate, but could be related to climate change. Since these birds are fairly long lived (~20 years), one bad year won't threaten the entire population, but it is still cause for concern. Hopefully, we'll start seeing more success.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Sea foam froth
Thursday, October 9, 2008
Winds whipping up Maintop Bay
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Our first day was pretty good, as we had many new bird species arrive on the island. The weather was looking good for the new few days and we had high hopes for a great Farallonathon. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t quite cooperate and we had a very slow week. We did see several shark attacks, of which I saw two. The bottom line is that an average Farallonathon ends up with around 180 points and we finished with 129. The lowest total ever (the previous low was 133). We were all disappointed and cursed the National Weather Service.
Since I don’t have lots of pictures of really cool birds, I’ll just put up some that I took recently.
One day I had to go collect Brandt's Cormorant pellets from one of their breeding areas with the head biologist. They are kind of like owl pellets, undigestible parts of what they eat that are regurgitated. Unlike owl pellets, these aren't furry, they're actually kind of rubbery and usually flat. They contain fish otoliths, which are small inner ear bones that can help determine what species of fish was eaten and how old it was. Not the most exciting thing to do out here, but a new experience non the less.
Brandt's Cormorant Pellet
Good waves at sunset
Beard growth - Day 10
Sunday, October 5, 2008
I took this video of one of the nicer sunsets we've had. On really clear days while watching a sunset over the ocean you are supposed to a brief green flash right as the sun slips behind the horizon. I think I saw a little bit of green on this sunset, but it doesn't show up well on my video. A nice sunset anyway, enjoy!
While out at West End I took this short video, but haven't been able to upload it because of the poor internet connectivity. The Northern Fur Seal isn't the largest pinniped we have, but it may be the most stubborn. We needed to get past these guys to conduct a survey.
Monday, September 29, 2008
Chestnut-sided WarblerClay-colored Sparrow
Friday, September 26, 2008
The few days since my last post have been uneventful bird-wise, but I was able to explore a new area and interact with some of the pinnipeds. Every two weeks the head biologist (Jim) needs to count Northern Fur Seals on West End. For safety reasons, two people are required to go and since I had never been there, I got to go. West End is actually a separate island than Southeast Farallon (which is where we are), but there is only a narrow channel between the two. We don’t normally go over there because it is too disruptive to the pinnipeds (California Sea Lions, Steller’s Sea Lions, Elephant Seals, and Northern Fur Seals) over there and the channel crossing is somewhat tricky. To cross the Jordan Channel, as it’s named, you have to put on a climbing harness and clip yourself to a pulley attached to a cable that runs across the channel. Then you pull yourself over to the other side and scramble up the rocks. The harness is then sent back across for the other person.
Once we are both on the other side, we have to carefully pick our way through the California Sea Lions (which are the most numerous pinniped). They are pretty skittish and move as we approach, but we don’t want to scare them into stampeding towards the water and possibly injuring themselves. The spot Jim counts from is up on a ridge overlooking a flat area where the Fur Seals like to hangout and is probably about a quarter mile from the channel. It took us about two hours to cover that ground and not cause too much disturbance. When we got to the ridge, there were several Fur Seals up there. Unlike the Sea Lions, the Fur Seals aren’t very afraid of us and tend to stand their ground.
Northern Fur Seal
After some coaxing, we were able to conduct the survey. The Northern Fur Seal was once very abundant here, but like most of the pinnipends were hunted extensively. None were seen on the islands since the early 1800s, but in the mid-1990s they started to return. Jim counted 119 on that day’s survey, 40 of which were pups. Hopefully the island’s population continues to recover.
Our hike back to the channel only took half an hour since most the Sea Lions had already moved out of our way. It was cool to get a different perspective on the island and see some of the Fur Seals up close.
I also saw a Gray Whale, of which I got some distant pictures. It was pretty fun to watch it swim around and come up to the surface. The other day I was doing a seabird survey and saw a Humpback Whale shoot up all the way out of the water. Humpbacks are the most common whale we see, but this was the first time I’d seen one entirely out of the water. Totally awesome.
The winds are supposed to change on Sunday, so we are expecting some new birds to arrive in a few days.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
In this first post, I’ll tell you a little about the preparation for going out to the island. There are trips out to the island every 2-3 weeks to move people onto/off of the island and re-supply them with food and other supplies. What that means to me is that I have to going grocery shopping for 2 weeks worth of food for 4-6 people the night before I leave. Luckily PRBO (where I work, prbo.org) provides a truck, a list of food items (made by someone on the island), and a blank check. Usually two people go to make it pretty manageable. We are told to try to get everything on the list, plus anything we want to add (Cheez-Its for me), and to buy organic when possible. This time it took us 2.5 hrs to fill four shopping carts and spend $1,081. The food then has to be packed in boxes for the journey. We packed all the dry goods that night and the frozen/refrigerated items the next morning. On the morning we leave for the island, all the food and our personal gear is packed into the truck and we head for the boat.
The boats that PRBO usually uses for supply runs are part of the Farallon Patrol, a group of boat owners that donate the use of their boats and their time. A lot of these boats are about 45' long sail boats, which may sound big, but aren’t. This year I was very lucky, because I got to go with some VIPs on a very nice 85' boat.
Once on the island, we have to move all of that food to the house and put it away. That takes at least an hour. Trying to fit all that food into three fridges and a freezer is a challenge. After the last of the food is put away, we’re finally free to go an look for birds. It’s a lot of work to pull it off, but in the end it's a small price to pay for the opportunity to spend time out on Southeast Farallon Island.