Thursday, November 20, 2008

Back to the real world

I made it back to the mainland last Saturday aboard a NOAA research vessel. A very nice and fast boat. The trip usually takes 6 hours by sailboat (the normal transportation) and 2 1/2 hours by motorboat, but my trip back only took 1 1/2 hours. It made it hard to look for birds on the way back, but I can't complain. I'm back in Bolinas now, trying to start working again. It's very hard to sit in front of a computer for very long, but I'm sure I'll get back into it soon enough.

I had a great time out there and hope to go back next out there next year. Thanks for reading!

Looking up Lighthouse Hill at sunset
Purple Finch - the last bird I banded on the island
Sunset on Saddle Rock
Main Top at sunset
Sunset over Indian Head
From the northwest while leaving
From the west
From the southwest
Cruising under the Golden Gate Bridge
In my room, left over from Halloween
The Beard - Day 55

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Winding Down

Well, I've only got five more days on the island. Just like last year, it feels as if I just arrived. I'll miss the island, but am looking forward to some of the comforts and conveniences of the mainland. Turning the knob labeled "H" and actually getting hot water. A relatively frequent hot shower, not the infrequent warm showers we take out here. Cooking only for myself, and not 3-5 others (makes me appreciate my Mom even more). Maybe I'll even go out to dinner. Reliable internet connectivity. Seeing more than the island and the ocean as my surroundings. Of course, there are things that I will surely miss. The chance of seeing a rare bird on any given day. Not having to go grocery shopping. Cooking only twice a week, and yet eating great meals. Not having to drive anywhere. Observing all the birds, sharks, seals, and whales, pretty much out my front door. The ability to tune in and out of the happenings of the world at will. I can’t say enough about how wonderful this island is, but the other side is that it’s a very small, remote, rocky island which can start to drive you batty. Oh, that reminds me, there’s also the possibility of finding a migrating bat. Anyway, I’ve had a great time, and I hope to have the opportunity to come out again next year.

I keep forgetting to mention that biologists out here also have a blog ( 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.
Brown Sea Nettle - a type of jellyfish
Several hundred of these guys floated past one day
Wind blown waves during a great sunset
The Beard - Day 52

Saturday, November 8, 2008


I'm at week number 7, and have one more to go. This time of year, the number and diversity of birds starts to drop off, so I start getting anxious to leave. But then I start thinking about what I might miss, and what work I'll have to do once I get back to the mainland. I island has that weird effect of driving you crazy, while also grabbing a hold of you. So, I'll just enjoy my last days out here, and then happily hop on a boat and head back.

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

Not all sunshine and lollipops

It's not paradise out here everyday. Sometimes you have to pay for the privilege of volunteering on the island. We've had some stormy weather over the past few days, but that doesn't mean we get to stay inside all day. On Saturday, a storm that was supposed to drop over an inch of rain was predicted. Since this would be the first significant rainfall since the end of the seabird breeding season, we had a big job to do. You see, our only source of fresh water is precipitation. To collect this water we have a concrete catchment pad (built by the Navy or Coast Guard decades ago) about half the size of a football field, that drains into a collecting tank. During the summer Western Gulls nest there, and generally fowl up the area. So, during this first good rain we (whoever happens to be on the island) have to go out and scrub the whole pad with push brooms. It took four of us 4-5 hours to "clean" the pad. And I say "clean," because it didn't look all that clean after we finished. It was back-breaking work, in a rainstorm. Not what I signed up for. On top of it, we had to complete all of our regular bird surveys. It's a day that I'll probably try to forget.
Not so happy

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.
Between storms - Saturday