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Where are they now? Part VII

Posted by: nina-karnovsky | July 17, 2014 | No Comment |

Here are a few more updates from recent grads. Nikki’13 who worked on the murrelet project counting zooplankton, spent the last year having all sorts of tropical wildlife adventures and is off to veterinary school in the fall! You can read about her amazing year here:

Nikki’s blog


Rose’14 was a student in my Aquatic Ecology class. She is working as a native plants landscaper and climbed Mt. Whitney this summer! ROSE2Before Jamie’14 went to Sea Ranch, he and Claire’14 visited Laura’14 in Alaska!

Class of '14, Jamie, Claire and Laura!

Class of ’14, Jamie, Claire and Laura!

Neha’14, who worked on the video analysis of nesting murrelets is studying red eyed tree frogs in Costa Rica! She is with Cassandra’14 who worked on the Antarctic otolith project. NehaFrog

Filed under: Antarctic, Channel Islands, Sea Ranch, Where are they now?

Python in the lab!

Posted by: nicole | July 14, 2014 | 5 Comments |

Hi all!  I’m Nicole, a rising Pomona fourth year, and this summer I’m working with data on the diving patterns of Cassin’s auklets in the family Alcidae.  These sea faring birds budget their energy and time depending on prey availability, and the feeding needs of themselves and their chicks.  Auklets also demonstrate different types of dives: more ‘V’ shaped dives tend to be for finding pockets of prey underwater, while more ‘U’ shaped dives are more for actual feeding.  These data were taken by gluing small Time-Depth Recorders (TDR’s) on the body feathers of individual auklets and recording temperature and pressure on preset intervals as the birds go about their daily routines.

Here's me in the lab!

Here’s me in the lab!

Other projects have looked at different aspects of these data and my job is to process the most recent years.  Three weeks into my ten week project, I’ve so far been writing python programs that will take a file of data from an individual bird and separate the data points into dive bouts made up of dives as well as calculating different attributes.  One of these attributes is how U-shaped a dive is, which I calculated by determining what percentage of the data points are in the lowest 25% of the dive depth. Over the next few weeks I’ll be developing an interface for these programs and can then decide what aspect of these birds’ behavior I’m most interested in analyzing for my thesis!

My fellow students keep me company while we code for different projects.

My fellow students keep me company while we code for different projects.


Filed under: Farallon Island, News, Senior Thesis

How to PIGU

Posted by: jamie | July 14, 2014 | No Comment |

Pigeon guillemots (PIGUs) are unquestionably the most adorable of all the birds we study here at Sea Ranch. And until recently, we didn’t get to spend that much time observing them. But for the past couple of weeks we’ve been doing three hour nest surveys every other day, getting an idea of how often adults bring food back for their chicks, and what exactly they’re bringing. To introduce you to these adorable birds, I’ve drawn a comic. This is how a typical feeding event goes:

Okay, so they don’t actually hit the rocks around the nest, but they do often miss completely. We had one bird do this five time before successfully entering the nest to feed it’s chicks. Pretty amusing to watch! The birds are mostly bringing back sculpins, with the occasional larger, silvery fish (possibly sand lance?) and even one squid/octopus (it was pretty droopy and hard to identify). We’re watching two nests and so far only one is bringing food back. We can’t see into the nests, but we’re guessing, based on the comings and goings of the adults, that there might be eggs in the as-of-yet-unfed nest. So perhaps we will have more bird antics to update you with soon.

In other news, one of our pelagic cormorant nests fledged today! Two chicks were still in the nest, but the other two were swimming around in the water below, and occasionally taking brief test flights. The babies are growing up!

Filed under: News, Sea Ranch

Quick update from Sea Ranch

Posted by: jamie | July 12, 2014 | 1 Comment |

Hi folks,

It’s now Jamie and Sophie here in Sea Ranch. A few days ago, an osprey that had recently caught a fish landed near our observation point, and we managed to get a mediocre phone video through our scope. Check it out!


Other than that, the birds are doing well (and the chicks are getting huge!)

Check back in tomorrow for an illustrated update about some new data we’re collecting. It’s adorable, we promise.


Filed under: News, Sea Ranch

Where are they now? Part VI

Posted by: nina-karnovsky | July 10, 2014 | No Comment |
Eleanor with some of her less shrimpy shrimp. (Most of the species she studies are tiny).

Eleanor with some of her less shrimpy shrimp. (Most of the species she studies are tiny).

Eleanor’11 who might remember from her 2009 posts from the Farallones Islands where she collected data for her senior thesis, is currently working on her PhD at Duke University. She writes, “I’m focusing in on a PhD topic regarding convergent evolution in signaling and phenotypes in cleaner shrimp.  I’m interested in why cleaner shrimp have such crazy colorful phenotypes, and whether it acts as a signal to client fish or to each other, or perhaps as camouflage against certain backgrounds, or maybe both!”



Filed under: Farallon Island, Senior Thesis, Where are they now?

“Sea” You Later, Sea Ranch

Posted by: ramon15 | July 7, 2014 | 2 Comments |

On the morning of July 5th I departed Sea Ranch and made my 9-hour drive back to sunny SoCal. But before that, I needed to take care of a few things:

1. Pack. I still needed to pack that morning, which was not too hectic. Before leaving, I grabbed Jamie’s book, which I’ve started reading during one of the foggy GPI surveys. It was Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being and the story is partially set in an isolated island off the coast of British Columbia. In this haven for nature lovers, where the days and nights are kissed by wind and fog, the denizens’ daily conversations center on barnacles, crows, and the Great Pacific garbage patch; for me, reading about these people’s daily activities was like reading about the lives of the Sea Ranch residents. Thank you Jamie for lending me this book, and I promise to ship it back to you on the back of a whale.

2. Say goodbye to the Hichwas. As I entered the house, I was greeted by their dog, Bridget, amiable as always. I patted her on the head and looked for her owners. When I found them, we shared some parting words, and then I returned a Nat Geo magazine that they had lent me, since it featured an article on my favorite type of plant: mangroves. They told me to keep it, which was a great example of their generosity over the 5 weeks that I stayed in Sea Ranch. They’ve shared with me their warm abode, equally warm meals, and a wide range knowledge and experiences, which spanned Pigeon Guillemots, the workings of a camera, weird cuisines in Japan, and words to finish the daily crosswords from The Press Democrat that I worked on after my GPI mornings. Thank you Diane, Bryant, and also to Jim Weigand; the three of you have greatly enriched my Sea Ranch experience. With your help and patience, I’ve grown from a confused intern who didn’t even know the term “bluff” to a fledging birder.

3. Visit Gualala for the last time. After getting gas for my long trip and cleaning my windshield from all the dust its accumulated by sitting under the shade of the gorgeous redwood trees, I visited the weekly Farmer’s Market. Since every morning, I had a date with the birds of GPI, I never had the chance to check it out and visit the used book sales that they had. For $1.50, I got Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. After the transaction, the bookstore volunteer gave me a genuine smile and a “take care,” which reminded me of the great kindness and friendliness of the residents of the Sea Ranch and Gualala. In my stay there, I’ve met an array of kindhearted and fascinating people who have not only been a great help in my project, but have also made me feel a part of their community.

4. Drive down the highway strip for the last time this summer. I want to emphasize this summer, because this is surely not my only visit here. I did not directly say any goodbyes to anyone, but only “see you later”s. As I drove the Sea Ranch strip of Highway 1 for the last time during my stay, I paid good attention to the stunning sights that had become ordinary to me. I noticed how, as always, the fog enveloped and hugged the coastline, and I took that as Sea Ranch giving me hug, bidding me with a, “See you later.”


P.S. And now, more non-chick pictures that I’ve accumulated during my stay:

The Gualala River, which travels along the San Andreas Fault.

Another gorgeous view of the Sea Ranch, with fog in the backdrop, as always.

Gualala Arts brought in Yakut sculptors from Siberia to build an art piece at the Regional Park, in celebration of their Sakha Cultural Festival.

The beautiful final product.

Up close and personal with the sheep that graze all over the Sea Ranch.

Spotted a sagehen at the Sea Ranch.

Another sagehen spotting, this time at GPI.

Filed under: News, Sea Ranch, Senior Thesis
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Jamie’s Grand Arrival

Posted by: ramon15 | June 29, 2014 | No Comment |

Saturday evening. It’s almost 9 pm and the sun has just set during a crisp summer night here in the Sea Ranch. I have only a week left and my replacement came two nights ago. The substitute: no other than the acclaimed seabird expert and recent Pomona graduate, Jamie . Even though he’s only been a Sea-Rancher for two days, he’s already an expert at spotting all the mobile gull chicks and is on a first-name basis with our beloved PECOs.

Jamie takes photos of the PECO chicks at Breaker Reach.

He’s also checked out prime spots for some possible free diving and surfing, and has even purchased a fishing license and a spear with which to get his next dinner.

With a wide grin, Jamie shows of his new spear and fishing license.

We’ve also moved into a new house, thanks to some very generous local residents. It’s up in the redwoods and will be our abode for the next week, until I leave for home and Jamie takes over for the next month.

Our new housing arrangement, beautifully surrounded by picturesque redwood trees.

And, as an added bonus, here are some more GPI-seabird photos, professionally taken from my iPhone through a scope. Enjoy, and till then! -Ramon

Brandt’s Cormorants and Common Murres share this spot of Gualala Point Island and “mingle” with one another.

Adult Western Gulls watch over their cryptically-colored young. How many chicks can you spot?

A sight not too often witnessed, we saw several Heerman’s Gulls make a pitstop on the island.

And of course, fog to limit visibility.

Filed under: Sea Ranch, Senior Thesis

My Morning Routine: GPI

Posted by: ramon15 | June 23, 2014 | 1 Comment |

“So Ramon, what DO you actually do over there at Sea Ranch?”

This might be a question that readers have for me, given that I’ve never fully outlined what my day looks like here. And since I’ve talked about the PECOs that I survey every other afternoon, it’s time to talk about what my mornings are all about: Gualala Point Island.

This small island, only a couple hundred feet from shore, is a different world on its own. Geologically speaking, GPI is complex, which makes it a favorable habitat for nesting seabirds; Pigeon Guillemots enter crevices between rock layers, Pelagic Cormorants nest on the rock ledges, Brandt’s Cormorants settle on the limestone flats of the island, and Western Gulls occupy the flat areas at the top of the island.

My job is to keep track of all these nests, as well as all the visible species that are present on the island. From each of two vantage points (north and south), I do a count of all the seabirds and mammals present on the island. I also monitor the status of all visible nests, using a photo that shows the location of all the tracked nests (which are given a unique number). Additionally, now that most of the gull chicks have hatched, I also keep track of these mobile (emphasis on the word mobile) chicks that run around the vicinity of their original nest site.

A view of GPI from from the south side, as well as the back of Sophie’s head.

Tallying all the seabirds that I see.

Sophie counts all the brown pelicans the fly by the island. At one point, we saw more than a hundred!

With this information, I can further understand habitat use in the island. And, with data from previous years and from other nesting sites, I can also determine population and behavior trends of these species over time.

Unfortunately, not every morning here on the coast offers bright and calm conditions. We frequently get winds and fog that swoop into the coast, preventing us from clearly seeing the island.

Sophie and I get our breaks when the wall of fog descends upon us. Sophie spends her time reading, while I take selfies (for the blog, of course).

But overall, the process has become second nature, and I’m just about ready to name the hundred or so gull chicks that I keep track of, starting with the chicks from nest #47.

Filed under: Sea Ranch, Senior Thesis

Ramon’s First Public Hearing

Posted by: ramon15 | June 20, 2014 | 2 Comments |

Hi folks!

Ramon here, and I’m still alive! Sophie has left me, and will soon be traveling to North Carolina to present her thesis. Best of luck Soph! Now that I am a lone wolf (at least, within my age range), I’ve been pretty busy with collecting and entering data, hence the lack of posts in the blog.

Lighting a candle to set the mood for some data-entering.

I promise to share more often my adventures here in Sea Ranch. One of these was a public hearing that I attended on Tuesday. The hearing spanned multiple days, going down the coast and visiting a different town each day. Tuesday’s was held in the town of Gualala and the focus was to allow local residents to voice their opinions/concerns/suggestions regarding a proposed expansion of both the Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuaries (CBNMS and GFNMS) to include waters off of the counties of Marin, Sonoma and Mendocino. By becoming part of the sanctuaries, these areas will become exempt from any oil and gas exploration and development.

Many of the attendees, including yours truly, supported this venture, which would increase protection of upwelling systems (namely, at Point Arena) that sustain the dynamic and important ecosystems of the Farallones. However, there were some concerns raised by participants, ranging from local fishers to jet ski aficionados. And, as expected, a representative from a big oil company was also in attendance; there is interest in exploring these areas for gas and oil.

CBNMS Superintendent Maria Banks explains the rationale behind the proposed expansion.

All in all, I found the event thought-provoking, and it was definitely interesting to watch politics in action at a local setting. Also, among this crowd of residents who were genuinely concerned about the state of their environment, I felt special to be the only one born in the 90s.

Well, that’s all for now. Coming up: nocturnal photos!, hiking(?) w/ Sophie, and LOTS of chick photos

As a teaser, here are our PECO chicks, larger and hungrier than ever!

Filed under: News, Sea Ranch, Senior Thesis

Pelagic Cormorants!

Posted by: ramon15 | June 9, 2014 | No Comment |

Ramon and Sophie here again!

One of our many surveys here at the Sea Ranch include feeding surveys at Breaker Reach, where we watch 7 gorgeous Pelagic Cormorant pairs switch off “nest duty” so that while one is taking care of chicks or incubating eggs, the other is out in the water, “bringing home the bacon.”

One of the cliffs at Breaker Reach. Can you spot all 7 nests?

Pelagic cormorants (or PECOs, as we bird types abbreviate them) nest on steep cliffs, building a shallow bowl out of grass and debris, and cementing this with none other than their own guano! When the chicks hatch, the parents trade off feeding their young by regurgitating partially digested food until the chicks are old enough to fly and find their own food.

Don’t panic! The parent is not eating its young, but is instead feeding it tasty contents from its stomach.

When we do our surveys, we use our trusty scopes and binoculars to monitor when adults arrive, when they perform nest exchanges, and how often they successfully feed their young. We also keep track of the nest condition as well as the number of eggs and/or chicks.

Sophie using her “scoping skills” to spot Western Gulls at Black Point.

Ramon using his binoculars, whilst ensuring that he gives the camera his best angles.

Of course, PECOs aren’t the only interesting wildlife that we encounter in our journeys around the Sea Ranch. This week, we have observed the circle of life; in one afternoon, we have both witnessed Pigeon Guillemots copulating and happened upon a deer carcass (see pictures below). Till then, “sea” you later!

Pigeon Guillemots increase their population count.

Sophie is saddened by the effects of predation (or falling off the cliff).


Filed under: Sea Ranch, Senior Thesis
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