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Chicks are everywhere!

Posted by: krm12008 | July 2, 2010 | 1 Comment |

To say the last few days have been busy would be quite the understatement! Having 4 people do what essentially 6 people were meant to do can really make for a busy schedule.

Since Katrina’s absence, I’ve picked up her daily task in doing the noon weather and taking the surface sea temperature.  The noon weather includes the direction of the wind (in radians), the strength of the wind (in knots), the cloud conditions, the rainfall (in inches, if any), the visibility (in miles), the air temperature (in Celcius), the air pressure (in mb), the swell, the state of the sea, the direction of the waves, and the surface sea temperature (which involves me suiting up in rainboots and a PFD, going to the intertidal near East Landing, and throwing a bucket into the water, hauling it up with a rope, and taking the temperature, 3 times, to get an average, and bottling a sample of it to get tested for various things in a lab back on the mainland).

Pete has been picking up the rest of Katrina’s slack in her regular studies since Jessie, Michelle, and I haven’t been trained on them, and thus we pull a little extra weight in the group studies and take over tasks that we can so that everything can still get done.  For example, the PIGU breeding check, which happens once every 5 days, is split into “east” and “west” sections of Lighthouse Hill and other various parts of the island, and is done by two people (Annie and me, but while she’s been on break, Pete has covered for her) simultaneously, but yesterday I did all of the sights on Lighthouse Hill so that Pete could do both his “Upper Shubrick Point” Murre Plot and Katrina’s “Tower Point” Murre Plot.  Doing the PIGU breeding check is no easy task! It’s basically a 5.2 – 5.3 rock climbing route (considered easy), but on granite covered in lichen, with some loose and crumbly rocks, with obstacles like gull nests that have eggs or chicks and very anxious, very aggressive parents, with gull chicks at their “runner” stage that you need to avoid scaring or else they’ll run off the cliff, and if you do scare them, need to try your best to grab them and put them back in their nest, and cover them with dead plants so they’ll calm down.  And then grabbing the little Pigeon Guillemot chicks can be challenging too, as the adults lay eggs in crevices in the rocks that have little nooks and crannies the chicks can bury themselves into, so they do, and to reach them, sometimes you gotta bend your whole arm into this dark crevice, feeling for something – anything, and then all you can reach is their behind, so you try to get a grip on it, and then they very dependably squirt some saved up smelly and warm poop all over your hand, and you swear a little, and then you grab them by their little leg, and pull them out just enough to grab their body, and they scream and flap their little wee wings, and then you have the chick, and then you try to put it in a little cloth baggie to weigh it with the scale, but it bites your finger a few times first, because its mad and thinks its going to get eaten, but its adorable because it doesnt hurt at all, and then you weigh it, and then your hat flies off your head because the wind suddenly picked up, so you try to readjust your hat, but a nearby gull took the opportunity to poop in your hair, so you swear again, then readjust your hat, then finish recording the feathering status and weight of the chick, hold it in one hand, reach in again and grab its sibling, which has squirmed its way even farther into the crevice, same deal here, then you’re double fisting adorable little chicks and life is awesome, then you put the first one back, and weigh the second one, record it, make sure there are no gull chicks that decided to take cover underneath your feet or the unstable rock under your feet, and move on to the next site, which is… where? So bascially, PIGU breeding check is really, really fun. I didn’t mind taking Pete’s half … that much, even if the whole hill took about 4 and a half hours.  I’m still learning where all the sites are, but in time I’ll get faster.

Anyway, since Katrina is not going to be returning for a while (at least it seems like not before I leave the island in a month), I will be taking over her Murre plot at Tower Point and try my best to finish X-plot in my spare time these next few days.  I’ll elaborate on Tower Point in the next few days.  I started that today, and essentially learned all the sites in the plot boundaries.

Today was especially long since we had an all-day diet watch AND rhinocerous auklet netting! I had the 6am-8am morning shift with Pete, which meant I got to watch the sun rise.  Since an all-day diet watch calls for 28 man hours and we only had 4 people, all three of us interns had 3 shifts of 2 hours, and Pete pulled another 5 shifts of 10 hours total. (I had 2pm – 6pm as my 2 other shifts).

Last night, we started round 2 of Rhinocerous Auklet netting.  Tonight, though it was windy, the evening still was incredibly beautiful, and as we waited for birds to come in, we watched the sun set.  Windy conditions for rhino netting are not that great, since they bounce out of the net more easily.  Once I get better pictures, I’ll finally describe Rhino netting a little more in detail.

On another note of great bird news, the Cassin’s Auklets are doing extremely well! Almost all of the chicks in my study have fledged and I havent come across a single abandonded chick at all, and tons of the same adult pairs are laying second broods! This means dealing with a lot of feisty parents that are a lot stronger than their chicks, but it also indicates high productivity in the sea.  Who knew? It was predicted that the year would turn out poorly for the birds since it’s an El Nino year, but it seems like most of the species here are doing really well.  It’s super exciting to find an adult incubating an egg on the 5-day check, and your reaction is, “yeah!”.  When we find an adult, we grab it very quickly (so it doesnt accidently fracture its own egg in its struggle), check the band number against our book’s records to see if it was one of the same adults of the pair that laid the previous egg (if there was a previous egg), and if it is, weigh it, and get the measurements of the egg with a caliper.  If it’s a new adult, we’d also have to get the beak depth and wing chord, but so far I think most of the adults we’ve found in our checks the last few days are second broods.  Cassin’s Auklets are unique in that they tend to attempt a second brood after they fledge their first chick (each pair only lays one at a time) – other species can and do lay second eggs in the same season, but usually only if their egg or chick fails.  After we find a relay (an attempt for a second brood by the same parent, NOT a relay race – hey, it’s an easy mistake, ok?), whoever’s study it is goes back the next day to get the band number and weight of the other parent, as the mates switch incubating the egg every day.

Sorry for the incredibly long entry without any pictures! I havent really even thought about taking pictures the last few days, but I’ll work on that!

Love, Kristina

Filed under: Farallon Island, News

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all I could say is “WOW!”

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