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Planting Halos

Posted by: lars | November 8, 2017 | No Comment |

Once upon a time, during the spring bloom, you could have looked out onto the Channel Islands from the Southern California coast and seen one island with what would have appeared to be a bright yellow halo around it. That island, Anacapa, is angelic no more. But let me back up a little.

A few weeks ago, my Advanced Animal Ecology class, led by the inimitable Professor Karnovsky, took an overnight trip to Anacapa Island, the second smallest of the five Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California. This was no jet-setting island adventure, however. While on the island we volunteered with three Channel Island National Park biologists who work to study and conserve the island’s wildlife. It is one of these biologists who first told me of the island’s long since lost halo.

Our initial approach to Anacapa. If you squint your eyes you can just see the yellow ha… ah never mind.

The class at the boat dock.

It turns out that the island no longer look the way it did a couple of hundred years ago. The halo effect was the result of dense coverage by a large shrub called giant coreopsis that has lots of bright yellow flowers when it blooms. But when humans introduced sheep and later rabbits to the island, the giant coreopsis was devastated by the grazing of these introduced species. Today, many species of vegetation once common across the island have become rare, as the dominant plant has become red-flowered ice plant, an invasive species planted by the Coast Guard. These endemic (native) island species (plant and animal) are often particularly susceptible to being decimated by introduced species such as sheep and ice plant, as they have often evolved in an ecosystem without significant competition or predation.

The red-flowering ice plant, which was introduced to the island by the Coast Guard.

This vegetation has serious implications for the numerous organisms that depend upon the island. The protected area beneath the native shrubs that once dominated on the island offered quality nesting sites for sea birds such as the Scripps’ murrelet, which cannot nest under the low-lying ice plant. On Anacapa in particular, whose sea birds only just recently were able to recover following the removal of yet another human-introduced invasive species, the black rat, the mending of the island’s vegetation in favor of native shrubs is vital to bringing the island back to previous levels of viability for the numerous organisms that live on it. This is where Anacapa’s resident biologists and my class come into play.

Amelia and Jim, answering our post-dinner questions on life as a biologist.

Upon arriving at the island we met with the three resident biologists, Jim, Amelia, and David, who introduced us to the island and to one of their projects: restoring native plant species to the island. Using a small greenhouse as a nursery to grow seedlings of various native shrubs, the biologists then plant those growing shrubs in patches, so as to begin to the restoration of areas of native vegetation. This is precisely what my class and I did for our first afternoon on the island. As we planted we learned that the island’s native subspecies of deer mouse has been eating many of the shrubs they have been planted, due in part to a mouse population boom resulting from good rainfall in the last year. While I am not particularly fond of mice, being slightly phobic towards anything with buckteeth, hantavirus, and a tail, these mice are native to the island, and we hope that with more and more vegetation restoration, they will become a less prominent issue.

We managed to put in around 350 individual plants.

The hill upon which we did our planting. Each upturned plant pot is another native shrub planted!

Me, smiling (?) through the grime of our planting efforts.

After a much needed hop into the ocean for some snorkeling, we cooked dinner with Jim and Amelia (David rotated back to the mainland) and got some much-needed sleep. The next morning we met up again with Jim and Amelia and spent several hours working in the nursery, helping to transfer growing seedlings into individual nursery pots in which they could continue to grow before being planted. After lunch and another swim, we toured the lighthouse and lined back up for our ride home. Bouncing over the waves on our way back to Ventura Harbor, I think we all felt much increased appreciation for three things. First, the biologists who spend their lives working to maintain and restore the health of the Channel Islands ecosystems. Second, the importance of being ever vigilant in the maintenance of those fragile ecosystems and the devastating impacts of introduced species. And third, the extraordinary amount that some unskilled volunteers can accomplish to help both those biologists and the islands they tend to.

Clockwise from top left: Katie, me, Clark, Jack, and Prof K. We were able to swim and snorkel in the water of the boat dock. They were all very jealous of my wetsuit.

Our campsite on Anacapa.

Part of the class helping to transfer seedlings into their own pots on our second day on the island.

A picturesque sunset view from Anacapa.


Filed under: Channel Islands, News

Update from Sagehen on Seal Island

Posted by: nina-karnovsky | August 8, 2017 | No Comment |

Mid-July update from Clare!

Everything’s still going great here! Almost all of the chicks on the island are hatched, so we’ve been super busy with feeding studies. I think my favorite thing we do out here is tern feeding studies, where we sit and watch 6 nests for three hours and mark down when parents bring in food and what they bring in. I love just getting to observe their behavior, and you get to know the birds in the feeding studies really well. Our tern chicks are fledging right now, so it’s getting pretty crazy in the colony with all these new fliers!

An Atlantic Puffin with food for a growing chick.

Filed under: Puffin Project


Posted by: nina-karnovsky | June 26, 2017 | No Comment |

Clare received a Summer Undergraduate Research Grant to carry out seabird research this summer and sent in this update:

Right now I’m with the Audubon’s Project Puffin out on Seal Island, Maine, which is 25 miles off of the coast.  There are only 6 of us sharing our 65 acre island, which contains a cabin with a stove and a table and 6 tent platforms. We each have our own tent, and hang out there or around the cabin area during our downtime.

SEAL ISLAND, my tent does not have a tarp in this picture but it has one now.

While our main focus is helping restore puffins to Maine, we also work with all of the island seabirds- puffins, razorbills, common and arctic terns, guillemots, murres, and double crested and great cormorants.

A PUFFIN CHICK is the softest thing I’ve ever felt.

An average day starts with waking up at 5:45 to do the morning bird count at 6.  We then eat breakfast and have some coffee, and start working again at 8.  We’ll often do a blind stint in the morning, where we sit in a blind for three hours and try to read the bands on terns and puffins or conduct feeding studies where we keep track of what fish they’re feeding their chicks.  We’ll then break for lunch and leave the birds alone for the hottest part of the day, then start back up again around 2:30. We also do a lot of puffin and razorbill productivity checks, where we go around to their burrows in rock crevices and check to see if they’ve laid an egg, or if an egg has hatched.  We all take turns making dinner, then hang around in the cabin for a little bit chatting, before an early bed time of around 8:30.


Seal Island is absolutely beautiful, and I feel so lucky to get to work with such incredible birds every day!


Filed under: News, Puffin Project
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Allison Bailey’07 earns her PhD in Tromso, Norway. Her research was on the effects of ocean acidification on Arctic zooplankton. She studied little auks in Spitsbergen, Norway for her senior thesis.

Julia Gleichman’10 (middle) graduates from medical school! Julia studied stress in little auks foraging in different conditions in the Arctic for her senior thesis.  

Corinna Cook’07 finished her dissertation in History. As a senior thesis student she analyzed the rhetoric about the Pebble Mine in Alaska.

Filed under: Congrats to Students, News, Senior Thesis, Where are they now?
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SAGEHENS win awards at scientific meeting

Posted by: nina-karnovsky | May 12, 2017 | No Comment |

Gail’17 won an award for Best Undergraduate Presentation and Kyle’17 won an honorable mention for Best Undergraduate Poster at the Pacific Seabird Group Meeting!

Congratulations to Gail’17!

Congratulations to Kyle’17!

Filed under: Farallon Island, Sea Ranch
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Posted by: nina-karnovsky | February 26, 2017 | No Comment |

Gail’17 presented part of her senior thesis at the 44th annual meeting of the Pacific Seabird group.


Great job Gail!

Filed under: Farallon Island, News, Senior Thesis
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Sagehens at the Pacific Seabird Group meeting!

Posted by: nina-karnovsky | February 25, 2017 | No Comment |

The 44th annual meeting in Tacoma is underway. Kyle’17 presented the results of three years of study at The Sea Ranch in a poster. Co-authors were Ellie’18, Jeffrey’17, Ramon’16 and Diane Hichwa from Madrone Audubon. Kyle’s parents came to see him present!

Kyle explains his results

Pomona students Gail (left) and Kyle (right) with Prof K.

Filed under: News, Sea Ranch
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Wrapping Up At Sea Ranch

Posted by: ellenh | July 28, 2016 | No Comment |

Hi All,

Today is my last day collecting data at Sea Ranch–the weather is very foggy and a little bit rainy. I think Seattle might be sending its weather down here, telling me it’s time to head home. Here is a photo from this morning at GPI N that shows the fog and the difficulties it creates in collecting data!



The breeding season here at Sea Ranch has been a little unusual this year, especially at GPI. Overall, there were a total of 38 nests at GPI N and 41 nests at GPI S. Unfortunately, we did not see any WEGU chicks from any nests reach the juvenile stage of development. About half of the WEGU nests hatched chicks and half were abandoned before any chicks were seen. We suspect that a Peregrine falcon may be the cause of this abnormal number of chicks, as one morning, a group at GPI S witnessed the falcon swooping low over the gulls and snatching up a chick! Following that incident, we often saw a Peregrine falcon perched on the far north end of GPI, spying on potential prey.

The Pelagic cormorants at Breakers Reach had a better year than the WEGUs at GPI, with about a 50% success rate in the number of nests that hatched chicks. Of 28 nests, so far 14 nests have hatched eggs, 13 nests have been abandoned, and one is still sitting on a nest with three eggs. Overall, it seems like once Pelagic chicks hatch, they make it to adulthood. Only one nest had a chick that disappeared after a few days and the nest was abandoned shortly afterwards.


Thank you to everyone who played such an important role in this summer’s adventures! This was an incredible experience that taught me so much about long term ecological studies, dedicated observation skills, and asking thoughtful questions that may not have a clear answer. It was wonderful meeting many Sea Ranch locals and visitors and getting to share what we have been working on these past three years (at Pomona) and past several years (with the Sea Ranch Task Force).

For now, goodbye Sea Ranch, I hope to see you again!



Filed under: News

Update From Sea Ranch!

Posted by: ellenh | June 28, 2016 | 1 Comment |

We have a chick! On June 17th, the first Pelagic cormorant chicks were seen at Breakers Reach at Site E, nest #4. There appears to be at least 3 chicks, but may be four. Two days ago (June 26th), I saw the first chick at Site C, which is the site I am doing feeding observations at this summer. That day, I set up my station and started looking at all of the PECO nests. When I got to nest #4, there was a tiny chick peeping out from under its parent, bobbing its head around, looking for something to eat. The following day another chick had hatched at the same nest and I expect a few more from that nest and a few other nests over the next week.

I attempted to take photos through the scope, but as you can tell from the photo below, I haven’t been that successful…


This was an attempted photo of the BLOY nest I have been watching. I am working on my skills and hopefully will get better at this, so more people can see the Pelagic chicks! For now, please enjoy a photo of a banana slug I saw and a beautiful sunset from Sea Ranch!



More photos and updates coming soon!


Filed under: News

Hello From Sea Ranch! Summer 2016

Posted by: ellenh | June 15, 2016 | 2 Comments |

Hello from Sea Ranch! This summer, I have embarked to Sea Ranch to continue the work of the past two summers (thank you to everyone who came the past two years!). I visit Gualala Point Island almost every morning and observe sea birds and their nests from either the north or the south. Here is the beautiful south view point


So far, we have fewer visible nests, but more Brandt’s nests from the aerial photos. We are waiting for an aerial photo from June, in which there will hopefully be a lot more nests!

I also spend most afternoons at Breaker Reach, watching a group of Pelagic Cormorants. There are seven nests there and three of the nests have eggs in them. Two of the nests have four eggs and the third has three eggs. I am keeping my eyes out for more eggs as they come. Once a week, I observe a Black Oystercatcher pair at Tidepool. The pair recently hatched three chicks! Below is a photo of the observation point. I attempted to get a photo through the scope, but was unsuccessful.


I will continue posting with more updates on the sea birds and life at Sea Ranch!


Filed under: Sea Ranch

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