Saturday, March 31, 2007

March Madness!

When most people hear the term March Madness, they automatically think of a popular college basketball tournament and start laying wagers on which teams will reach the Final Four or win the championship. On the Farallones however, March is a time of maintenance madness and the only wagers are over when the first eggs will get laid.

Though we only have a few buildings and five people, the Farallon field station is effectively a self contained city with our own Department of Water and Power (the solar array and water catchment systems), Department of Transportation (boats and cranes), Department of Public Works (trail and blind maintenance) and of course Department of Housing and Urban Development (human houses and auklet boxes). There is a lot of work required to keep things functioning properly and to make it a comfortable place for the biologists to live and work. Boat motors must be serviced, cranes inspected, water heaters repaired, houses maintained, and nest boxes constructed. Every person who works on the island becomes an amateur mechanic, plumber, painter, electrician, drywaller, mason, and carpenter in addition to our regular careers as biologists.

The buildings we live in were originally constructed in the 1870’s to provide housing for the lighthouse keepers and their families. Though still structurally as sound as they day they were built, they require periodic work to keep them in good shape and to repair the damage caused during winter storms.

This year the major projects have been repairing water damage to the walls, repainting some of the bedrooms, and upgrading the electrical systems by installing grounded outlets and new energy efficient lighting.

But it’s not just our housing that needs upkeep. Cassin’s Auklets, Rhinoceros Auklets, and Pigeon Guillemots routinely breed in wooden nest boxes placed around the island. These boxes provide important habitat and aid our ability to study and monitor the birds. Of course, they eventually succumb to the forces of entropy (moisture, rockfalls, or the weight of an elephant seal to name a few) and must be replaced. The birds themselves also spend some of their time refurbishing their homes, cleaning out burrows, and building nests.

As the seabird breeding cranks up over the next few weeks, we will have less time to accomplish these tasks so March becomes a mad dash to get everything completed, repaired, or replaced before the first eggs get laid.

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