Tuesday, May 20, 2008

New Breeding Seabird on Southeast Farallon:
the California Gull

There is a new breeding seabird species on Southeast Farallon Island, bringing the total to 13! Though previously known to only breed on the mainland, often by lakes or brackish waters, a small group of California Gulls has begun to breed on the island. These gulls were seen in previous years on the island, roosting in intertidal areas, but appeared in greater numbers this year. After watching the California Gulls for weeks through a telescope (to minimize disturbance), their intent to breed was confirmed by the presence of eggs. We didn’t want to let the opportunity to study a new seabird species pass us by so we have already established a study plot with marked nests. We are very excited about beginning to study this species in its new breeding habitat.
Paid in Produce
Working on Southeast Farallon Island (SEFI) requires a large commitment of time and energy. Interns stay a minimum of 8 weeks, generally longer, and work every day. Though the island is a beautiful place, working “well beyond full time” in such an isolated and rugged environment can be challenging. Whereas most people are paid for their work, the interns on SEFI are volunteers whose main form of compensation comes in a different form: food, of good quality and quantity.

Anyone who has worked at a field station knows the positive impact that good food has on the morale of the workers. Here on the Farallones, we take our food seriously. As we spend our days conducting research in observation blinds or outside, resighting, counting, and banding birds etc.- we need good food on the table to keep us going through all kinds of weather. There aren’t too many workplaces where you need to fulfill your duties in 40 knot winds! Whereas the average person can purchase food at a grocery store or market, the nearest market to our house is about 27 miles of rough open ocean away. But fear not, us Fara-loners are far from starving.

Every two weeks (weather permitting), a boat from the Farallon Patrol, a volunteer organization of local Bay Area boat skippers, arrives with fresh food as well as any needed supplies, personal items and personnel. With 5-8 people on the island this means a lot of food is delivered. Between three refrigerators, a freezer and a walk-in pantry, we generally manage to store the food in its proper place until it is consumed.

From Monday to Saturday, each person makes their own breakfast and lunch and we have a rotating schedule for who cooks dinner, so everyone takes a hand to the spatula. Cooking for 8 hungry Faralloners is quite an undertaking and can be intimidating at first but the reward of having well-fed workmates (and someone else cook for you for the next 7 days) is very satisfying and builds a strong sense of community.

The food consumed at a typical Farallon dinner would put a high school football team at a buffet to shame. Recently, we’ve had calzones, fresh curry, pasta carbonara, cottage pie and eggplant parmesan. Sundays are made special by cooking a brunch together, celebrating the completion of one and the beginning of another fabulous week on SEFI. Though not a ‘required’ component of cooking, we are also known to have fresh banana bread, cakes and cookies around for those with a sweet tooth. Since the seabird season began, we have gone through about 30 pounds of flour, and 30 of sugar (15 white, 15 brown).

So if you are in Marin County and see a group of people loading or purchasing what appears to be an unreasonably large amount of groceries, check to see if one of them is wearing a PRBO hat or sweatshirt. If someone is, that food will be likely making a valiant voyage to the Farallones, providing the invaluable sustenance that is required by SEFI’s biologists and interns.

Loading up a truck with food for the island.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

It's Journal Time!
Out here on the island, there is a long standing tradition of recording all of our daily activities in the Farallon Island Journal. After our scrumptious dinner, we sit down to write in the journals and shout out whatever we have to add. PRBO biologists and interns have done this every day since June 7, 1967. At the end of the year the Journal is bound and becomes part of the island archives. This gives us the opportunity to look back at any given day and see who was here, what was happening on the island, or what birds were present.

Seabird Biologist and two interns complete the daily activity of journal entry.

There are a total of three journals which comprise the official Farallon Island Journal:
The first journal contains everything of relevance that happened that day, including weather, rare animal sightings, and common activities. This journal is very helpful if you are wondering about some event that occurred on one particular day. For instance, on April 7, 1999, there was a very interesting boat landing, and by interesting, I mean horrible. Here is a taste of that fateful day, “Near the entrance to the cove, Kelly gave the motor some gas and it flew off the back of the boat. The motor had been tightened down in the morning and there was a rope tying the motor to the boat. So we focused on rowing away from the cove thinking the motor was attached to the boat. But alas, the rope had broken and the motor had fallen into the abyss.” Everything that occurred in one given day is recorded and kept for future use. We also use this journal to keep track of who was on the island or who visited the island.

The second journal includes many different topics, from breeding birds to maintenance, butterflies to boats, or unusual events to dinner, not saying that the two are at all related. It has also become a tradition to record the dreams of island inhabitants if their dreams are related to the island, take place on the island, or if they involve some sort of dream bird. This tradition has been going on for seven or eight years, and that is a lot of time for a lot of people to have some pretty interesting dreams. Some dreams seem to be stress related, “Annie dreamt that the island vegetation was at least waist high and growing fast. She was worried that we would not be able to find our way around the island or locate study plots”. While others are just absurd, “Russ had a dream that wherever he went, jungle, city, Movie Theater, there were Murres milling about in large numbers being counted. Not just Russ was doing the counting either. Little old ladies were leaning out their apartment windows with clickers along with the rest of the populace”.

The last journal pertains to rare, non-breeding, live birds seen on the island. This journal contains a list (including # of individuals) of birds that have been seen on the Farallones this year. We get a variety of migratory birds, such as grebes, tubenoses, geese, falcons, shorebirds, kingfishers, kinglets, warblers, and sparrows. Sometimes we get large waves of land birds, such as Ruby Crowned Kinglets or Audubon Warblers, after strong winds. Occasionally, other uncommon species are seen in small numbers, such as Belted Kingfishers, a Eurasian Collared Dove, a Saw-whet Owl and Brown Boobies. In the beginning of the seabird season, daily shorebird walks provide the opportunity to survey particular areas of the island where non-breeding species often migrate to later in the season. Though breeding birds currently prevent us from doing the shorebird walk, we keep our eyes open and identify any other species we encounter during the day.

A Saw-whet Owl perched in the Monterey Cypress next to the PRBO house.