Friday, December 19, 2014


We arrived to the island in Farallon Style this year with the wonderful contribution of Freda B, her lovely crew and skipper Paul Dines. Freda B came equipped with an onboard cook who spoiled us the entire way. Luckily the seas cooperated and no one was sea sick on the way out to the island. Meaning we were able to enjoy the tasty food. Thanks so much for making it a great trip out Freda B!

Freda B putting sails up at East Landing with SEFI in the background.
The first two weeks on the island have been dominated by orientation and safety training. There is much to learn with respect to the ins and outs of life on the island, getting to know the facilities and infrastructure and understanding how we operate while keeping safety in mind. Also, we have a lot of responsibility surrounding our landing operations so much time is given to becoming aware of standard operating procedures. Once the team has been trained up on logistics it is onward to biological protocol and data collection. But first and foremost,

Team introductions: 

- Ryan Berger, Lead Farallon Biologist for the Winter Season 
It is hard to believe that Ryan will be entering his 5th season as the lead winter biologist. Time really does fly when you’re having fun! This year marks a decade of marine mammal research that Ryan has performed in his professional career. Starting in 2004 with a focus on manatee behavior, Ryan obtained a Masters in Biology from Georgia Southern University; then went on to work for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) rescuing sick and injured marine mammals and performing necropsies on deceased animals; and finally ending up with Point Blue’s Farallon program leading up long term population demography studies on the island’s breeding Northern elephant seals. He is also trained in large whale disentanglement and has spent two seabird seasons as a biologist on the island. The diversity of wildlife and work here keep him coming back for more!

Ryan driving the SAFE boat on a calm and sunny day at the island.
  -Amanda Hooper, SEFI Winter Research Assistant
Growing up on the coast of Southern California, Amanda Hooper has always had an interest in marine mammals. After graduating from the University of Oregon in 2013 (B.S. Biology, Marine Emphasis), she returned home to the Los Angeles area to study Bottlenose Dolphins with the Coastal Dolphins of Orange County Project. Last winter, Amanda lived on Guafo Island, Chile studying the population of Southern Fur Seals that breed there. She is really excited to be a member of the SEFI winter team this season and can’t wait for things to really get busy when the cows arrive and start to pup!
Amanda with a fur seal pup while conducting research on Guafo Island.
  -James Robbins, SEFI Winter Research Assistant
James has also joined the team, who is originally from Edinburgh, Scotland; although has spent time throughout the UK, gaining an undergraduate degree in zoology in England, and a masters in marine biology in Ireland. His previous research has primarily focused on cetaceans, ranging from behavioural sightings work with the University of Aberdeen, to passive acoustic studies and methodology improvements with the Coastal Marine Research Centre. He is enjoying the change of pace, going from sitting atop cliffs to being more active and hands on studying the colony of elephant seals as more individuals arrive. Previously his experience with pinnipeds has been limited to sightings of individual grey and common seals in coastal waters, and pups rehabilitated at an Irish centre, so living next to hundreds of individuals is quite an experience!
James on a bottlenose dolphin photo-id trip in Cromarty, Scotland.
-Aymeric Fromant, SEFI Winter Research Assistant
Joining us from France for his first elephant seal field season, Aymeric completed his post graduate and honours in the University of Brest (France) with a master in  Marine Sciences and Biology. During these studies he was most interested in the ecology, biology and conservation. Aymeric has been involved in a variety of work, travel, and volunteer experiences primarily focusing on the ecology of marine mammals and seabirds. He spends few months in New Zealand to study the distribution of Orcas, Southern Right whales and Hector's dolphins. In addition, he worked one year in the CEBC in ChizĂ© (France) studying the ecotoxicoly on various seabird species from the Kerguelen Islands. Lastly, he also worked one year of the field for different projects relating to marine mammals in Australia, Iceland and France. Back home in french mountains, since 2005, Aymeric works on an eco-friendly house project. So far he loves marine mammal sciences and is really excited to join the SEFI Winter team.
Aymeric on the left with field colleagues in some far off region of the world.
-R.J. Roush, SEFI Spring-Summer-Fall-Winter Research Assistant
Sadly we are losing the Fall season’s burrowing owl intern, R.J. Roush, who has been the carry over intern into the Winter season as well.  R.J. has been out on the island for Spring/Summer seabird season, Fall land bird season and a portion of the Winter elephant seal season.  We will miss his experience and appreciate all the hard work he has done for us. After spending some time at home in Santa Rosa, CA for the Holidays R.J. will be working on a point count and bird banding project in Belize for 3 months. Best of luck with the project and have fun!
R.J. with a Barn Owl her captured this past Fall.
-Vanessa Delnavaz, SEFI Winter Research Assistant
Vanessa will be joining us in early January when we will make a proper introduction at that time.

We have started in to our daily routines out here on the island and are happy to say that the first pregnant elephant seal cow of the season arrived on Thursday December 18th 2014. We hope to have our first pup of the season just before Christmas. Check back shortly to get an update as to what we have been up to out here on Southeast Farallon Islands!

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Happy Halloween from the Farallones

Perhaps you were wondering whether four biologists isolated from civilization on the Farallon Islands would take the time to celebrate Halloween. Well never fear, with a little face paint, we attempted to emulate our favorite warblers. Can you figure out which warbler species we were?

* Hint: two of the warblers breed on the West Coast, and two breed on the East Coast; however, all migrated this fall to the Farallones (scroll to the bottom for answers).

Unfortunately, we were not able to go trick-or-treating since we are the only humans on the island. So instead, we admired our Jack-o-lanterns and enjoyed watching our favorite spooky movie, the Addam's Family.

Halloween Warblers, clockwise from top center: Magnolia, Black-throated Gray, Townsend's, and Cape May.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

23rd Annual Farallonathon

From September 19 to September 25, the fall crew conducted our annual fundraiser called the Farallonathon. Initiated in 1992 by then biologist Peter Pyle, the Farallonathon was created to recognize the truly unique elements of the Farallon Islands, while at the same time participating in Point Blue’s Annual Bird-A-Thon. This event is similar to a Bird-a-thon, except it lasts for a full week, and instead of counting just species of birds, we count all of the vertebrates we encounter including birds, fish, marine mammals, and even a few types of insects (butterflies and dragonflies only). We even assign points for rare and interesting wildlife events such as shark attacks and birds never before seen on the Farallones. The way Farallonathon works is we get one point for each vertebrate species, while extremely rare birds that require a review by the California Bird Records Committee (CBRC) and each shark attack awards us five points, and species new to the island are rewarded with ten points.

FARALLONATHON DAY 1 – On Sep 19th, the visibility was limited to less than a kilometer at dawn due to a bit of fog; fog is not good either since the birds cannot find the island. However, the visibility rapidly increased and the birds descended upon the island. The most abundant species in descending order were Lesser Goldfinch (35), Hermit Thrush (20), Yellow Warbler (17), Golden-crowned Sparrow (10), and Ruby-crowned Kinglet (7). The highlights for the day included the now resident Northern Gannet (still the only record for the Pacific Ocean), a Black Swift (30th island record), two Red-throated Pipits (a species that breeds in Asia and overwinters in Africa and SE Asia), a Tennessee, Magnolia, and Blackburnian Warbler, and a Bobolink.  So, on this fine first day of Farallonathon, we found a total of 79 points, which included 60 migrant bird species (3 of which were CRBC review species), a hoary bat, a minke whale, and 3 dragonfly species (green darner, black saddlebags, and wandering glider).

FARALLONATHON DAY 2 – More light winds out of the south produced another busy day on the island, with a good number of migrants found at the lighthouse at dawn, including the island’s 3rd Plumbeous Vireo, an American Redstart, Ovenbird, and Chestnut-sided Warbler. Incredibly, a Connecticut Warbler (just the 64th island record and a CBRC review species) ended up inside the lighthouse, which was then trapped and banded. Although, this skulking species is very rare in the state of California, 54% of all the state’s records have been seen on SE Farallon Island, where there is little vegetation for them to hide. Other new species for Farallonathon included a flock of ten White-faced Ibis, a Chimney Swift, a Black-and-white Warbler, a Northern Waterthrush, and a Mourning Warbler (another CBRC review species). At the end of this magnificent day, we found we had added 36 points and raised our overall total to 116.

FARALLONATHON DAY 3 – The winds on this day turned more out of the west, which seemed to slow the numbers of migratory birds heading out to the island. Still, we managed to add 9 more species of migrant birds, which included a Sage Thrasher (86th island record), Common Loon, Buller’s Shearwater, Sanderling, Cassin’s Vireo, Cliff Swallow, and a Lark Sparrow. Since this was a relatively slow day, we decided to add on some of the remaining breeding birds, which included a juvenile Double-crested Cormorant flying around their breeding colony on Maintop, and a puffin carrying a fish to a crevice on Lighthouse Hill. And we took points for the five breeding pinniped species. We also added another dragonfly with a Variegated Meadowhawk, and added a cetacean point when a group of three Humpback Whales were spotted. These points raised our total to 139.

FARALLONATHON DAY 4 – The winds remained calm this day, but the visibility and bird numbers dropped off a bit more. The wind also switched a bit more to the north, which allowed 5 Sharp-shinned Hawks to investigate the island before turning around and flying the 20 miles back to Point Reyes. A few other new bird species included a Pectoral Sandpiper, Least Flycatcher, and a Rock Wren. A Painted Bunting (CBRC review species) also provided a nice surprise. Finally, our first shark attack of Farallonathon occurred off Saddle Rock to bring our total up to 155.

FARALLONATHON DAY 5 – Excellent visibility all day meant that we did not see many birds arriving. However, it did allow us to see a group of 45 Risso’s Dolphins and a group of 10 Harbor Porpoises – these dolphins are common, but the Harbor Porpoises rarely venture this far off shore. Only four new species of migrant birds were found this day: a Northern Fulmar, Pacific Golden-Plover, a Palm Warbler, and the return of one of the two adult Blue-footed Boobies (another CBRC species). This brought our total up to 165.

FARALLONATHON DAY 6 – More of the same weather meant that we could not find any new bird species this day. Thankfully we were able to add five points from a morning shark attack off Saddle Rock on an immature elephant seal. And we also got two points from an exploration of a cave on Corm Blind Hill, which discovered 20 Arboreal Salamanders and a Cassin’s Auklet. This brought our total up to 172.

FARALLONATHON DAY 7 – More visibility and reduced cloud cover on this final day of Farallonathon helped many birds leave the island once they could see the stars and navigate to whatever destination genetic recombination had put in their brains. Unfortunately, big departure days do not bring many new migrants, so all we managed to find were three new bird species: a Cackling Goose, Northern Harrier, and a pair of Northern Rough-winged Swallows. With that, our Farallonathon total ended up at 175. This was the 23rd Farallonathon, and our results tied us with 2002 for 11th place.

The main reason to have our Farallonathons is to have fun and raise money for our research. If you can, please consider supporting our research by pledging either a per-point amount or a flat donation for the event. To make a donation, please go to our Farallonathon website at:  And lastly, thank you very much for making our research possible.