Thursday, October 20, 2016

Owls, 'spurs, Lichens, and a Birthday

7-9 October

This period brought us more uncooperative weather for large movements of landbirds, but we did get a slow trickle of fun new avian visitors. These included an adult Blue-footed Booby, our first Herring and Thayer's Gulls of the season, a Pectoral Sandpiper in the Zalophus wastelands, a Western Palm Warbler (a harbinger of the hordes), a Lapland Longspur, and a White-throated Sparrow. These were in addition to small numbers of more expected birds.

eBird checklists for 7, 8, 9 October.

Burrowing Owls have been increasing, as is typical in the Fall. They arrive during peak mouse density, stay until the mouse population crashes, then switch over to eating Ashy Storm-Petrels: one sensitive species eating another--not an ideal situation. A recent arrival was "Tenacious D-15" below. This owl was banded last year and has returned to the same hole. It likes its hole and won't readily leave it. Witness:
"I don't care how big you are."
"Come on in. The kettle's hot."
This Lapland Longspur would briefly visit a disgusting puddle near the lighthouse, then disappear for minutes to hours. Not everyone was able to see it during its 2-day stay.
This lichen (lichens?), as far as I can tell, is limited to the metal railing around the lighthouse. What does this mean?

Ron Elliot has also returned to dive around the island, as he has every year since the 1980s. He's the only regular visitor (pretty much the only visitor, period) to dive without a shark cage. Watch this excellent video about Ron, featuring footage from the islands--it's worth your time.

Ron Elliot, diving alone with the sharks off of his boat, Great White. The yellow hose on the right is his "Hooka", a hose attached to a compressor on deck and to Ron's mouth underwater. I've seen shark attacks within 200 meters of the boat while he's diving.
Jacob "I Know John Garrett" Drucker recently had a birthday. Don Mastwell made him some kind of chocolate corn cake. It was structurally disingenuous.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


5-6 October

Island life continues--birds, wind, waves, and sharks. We received some visitors this week. Three electricians and the NWR operations specialist, Jonathan Shore, arrived to fix up the electrical system--the lighthouse is currently plugged into a wall outlet behind the Coast Guard stove. Untenable, this is. Everything will be brand new in no time!

Jonathan leaving the fancy way.

Pt. Reyes lighthouse on a very clear day

Art Starling. Starlings don't look like this.

This Rock Pigeon is a survivor. Weeks alone (after the three Eurasian Collared-Doves left/were consumed) with two constantly prowling Peregrine Falcons

Saturday, October 15, 2016

What's Better Than Two? Ten.

30 September to 4 Oct 2016

Deepest apologies to all of the portrait fans who have been waiting far too long for the next installment. As a result of communication breakdowns, plumose foreign-body aspiration, and a few days with Loads of Birds, I have fallen behind. Fear not, portrait enthusiasts, for ten is five times better than two.

Regarding aspirations, I inhaled a belly feather from an Audubon's Warbler on 2 October. This is not advised. Inhaling anything but nicely oxygenated air is a bad idea. I asked Peter Pyle if he'd ever inhaled feathers. He said no, but told me about a researcher extraordinaire  (below) who may have died from long-term feather exposure. Thanks, Peter!

Here's hoping that we have many more days of TPAD ahead of us. If not, it's been fun. I love you all!

This Lesser Goldfinch acquired a bad pollen habit during its stay on the island.

This Northern Fur Seal is upset about something.

The beginnings of a fogged out day at the lighthouse

We finally caught the Black-throated Sparrow!
The orange character is Edrudia constipans, a lichen found only on the Farallones 
This Pacific Wren spent most if its stay in the cable tunnel beneath the lighthouse. Here it pauses for some brief sunshine.

Jim and Garrett cleaning off our solar panels.

Great White! This fellow had just finished eating a pinniped--probably a sea lion, but impossible to know for certain

This Sharp-shinned Hawk flew about at the lighthouse for a bit before heading back to land.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Gray Gloom

29 Sep 2016

The Gray Gloom remains upon the island, pushed along by northwest winds that fend off most migrant landbirds. The Great White Shark season is well underway, however,  and the sharks don't care so much about fog. Shark research is carried out on a small boat called Stacy which is launched from the sailing vessel Bayliss:

Stacy and the shark tagging crew waiting for customers.

The Black-throated Sparrow persists on Lighthouse Hill, taking a bit of edge off of the birding doldrums.

The Island's substrates aren't too different from the normal haunts of this desert-dweller

Today's eBird checklist is here.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Tardiness is Next to Godliness...

28 Sep 2016

A slow trickle of migrants continues to grace us. The weather remains ok but less than ideal for large bird movements. Here's our eBird list.

Today's whims brought us a welcome visitor from more balmy climes:

Tropical Kingbird hanging out near the Burning Bush

Our second portrait will be a throwback to last year when we (Adam, Eva, Boo--thanks Eva!) chucked a GoPro/faucet off of East Landing and accidentally found a red abalone. Their populations plummeted after years of exploitation and they remain scarce and continue to decline on the Farallones.

Who wanders by this mirrored shore,
And from a basin's rugged edge
In the limpid depths peers wide and deep,
Where lolling tides lie half asleep,
Will the strange sea forms venture o'er
The weed-grown, creviced, glassy floor...

Excerpt from "Sea Folk" from The Farallones The Painted World and Other Poems of California
by Milton S. Ray

East Landing Abalone!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

For Whom the Bell's Tolls

27 Sep 2016

The lovely eastern Bell's Vireo continued today and Zack found an island bird for Rob, et al.--a Black-throated Sparrow! Its portrait will be featured on a later post as it was seen very poorly on the first day of its stay. Here is the Sep 27th eBird checklist.

In its stead, we have the always lovely Northern Elephant Seal (Mirounga angustirostris)--we love them, sharks love them, flies love them. Who could dislike this animal? Well, humans definitely did, for a long time. A long time. And the result of this was near-extinction. Thanks to conservation efforts (money and legislation), this species has staged a spectacular comeback. Elephant seals increase in numbers on the Farallones in the fall and winter and Great White Shark numbers increase accordingly.

Our shared ancestry is obvious. This portrait of a lounging elephant seal was taken in Garbage Gulch

And here we have a guest-portrait by Don Mastwell.

The eastern Bell's Vireo, pre-banding. A lovely life bird for all parties present.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Eastern Bell's Vireo for President

26 Sep 2016

A nice assortment of birds arrived on the island today (see the complete checklist here), but the obvious highlight was an eastern Bell's Vireo(!) that was found by Major Tietz late in the day in the Coast Guard Tree. All hands were on deck to see the vireo in the light of the setting sun.

Three nerds, including D. Mastwell and R. Rockly, successfully viewing the Bell's Vireo in the failing light. Guest Portrait by Jacob Drucker.
Thankfully, the vireo flew into a net and allowed us to examine it in all of its glory. Guest Portrait by The Future.