Friday, September 25, 2015


16 September

No, TPAD is not dead. But it will soon be dead. Until it dies, I give you TPADFFMD.

Once a month some intrepid souls make the journey over to Main Top Island (West End) to visit the Northern Fur Seal (Callorhinus ursinus) colony, census all of the pinnipeds, look for tagged animals, and maybe pull some spinach. Ideally, this is done on a slow/no bird day. Cases of Faranoia may become particularly acute on such days (see this post from last year).

West End is loud, smelly, and furry: bleats growls and wickers are broadcast continuously and are punctuated by the unmistakable roaring of Steller's Sea Lions. Adults fight, pups fight, sea lions and fur seals bicker. A noisy smelly place that is thoroughly enjoyable to expose one's self to. Take me back.

Here is a family portrait (not really, but they are all Northern Fur-seals) from Weather Service Peninsula, which lies on the west end of Southeast Farallon Island
Look at this thing. Keep looking at it. Don't stop looking at it. Is that the longest you've ever laid eyes on a Northern Fur-seal?

Friday, September 18, 2015

In Which Railey II, A Mouse, and a Chestnut-sided Warbler

14-15 September 2015

Yes, dear readers, another FPAD...or 4PT.

The birds have begun to trickle. Presaging a crack in The Wall? Is birds coming? We don't yet know.

The good news is this: WE ARE IN THE LEAD AGAINST SAN CLEMENTE.  Will it last? It mightn't. It might. Stay tuned.

Here are portraits from these days:

An eastern warbler!  This Chestnut-sided Warbler hung around with the hooligans of Lighthouse Hill

There are mice.  Here's a mouse.  Someday we hopet'n't have mice.

This is a Virginia Rail in temporary residence on the (very) windy side of the lighthouse.  It looked  exactly like this all day.  So we (Boo) caught it and brought it down to live in the Coast Guard Tree.  You're welcome rail: good luck.

Railey II.  Railey I took up residence on the island for ~1 week last September.
September 14th eBird
September 15th eBird

SEFI: 95
SCI:   94

A Pleasure Trip to The Farallones

12-13 September 2015

Another multi-pad, dominated by furred things for lack of feathers. My days grow short but I remain busy with non-blogging.  I apologize to you all: I have not forgotten.

Weather has not smiled kindly upon us: the birds aren't here. September remains in a veritable avian-drought. Fog and strong winds have kept most birds from finding our small and insufficient refuge. Siren-songs from Mastwell and Rockly are belched to no avail. Our near-constant Sulid companions remain a small bright light in this shadowy world as we anxiously await the flood. Will the sparkling hordes arrive before Rob must take his leave?

I won't look like these guys on my return trip.  I just won't do it.

Don Mastwell loves Zalophus, especially this one (Steve). This portrait was commissioned by Don to illustrate his love for the California Sea Lion.

Fact of the day: Northern Elephant Seals are punishingly adorable.

Martin Sheen? Hippo? Wet Elephant Seal.
SCI:   89
SEFI: 86

This list is no way to win a war:
September 12th eBird checklist

At least this one's a bit better:
September 13th eBird checklist

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

It Takes Noctuid to Tango

11 Sep 2015

On this day I have a new niece or nephew. It is impossible to know which, but I think it's a niece. My sister is wise to hide this from me. I can't know until I bring her a herring, a truffle, and a rainbow roll.

The 11th of September had few birds. More birds than nieces/nephews, but not by much.

In their stead, here is the large yellow underwing (Noctua pronuba), a widespread Palearctic species that was introduced to North America in the 1980s and has rapidly colonized the continent. This character (in part) was featured on TPAD last year.

Large yellow underwing (Noctua pronuba)

Keeping up the babe theme, here are two Pelagic Cormorant chicks.  This cliff ledge is typical nesting habitat of this species. Look at that neck-fluff.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Crushed Vacuum

10 Sep 2015

Another day dogged by fog, the tenth was.  Birds remain slow.  Weather remains less'n ideal.

 “They walked out in the gray light and stood and saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two birders trembling... Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed binoculars with which to sorrow it.”  
     --Cormac McCarthy, in part

My days on SEFI grow short (for this season) whilst a companion's days grow long--Don Mastwell's 1st island birthday will take place this Sunday night, his 365th spent on the island.  This is exciting, no?

Until then, here are some birds:

Northern Harriers (and other raptors) frequently fly in from the south (as this one did). Why?  No one knows.

This is a Whimbrel.  Any questions?


SCI:   89
SEFI: 86


Sunday, September 13, 2015

On Dasher &c.

9 Sep 2015

  Our eBird checklist might be too embarrassing to share so I'll sharen't.  I added (finally?) "subscribe" gadgets (look over there-->): I wouldn't but you're already here so something must be wrong.  Just roll with it.

  The Lead of Stahl has lessened but remains dense.  Weather forecasts have been difficult to assess, and migration activity on the island remains pitiful. At least we have each other. And an occasional bug. And harbor seals. Witness:

One of two Blue Dashers (Pachydiplax longipennis) who dropped by Twitville for a one-day visit, delighting all observers (not a common creature here).  They are a dainty and most attractive dragonfly.
Need I caption this photograph?  No, I needn't.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Insular Potentates

8 Sep 2015

  Few birds on this day and fewer in the immediate future.  San Clemente has pulled into a hearty lead and the weather has turned poor.  Some new birds were found on this day (many thanks to Don Mastwell, Emberizid Whisperer)--a Clay-colored and Brewer's Sparrow.  To find out how many days go by until our next arrival is recorded, keep reading.

  Until then, potentates:

Commander-in-chief, Major Tietz, accompanying Corporal Curry down the cart path.
Monarch of the Isle.  This lovely butterfly showed up after some strengthy northwest winds.  We've had 2-3 this season.  Strong fliers they are--and they are in trouble.  Plant milkweed, buy organic, and don't use pesticides.

SCI:   89
SEFI: 73

eBird Checklist (they only get worse!)

Wednesday, September 9, 2015


2-7 September

  I'm cheating and posting six days in one--a 12PAD.  It's never been done.  What might happen? We simply can't know.  I've fallen behind and this is the way things must be.

  Birds have been painfully slow but we've had plenty to do with shark watch (one seriously injured elephant seal is our only indication thus far of great white customers), whale surveys, pinniped surveys, shorebirds, gulls, sea-watch... etc. Winds looked real good for lots of bird movement this week but suddenly look not so good.  If you see any migrants please tell them we have many flies and a large forest within which they may live.  Please do high overcast dance.  Thank you.

  Current battle score:
SEFI: 73
SCI:   72

Banding a Cassin's Auklet--this little guy should have fledged by now and should be on its way to eating the same food as Blue Whales (and occasionally being incidental Blue Whale food).

This is a California Gull.

Striped shore crab (Pachygrapsus crassipes) in Jewel Cave

Aulon Islets at sunset: Sugarloaf is on the right and is the favored haunt of The Gannet and other Sulid folk (at present totalling eleven Brown and one Blue-footed Boobies)

Oh! the channel walls are high and steep!
And the channel waves are wild and deep,
And on, and on, they madly sweep,
By Aulone Isle of the Farallones!

On Aulone IsleMilton S. Ray, late 1800s/early 1900s

The time we caught a MacGillavray's Warbler.

Dragonflies are difficult to remove from nets.  This dragon lady didn't make it.

Peregrines like to eat stuff--sometimes they eat Western Gulls (it didn't eat this Western Gull)

Cuteness incarnate.  This photograph is dedicated to Felonious Jive.

Getting late--this was one of the last Pigeon Guillemots still bringing food to chick(s)--they have mostly fledged or failed at this point and the island Alcid show has plummeted.

Paleo-portrait of Don Mastwell (L) who arrived on Saturday to reinforce us.  Yesterday he found a Mourning Dove.

"The gulls are the virtual rulers of birddom on the Farallones, and that they live on the best the islands afford, those long-suffering subjects, the murres, cormorants, and rabbits, will testify."

Western Gull species account, page 82 of The Farallones The Painted World and Other Poems of California, by Milton S. Ray

Western Gull?  Western Gull.

"And they, too, howl like dogs in the freezing storm,
turning and turning from it as if they thought
one naked side could keep the other warm."

Inferno, 3rd Circle

The Zalophus invasion continues.  They own the terrace.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Zalophus Tango

1 September

  The drought worsens.  Land birds are dwindling, winds are increasing, and minimal reprieve is in sight.  San Clemente Island has pulled into the lead.  We are desperate for reinforcements.

  Here I present a portrait of Zalophus.  They are battling (mock-battle? play?) over sleeping space on the marine terrace.  Bizarre and amusing creatures:

  And one of very few land birds on the island this day was another Least Flycatcher.  This is a difficult bird to see on the mainland but they occur here with alarming frequency.  This is the 4th found by yours truly.  I think my GBRS score must be trickling up.

eBird checklist

SCI:   67
SEFI: 63

Saturday, September 5, 2015


31 August

  Peregrines are regulars on the Farallones, both residents and migrants.  They eat whatever birds they can catch, including stuff that we want to see--great photos were taken last year of an Acorn Woodpecker (a rare bird here!) in the talons of a Peregrine.

Peregrine Falcon below North Chute on the north side of Lighthouse Hill.  "Oh look, an ape."
Sometimes Peregrines go after Tufted Puffins--a very difficult target.  We almost never find Puffin pieces that show signs of Peregrine depredation.  This puffin escaped--barely.
eBird checklist for the 31st...26 species...ugh

Ahhh!  We've been surpassed!
SCI:   67
SEFI: 63

Friday, September 4, 2015

Haven't Face, Will Portrait

Sunday, 30 August:

Sometimes, there just aren't very many birds.  This gives one (as if one needed it) an excuse to go tide-pooling.

  One of the best Farallon tide-pools is located in Jewel Cave. The sea life is diverse and lovely to behold but at least one creature was very poorly represented (with only two small individuals): Pisaster sea stars. They are suffering from a brutal affliction called sea star wasting syndrome and have declined dramatically along the west coast.  We also saw an unidentified eel, lots of sculpin-esque characters, and loads of shrimp.  My advice?  Go tide-pooling.

Strawberry anemones (Corynactis californica), a colonial Anthozoan.  Just add cheesecake or toast and butter.

On island marges everywhere,
Save the narrow beaches walled and bare
Of pebbly shingle, shell or sand,
Swayed by the sea tides to and fro,
The dreaming gardens of the ocean grow.
With the wide retreat of the war-like wave
From rock-bound basin, cove, and cave,
What hidden beauty lies revealed
That the foaming tides before concealed!
More verdant than the April mead
That skirts the island's southern strand,
Are these banks and beds of curious weed!
With graceful ferns and subtile moss,
As fine as webs of silken floss,
Sway blooms grotesque of rare hue
Than hang empearled with glistening dew!
And here are myriads of dainty shells,
Asleep on the banks of weedy dells,
Or cast adrift on the sandy bars.
Like thistles huge amid the vines,
Cling the sea urchins of unnumbered spines;
And strewn on rocky bank and bed,
Purple, dark, and richest red,
Lie forlorn, forgotten, fallen stars.

Sea Gardens, Milton S. Ray

Giant green anemone (Anthopleura xanthogrammica)
eBird checklist (worse and worse!)

And the battle rages on:
SEFI: 63
SCI:   55

"The murre's shrill pipe, the puffin's low bassoon..."

Saturday, 29th August

And now a flashing, jeweled tower crowned
These lofty, time-worn granite locks,
Across the circling waters wide
The ever-coming fleet to guide.
And exiles, lone, a loyal band
(Fate wills for every task a crew be found)
Made their abode on this lonely strand,
Alone 'mid jagged, towering rocks,
Wild haunts of screaming sea-bird flocks,
Beside bold seas of restless mood,
In bleak, sea-island solitude.

-Milton S. Ray, Farallon Light, 1855

  SEFI is home to many breeding birds:  Western Gulls are abundant and are joined by a handful of California Gulls which attempt to breed each year (nearly always failing due to Western Gull hostility, hunger, and heinousness). They are joined by Canada Geese (weird), Black Oystercatchers, Brandt's, Pelagic, and Double-crested Cormorants, Common Murres, Pigeon Guillemots, Cassin's and Rhinoceros Auklets, Tufted Puffins, and Ashy and Leach's Storm-Petrels. This makes The Farallones one of California's most diverse seabird breeding colonies approached in diversity only by Prince Island off of San Miguel in Santa Barbara County (pictured below as a guest portrait)--and the largest seabird colony in the coterminous United States.  Common Murres and possibly Tufted Puffins have re-colonized Prince Island in recent years--possibly as a result of their protected refuge on the Farallones NWR.  

  Are piping Murres and bassooning Puffins coming to an island near you?  You should certainly hope so.

Prince Island from San Miguel Island during inclement weather in 2013.  Go here if you can.
  It's always a pleasure to see these birds on land, as my views of most of them (save gulls) are normally distant via scope or at sea on a rocking boat, such as in the below (not distant) photographs taken at sea near the island.

  Below is a portrait of one of Milton Ray's 'sea clowns', at sea; will they successfully and permanently re-colonize Prince Island?  With high counts of adults reaching 190-200 birds this year on SEFI, perhaps the answer is yes.

  Here's a Northern Fulmar, several of which have graced us with their tubular presences.  These are seabirds that breed far to the north (British Columbia and Alaska) but visit the rich waters of the Gulf of the Farallones:

The dwindling eBird checklist

SEFI: 63
SCI:   54

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


Friday, 28th August

  Milton S. Ray collected many an egg from the Farallones and elsewhere in the west.  He also took photographs and wrote poems, including many about this island.  Below is a caption from The Farallones The Painted World and Other Poems of California, Vol. 2.  The photograph is of adult and young Western Gulls perched beside the rocky shore on West End:

"...the dreary solitude
Where towering cliffs ever sullen brood
Beside a barren, desolate sea,
Whose rough surf roars monotonously..."
--excerpted from the poem Destiny

  We must disagree with his assertion that the sea around the Farallones is barren--perhaps "...beside a fecund, desolate sea..."  Less fecund, though, than during Milton's days. Overexploitation and environmental change threaten to make true Ray's poem--the seas filled with plastic and devoid of fish, the skies barren.  A prosaic future.  A foregone future?  One can certainly hope not.

  I'll be adding more poems from Milton Ray over the next few weeks on the island--and not all so bleak!

  Until then, here is a portrait of a Common Yellowthroat:
A young male Common Yellowthroat.  What route did this bird take to get here?  Where is it from?  I wish that we could know.
And here's a commissioned portrait of a bull California sea lion:

"I own North Landing."

The drought's our eBird checklist of only 27 species.

SEFI: 63
SCI:   54

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Die Brücke Nach Nirgendwo

Thursday, 27th August

Here we have a favorite Zalophus (California sea lion) perch:

Representative Ted Stevens (R-Farallonia) helped secure funding for this bridge

  They fight over it and it's nearly always occupied.  Why do Zalophus like bridging to nowhere? Difficult to say but perhaps it will be easy to say once I finish reading The Natural History and Behavior of the California Sea Lion by Richard S. Peterson and George A. Bartholomew.

Here are some scientists working with a Cassin's Auklet chick:

Boo Curry(L), Cassin's Auklet(M), and Eva Gruber(R) performing the science
  They are weighing him/her to track rate of growth (= are its parents finding enough food?) and placing a leg band to allow tracking of future reproductive success, longevity, etc. Monitoring breeding success and survival by marking birds in this way is fundamental to our understanding of the basic biology and life history of birds--and allows us to track changes that result from changing climate.

  The nesting seabird season is just about to wrap up with only a handful of Alcid nests and Ashy Storm-Petrel nests still being monitored--and we will soon lose Eva Gondwana and gain one Don Mastwell.  A worthy trade?  Too early to tell.

eBird checklist--not too shabby but the drought approacheth...

Battle Score...
SEFI: 63
SCI:   54