Saturday, June 30, 2012

Lose a Camera, Gain a Hawaiian Gull

Michelle and I woke up with the sun yesterday, and got our nest-checks done in record time so as to be able to go on a whale watch with the rest of the island at 10. It was a beautiful early morning, cool and cloudy, perfect nest-check weather, that quickly deteriorated into a freezing rain shower. We bundled up in multiple layers, rain-pants and Muck boots, boarded the Gulf Challenger, and headed off east, towards the middle of the Gulf of Maine. In spite of the rain and fog the view of the Isles of Shoals, as they receded from sight, was beautiful. The fog lay thick and low over the water, enshrouding the islands in a golden-blue haze and each breath was a fresh wave of salty sea-spray and clean rain-smell.

My camera, however, didn't fare so well. Attempts at photographing Wilson's Storm-petrels (Oceanites oceanicus) left it thoroughly soaked and, as I discovered later, out of commission. In fact most of today morning was mostly spent in a haze of panic, trying to hastily google “Wet Canon Rebel XS” and procure dry rice from the kitchen without giving off the impression of being more insane than the impression of loopiness that my helmet-wearing gull-poop-covered self has already produced.

The best photograph I could get of a Wilson's Storm-petrel, the fidgety little swallows of the sea

My camera, in rice

Well, at least we saw about eight (according to Michelle) Minke and Fin whales. And got all of our nest-checks done before the rain set in. And my camera should work – I turned it on after it had lain in the rice for a while and the LCD flashed on. However, I don't know if anything else is damaged and can't test it till I can get hold of some lens-cleaning fluid to get rid of all the rice grain powder. Thus the rest of the photographs for this post are, unfortunately, mobile phone photographs, most of them taken with my crappy Nokia 6350.

Today was final exam day for the Evolution class and presentation day for Animal Behavior. Thus we, the interns, thought it would be nice to host a Hawiian-themed dinner and decorate the Commons, just to cheer everyone up a bit after a rigorous three-hour final. Well, it was mostly the seal interns' brainchild, but Michelle and I pitched in, making Hawaiian-shirt wearing gulls, picking flowers and arranging them and sneakily taking photographs of Hal Weeks, the Assistant Director of SML, in a purple squid hat.
My festive gull
A flowery snail, photo and snail courtesy of Michelle Moglia
And a festive seal
Picking flowers with gull-stick, only on Appledore

Hal Weeks, in his squid hat
There was quite a bit of excitement as we were making the decorations in Laighton last night when two work interns walked in with the news that there was a dead Harbor Seal pup off of Larus Ledge. The Seal Interns popped into action, asking for specifics, hurrying out to grab flashlights and inform people and getting hold of gators to bring the seal back, while Michelle and I could only manage to stare at each other in distress – for it was a baby seal that we'd seen, alive and happy, while conducting nest-checks a day ago! It cast something of a damper on the decoration-preparation festivities and, tired after having woken up at sunrise, we went to bed early.

However, the grand Hawaiian banquet went off well today, and the nice sunny day, quirky accents at data-entry and ice-cream sandwiches for dessert lifted my spirits considerably. Working in the field, especially with gull chicks who are liable to death by starvation, cold and predation, exposes one quite starkly to the fact of death and also helps one come to terms with it. Life ends, it happens, and since it can't be prevented, there is no use crying over a once alive and fluffy chick – one can only hope to learn from it; learn how the population works, what kills the chicks, whether hatch order determines survival, whether the chicks of sub-adult gulls die more than those of adult gulls and other such cool questions that we are only just beginning to glean the answers to!

The Commons, looking festive

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Snickers, Spaghetti and Sunfish

The past few days have seen a turmoil of changes, challenges and chocolate. The change: Brendan having to leave the island early because of health trouble; the challenge: suddenly having to monitor 120 nests, instead of 60; and the chocolate: the grand arrival of Dave's much-awaited package containing three hefty packets of mini-Snickers.

Dave's "care" package
The loss of my co-intern was, to put it mildly, not easy to deal with. I was worried for him, because he was feeling really sick, worried for his nests, that went unmonitored for three days, and worried about myself, for it was hard to walk into the RIFS lab and see his tackle box sitting there, ready to go, and knowing that he wasn't here anymore to pick it up, don his poncho, wish me a cheery “good luck out there today!” and head out again just to finish his nest-checks in record time and beat me yet again. Low morale, demotivation, loneliness, call it what you will, the day he left I found myself not even done with half of my usual nest-checks at 11 o' clock, unable to will myself to go any faster for what was the use without any competition? 

But, what can I say, the gulls, they just have this amazing charm about them that greatly helped dispel my sad feelings. The highlight of my day was when I was checking one of Brendan's nests near PK lab and saw a 15 day old A chick that hadn't been seen in a while. I jumped into the poison ivy, fended off the parent who still managed to leave a few unpleasant, angry red nicks on the back of my leg, and grabbed the struggling chick and ran off with it to the bench where I'd left my equipment. As I was trying to get the calipers to open up, the chick started vomiting. OK, that was normal, but what made me exclaim loudly and frantically call over Lauren, Christine and Andrea, who were just walking into PK, was the fact that the vomit consisted of, well, spaghetti. Yep, you read it right, the chick barfed up pasta. Made. My. Day. And the most intriguing thing about this episode is that we haven't had pasta on Appledore for a while, so where the parent gull got hold of some remains a mystery.

15-day-old chick vomit = spaghetti!

Another exciting thing happening on the island was the dissection of a giant Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola). Sadly, the first time that it was attempted, the fish was frozen solid and needed to be thawed further before an incision could be made in its thick, rough skin. 

Frozen Mola mola
An attempt at thawing the Mola
Thus the dissection was put off and when they finally got around to cutting it open, I was out on Norwegian checking nests. I think I deserve good gull intern credit for continuing with my nest-checks even after receiving two excited Mola dissection texts, but I wish I had abandoned my nests that one time because the inside of the Mola looks really cool in these photos taken by Kayla. Moreover, and to everyone's surprise, the stomach of the Mola, largely thought to be a jellyfish eater, contained small fish! 

Mola innards, photo courtesy of Kayla Garcia
Fish from the Mola's stomach, photo courtesy of Kayla Garcia
Never a dull moment on Appledore and I was kept busy, and my spirits kept relatively high. Kate Bemis and Andrew Swafford, TAs for Evolution and Marine Biodiversity, pitched in and helped me with nest-checks, making the process so much more efficient that I had a hard time keeping up with the unfamiliar nest numbers under the steady stream of squirming chicks.

And today, Michelle Moglia, a friend who took Field Ornithology with me earlier in the month, arrived, to step into Brendan's shoes, and the boat she was on also bore Dave's glorious snicker-filled package. It thunderstormed and rained gloriously in the morning and then cleared up marvelously in the evening. I introduced Michelle to the joys of data entry and we ate cheesecake for dessert. It was a good day.


I wrote all of that yesterday and then didn't get around to posting it and then I made an exciting discovery today so I had to write this and hence the three dashes.

Today Michelle and I were out checking nests in Norweigan when she goes, “Um, B chick leg.” She'd found a chick leg with a blue ring on it! And while it is definitely sad to know that one of the chicks got eaten, it was still an exciting find because we could tell from the blue ring that it was a B chick that got eaten! Unfortunately, I couldn't quite pinpoint which B chick but I have a hunch that it was 12H225's...

B chick leg!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Crazy, the Adorable and the Crazy Adorable

Things have been slowing down on Appledore. Well, not so much slowing down as becoming hardwired into a daily routine with nothing particularly new or exciting to report. My feet now take me to all of my 60 nests of their own accord every morning and more than once I have caught myself thinking about the most random things – from Starbucks coffee to snow-covered Himalayan peaks – while reaching down to a wrangle a hefty 9-day old chick out of a tight crevice.

Also, over the month of so of checking these nests, I've come to know the gulls and their chicks pretty well. For example, I now duck instinctively the second I step on this one ledge in Norwegian because the male from nest 12H219 will poop on me right then. In fact, some of these gulls/chicks/nests are notorious enough to have earned the high honor of being named by me.

Specimen, the first: 12H283, The Punching Machine. Ever since its babies were still in eggs, 12H283 took a distinct dislike to the humanoid figure in a green jacket and silver bike helmet that came to creep on its little homey home everyday. Then, one day, the humanoid crossed the line when it actually stooped down and picked up its newly-hatched chick. It was time for attack! On full defense mode, this gull loves to punch holes into the back of my helmet and will not relent even after five minutes of incessant helmet pounding; not till I beat a retreat, resignedly putting down a zero yet again for number of chicks found at 12H283.

The Punching Machine's handiwork on my helmet, a month into the internship

Then there is the Siren, the bird from 12H228. I have a favorite bleeding spot – a good spot to measure and bleed chicks – on the rocks above its nest and, understandably, it gets upset every time I walk past to either collect or return a chick. But even when I'm sitting down and calmly trying to poke a needle into a chick's vein – not any of his chicks, mind you, I haven't seen either of them since their respective first days on Planet Earth – this bird takes offense and flies back and forth over me, repeatedly, almost rhythmically, emitting distended yeow calls and shrieks but never once making contact; like a persistent, annoying fire-truck siren. 

Next bird up is Snapper. Must say, it deserves credit for its intelligence and amazing dedication to its offspring. In the good old days I had to literally lift it up off of its eggs with my foot; now I have to sprint up a good 15 meters of overgrown, poison-ivied trail and even then I fail to take it by surprise because it moves its chicks every day! Sometimes they are around the nest, sometimes they are in the long grass further down the trail and, of late, it has taken to enticing its three strapping young fluffballs up a thorny-bush covered rock, forcing me to bush-whack and only narrowly avoid having my eyes skewered by inch-long thorns. And, as if this weren't enough, the insane bird snaps! He loves the sight of my ankles and every time I move my feet, it takes a hearty snap at them, creating a pretty pattern of red lines all over the barely-covered-in-sock skin.

Speaking of crazy biters, another gull, the one at nest 12H66 loves to go for my wrists. It had the bright idea of building its nest behind a thick pipe that essentially blocks it from flying out when I approach it. Trapped behind the pipe, it keeps its eyes fixed firmly on my right hand, or perhaps just the one pulsating vein on my right wrist, and will not shy away from executing impressive full body jumps to leave oftentimes bloody gashes on my arm. At the rate that it's going, I'm just a tad concerned that people back on the mainland will think I cut my wrists.

And its not just the adult gulls that are crazy. Apparently craziness is a heritable trait in gulls and can express itself as a crazy death-wish in their chicks. Case in point: the chicks at nest 12H289. I bet my stree out than them at each encounter for I have to keep sprinting over jagged rocks to catch them before they get snapped up by a Great Black-backed Gull or tumble over the edge of a cliff and into the ocean. Apparently anything, even a violent death, is preferable to being picked up by a human.

These and other gulls keep things lively around here, and you only realize how much when you are stuck indoors on a sweltering 32 degrees Celsius day like today, typing up a blog post when you'd much rather be out in the field checking up on, and battling your wits against those of, Snapper & Co.

However, the sunny weather does have it's advantages. For example, when you're sitting in the RIFS Lab, typing away and your co-intern, who's watching Arrested Development, goes from laughing hysterically to gesticulating hysterically and you look out of the window to see these adorable tykes lounging in the sun –

Chick preening 
Chick naptime

Friday, June 15, 2012

Duct-taped Hats and E87

It has been a fairly exciting three days on Appledore since my last post. I'll try to go in the chronological order this time, instead of starting with today and then traveling back in time, although I made an exciting discovery today. But more about that later.

On Tuesday, Brendan, Phil, Tricia (“Tree”) and I went over to White and Seavey islands to help the Haywards and the Tern Interns to conduct an island-wide census of tern nests. And by island-wide I mean an area about the size of a football field, though, of course, rockier. I was amazed to find that, after tallying up the numbers at the end of the survey, we found that there are 2044 nests on the island this year! And apparently this is a decrease – there were over 2400 last year. Just by eyeballing it, it looked like around 3 to 5 terns could nest within one Herring Gull territory!

The censusing process itself was quite an experience. Preparations involved duct-taping socks to our hats, for the terns dive-bomb but their beaks are too fragile and can break on bike-helmets, and filling our pockets with popsicle sticks, which we used to mark the nests as we counted them.

The headgear, on Brendan
All eleven of us lined up on one side of the island and then walked across it, shouting out the egg number for every nest we encountered as the birds rose up in a cloud and dived at us, their sharp beaks poking holes in the duct tape and their machine-gun calls filling our ears. And then suddenly, for about the space of a breath, they went dead silent. I looked up from the nest I was shoving a popsicle stick under and saw the whole colony of terns rise up and fly away from us, towards the water... and then turn right around and come rushing back at us, machine gun noises louder than ever before! It was the most unreal experience, as if someone had pressed the mute button by accident and then, apologizing and fumbling, accidentally turned the volume way up high in an attempt to unmute; a common enough incident, I suppose, except not in the natural world. And of course, there is a term for this behavior –“dread flight”. Apparently, gulls do it to and I dearly wish a Bald Eagle would fly over the island so I could film a gull “dread flight”.

Terns in the air during the tern census
Wednesday dawned cold and rainy. But of course, nests need to be checked in all weather short of a hurricane. The wet chicks looked pitiful with their wet down plastered down (hehe) over their puny little bodies and the pink knobbly skin over their spines poking out on their backs. I could easily tell the “good” parents from the “bad” ones from the degree of wetness of their chicks, and, as I found out today, some of the chicks unlucky enough to have very “bad” parents who didn't do a good job of sheltering them, didn't make it. Interestingly enough, all of the dead chicks I found today were either B or C chicks (as opposed to A chicks) further corroborating the prevalent idea that hatching early gives gull chicks a distinct advantage.

Thankfully today was, is, bright and sunny and I was able to take a zodiac out here to Smuttynose island and find some more Herring Gulls to conduct playbacks on. I scoured the trail leading to the east end of the island but the area was covered with Great Black-backed Gulls, and after two hours of searching, I had only found two Herring nests. It was hot and my backpack was heavy so I headed back to the “center”, dropped off everything but my speakers, notebook and binoculars near where Island Archaeology students were digging for artifacts and bones, and decided to stroll out towards the west of the island which I had never seen before. There were more Black-backed Gulls, yeowing their low, almost cow-like yeows and diving low over me. A few rock hops into walking along the coast, however, the monotony of Black-backed yeows was broken by a sharper, shriller yeow that made me reach into my backpack to check if I'd left my iPod on. Nope, I hadn't, it was a live Herring Gull and, what's more, I realized as it flew out of the bushes lining the coast, it had a bright green field-readable band on its leg! E87. Huzzah for the second banded gull I've spotted on Smuttynose this summer! I looked up its history in the Gull Database when I got back to Appledore and apparently it was banded on Sandpiper Beach as a chick in 2006 and had only ever been re-sighted once, off the Isles of Shoals. So it's exciting to know that it has returned to the isles and is nesting on Smuttynose!

A video grab of E87 returning to his nest
The more I think about it, and the more questions I get asked at the dinner table (like, what exactly are you doing with all this data?), I realize that even though these gulls that I'm studying are so common, so (relatively) easy to observe, we yet know so little about them – for example, we still can't explain why E87 ended up on Smuttynose instead of Appledore – because they are just so complex and just so... alive! It's hard to classify them, to set up a cause and effect model for their behavior, to take into account all of the factors that determine what they do. I mean, how many of can explain our own actions? I can't really explain why I love working with birds that try to kill me everyday; I just know that I do!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Chicks, (the Lack of) Swallows, Contrails and more Chicks!

Apparently gulls don't have Sundays. Who knew. Of course, I had anticipated such a thing but, being a tad lazy, and with Dave being miles away, I started nest checks at a leisurely 8 AM. 10 AM, Sunday brunch time, rolled around and I was still out on the rocky coast with three more chicks to bleed and measure before I would be done... with barely half of my nest checks. I dashed off a frantic text to Kayla and Brendan asking them to save me a pancake or two – for food disappears quickly on Appledore – processed the three adorable little day-old fuzzballs, earning a few nicks on my helmet in the process and a half hour later was finally back in the RIFS lab with eight new blood samples rattling away happily in my makeshift tackle box blood-kit.

After brunch, it was more nest checks and even adding a few late nests to the list, racking up the total number of nests I monitor to 59. Let me tell you, running over precarious rocks with a little ball of Herring Gull fluff clutched to your chest as an angry parent slams repeatedly into your helmet is definitely the greatest adrenalin rush, ever. It was a beautiful, sunny day and after taking twenty or so particularly hard hits from one of the gulls at nest 12 H 283, it was time for a break. I just lay down on a nice, flat rock on Pebble Beach and soaked up the warm sun, the sound of the waves crashing on the rocks and the gulls mewing to their chicks almost lulling me to sleep. It is quickly becoming my favourite rock on the island.

The rest of the afternoon was spent trying to catch Barn Swallows under Palmer-Kinne (P-K) Lab for Brendan's independent project. His research this summer involves putting PIT (Passive Integrated Transponder) tags on the swallows and antennas around their cup-shaped mud nests to record the amount of time each parent spends at the nest, feeding the chicks and such. Basically, every time a PIT tagged swallow lands on a rigged nest, the antenna records the individual's PIT tag number and thus enables us to track each individual bird's activity around the nest. But, to be able to do this, the swallows need to be caught and banded and, unfortunately for us, the little insectivores have amazing eyesight. Brendan set up supposedly "invisible" mist-nets around the entire sketchy underside of P-K but they still eluded us.

Brendan, trying to cordon off the underside of P-K with plastic sheets to try to get the swallows to fly into the nets.

Sketchy underide of P-K, rigged with mist nets

Mostly, we just ended up lounging on the deck, watching planes fly by, their contrails making funny patterns in the sky and eliciting a sarcastic remark from Josh Moyer, the island coordinator, “Now don't work yourselves too hard!” Hey, it was Sunday.

Funny contrail patterns 
After dinner it was time for data entry. But I got very distracted by the Great Black-backed Gull chick outside Laighton being adorable! I spent a good twenty minutes crouching in the grass as it got fed and then jumped around a bit, flapping its stubby “wings”.

Wow, do we really belong to the same species?
I can fly! Maybe!
A portrait of Laighton chick
But we eventually got all of the data entered and are now watching the third episode of Sherlock, season 1. Best. Show. Ever.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Daily Dabbling into the Herring Gull's World...

Life is quickly falling into a sort of routine. Alarm at 5 30, crawl out of sleeping bag at 5 45 and wash face, grab some pre-breakfast cereal and check e-mail, gather up blood kit and callipers, walk to the first nest and be jerked fully awake by the first yeow of the day. The first call always reminds me of Niko Tinbergen's words from The Herring Gull's World

"The voice of a Herring Gull is wonderfully melodious. Of course I am biased, but I think there is no finer bird-call than the clear, sturdy, resounding cries of the Herring Gulls, carried away by the wind along the wide beach or over the undulating dune..."

 And indeed, having worked with these magnificent birds for over two weeks now has exponentially increased my appreciation for them. They vigorously defend their nests, successfully maintain a pair bond for a whole season, feed or receive regurgitated food from the other and care for their fluffy little chicks for over a month till they turn into awkward gangly mini versions of themselves and can fly away; all of this managed by a system of complex visual and vocal communication. And, about four summers later, most of those chicks, if they survive, come back to the exact same island, to within the exact same patch of land, to have their own chicks!

I am only an insignificant spectator in their lives, someone who comes by once a day to pick up their chicks and take them away for a while. They yeow at me, dive-bomb and poop on me, but it's all over in about the ten minutes that it takes me to take a blood sample, measure and weigh their chicks. And it is with this this thought that I try to start each day, to treat the birds with respect and recognize that although I am trying to study them and monitor their population, when it comes down to it, what matters the most is their lives, their magnificent, tough lives, and not just my own research.

A just-weighed Herring Gull chick

Laighton chick!  -- Great Black-backed Gull with chick outside Laighton

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Gulls and Guillemots, Eggs and Chicks, Playbacks and Nest Checks. Oh, and a few Flowers.

What slaves we are to weather! And by “we” I mean every single living being on this planet. Our ancestors were spot on in worshipping the Weather Gods for, as this last storm on the Appledore demonstrated to me, if by anything at all, everything is pre-destined by weather. Three days of continuous rain, 50 km/h winds and at least 7 foot waves wiped out 30% of our Herring Gull nests – a whole season's reproductive effort annihilated in the five seconds it must have taken for a wave to sweep in or a gust of wind to blow around the edge of a rock. It was a depressing sight, the banks of washed up seaweed and swirling sea foam where nests 12H290 and 12H291 should have been. Even worse was data entry yesterday where Brendan and I had to “kill” the failed nests nests, i.e., complete their “nest summaries” with 0s in the “Number of Chicks” and “Chicks Fledged” fields.

However, it's not all bad news. Many of the surviving nests are now brimming with newly-hatched, adorable, peeping balls of fluff. And as this new wave of life washes over the island, our intern duties have come to include taking blood samples from, measuring, and keeping track of each and every chick. To make it even more of a challenge, Dave left the island today meaning that we are now officially “on our own”. And it's actually quite exciting! 

Chicks A and B belonging to "the nest near Laighton"
After saying goodbye to Dave in the morning, we set off to do our nest checks and quickly discovered that, in Brendan's words, “the pooping was brutal today”. I had four new chicks to bleed and every time I attempted to grab a chick from or return a chick to a nest, the parents dumped their bodily fluids quite generously on me and liberally used my helmet for anger management. But holding the little gull chicks and knowing that, with such awesome parents to defend them, they had a significant head start in life, made it all more than worth it. And somehow, for that one hour that I spent in the gull colony trying to do things on my own since Dave was no longer there for assistance, my, erm, “considerable” fear of needles, completely disappeared. Learning curve successfully ascended! At least for today.

The rest of the day was spent walking from one marked nest to another, setting up a video camera and speakers, hitting record and play respectively, and then running away to hide in the bushes for 15 minutes while the speaker spewed two randomly selected playbacks of yeow calls that I constructed from recordings and the target bird reacted to them. There were a few mishaps where I forgot to hit record, or the camera tipped over mid-playback or the iPod decided to shuffle music started blasting Death Cab for Cutie outside K-house, but overall the experimental set up has worked out pretty well. Thus far, I've completed about 5 nests and it looks like I'll be able to get at least 10 to 15 in before all the chicks hatch (for I can't perform playbacks after the gulls have stopped incubating since then they just fly away from the nest instead of staying put and responding to playbacks). My research question has changed and evolved quite a bit since my first day at SML, but more about that in a later post, hopefully. 

Part of the experimental setup
Last evening, as the storm began to lift and the last rays of the setting Sun peeked through the purple clouds, a few of us went hunting for a Black Guillemot nest. For several weeks now we had seen a few guillemots suspiciously fly in and out from a particular area on the coast of Broad Cove. And sure enough, after a little searching and poking intro crevasses with Captain Zak's awesome light-tube-camera-thing, we found a neat cluster of four eggs wedged under a rock.

View from Broad Cove, after the storm
Brendan trying to "flash-find" a gilly nest
Captain Zak with his light-tube-camera-thing
The light-tube-camera-thing showing us four gilly eggs!
The nest
And then we turned around and enjoyed a very purple sunset. Oh and, earlier in the day yesterday, on our way back from nest checks, we had spotted three Atlantic Puffins (Fratercula arctica) bobbing in the water off of Broad Cove and gotten a good look through a scope. A good couple of days overall. 

A very purple sunset
And, to end what seems to be a very disjointed post, as I read over it again, that I am too tired to fix, here are some pictures of all the beautiful flowers that have started to bloom around the island. I have the gulls to thank for these; the photos are a product of running down trails and diving into bushes in an attempt to get out of a bird's sight before the playback starts up, and then sitting motionless for over fifteen minutes. I've learnt to overcome the fear of it getting pooped on and tote my camera along everywhere. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Rained In Goodbyes

Normally, I'm all for rain. The smells, the sounds and just the kind of undefinable sweetly melancholic feeling it stirs up inside one. But it has been raining for three consecutive days on Appledore now (and is going to rain all day tomorrow too) and the itch to get out of the Commons is killing me.

The view from the Commons. Or, rather, the lack of a view.
Of course, it didn't help that the storm came a-calling just when I was finally getting around to setting up playback experiments. I got two nests done on Friday, was feeling very good about it and excited to continue and get a ton of nests tested before the chicks hatch, and then I woke up on Saturday to iPod-killing weather that dashed all my dreams in the mud.

However, I have to admit, the weather is still beautiful. I went to check my nests yesterday when my antsy-ness got the better of me, and, after finishing up on Pepperell cove, a bit of rocky coast on the western shore, I just stood there for a couple of minutes, looking out over the sea, getting buffeted by gusts of sea-spray laden wind and watching the gulls swoop and soar gracefully with what looked like sheer exhilaration. One of those “this-is-why-I-am-here-and-nowhere-else” moments.

In other news, today is the last day of Field Ornithology and most of the class leaves today. We... were not able to break the Course Bird List record.. but we got really close and saw some amazing birds in the process. In the end, it is how much you appreciate, enjoy and understand the birds rather than how many birds you can brag about having seen. This was, hands down, one of the best classes I have ever taken, anywhere, and all of the people who are leaving today will be missed. However, I promise to keep this blog updated with news of how the gulls are doing (let me know if you have any specific nests you'd like me to keep track of!) and, very soon, post lots of adorable photos of fluffy, peeping chicks (If this weather lets up... grr...)!

Field Ornithology, 2012