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.

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