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. 

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