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

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