Archive for May, 2010

Tern is a very small island, so you’d think it would get a bit claustrophobic at times, but its pretty hard to feel that way when surrounded by the vastness of the ocean. Especially when that ocean is fully explorable if you hop on a boat or slap on a snorkel mask and fins. But the weather does always permit such activities, and neither does our work schedule. So in the free time after work hours we are usually limited to shorter activities such as: reading, taking the trikes for a spin (picture), pretending to be photographers, sunbathing, jumping off the dolphin (see picture), watching movies, shooting pool, playing ping pong or foozball, playing guitar (the Tern version of Wagon Wheel was a favorite for a while), or just blasting tunes and dancing in the kitchen. Every now and then we get into a wild game of Spoons or build a fort in the living room. There is always some way to find entertainment, and we’ve got it pretty good out here.


Semi-synchronized dolphin jumping.

Cookies and tea in the fort.

The “town of tern” consists of a handful of buildings on the southeast end of the island. The warehouse, the barracks, the tractor shed, and the boathouse. I’ll talk a little about the barracks since that’s our home. It’s a termite-cockroach-ant-insectofyourchoice infested building raised on concrete blocks and steadily rotting and falling apart. The front door doesn’t fully shut due to cracks in the concrete around the frame. In fact, the concrete on the deck actually fell through (unfortunately for Paula, as she went down with it) a few months ago because of the rusted internal rebar that eventually disintegrated. The salt eats and rots everything out here. And if its wood, the termites gobble it up  until its there is nothing left but a flimsy exoskeleton that occasionally spits out termite turds – a good reason to always wash dishes directly from the cupboard. That said, the place is actually quite lovely with beautiful paintings all around and loads of dead things to decorate with. Biologists love to have dried baby sea turtles and frigatebird skulls as household accessories. Plus the geckos that race around the walls also provide a nice touch and entertainment value when they fall from the ceiling (though they are yet another reason to always wash dishes before use… gecko turds on the baking sheet or cutting board doesn’t taste so good). It’s nice to not feel completely indoors when in the house. The rain coming through the roof also adds to that effect. Though anytime there is a roof over my head, leaky or not, I feel I’m living like a queen.

Tearing up the rotting/termite eaten deck.

Kitchen art...you can see the pool table and biology area in the background.

My Room

The other side of my room... with Alex's fish paintings.

The food situation on Tern is also worth mentioning. And I must give the disclaimer that the food is actually not as bad as I make it sound. We have TONS of food and spices and gadgets to cook it with, its just that some of the edibles are a little scary. The policy is to eat the oldest foods first, which usually means the freezer burned chicken or the rusted canned good that expired in 2004. If its even marginally edible, we eat it. The sauce is brown when its supposed to be red- that’s OK! The canned mandarins have white freckles – it’ll make your stomach stronger! The sour cream from the freezer looks like sand with consistency of milk – I’ll have another serving please! We had a shipment of food last week! Hadn’t had one since March. I can’t even express how nice it is to have some fruit that isn’t saturated in corn syrup. And some veggies that don’t taste like a tin can. I realize that I shouldn’t be complaining at all, considering that food is food and no one is starving out here. I’m just a ridiculously spoiled girl from California, used to eating my locally grown fresh organic produce. But I have adapted well out here, and I have to say, I haven’t had a meal yet that wasn’t deeeelicious. We take turns cooking every night (expect Sundays…that everyones’ day off from everything), and the plates are always licked clean. And there is almost always dessert. And about 10 cups of tea consumed per person per day. Usually herbal for me, except I stay away from the chamomile tea bags that smell like mildew (because they have probably rotted).

Just a small section of the Food Room.

Any excuse for cake.


Water and electricity are things we like to conserve out here. There are 5 tanks of water, not all full, and some leaky. So we do limit our use. Most people only shower once a week (not too necessary when you jump in the ocean a lot) and laundry is usually done every 2 weeks. We have a high efficiency washer now! The only thing water isn’t spared on is washing food wrappers (anything that has a trace of food must be washed and hung to dry to prevent bugs from taking over the house). When mopping the entire barracks we usually only change the water once. And it usually looks like mud when we’re done (so I’m never really sure how clean the house actually gets on cleaning day – which is every Thursday- though it does look cleaner). We have solar panels on the roof which provide our energy, so we get yelled at frequently for any lights left on and we can’t do things like run the coffee machine and the toaster at the same time. But thank goodness we have those things to begin with! I dont drink much coffee, but I am thankful the coffee drinkers here can get their fixes.

Alright… that’s enough for now! Congratulations if you managed to read all of that!

Jumping off a sand bar on Disappearing Island.


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I’ve slacked a lot on the blog lately… the end of my time on Tern is coming up really fast (less than a month!), so I’ve been spending more time enjoying the sights outside and less time looking into the computer screen inside.

Albatross chick banding has begun and we’ve been wandering around the colony plucking the featheriest chickens from the ground and furnishing them with our finest, fanciest jewelry- compliments of USFWS.  Yesterday we got a bit of rain mid-banding which cast a lovely double rainbow over the island. The chicks get pretty excited when it rains and simultaneously start flapping their monkey arms, which is quite adorable, and some even try to eat the raindrops, which is even more adorable.

In other news, the sooties have started using my head as a landing pad… and taking a ride through my plots with me.

For those of you who don’t use facebook, here is a link to where I keep all of my Tern Island photos: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2525082&id=3214364&l=ac288cf29c

Hopefully coming soon: snorkeling adventures and what life is like on a remote island (birds aside).

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The Gauntlet

While walking through my red-footed booby plots today, I noticed that my normal stumbly-toe-stubbing-ankle-spraining-wobble of a walk has turned into an elaborate ballet of tip-toey-twisty-zig-zagging. Complete with frantic arm waving.

Every other day I have to weave through a maze of bushes to check the reproductive status of my birds. Lately the weave has become much tighter with sooty terns nesting on every square foot of the ground. To make navigational matters more difficult, the eggs are perfectly camouflaged. This wouldn’t be a problem if the adults stayed on their eggs, but they have attitudes similar to that of small yappy dogs and launch themselves into full attack mode when anything comes too close. Though they do jump off the egg, they won’t move too far from the nest and are limited to attacking my feet (toes are preferred targets). The birds that have picked a nest site, but not yet dropped an egg, prefer to target the back of my head (hence the arm waving).  All of this commotion occurs with deafening and disorienting screaming from both the cloud of birds around my head and the gangs at my feet (think Alfred Hitchcock’s horror film, The Birds). So it is not too surprising that I have already accidently stepped on one egg while trying to avoid stepping on the egg of another bird and simultaneously receiving sharp blows to the occipital lobe. Luckily these are very small birds, so the hits aren’t really painful… just unpleasant considering the pointy bill. And thankfully my egg cracking guilt can be assuaged by the fact that sooty terns breed like rabbits, so the occasional casualty can be replaced by its producer in a matter of days.

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Good Night Moon

If there were a computer that could hook into my brain and pull up the top 5 phrases I have most repeatedly used in the last 5 years of my life, it would probably list as follows:

1) Oh (insert cuss word here)!!

2) I love you.

3) I’m hungry.

4) I have to pee.

5) That is the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen in my life.

From this you can deduce that: I am often surprised (by accidently hurting myself, dropping things, etc) and react with profanity, that I love a lot of people, that I eat a lot of food, that I have an overactive bladder, and that I enjoy sunsets and I am prone to exaggeration (I believe I inhereted this from my mother). Each time I see a sunset, I’m convinced it’s more beautiful than the last, but most of the time its like comparing gemstones. Is carnelian more beautiful than jasper? Hard to say.

I could say that this sunset is the most beautiful one I’ve seen in my life, but I’m sure I’ll say the same thing tomorrow.

This black-footed albatross was enjoying the sunset too.


And of course, it may be debatable that what follows a sunset is even more arresting to the eye (though for some reason I spend significantly less time enjoying this particular spectacle… why is that? Must be busy sleeping or typing up blog entries).

Here I find it appropriate to borrow a quote that a wonderful person (that’s you Adam) shared with me a while back:

“Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would become religious overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead the stars come out every night, and we watch television.” -Paul Hawken

Or instead of watching television at night… we go outside and play with our boss’s camera…

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