Archive for April, 2011

Update on the “shared housing” situation! The Xantus’s murrelet seems to have won out against the burrowing owl:

Xantus's murrelet! As seen from the back-side.

We’ve been doing murrelet monitoring lately, so I’ve got a few more pictures of the little dudes sitting on their eggs…and one on a chick! Can’t see the chick though, just the hatched egg. I probably won’t get a chick photo as the chicks follow mom and dad out to sea two days after hatching! How can such a tiny creature handle the open ocean that soon?! Even baby murrelets are bad-ass. (I’m sure one of my co-workers has a chick photo, so I’ll try to provide one later).

nesting under a buckwheat bush

nesting in a crevice - hatched egg shell to the right

Xantus's murrelets lay two eggs 🙂

depredated egg - it is not uncommon for eggs to become mouse food 😦

And more evidence of the murrelet’s hardcoreness:

cholla spine in the face! OUCH!

If you’ve ever been stuck by cholla (which i like to call “the devil’s plant”), you can probably appreciate how much it sucks for that bird. Murrelets are clearly tough birds, evicting owls and withstanding cholla and such… but check out this Cassin’s Auklet!


I dunno… they both seem pretty gangsta to me.


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So lately we’ve been doing lots of work involving deer mice. They are a native and endemic sub-species and the only rodent on the island – thankfully there are no rats! Last month we helped out Helen Fitting, a park biologist, with mark-recapture studies of the mice and then more recently we’ve been doing some mouse density studies for Sarah’s research using track tubes. It turns out that I LOVE deer mice. Or maybe I just love Santa Barbara Island deer mice. They are painfully cute and endearingly lacking in proper flight responses. After releasing them it is not uncommon to have one run up your leg looking for shelter or sit in your lap to groom itself before casually scampering off. They will even groom their faces immediately after you’ve punch a tag in their ear while you still have them scruffed by the neck. I imagine them to be a bit vain actually. Also – and this is probably a factor of the incredible density of mice on the island – it’s difficult to walk around without nearly stepping on the little guys. They just don’t seem to know where to run or if they should run at all. It’s not surprising that the owls are well fed these days.

A little juvy mouser hangin' out on my sleeve post tagging. (Photo by Helen Fitting)

Boys can wear earrings too. (Photo by Sarah Thomsen)

Okay, so we totally staged this picture of the mouse escaping the trap, but look how cute it is!!! (Photo by Sarah T.)

A scraggly cross-eyed mouser sitting in a coreopsus plant. (Photo by Helen Fitting)

Sarah setting up a track tube.

Next day results! Little tracks smudged in the graphite lining the tube.

In addition, we helped Helen catch some island night lizards (an endemic and threatened species) in transects with cover boards, which are kinda like lizard condos. It was a pretty exciting task as we were crunched on time and ended up having to catch them in warm weather… which meant the lizards were fast! The only way to catch them in such conditions is to move at the speed of light. Once the boards are lifted they run for the grass faster than you can blink. On one capture attempt I was so full of adrenaline that I didn’t even realize I had grabbed a mouse instead of a lizard (my hands worked faster than my brain). Upon realizing my mistake I screamed like a little girl (which was both ironic and embarrassing considering we had spent the entire morning happily – and bravely!- handling mice). Good thing I was still wearing my mouse gloves. 🙂

lizard of the spotted variety... of course they are practically tame and don't run AFTER you've caught them

lizard of the stripey variety

And while we are not talking about birds, here is a sea lion hanging out by the dock….

And a flower that I thought was really pretty (I got lazy and didn’t edit the photo quality, sorry)…

Annnnnd, since this is a bird blog here are some horned lark eggs….

Song birds are cool too I guess.

And a brown pelican to end on. 🙂

A graceful landing.

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Not long ago Sarah and I peaked into a burrow at the top of one of the canyons and found this….

…its a Xantus’s murrelet egg… and a burrowing owl in the background.  The owl appears to be unsuccessfully attempting to hide itself. I wonder what will happen when the murrelet starts incubating this egg… will the owl get evicted? Which is the tougher bird? Or will they co-inhabit the tiny home? Seems like an awfully small space for two! I will have to report more as the story unfolds…

I was going to post lots more pictures and write more about some of the work we’ve been doing… buuuut its 4 am and I’m about ready to sleep! I’ve got the photos uploaded already, so the next post will be coming very soon!



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