Archive for May, 2011

We’ve been having some extraordinary winds on Santa Barbara Island lately. The kind of wind that suffocates humans by vacuuming the air out straight of our mouths when hiking perpendicular to its gusts; the kind that makes the house shudder and shift; that turns the straps on backpacks into dangerous eye-blinding weapons; that sends people hurdling uncontrollably toward large patches of prickly-pear cactus; that turns tall grass not into graceful dancing stalks, but lashing whips; that makes gulls struggle and somersault in the air and spiral toward their landings like helicopters out of control; that embeds dirt so deeply into your skin, freckles you never had suddenly appear… the kind of wind that makes you feel as though you could lift up and fly… until it knocks you face first into the ground.

Although this wind has made our work much more frustrating and difficult to carry out, it has been good for a few fun “leans” – something Sarah and I picked up from the folks on Southeast Farallon Island:

attempting the "45 degree jacket lean" ... puffy windbreakers are better for this and unfortunately mine was too form-fitting to be much good.

Sarah bravely pulls off the "no jacket lean" ... pretty impressive!

In other news, we have successfully attached radio tags to two more Barn Owls and we believe we’ve found the nest sites of two of our earlier tagged birds (judged after seeing handfuls of adorable owls accompanied by our birds leave from the sites – cracks in the cliffs – just after dusk). In one case, we watched as each owl tried to leave the nest and got flipped literally upside-down against the cliff and had to perform awkward gymnastic maneuvers to right themselves just enough to fly away. Owls must love the wind as much as we do.

squinty eyes! flash makes me squint too.


I took a whiff of the back of this bird’s head to answer a question long ago asked – what do barn owls smell like? – and the answer is: dead things.

Another update on murrelet “shared housing”: hatched egg shells found in the site over the weekend!

More and more Xantus’s murrelets are leaving with their chicks, and although I have been lucky enough to see a few heads poking out of mom or dad’s wings and watch them bounce all around through our spy cameras (it’s like watching a security video screen, but way more entertaining), I have not gotten any full-body-cuteness shots. So I will share a photo Sarah took last year so you may all enjoy maximum cuteness!

two chickens! (one is unsuccessfully attempting to hide)

One more fun photo! This one has a story. First I feel like I need to explain that when I took this photo I was crammed between two narrow slabs of rock, laying on my belly with my head and hand crammed as far as possible into the opening of a nest-site crevice. I had to use my camera to see exactly what was going on at the nest-site since the angle was in such a manner that I couldn’t really get a full view. The LED on my camera lit up the site and provided a nice video screen for me to view from. I quickly noticed something that looked like a possible hatched egg with a dead chick in it… so I wedged myself further to get a better picture and watched with horror as the presumed dead chick sprouted multiple spider-esque legs and began to move. Being immobilized made this especially horrifying. I snapped a photo and wriggled my way out as fast as one can backwardly wriggle. Viewing the photos with one suspicious eye on the crevice, I eventually realized it was just a crab. Another shared housing situation.

murrelet body guard


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