Saturday, April 26, 2008

The first comprehensive survey of the habitat of the Xantus Murrelet was completed last night by Harry Carter, Darrel Whitworth and Percy Hebert. Using a Zodiac inflatable and a bright spotlight, they have counted everyone of these night-active murrelets seen around all the Pacific Islands of Baja California and Alta California from Isla Asuncion to San Miguel Island. This has been a labor of 7 years for these dedicated seabird biologists. It will be a while before final numbers are known, but the data gathered will be of great benefit in protecting this threatened species that nests near the waters edge in tiny caves and whose chicks stumble down into the sea at only 2 days old, where they are then fed by their parents.

Here at San Clemente Island there are an abundance of California Sheephead (Semicossyphus pulcher). Small sheephead are all females until they become sexually mature, but after a few years, almost all will become males. The change in sex is accompanied by a change in color and body form which can be seen as a gradient in the attached photo. Notice the darkening of the area near the tail and the enlarging of the head and brow.

Today, Jeff and I made a survey of the beach at Pyramid cove and found a float like the fenders we use on Alguita and a 55 gal drum for fuel among other debris. Unfortunately, one of the sea lions at Seal Cove has fallen victim to an ugly looking strap which is eating into its neck. Darrel and Harry took the photo. We don't have a razor rod like Harry used at the Farallones to free this animal. It may end up as one of the troubling statistic by Wallace who estimated 100,000 marine mammals die each year in the North Pacific from entanglement in marine debris.
Tonight the team will take blood samples in order to determine the genetic structure of world population of Xantus murrelets.
Posted by Captain Charles Moore

Friday, April 25, 2008

Its 0302, I was prodded awake about half an hour ago by a combination of Hip Hop and unnecessary lighting. Charlie has an interview with something or another at 0600 tomorrow and went to bed for a few hours himself telling me to wait for the survey crew to get back hopefully before the sun comes up, again. I haven’t really slept more than a few hours at a time since we left Ensenada or maybe the day before that. My other instructions were to do the blog, which apparently since it was two in the morning meant I hadn’t done it since the day before yesterday…I think he hid my book.

So I finally read the comments for the last couple posts thanks for not being spam. To address the grey whale migration question and what we were actually seeing off of San Martin Island. We had a good debate still left somewhat unsettled amongst the crew as to how many whales we saw and wither they were hanging out around the island or passing through.

The time of year is right for whales to be moving northward with new calves to go feed up in the rich waters of the Bering Sea until its time to do it all over again next season. However sometimes mothers and calves will stay much longer and may not even migrate at all for the first season being witnessed around San Martin Island even during the middle of the summer.

To the blood samples question. We are only getting a drop of blood from each bird preserved on a piece of filter paper, which is enough for a genetic analysis. This Will hopefully help further out understanding of how these birds divide themselves up into populations, by getting samples from birds at all the islands they are known to socially congregate on.

The picture is of a navy vessel we passed on the way into San Diego yesterday morning.

Ok ill post more stuff later, I’m going to go make toast.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Two long nights

The last two nights have been spent capturing Xantus Murrelets, which gather to socialize on the water around Geronimo Island at night. The capture permit was for 50 blood samples and we managed to get that done last night after a marathon 35 samples collected the night before.

The Alguita left Geronimo this morning at around 3am and we are now back and San martin prepping (playing cards and sitting around), for another long night of the same thing at a different place.

The first picture was taken from shore showing the Alguita taking off to circle around the island for a Pelican and Cormorant survey while four of us on shore looked for nesting Murrelets hiding in burrows along the
coastline and rocky outcroppings of the island.

The second picture is courtesy of Percy N. Hébert and his 300mm lens of which I’m jealous, showing a grey whale fluke as it dives back down after taking a breath. One of thousands that we have probably seen as they pass by San Martin Island on their way back north.

Thats it for now, stay tuned for more whenever I get a chance


Sunday, April 20, 2008

San Martin and Geronimo Islands

Finally a free moment to update the blog, I’m watching the boat while the research team and captain conduct a thorough bird survey of Geronimo Island. We surveyed the entire coastline and most of the upper sections of San
Martin Island yesterday the picture of the California Sea Lions posted was taken their yesterday
morning when a group of 4 of us were dropped off in a small sheltered cove to survey the coastline of the island by foot, looking for signs of an Auklet colony. The birds had been there in the recent past, as we learned by the presence of old nest burrows and several dead birds; but no live birds were seen during the coarse of the day. We did however see a reason why burrowing birds might have trouble nesting on this island, San Martin has a native snake of which we saw several two of those 4 feet or better in length.

We left San Martin in the middle of the night arriving around 8am at Geronimo Island, as we approached the lines started screaming and we wound up with two Bonita before we got distracted by the whales. A good sized pod of Grey Whales sat between us and the island, many of them can still be seen swimming in tight pairs of mother and calf in every direction of my horizon not obstructed by the island. They seem to inhabit the entirety of the deep water up against the outside edge of the kelp forest that surrounds the island.

Well that’s it for now. I'll try to post again soon, maybe with interesting information about the birds living on Geronimo Island when the team gets back.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Corondo Islands

We traveled through the night from long beach to San Diego Wednesday arriving at 7am with a group of scientists from California Institute of Environmental Studies waiting at the boat ramp. Wasting no time we headed strait to the Coronado Islands an important nesting ground for a wide variety of birds ranging from pelicans to Periguin falcons.

In the last few years there has been a new addition to the myriad birds nesting in this area, the Brown Footed Boobie Sula leucogaster, making this the farthest north this species has ever been recorded to roost. The colony first established itself roughly three years ago with just a few roosting birds on the middle rock of the Coronado’s. However the popularity of this region for nesting seems to be growing and this year we saw them nesting in previously unused areas of the island.

Since we are in Ensenada tonight and not having to upload via our slow and expensive satellite internet connection we are going photo happy. The two photos of birds show both juvenile and adult phases of the Brown Footed Boobie, along with a shot of the main nesting ground, and a picture of North Coronado Island taken from the south end.
more to come hopefully tomorrow,
Jeff Ernst

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

New Management

    So if you didn’t notice this place has been a little bit dead since the Alguita got back safely to California. The people responsible for keeping this blog going while at sea (mainly Anna) all split off in different directions with new and exciting projects and no one has updated this blog since.
This seemed like a shame since the Alguita has been on several noteworthy adventures since its return home with no one telling the public about it. So to remedy this I will be taking over the majority of the managing of this blog and intend to keep updating it on a semi regular basis.

We are departing tomorrow on a 2-week bird survey of the Channel Islands; stay tuned for updates!

Jeff Ernst
1st mate, ORV Alguita