Saturday, June 2, 2012

As the Season Progresses

Through the partially opened windows of a blind I watch a misty morning fog whip across a colony of murres at Sea Lion Cove (SLC). Clutched to the ground and huddled tight, feathers ruffled in the cool salty breeze, several hundred Common Murres sit and incubate their mint green speckled eggs. Unable to leave these eggs unattended, they endure the persistent abuse of harsh spring winds and the occasional plastering of chalky pink uric acid (bird shit) from their neighbors above. Although some colonies on the island have already begun hatching chicks, the SLC birds have several weeks ahead before incubation ends and the duties of chick rearing begin.

Fringing the clustered patches of murres are Brandt’s Cormorants atop large nest bowls of woven dry Farallon Weed and algae. The early efforts of displaying males have paid off, as they now have switched gears and share the role of incubating a clutch of up to five eggs with their mates. Like the murres, it is early yet for the arrival of chicks, with some late males still flashing their brilliant blue gular pouches and setting up nests by stealing material from adjacent birds.

Western Gulls are reaching a new level of aggression as their chicks begin to emerge. The sheer volume and frequency of their combined screams render it virtually impossible for rational thought, as if our IQ immediately drops substantially upon exiting the relative peaceful calm of the house. Simply calling them loud would be a grouse understatement. Coupled with the acoustic trauma of their calls are the physical attacks. One most always wear a helmet when walking about the island now, for the solid yellow beaks and dive bomb swoops will surely draw blood to the unprotected cranium.  A few days back while attaching a temporary band to the tarsus of a freshly hatched gull chick, I was continuously swooped by the angry parent overhead; my helmet nearly knocked away by the force of the birds impacts. This will become a common occurrence as the season progresses and more chicks break free of their calcite encasements.