Thursday, February 14, 2013

Terning the Page

The purpose of this blog has been to update friends and family (and recently those interested in the storm that destroyed Tern Island) on my travels; a kind of autobiographical resume of the past three years and counting. If you’ve been following, mainly Mom, you’ll recall I’ve covered a range of topics from studying the migration and behavior of Humpback Whales in Australia, working on noisy dredge vessels in the Indian Ocean, viewing spectacular wildlife in New Zealand, monitoring breeding seabirds in Tasmania, Alaska, Southeast Farallon Island, and the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, to interacting with a diverse swatch of interesting and sometimes challenging personalities. After a harrowing experience marooned 2,000 miles from any continent, I’m now taking a more domestic route with a job in Oregon this summer. After applying for many positions, I’ve settled on a seasonal summer job as a seabird technician with Oregon State University on East Sand Island at the mouth the Columbia River (see map below).

East Sand Island has recently become the largest breeding colony of Double-crested Cormorants in Western North America with nearly 28,000 birds, along with a healthy breeding population of Caspian Terns. I’ve yet to receive a detailed description of my role in the project, but I’m assuming the majority of my time will be spent in the colony working with the cormorants. I’ve been fortunate to handle many different kinds of seabirds over the past two years, from small storm-petrels to massive albatrosses, and cormorants have thus far been the most challenging and aggressive birds I’ve worked with. As a side project on Middleton Island in the Gulf of Alaska, we were capturing and banding Pelagic Cormorants. Compared to the relatively calm kittiwakes we mainly worked with, the cormorants were an adrenaline filled experience. They have powerful legs for diving, sharp nails for grasping cliff faces, and hooked beaks at the end of a long squirrelly maneuverable neck for catching fish. All of these attributes, along with an infestation of lice and an immediate defecation and vomit response whenever handled, makes working with them a rather painful and aromatic endeavor. Their parasites would often leap from the plumage and take up temporary residence in my beard and the birds had an incredible knack for finding and re-opening previous wounds on my hands. Yet field work by definition is a hands on dirty proposition, so I welcome the challenge of wrestling these feisty birds and to once again get my hands dirty…and probably gain some more bird scars in the process. More information on the drive to Oregon and the research on Sand Island to come. As always in the interim for now I continue to enjoy my free time surfing Santa Cruz.