Los Farallones

Dispatches from Point Blue’s field station on the Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge

A farewell tribute to the seabirds

When the fall crew arrives in late August, we just get a glimmer of the seabird colony that dominates life on the island during spring and summer.  Most birds are wrapping up their nesting priorities and preparing to head out to sea for several months to molt their feathers and find more abundant food to survive the cold, turbulent winter.
Everyone is excited to see the puffins, so we all take photos before they disappear in mid-September.  Here is one still in full breeding plumage.  While some still attend nests in late summer, many congregate in small groups to possibly prospect for mates or new nest sites.
Here’s an individual that was foraging just off shore.
Pigeon Guillemots ?are later nesters, so we get to see them carrying food to their nests for the first couple weeks before all the chicks fledge.  Here you can see an adult taking off from the water with a fish.
Squid was a big part of the diet this year. Here’s a different individual sitting outside its nest ready to feed its young a tasty little squid.  Yum!!!
A successfully fledged Pigeon Guillemot chick floating around the island.
Rhinoceros Auklets typically finish up right before we arrive and then they quicly leave the area, so we just? get to see a few.  Here’s an adult foraginng for a late nest.
Lately, the cormorants have been very late nesters, with many still feeding chicks at nests into late September.  Here’s a nest with Brandt’s Cormorant chicks that still have a long ways to go before fledging.  They won’t be ready to fledge until they molt out all those downy feathers and replace them with sleek, oily feathers that can repel the frigid Farallon waters.
This Pelagic Cormorant chick, waiting to be fed from its parent, appears to be a little closer to fledging.
Western Gulls are usually still finishing up nesting when we arrive, with lots of chicks to defend and feed. This year was their worst reproductive year ever documented by PRBO, so there were very few around when we arrived.  Here’s one adult that found a Rhinoceros Auklet chick that was attempting to walk to the ocean to find food and safety.  Unfortunately, many seabird chicks that leave their nests during the day need to walk a guantlet of hungry gulls that won’t think twice about making a meal of these hapless birds.
The Western Gulls also need to defend their chicks from marauding neighbors, or perhaps just get out pent up aggression about the poor season.