Los Farallones

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

An island milestone

Recently on the island we celebrated Farallon Biologist Pete Warzybok’s 1800th night on South East Farallon Island. That’s nearly 5 years of Pete’s life spent living, sleeping and working on the island! 
5 years on the island – long enough for Pete to have seen pretty much everything…
To celebrate this momentous occasion, we managed to squeeze in a pancake breakfast before heading out for our morning visit to the common murre study plots.
The interns had also secretly constructed an award worthy of such a day, capturing the essence of Pete’s commitment to the birds on the island: a personalized gull stake (usually used to mark Western Gull study nests) complete with commemorative plaque and feathered Western Gull artwork. This was hidden in the weather station box outside the house, where Pete, still bleary-eyed, checks the temperature at 7am every day. Surprise!!
Pete’s award

Craftsmanship worthy of the milestone.
Pete with his personalised gull stake award.
2014 is Pete’s 14th season on the island. We put Pete’s memory to the test and asked him about his time on the island over the past 14 years – the birds, the weather, the places, the food, the funny. Here’s what we learnt!
What struck you about the place in your first season (as an intern in 2000)?
The abundance of life – there’s so much going on and you’re right in the middle of it.
Favorite species?
Like all good parents, Pete’s answer was non-committal. “I love them all, differently, at different times”. Hmmm…..come on Pete – all parents secretly have a favorite…admit it.
Pete did later admit that he had a favorite chick – he couldn’t go past the common murre chicks with their frost-tipped down.
Common murre chick

Favorite spot on the island?

The murre blind, high on Shubrick Point, where Pete has spent approximately 1800 mornings watching the breeding murres below the blind. As well as the great view across the murre colony to Fertilizer Flat, Arch Rock and Sugarloaf, on clear days the views up the coast of Marin County to Point Reyes and beyond are spectacular.
The murre blind, and view from Shubrick Point.
Funniest visitor?
Huell Howser, who filmed an episode of California’s Gold on the Farallon Islands. As you can imagine, Huell had plenty to be amazed about during his visit – count the “wow”s in this short clip from the episode.  

Best island cook?
Ed Ueber, who was a gourmet chef as well as the Head of the G
ulf of the Farallones Sanctuary at the time. He’d arrive on the island, head straight to the kitchen and throw a loaf of bread in the oven. He loved cooking for people so much he’d cook every night he was on the island (normally, the island’s residents take turns cooking for the whole team). One of Pete’s best meals on the island was Ed doing amazing things with duck, and duck fat (as Pete recalled this festival of duck, a Homer-esque glaze came over his face).
Worst meal on the island?
One head of cauliflower with brown sauce. This was served up by an intern as dinner. With no accompaniments. 
Cauliflower – needs more than just brown sauce to make a meal.
Funniest experience?
Judging a yo-yo competition (while wearing a gull hat, complete with wings) which included a 90 second free program to music. The interns were competing for a mystery prize, which turned out to be worth their hours of rehearsal – a signed David Attenborough photo.
A close second was spontaneous post-cormorant-banding parties, when the participants (more than mildly hysterical, having had no sleep, still crawling with lice, waiting for a shower, having a beverage while waiting for the shower) suddenly get the music going and ta-da, party time at 7am!
Wildest weather experience?
60 knot winds and 20 foot seas in a late winter storm. Waves were washing over Saddle Rock and the crane at East Landing. Pete went down to East Landing to tie the boat down as he was worried about it washing away. He had to hide behind one of the thruster boxes (which house the winches for the crane) to avoid a wave. Note: in normal conditions these boxes are 20m or so from any water (and about 8m above sea level).

If you were going to be reincarnated as one of the species on the island, which would it be?
Pigeon guillemot, because they look as though they are having the most fun.
Pigeon guillemots are very social birds, and we enjoy them gathering to sing and squabble and cavort on the breeze (the windier the better!) around the blinds in the mornings, flashing their bright red feet and gapes.
Pigeon guillemot

So thanks Pete for all your work on the island, from the birds, pinnipeds, salamanders and all the island’s species (even the interns). Happy 1800th!
The Western gulls say thanks.