Los Farallones

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


Another day dawned with light east winds and cloudy skies. Supposedly light winds and overcast skies bring lots of birds, so when we woke up and found that there was just a single knot of wind out of the east and 90% altostratus cloud cover, we thought for sure that there would be a good fallout. But where were they? Yet again, something unknown was not right. When we stepped outside there were no flight calls: just the calls of newly arriving Black Phoebes scolding each other in order to claim their winter territories. Oh well, we would try our hardest to find what was out there. Up at the lighthouse there were far fewer birds today than the day before. Many of the sparrows had departed. Of the 50 Savannah Sparrows yesterday, only 6 remained; and of the dozen Lincoln’s Sparrows, only 1 remained. There were a few new birds though. A juvenile Northern Harrier flew past the lighthouse and a Bobolink was found on the Marine Terrace before it quickly disappeared into Sea Pigeon Gulch. During the morning, the clouds headed east, and the visibility improved so that the entire coastline was visible. Any other birds looking for a place to land probably flew back to the mainland instead of landing on our desolate rock. With the nets open all day, we managed to capture just 11 birds, including a Western Flycatcher and the one Lincoln’s Sparrow.

What we lacked in birds, though, we made up with cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises). This may have been one of the most amazing cetacean days ever at the Farallones. In addition to our daily shark watch, we also conduct a whale watch from the lighthouse. At the top of every hour, we conduct a 360-degree scan with our binoculars for cetaceans. Today we found our 2-3 resident Gray Whales (sometimes we can only find two), but we also found an incredible 15 Blue Whales and 93 Humpback Whales! Even more amazing were the 265 Risso’s Dolphins, 20 Pacific White-sided Dolphins, 12 Northern Right Whale Dolphins, and 5 Dall’s Porpoises – only the last three were new for Farallonathon. All these marine mammals are attracted to the Gulf of the Farallones to feed on its bountiful food supply.

The last two points for the day would also come from the ocean in the form of fish. One point was for a very large fish, AKA, a White Shark, while the other was for a very small fish, the Bald Sculpin.

The crew dug deep today to find new Farallonathon points, but there weren’t many there. The seven new points (2 migrant birds, 3 cetaceans, 1 shark, and 1 fish) brought up our total to 133. With calm winds still in the forecast, there was still hope for that long sought fallout.

Please consider contributing to our Farallonathon by pledging your support with either a flat donation or a point-per-species amount by going to our donation at: Your support makes research and conservation on the Farallones possible. Thank you!