Los Farallones

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

Musings from the Murre Blind

The view from the Murre Blind over Fisherman’s Bay
We sit at observation post in the Murre Blind, with an open window view of Point Reyes, 17 miles beyond Fisherman’s Bay. We listen to some tunes while searching for a few uniquely color banded individual birds among the tens of thousands of murres chattering away on the slope below. The wind has entirely died overnight; the sea is like a lightly rippled blue tarp. Gentle swells from the northwest lap the weathered, guano covered granite of Sugar Loaf Islet. 
Find the banded murre
Fringing the murre colony, Pigeon Guillemots display their vibrant red mouths as they whistle a soft high pitched call; while regal Western Gulls stand in pairs on the cliffs around the blind window, ready to defend their patch of Farallon Weed from any foreign invader or challenger. Prospecting Tufted Puffins, the clowns among the breeding seabirds here, circle at eye level just meters from our window; their rock star head gear fluttering in the wind. 
Two resident Gray Whales break the calm of Fisherman’s Bay with their powerful exhalations, surfacing for a few quick breaths as they feed on Mysiids and other small marine invertebrates. In the distance, spouts of a different kind jettison from the blowholes of the largest creature ever known to draw a breath – the Blue Whale. Weighing over 100 tons, these goliaths have returned early this year, feasting on an abundance of krill. At least 40 Humpback Whales have also joined the party, scattered across the horizon in all directions and occasionally showing off their acrobatic skills. 
Humpback Whales off of the Farallones
We hit pause on our MP3 device to hear the low growl of Steller (or is it Steller’s?) Sea Lions basking in the morning sun at Arch Rock, accompanied by the strange squealing vocalizations of Northern Elephant Seal weaners and the familiar dog-like bark of California Sea Lions. This chaotic symphony of pinnipeds emanates directly upwind of our perch, our noses full of the pungent odor of molting marine mammals in the light breeze.
Rainbow over the islets with the North Farallones in the distance
It’s just another typical morning in the Murre Blind. Over the coming months we will watch these birds as they carry out the business of breeding. We will spend many hours up here in the blind, keeping detailed records on which birds return to the island this season, how many chicks they are able to raise and what they are eating. So stay tuned for future musings and updates from Los Farallones.
Written by Mike Johns
Farallon Summer Research Assistant and denizen of the Murre Blind