Los Farallones

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

Transitions – A Fall Island Fashion Preview

Initially, I was excited and somewhat terrified at the notion of living for 6 weeks on the tip of what looks like a drowning mountain. The Farallones are defined by granite that has been morphed by wind and waves into steep arches, caves, peeks, and slippery flats.   The speckled cliff faces are coarse and fractured, and sprinkled with loose boulders or softball-sized rocks that are so dense and heavy that walking on them gives you the false impression of good footing!  A closer look reveals the result of 10,000 generations of nesting seabirds who have unknowingly turned sharp cracks into tiny, smooth (almost polished), guano-rimmed caves.  Here you are struck by the wonder and absurdity of habitat at its essence.

Arriving in early August and interning through mid-September on SEFI means witnessing fantastic changes.  On the ground, work involves wrapping  up the seabird breeding season projects, and initiating fall migratory passerine monitoring.  The density of breeding seabird, sea lion, and the serendipitous  waves of arriving song birds (sometimes from as far as Asia)  are astounding and give one a strong, uncanny sense of wonder.  But the story of the transitions doesn’t stop with the fantastic Farallon wildlife.  Indeed there is a cultural shift most poignantly in island fashion (who knew!) that is defined by the concepts of functionality, pattern, color, and style.

Seabirders work both day and night on their knees banding or monitoring nests and burrows on rocky cliff faces.  Protection  from the diving gulls and  the corrosive power of wind, rain, mud, and seabird guano is essential.  

In the fall however, biologists switch gears, searching constantly for elusive and fleeting land-bird arrivals, and attire becomes defined by freedom of movement and spontaneity.  Here are the fall findings. Functionality: Slim and trim.

Surveying 100m above the sea every day can be exhilarating, but if you should trip, you are almost guaranteed to suffer a bloody mark reminiscent of a childhood playground black top scrape.  For sure footing, flexibility, and light weight on cliffs, rubber boots are a must.  Here is Jim tying the fashion knot while crossing the Jordan Channel on his way to West End Island in a green wind breaker, cotton duck pants, and light weight rubber boots! CLASSIC

Color: Brown over bright
SEFI is austere to the extreme – a set of featureless mounds similar in color to a south Bronx new deal housing project; but within and atop each mound are hundreds of thousands of chirping, glossy eyed, feather balls, which fiercely radiate in all directions day and night, exploring and building, loving and eating.  
The walkways on the terrace are strewn with purple, green, and red pebbles swallowed and smoothed by the guts of prehistoric cormorants.  And the Lighthouse Hill Trail is littered with fragments of mainland pork and chicken bones lovingly regurgitated by Western Gull parents.  Inspiration abounds!  Here I am, looking die hard with a rifle-stock spotting scope dressed in cozy faux fur outer wear, and a bright green t-shirt (showcasing the color not on the island currently)

Patterns :  Bold, Structural Lines
Large dark patterns with wooly and cottony blends are big right now on island!

To avoid flushing wildlife, blending in is a lifestyle and is as important indoors as out.   Here is (steely) Dan ready for action with a tastefully structured plaid on plaid ensemble with tall coffee.

Style: The Tufted Look

A big factor when scouting for the rarest of rare birds (jungle nightjar -cross your fingers!!)  is to constantly be open to the impossible and the absurd.  For knowing where and when rare birds are arriving Matt (island fashion flare/bird-sticker guru) is on the cutting edge with his lightly quaffed mohawk and handy accessories.   This look really says “Hey guys relax, the bi
rd is in the bag.”


Accessorize!!!! : Neck Metal
Mr P with a fashion forward neck piece

Facial hair: Whiskers 

A must for fur seals and biologists (male) alike.


Knowing how to dress on island is important whatever the season. But whatever the dress, its about being outside, working hard and having fun.   I remember Biologist Pete Warzybok’s comment as we stretched our way through a dark cave littered with dead fish, smeary guano, and fluffy rhino auklet chicks, ‘this is where I am most reminded of why I love science!’ 

Written by,
Adam Fox