Tuesday, November 11, 2014

...and here is the Steeple

The boat ride to Steeple Jason was less than pleasant. I took Dramamine before getting on and just tried to sleep for 5 hours. I was doing fine and tried my best to ignore the other retching sounds and potent smells on board. Then the captain turned on the heat. Now, this isn’t the largest of vessels, so it heats up pretty well. I found out the heat comes from beneath the bed I was on, as well. For a girl who gets dehydrated and faints easily, this did not bode well for me. When we arrived and anchored offshore, I sat up and not long after felt like I was dripping in sweat and was severely dizzy. Mix that with incessant rocking of the boat and I was about to faint. It was not good at all.  Once I was on deck though, the fresh cool air relieved me (the dolphins playing about were probably a good distraction as well). However, after waiting for nearly an hour for the anchoring and first transport of goods and passengers by zodiac, I was no longer feeling well. Right when it was my turn to get on board the zodiac, my peripheral vision started closing in, I began sweating, I thought I was going to throw up at any moment, and still, I had to get on the zodiac. Luckily, I didn't miss a step and I made it into the small boat beneath me and I felt better shortly after that. Not so luckily, there is a thing called “land sickness.” Oh yes!! Turns out, I can suffer from such a thing. It took until the next morning for me to feel “right” again. Fortunately, the landscape of Steeple Jason makes up for all of that.

Day one, I introduced the two volunteers to Johnny Rook banding while Micky helped Rob from Carcass Island, and who also manages Steeple Jason, bring fuel ashore (took them all morning and unfortunately, all they succeeded in doing was getting a trailer and 4 barrels of kerosene bogged shortly after bringing it ashore on the other side of the island). One volunteer, Nathan (the Kiwi) has a wildlife background so he caught on quickly. The other volunteer, Miguel (the Chilean) who is a Spanish teacher and translator in Stanley, did well too. Overall, we managed to band 30 Rooks that day.

Days two and three were solely dedicated to Falklands Conservation’s Black-browed Albatross project. Even though I study birds, it does not mean that I have to like all birds. That being said, Black-browed Albatross are not at the top of my list. Picture 500 ground-nesting birds in an area of about 50 yards by 20 yards. Now picture each bird actively defending their nest by lunging and biting anything that passes by them with their 5-inch beak that is hooked at the end. I am not sure what their bite force is, but I think it is a top contender in the bird world. Imagine having to go through and either band an unbanded bird, check the bands of banded birds, and also place a nest tag in each nest. Micky and Nathan did all the banding but I still have bruises from just being within the colony recording all the bands and nest numbers. I would just be standing still, writing, when all of sudden it feels like pliers are being squeezed on my upper thigh and then twisting. Or, the few times when I would help Micky when he was banding, by holding the head still so he wouldn't get bit, I would get bit. Up and down my arm, on my hand, you name it. Each time, on the arms and hands especially, it would feel like nerves were being hit with each bite and my whole arm and/or hand would tingle as a response, in addition to the pain neurons firing. I would take three of the meanest, most annoyed Rooks any day versus one Black-browed Albatross.

Fun Fact: Nathan (and I have learned that some Falklanders as well) call Black-browed Albatross "Mollymauks". 

Another Fun Fact (I may have told you before): Those 500 or so nests are are only 1/1000th of the estimated number of Black-broweds there are on Steeple Jason. Yep, half of 1 million. Incredible to think about, isn't it?

Day 5, we went back to the albatross site to mark down band numbers of mates changing over at the nests.  It went semi-quickly. Then we had to go back up the mountain and sit and count Southern Giant Petrels nesting below. There were 11 sections and each section had to be counted 3 times. I got done first, so I went walking down by the shore by the Sea Lions and then by the Gentoo colony. I found an amazing little spot to take photos of the Gentoos jumping ashore. It was too early in the day though so there weren’t many groups, unfortunately.         

Halloween was less than eventful. For one, we woke up to snow falling from the sky. Yes, SNOW! We actually were very spoiled the first few days here. The sun was shining and it wasn’t bitterly cold if you were moving. The snow didn’t last long, not even long enough to stick to the ground, but the cold temps seem to want to stay. Add the strong wind and I have been chilled right to the bone. Due to the weather though we had a late start. After lunch Micky took Miguel to count albatross and petrels on the other side of the mountain. Nathan and I stayed back to band some Rooks, but the weather made it difficult. We couldn't stand too far back from our nooses because the wind would close them and plus, if we did catch a bird we didn't want to have a Johnny Rook kite in our hands. Lots of birds turned up though, which is good and bad.

Good points:
1.     Lots of birds (duh…)
2.     I am sometimes able to sit near the feeding frenzy and reach out and grab the Rook I want by the legs with my hands.

Bad points:
1.     Lots of unbanded birds.
2.     It's hard to pick out which ones you want.
3.     Greater chance of having an “alpha bird” that will dominate the feeding frenzy.

Nathan and I were able to catch 9 birds before the group got too out of hand and before we were too cold. Those nine bring up the Steeple Jason count up to 68 Rooks captured this trip in 3 days. Not too bad.

The highlight from 1 November was witnessing Z9 Black kill a Rock Cormorant. It was awesome! He then removed the head and flew it over and gave it to his mate, Z0 Black. She came back with him near the kill site and he repeatedly came and got bits of the cormorant to go and share with Z0 Black. You could definitely feel the love in the air that night.

The last days on the island were spent banding more Rooks with Nathan, while Micky and Miguel counted penguins. In the end we banded 88 new Rooks and managed to recapture 22 already banded birds.

On 7 November, we traveled back to Carcass Island. This boat ride was much smoother than what we had on the way there, but still a little rough. I managed to take a nice 4-hour nap and miss most of it. On Saturday I traveled to Saunders Island. I am so glad that they had room to take me. I don't think my trip would have felt complete without visiting the Pole-Evans. On Sunday I went with David to the Neck and in the process was able to add a lifer to my list. The Macaroni Penguin! There was a pair last year, but I had never seen them since I always arrived later in the season. Luckily, I was able to see them before the cruise ship that had 103 people come ashore. I won’t lie; I was a little overwhelmed when they were walking towards me. For the last three weeks, the largest quantity of people that I was around was four.

Yesterday, Suzan took me along with her to gather some cows, which meant I got to get on a horse! It has been probably two years since I had last ridden, so I was very excited, even when the horse turned out to be a bit naughty. At one point she decided to have a lie down and a roll with me still on top. Luckily, I managed to get my feet out of the stirrups in time. Other than that, it was a nice and quiet ending to my time in outer camp. Today, I traveled back to Stanley and am very grateful to Liz of Falklands Conservation who has let me stay with her until I fly out on Saturday. I hope that tomorrow I will still be able to go to Volunteer Point, but those plans may have changed so we shall see.

As always, photos will have to wait until I am back in the States.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

it's good to be back!

Z8 White was a well-behaved bird.
I can't believe I am already back with the Johnny Rooks. After this trip, I will have spent 1/3 of 2014 in the Falklands! Micky and I arrived to Carcass Island yesterday and we got right down to banding. Unfortunately, there was some issues with the equipment that was originally used to mass the birds so we are left with the large issue of re-catching, re-measuring, and re-massing. Surprisingly, there are not a lot of birds around for us to catch. This could be because of 4 very dominant adult birds (the "quartet" as we call them) that are actively defending their territory, which includes all of the settlement. The quartet consists of N7 Yellow, N2 White, S4 White (all believed to be males), and an unbanded female. Cooperative breeding might be happening? We have seen trios in the past actively fledge young from one nest, and it has been noted in Red-throated Caracaras (McCann) before. I would love to look at this for my project, but unfortunately, not everyone thinks it is important. 

Tomorrow, Micky and I are off on the "Condor" (boat) to Dunbar Island where we will hopefully find K8 Yellow's missing GPS unit. Fingers crossed, because they cost ~$4000! We only have until Friday to trap and band as many Rooks as we can here on Carcass because then we will be off to Steeple Jason Island (a 5-hour boat ride away) for two weeks. As a result, i fear that I will not be able to update this blog as often as I usually do because you see, my only connection to the outside world on Steeple is a satellite phone for emergencies. I will promise to provide an update upon my return to the States! 

Since it is a 7am boat ride to Dunbar, I should probably get some sleep. 

Oh, and there might be some positive things happening on my journey of finding a university. I am trying to not get too hopeful, so if you want to send some positive thoughts my way, I wouldn't turn them down! 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Quick Update

Well, summer is officially gone and I fortunately was able to end it in style by visiting Traverse City, MI the past two weekends. The first weekend was spent at a friend's family's cherry farm and the second extended weekend was spent at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, visiting some wineries, and ending with camping at Silver Lake.

Another exciting event was that my first published article as first author came out. This was on a part of my research that I completed during my Masters at Arkansas State University on Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) and American Kestrels (Falco sparverius). If you are interested, you can access the PDF here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B-bFXDIEHRZDdi1OUW9JZGV5NzQ/edit?usp=sharing

Regarding the rest of the team, Micky made it to the States a week after I returned and joined Dr. Keith Bildstein at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. Both of them have been busy preparing manuscripts and I believe Keith was hoping to get at least three papers published while Micky was there. Anna has moved to Boise, ID and started her graduate studies under the advisement of Dr. Marc Bechard. I am sure she is doing very well. In the mean time, I have been working, editing the manuscripts that Keith and Micky send to me, and attempting to find an advisor.

Since the title says this will be a "quick" update (and because I have to be up for work in 3.5 hours) I will end by uploading the video I promised in my last(?) blog on the Johnny Rooks solving the pipe puzzle in under 20 seconds during my last trip. You can view and share the video via my Youtube channel here.

OH! How could I forget? 16 October I will be going back to the Falklands to join Micky on Carcass Island and Steeple Jason. This trip will be for banding and for me to obtain more morphometric measurements on the Rooks. I definitely need to have a more concrete plan on a university/advisor because it is not possible to borrow internet on Carcass Island and there is zero communication on Steeple Jason. (Note to self: Remember to buy and pack sea sickness pills)

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Greetings from Saunders Island!

*Composed on 2 August 2014*

We all arrived safe and sound to Mount Pleasant airport on 26 July. It did seem dodgy for a little bit in Punta Arenas, Chile due to weather. It added yet another 1.5 hours to our already 4 days of traveling. Needless to say, we were very happy to see Micky waiting (an extra 2 hours because he didn't get my Facebook message before he left) to drive us to Stanley. After getting situated at the Lafone House we went and ate at the Malvina House, as we always do. I was famished and even Micky said he had never seen me eat so much. I couldn't help that the $4.39 bag of chips (“crisps”) that I bought in Chile were not completely satisfying. The fish and proper chips were delicious! I also made sure to get my last helping of lettuce and broccoli (I remember a time when I did not prefer veggies, what was I ever thinking?). Sunday morning we woke up to mostly clear skies, but still quite a chill in the air and snow still on the ground. The sunrise was beautiful though!

Anna had her first proper English breakfast and we went to FIGAS to catch the first flight to Saunders Island. For the first time ever, there was a chance to sit up front with the pilot! Luckily, Anna didn’t put up a fight (thank you Anna!).  

Late that morning, we smoothly touched down on the snow-covered airstrip at Saunders Island. Suzan and David were there to greet us, and so were about 12 Johnny Rooks. I have realized that at the end of this trip, I will have spent 1/3 of the past year in the Falkland Islands. Actually, my “anniversary” of first arriving to the Falklands is on 7 August. I cannot believe this is already my third trip (that means I have taken at least 30 planes!). I am beyond fortunate and thankful to be given this opportunity. I am often asked if I get nervous about traveling so far, and to be honest, my biggest worry is how my neck will fair with all the traveling. I blame my travel bug on going away to Grand Valley for my BS degree. Ever since then it seems as though I have been on the move. After that degree, I moved to Arkansas for two years, during which I even spent a summer living in Louisiana. Don't get me wrong, I love my Mitten State and always miss my family and friends when I am away, but I find myself to be most happy when I am adventuring in a new place and meeting new people. It should come as no surprise that when I came back to the Falklands this time (Saunders Island especially) it almost felt like coming home. I’ve already fallen back into saying a few phrases and words with a British accent (the weirdest of which is the word “what” – pronounced as “wot”). 

After the plane safely took off again, Suzan and David drove us to where we stay on their Settlement where our things that they store for us were already waiting. Keith and I moved into our designated rooms, and Anna got her choice from the remaining two. Micky joined a couple of days later, and he and I set off to teach Anna how to properly trap, band, and measure a Johnny Rook. If you remember from my posts during February and March, I often mentioned how different the birds are between the two seasons. Well, they continue to surprise us. As usual, we do not trap as many, but it seems, as though this time there are less around the Settlement than last August altogether. Granted, we are earlier than when we arrived for the last trip, but it still is strange. The absence of fun-loving Dr. Marc Bechard is also strange.

So far, we have only managed to band 41 birds since 29 July. A far cry from just the 82 birds that Micky and I banded alone on Steeple Jason in 3 days this past March (we banded a total of 166 birds in two months last trip). I am currently writing this from the Neck and we are here until Tuesday so this may (and hopefully will) change.
*As of 5 Aug 2014 we have banded 50 new birds and measured 11 birds previously banded-including re-fitting a GPS unit and re-banding P5 Yellow (now R22 Yellow)*

When we have been banding, Keith has enjoyed, well I assume at least, the new ATV (aka “quad”) with power steering (the other one does not have power steering). He is usually off most of the day on it, so I believe it is a safe assumption. Anna has also started to see what her research will entail and has done one of her foraging observations. Another one will hopefully be completed by the time I am back to the Settlement and able to post this entry.

I was able to run some puzzle experiments and saw something that got me really excited. E5 White is a very smart female who was able to learn the puzzles last summer (i.e., February/March). Well, guess what? SHE REMEMBERED! At least 4 months later, and never seeing the puzzles since then, she was able to walk right up to them and figure them both out. Other birds (Z3 Yellow and M9 Yellow) also exhibited the learning behavior we had observed before, and learned from E5 White. Video will be posted later.
(Not sure what I am talking about when I say “puzzles”? Check out this post, or this video, or this video).

As I had mentioned, we are at the Neck of Saunders Island and we almost didn't make it either. Thank you Carole and Suzan for helping get the Rover out!
I must say I still enjoy being at the Neck, but it is slightly more beautiful in the summer. Granted, it is only day 1, and we have had mostly fog, wind, and misty-rain all day. Oh, and it is still cold (of course). The penguins do not seem to mind though, and several groups of Gentoos were out foraging. There are also 5 juvenile King Penguins this year, most of who are much larger than their adult parents. None have walked up to investigate me like last year, but I am still holding out hope.

Before I forget… My friend, Dan, brought to my attention that 4-10 August is “Threatened and Endangered Species” week in Michigan. Even though this is only designated for Michigan, I feel like we can still all learn a little more about these species in need. So far, you are off to a great start by reading this blog entry about the near-threatened species, Phalcoboenus australis, better known as the Johnny Rook, or Striated Caracara, to you. To learn more about threatened or endangered species in general you can check out this website if you live in Michigan or just want to learn more about the species in danger there, that will be hosted near you!

PS! check out Saunders Island's new website! www.saundersfalklands.com

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

< 10!

That is how many days until I start my journey back to the Falklands. I can't believe how quickly almost 4 months has passed since the last trip. This trip will be drastically short in relation to the others though. We leave 24 July, arrive to Stanley, FI Saturday, 26 July, arrive on Saunders Island 27 July (weather permitting), and then turn around on 7 August to begin to travel back, arriving home 11 August. 18 days total, that's it! We were supposed to leave a week earlier but since you can only fly in and out of the islands on Saturday, that plane was booked. I am a little worried about how much work will actually be completed in just 10 days on Saunders Island. However, our newest member of the team, Anna, will at least gain an introduction to Falkland life. She will be working under the advisement of Dr. Marc Bechard for her Master of Science degree. 

I have kept pretty busy during my hiatus from the Islands though. I was able to meet some of my devoted blog followers when I presented to the 5th graders at Sturgis Elementary (they were the students that asked me all sorts of questions during my last trip -- you can read that entry here). 

How many Apple products does it take to create a presentation?
One of the two 5th grade classes I presented to. They were AWESOME!
I have also went back to my job at Panera Bread. I truly have a love/hate relationship with this job. 

Things I hate about it: 
1. Rude customers who make you feel worthless. There have been so many instances where I want to scream, "I (probably) have more degrees than you! Just because I ask you if you want a drink with your order does not mean you have the permission to treat me with so much disrespect!"

2. The feeling of being unappreciated by both customers (see number 1) and by Panera itself. 

3. Since moving (oh yes, that happened too since I got back) it now takes me every bit of a half hour to get to work.

4. I now help with Panera's catering and it boggles my mind when people place a $400+ order, have free delivery, and still don't include a tip. Do they not tip when they order a $10 pizza and have it delivered to their house?

Things I love about it:
1. I have worked for Panera Bread on and off since I was laid off from PetsMart at the tender age of 16. My general manager, Brian, is amazing and understanding, and lets me leave and come back. He also lets me work mornings. Despite me not being a morning person, I would rather get my shift done early in the day (5am starts have become the norm for me). 

2. Another plus of working mornings is that customers tend to be a little nicer than the lunch rush. These morning customers also include "the regulars." I have nicknamed a group of five, "The Breakfast Club" (David, Don, Margaret, Dennis, and Carol). I also have the sweetest, most devoted couple, Mark and Susie, but they usually visit later in the morning. These individuals make your busy morning better no matter how crappy it started. You also become invested in them and they become invested in you too, if you are lucky.  For example, David is from England and also followed my blog during my last trip and he would keep the other four up-to-date on what I was doing for the two months I spent in the Falklands. He had asked me if I was willing to do a presentation of my research for him and his friends. Of course I agreed and that is how I gave my first in a brewery. Kuhnhenn Brewing Co. to be exact.
My fellow biologist friends were jealous of my location. I would have been too.
Since I truly enjoy talking about my research and about the Falklands, I will always jump at a chance to educate others about this special place and its Johnny Rooks. I never expect anything more than the opportunity to broaden the knowledge of conservation to people to come out of my presentations. So, it was quite a surprise that through this presentation I gained two donors (I won't say who in case they want to remain anonymous). I am forever grateful and touched that they think so much of me to be willing to donate their hard-earned money to my research. Without Panera this never would have happened. (Want to join the donation team? Let me know!)

3. By working at this Panera location I am given the opportunity to meet a lot of corporate Moosejaw employees (Moosejaw is an awesome local Michigan backpacking and outdoor store). After getting to know one employee that comes in regularly and who took an interest in my research, I was gifted with some warm clothes for this upcoming trip. Thank you Moosejaw! 

Another thing that happened during this hiatus is that BBC aired the show (in the UK and its territories) that was filmed while I was in the Falklands. Appropriately, the Johnny Rooks were the stars of the segment, but my hat and hand did manage to make the final cut into the episode! Woo!
That hand and hand in the bottom right photo belong to me. I am basically a TV star now, I know. (jk)
On a less uplifting note, I still have not been able to find a professor that has funding for a stipend for basic living and tuition so it looks as though I will have to wait another year to start school. I have been trying to come to terms with this idea for a while, and sadly I am still holding out hope that something will turn up. In the meantime though, I have been applying to other jobs for the Fall that will make me feel more significant (e.g., research jobs, adjunct instructors at colleges, etc.). I also will have my first published article as first author come out in the next Journal of Raptor Research. There are more papers in the works too, so that will hopefully help my mental state. This is not where I thought I would be if you asked me two years ago, but like many people have told me, it is all happening for a reason. Even if I don't currently understand, it is for the best, and it is okay. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Now Showing...(1/2)

This puzzle was never shown to them before. Okay, that's a partial lie. This video is of the 5th try because we had to keep modifying it before then (see, this post). Thank God, the BBC Deadly crew took it in stride and were patient (Steve Backshall is in the background). Luckily a smart adult Johnny Rook was around to solve it although other juveniles seemed to have understood the concept as well. This puzzle was adapted from puzzles that are tested on a species of parrot from New Zealand called Keas. From what I have read about Keas, Johnny Rooks behave very similarly. Click this link to see the video our puzzle was adapted from. 

Now Showing... (part 2/2)

This puzzle simulates more of their natural behaviors of when they rake their talons in the kelp and sand looking for invertebrates (insects) to eat. Again, Steve Backshall of BBC's Deadly program is in the background.