Trip Log - Gwaii Haanas - May 2000
28th - Day 2, 2:20 a.m. -
It is 2:30 in the morning on Day 9, Sunday, May 28th. I just spent three hours in the cold and the dark chasing chicks around on a deserted island, and of course, I loved every minute of it!
I never thought anyone would catch me saying this, but tonight/this
morning, I sat up in the dark and got excited when I heard a bird fly
by. I actually sat with three other guests and waited patiently at the
bottom of a ravine for a bunch of birds to come past us and I have
rarely been as interested or as excited in anything in my life.
Have I gone crazy? I don't think so, but I do know that I now have a new found respect for seabird researchers and a
new favourite seabird, the ancient Murrelet.
Tonight we took part in a unique study of seabirds on Limestone Island,
just north of the Gwaii Haanas Park Reserve. It is a 25 year study in
its 10th year that is hoping to provide long term data on the ancient
Murrelet and on what factors affect their nesting habits and success
ratios, as well as their population growths of declines.
Our guide, Chris, an ancient Murrelet researcher for the past four
weeks, met our skiff in a serene cove at dusk on one side of the
island. From there he led us on a journey of seabird discovery on
winding paths through towering old growth forest. We learned about the
project, its goals and objectives, its obstacles and its findings to
date. We visited their research camp, we visited ancient Murrelet
burrows and we talked about the island's ecology. And then, when it was
REALLY dark, we split into two teams of four people and sat in that
same dark waiting for the first sounds of an ancient Murrelet chick
scurrying along the forest floor.
Our 'team' was given funnels 3 and 4 -- the bottom ends of two ravines
with closed funnels in the shape of a W. Our job, as Chris explained to
us in detail, was to capture any Murrelet chicks that came to the end
of our funnels, put them in small bags and bring them over to the
banding station. After they had been weighed and banded with a small
metal leg band (for id purposes), we were then to take the chicks down
to the beach and release them downhill so that they could join up with
their parents in the water.
Oh, and we were supposed to sit in the dark and only use our lights
right when we captures and bagged them. The chicks were supposedly
small, quick and slippery. The 'team' didn't seem altogether confident
about our skills. We had not idea what a chick scurrying in the dark
sounded like. We were worried about crushing the chicks when we did
capture them. In shore, we had no idea what we were doing and were
anxious to begin.
Our 'team' was patient for about five minutes. We heard several
different things, none of which appeared to be the sounds of an ancient
Murrelet chick coming our way. We had been well schooled by Chris
before being let 'loose' on this important mission, so at 11:40, ten
minutes after our shift had started, we moved over the trail from
Funnel 3 to Funnel 4 to check it. Still nothing. In fact, it wasn't
until our fourth trip back and forth that the action began.
At about 12:10 we walked from Funnel 4 back to 3 and as we rounded the
corner we were suddenly aware that there were chicks in our funnel. We
almost immediately began to panic...err, I mean, we calmly approached
the chicks, caught them them, then bagged them. Of course, in reality,
we scrambled for our lights and tripped over ourselves as we saw two
tiny hackysack sized, black and white bundles of fuzz scampering back
and forth against the plastic sheets that were set up at the edge of
our funnel. "Catch it!", "Geez, they move fast!", "In the bag, head
first, NO, head first", "Not by the legs!" ...ahhhh, the calmness
associated with rookies catching Murrelet chicks for the first time.
I will add at this point that the real researchers, assuming our two
groups were competent, had left us on our own to catch and bag these
birds. And surprisingly enough, we did, seem to be fairly competent at
it once we got over our initial excitement. The whole process of
catching and bagging our first two chicks and then releasing them later
on the beach took us twenty minutes and by the time we returned to
Funnel 3, there were two more chicks in there!! They was pretty much
how our evening went for the next hour and a half...in total, our group
caught twelve Murrelet chicks and one adult (Chris thought the adult
was trying to lead it's chick down to the beach and got into the
funnel), while the other group managed to bring in four chicks from
Funnels 1 and 2.
It was a fantastic evening spent under the stars, leaving our gang
exhausted, but exhilarated. I still can't believe we had so much fun
catching birds, but thanks to Chris and sixteen cute chicks, we left
Limestone Island with a lot more than knowledge and a new love for a
little black and white seabird.
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