Programs and Voyages

Trip Log - Gwaii Haanas - May 2000 


    
May 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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