Another Day in the Life of a Scientist

Following on from my previous post, this last week (June) I got to go out in the field again, this time to sample seagull eggs. Now compared to the rhinoceros auklets I just wrote about, gulls are fairly considerate of us humans who call ourselves scientists and pinch their eggs every few years – they actually nest on the surface, not in trees, and not in burrows underground. So much easier to collect the eggs! For this trip, we went to two different islands off Vancouver Island (another trip to Vancouver Island, yay!) – Mandarte and Mittlenatch. However, there is about a 3 – 4 hours drive on Vancouver Island in between these two island.

Gulls at one of the colonies we were sampling from.

Gulls at one of the colonies we were sampling from.

My day started off fairly early – I was up at 430am to drive out to the office to meet the others, so we could catch the 7am ferry over to the island. As we were towing the boat, we were considered an over height vehicle, thus space was limited. We had tried to reserve a spot on the boat the previous week, but they were all booked up, so we just had to turn up and take our chances. Turns out, our chances weren’t good, and I could have slept another 2 hours. We didn’t get on the ferry until the 9am crossing, which slowed us down somewhat.

Anyway we got to where we were launching our own boat to head out to the first island. Boat in the water, only to discover the outboard was having some issues… uh oh. Long story short, this slowed us down some, and while we went and sampled at this island, we decided to put it in to a boat service place the next day, and had to charter a water taxi instead. This all made the days a lot longer than they needed to be, but we got the work done anyway.

For the gulls, we only collect eggs from nests that have at least 3 eggs or more in them. We encountered one nest that held 5 eggs, a pretty rare occurrence.

A rare sight - a nest containing 5 eggs.

A rare sight – a nest containing 5 eggs.

You would probably think, as I did, that gulls would be rather aggressive of you approaching their nests. In fact, they tend to just fly off and leave them. A lot of squawking at us, and a couple of precision crap bombers, but that was mostly it. Except one bird by the 5 egg nest, who started dive bombing us. I did get splattered by a precision bomber a couple of times – once right in my ponytail even! It wouldn’t have helped if I had been wearing a cap as my ponytail would still have been sticking out.

What we do to collect these eggs is choose one egg from a nest of three, and sit it in a container of fresh water. If it sinks, we take it. If it floats we don’t take it. The more developed the egg is i.e., the longer since it was laid, the more air has formed around the embryo and the more it floats. We only wanted eggs that were recently laid and had undergone little development, hence there is less air in the eggs and they sink.

So not too hard to do! The two islands we were on are both provincial parks. This means the public can go on the islands (unlike Cleland Island from my previous post). They were both such beautiful places. From a distance, it looked like both were covered with a little bit of scrubby bush, but once you are on the island you see that it is really a jungle. Volunteers on one island, and volunteers/students on the other island, help in cutting back and keeping tracks cleared. We met 2 students on the first island who are out there all summer (rotating days on/off with 2 other students), and from the amount of chatter, missing seeing other people! I’m not sure if I could do that – stay all summer on a little island like that with just the bare basics. There are only pretty rudimentary facilities, no shower, all water for drinking has to be brought onto the island etc. On the 2nd island, we met 2 volunteers. Volunteers are there for 1 week at a time. Much more doable I think, but again, fairly rudimentary, although somehow pretty cool too.

The huts on Mittlenatch Island where the volunteers stay.

The hut on Mittlenatch Island where the volunteers stay.

Looking back at the boat and hut on Mittlenatch Island, over the "jungle".

Looking back at the boat and hut on Mittlenatch Island, over the “jungle”.

The view out of the front of the hut at Mittlenatch Island.

The view out of the front of the hut at Mittlenatch Island.

Two days out there doing this work were not enough – I could have stayed longer! We also got treated to an amazing sunset on the ferry on the way back to the mainland after we had finished up. What a way to end 2 amazing field days.

One of the other BC ferries passing up heading into the sunset.

One of the other BC ferries passing us heading into the sunset.

Fairwell Vancouver Island... off into the sunset.

Fairwell Vancouver Island… off into the sunset.

 

 

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