Thursday, September 25, 2014

The mystery of the Ashy storm-petrel

The records kept by egg collectors have been a valuable source of information about breeding birds on the Channel Islands. One such account from 1903 indicates that the ashy storm petrel nested on Catalina Island. But nobody has been able to find one since.

Until the summer of 2014, when biologists with the Catalina Island Conservancy and the California Institute of Environmental Studies found six nests on Ship Rock. They believe that there are even more Ashy storm petrels breeding on Catalina -- perhaps as many as fifty pairs.

The Ashy storm petrel lives year-round in the northern Pacific, ranging from Mendocino to Baja California. There are only about 10,000 birds, half of which nest on islands that are included in the Channel Islands National Park. The birds nest most frequently on islands or nearby rocks that are free of terrestrial mammalian predators, like rats.

How could the Catalina birds have gone unnoticed for so long? Well, Ashy storm petrels are easy to miss. First, they're not very big -- only about eight inches tall and about 1.3 ounces. That's about the size of a super-skinny American robin. And, like other storm petrels, they're nocturnal, flying to and from their nests under cover of darkness. Lastly, they prefer to nest in locations where it's hard for predators -- foxes, owls, and introduced rats -- to get to their nests. Perhaps it's not so surprising that they've been a mystery for so long.

You can read the LA Times story here.
Read more about Ashy storm-petrels in general and Channel Islands National Park populations.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Brown Pelican: A Miracle, Clad in Monk-Brown Robes

Silent fisherman

Pelicans, like brown clad monks
travel single file.
"Gray Beach Day" by Wendy DeWitt

The sun sparkled across the water as the sun crept lower in the sky. I zipped my jacket up to my chin against the late afternoon breeze that blew in from the Pacific. Pelicans, silhouetted against the setting sun, streamed across Catalina Head, low in the sky their smooth passage was interrupted by occasional flaps of their wings. "Modern-day pterodactyls," I think, "Bombers returning from their afternoon sortie."

A miracle, clad in monk-brown robes.

The Brown pelican is something of a miracle, a conservation success story. A testament to the power of the Endangered Species Act. Almost extinct in the 1970s, their numbers have rebounded such that they have been de-listed as an endangered species.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Encounters with an Oarfish

Two oarfish were sighted off Isla San Francisco in Baja California!  The story and videos of the fish are on the Smithsonian website.

For more about oarfish, read this from the American Galapagos blog.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Losing Our Past: Climate Change and Island Archaeology

Climate change is here, now. Record droughts, increasingly severe storms, rising average temperatures, and a growing disconnect between ecological processes all point to the damage that increased greenhouse gas emissions are having on our world's climate.

We are just beginning to realize the effect that climate change will have on our lives, what we can do to reduce them, and what it's going to cost us. One cost of climate change, however, can't be measured in currency, jobs lost, or property damage. It is the loss of our shared human heritage. Climate change's effect is being felt on archaeological resources around the world, particularly on coastal sites that contain some of the oldest records of humankind.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Riding the Kelp Highway -- The Channel Islands Link to the First Americans?

We all know the story of how people first came to the Americas, right?  Well, maybe not. Research published in the last 10-15 years has suggested that our old view of human colonization from Asia is wrong - and studies of human prehistory on the Channel Islands could help us understand how this colonization progressed.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Oarfish: The Messenger from the Sea God's Palace

Last fall Jasmine Santana, an instructor at the Catalina Island Marine Institute, was snorkeling in about 20 feet of water.  She noticed a very long ribbon-like fish lying on the ocean floor and recognized it immediately as an oarfish.

Santana knew that an oarfish was a cool and unusual find, so she dove to the bottom, grabbed it by the tail, and dragged the dead fish onto the beach. After recruiting some help, she and other CIMI crew managed to wrestle the 18-foot long oarfish onto the beach at Toyon Bay.

About a week later, a second dead oarfish washed ashore near Oceanside, about 40 miles north of San Diego.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Lone Woman of San Nicolas's cave is found

An October 2012 story in the LA Times describes the recent discovery of a cave on San Nicolas Island that archaeologists believe sheltered the Lone Woman of San Nicolas.

The story of the Lone Woman was immortalized by Scott O'Dell in his book "Island of the Blue Dolphins".  A fictionalized account of the Lone Woman, whose Native American name was never known, the book tells the tale of a young woman named Karana who survives alone on a remote island for nearly twenty years.