Despite being pooped on constantly, being a seabird biologist does have its benefits. A big plus is that fieldwork usually occurs on beautiful remote islands that the average person doesn’t get the chance to visit. Lucky for me, for my master’s project on Cassin’s auklet, I was missing samples from colonies in Haida Gwaii, an island archipelago off the coast of northern British Columbia.
The Haida name for the southern group of islands “Gwaii Haanas” means “islands of beauty” or “place of wonder”. This describes Haida Gwaii perfectly. The islands are covered in temperate old growth rainforest and are home to many endemic species. Massive Sitka spruce, western hemlock, red and yellow cedars tower over you as you walk through the luscious understory of mosses and ferns. Not only is it interesting from a biological perspective but the rich culture of the Haida people is fascinating. Old villages with remnants of long houses and totem poles can be seen on many of the islands, where nature has taken over with it’s luscious carpet of moss and plants growing out of the old poles (stay tuned for more posts on this amazing place!).
As we were living on small islands for 3 weeks where permanent human settlements do not exist, we had to travel by boat to the sites and carry all of our goods and belongings. In doing so, I learned quickly how to run across slippery sharp rocks, something that black oystercatchers are experts at! Cassin’s auklets are burrow-nesting seabirds, thus in order to catch them we needed to “grub burrows” which entails sticking your hand (and sometimes entire arm) into holes in the ground or hillside in hopes to find a bird at the end. At first, I was worried about what else could be in those burrows but I got over that fear, once I had the experience of holding a cute fluffy auklet chick in my hand (also a plus to working with seabirds!).
One day when I was waiting for the BC ferry, I spotted a pair of pigeon guillemots sitting at the edge of the dock. I took some pictures of the pair, as I hadn’t seen this species that close before. When the ferry arrived, I picked up my bags and looked back to see if the ferry had scared off the pair. I saw them fly into what seemed like a hole at the front of the boat A local told me that this pair of pigeon guillemots have been seen nesting in the ferry before! Unlike myself, waiting for transportation to get to my home for the next week, they opted for a “mobile home” and were waiting on the ferry dock for their nest to come to them! Talk about laziness! (Or maybe it’s smart??).
We are excited to share our stories and anecdotes about the field with you and to give you an idea of why we fell in love with these places!