Sunday, February 21, 2010

Feburary 21 - more whales, Sheathbill chick, birding assistant and the Krill.

There was an interesting event that happened on the 20th.  There was a low tide and we noticed a ton of birds feeding on something by the waterline and then all these seals feeding also.  We investigated and saw Krill all over the place.  The Krill as you know is what is the one of the main foods for the whales and seals and birds here at Palmer.

Here's a picture of a Fur seal that had been feeding on the krill and a closeup of his face.  He has such cute ears and was just rubbing around on the rocks and was totally aware of my presence, but didn't seem offended.

This is a little krill in a tablespoon so you can get an idea of it's size.  This seems to be about a 5 year old krill.  I'm not an expert, but I have observed enough krill to get an idea watching science in the aquarium here on station.

We had the delight of finding a Sheathbill nest.  They nest under rocks usually and have been known to nest under buildings.  We've not seen a Sheathbill chick here as long as I have been coming to Palmer Station.  That's been 10 years.  Here's a picture of a Sheathbill parent watching out for it's chick.  This was a sunny day and they had come out of the next to absorb some much needed sun. 
Here's a closeup of the Sheathbill chick.  A little fluff ball about 8 inches tall.  After we discovered the sheathbill nest, we noticed Skuas hanging out around the next.  We're been keeping away from the nest hopefully to not disturb the already tense situation.  The Skuas would love little sheathbill chicks for a snack.

I was able to go out and help with Adelie penguin Fledgling counting.  We start out planning on a full day out on the islands.  We'll be counting, measureing beak and wing lengths, weight and general condition fo the penguins that are almost done fledging.  What that is, is when the little gray Adelie chicks start to lose their down and start into their teenage years.  The Fledglings hang out by the waters' edge until they fully molt.  Then they get to go out and explore the water.  They generally won't go out until they have fully lost their down.  Here's a picture of the first phase, the Birders Jen and Kirstie are counting the penguins.
After counting, us helpers hold out bamboo flags to keep the Adelie fledglings coraled.  Then the Birders go into the group and gently pluck one Adelie at a time to do measurements.  We do our best to keep our distance.  The flags on the end of the poles are enough of a deterant to keep them in a group.
Here I am getting to hold an Adelie penguin.  If you notice he has a tuft of feathers on top of his head. It always seems that this always makes them look like they have mohawks.
On our checking out the island, we also check out the Giant Petrels.  There is the Humble Island loop that takes us to all the Petrel nests.  We do the same more or less of counting the nests, weighing the birds and checking for any missing birds. 
This is Jen one of the Birders holding the Giant Petrel Chick to take measurements.  The birds as we, are gentle in handling so there isn't any tramatizing the birds. 
I'm gently holding a big warm fuzball of a Giant petrel chick.  They are big, but don't weigh as big as they look.  It's all fluffy feathers that make them look so big. 
Here we are getting ready to travel to another island to check on more birds.
Here we are traveling between Islands.  I think we hit three different islands this day.  Total count of Adelie's was 96.

These pictures are taken from station when the Humpbacks stopped by while there were Krill in the area.  This is a good picture of the inside of the roof of the mouth of a Humpback.  I heard but can't confirm it yet, that this has something to do with cooling of the whale.  This will take some more research.
Here's a group from station in their zodiac checking out the Humpback whales.
This is the Birders watching from a safe distance the whales feeding and checking out the behavior of the birds.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Feburary 1, 2010 Breaker Island and Whales

Wow, do I have some fun adventures to most recent was finding whales right in our own front yard so to speak.  The ocean just in front of the station had been teeming with pods of Humpback whales.  It happened on our day off and there were a couple of zodiacs available all day for the station support personnel usage.  Groups of 5 or 6 went out for hours at a time and then come back and more would go out.  Do you know what the Humpbacks were doing? 

They were bubblenet feeding.  This is the most amazing, interesting story, so pay attention....

There is a pod of whales, in our case this day, we personally saw a pod of three Humpbacks feeding. 

What they were feeding on was Krill, the tiny crustaceans that look like little shrimp. 
You have one whale that dives deep and starts coming to the surface in a circle blowing bubbles on it's way up. 
Another make noises to scare the krill into the net of bubbles where they feel trapped and can't get out. 

Krill just don't like bubbles, it scares them. 

Another whale comes from below to also help herd the krill into the bubble net and then the whales all swim up through the bubble net with their mouths wide open and gulp as many Krill as they possible can grab.  Their mouths open really big and expand to trap as many krill as they can.  They do this over and over and over for hours. 

Here you can see the how big his jowls open to grab as many krill as he can. 

The Kelp gulls hang out waiting for scraps that the Humps leave behind. 

We had to say goodbye so another group could come out.  Bye bye Humps!  Thanks for the show!

January 22nd  Breaker Island

This day was the week prior to the Whale story.  I went out with a small group in a zodiac and we wandered around the islands close to us. 

There was Breaker Island that juts out of the waters edge straight up into the sky.  The ocean around it is usually very turbulent.  Today it wasn't.  It was a day to go exploring on Breaker. 

I was nervous at first.  I knew I could scale the rock to get up to the top, but I had never been here before and I was afraid I might not be able to get back down. 

The island was just rock with some lichen growing on it and it had three Giant Petrel bird nests on top of our peak where we landed.  Only one was occupied and it was far enough away we didn't scare the bird sitting on the nest.

I only have pictures of my descent and someone else took my picture while I gingerly made my way back down to the boat.

See the ledges we have to climb down...

It's kind of steep...

I'm hanging on to the rope and slowly make my way back down.

I slip into the boat...

....and I made it SAFELY!