Posts Tagged ‘nightwork’

Saturday 15 July 2017, week 9: Buldir Island

It’s 23:49 as the credits begin to roll on the laptop screen. Dramatic music plays as amazing images of Planet Earth II’s “Jungles” and “Deserts” episodes dance through our heads. Popcorn consumed and entertainment over, it’s time to change gears.

“Hello, bed,” Kevin longingly says as he enters the bunk cabin.

Bed will have to wait, though, as our own planet earth experience awaits. The 3 of us change out of our warm, comfy sweatpants and light down jackets in exchange for long johns, warm tops, hats, gloves, headlamps, XtraTufs, and Helly Hanson raingear.

Our pockets and butt bags loaded with sample jars, puke spoons, fine tip Sharpies, walkie talkies, and Fenix flashlights, we hit the trail at 00:07, bound for the boulder beach of Crested Point. After 5 minutes of swishing through the tall grasses of the inland trail, we cross the creek and carefully walk down the beach, somehow managing to not hurt ourselves as we walk in dim light on unstable boulders for another 15 minutes. Shortly after 00:30, we’re stationed along the boulders on the high beach, ready to ambush the whiskered auklets that will soon begin flying in to feed chicks in their crevice nests.

Waves break gently against the boulders, providing a soothing soundtrack to accompany the transition from twilight to darkness. The light breeze is enough to be refreshing but not chilling. As the details of our surroundings become harder to see, we turn on our lights to illuminate the auklets’ path from the water to the beach.

The sound of incoming frantic wingbeats means we’ve probably heard our first whiskered arrival of the night around 00:45. As we scan for whiskered auklets with our eyes and ears, fork-tailed and Leach’s storm petrels swoop overhead as they begin their nightly activity.

While scanning the rocks behind me, my light reveals an auklet, which freezes in the bright light. Hoping to get my hands on the little bird, I awkwardly clamber my way over the boulders to reach it, trying to keep my light fixed on the bird in the process. I reach out to grab the skillfully slippery little bird and smile when I manage to wrap my hand around it. Unfortunately for its chick, but fortunately for me, the auklet begins to puke up its orange meal of copepods. Holding the bird over a flat rock, I stroke its throat to elicit the regurgitation of the remaining meal. Once the whiskered seems to have given all it had, I apologize to the bird and release it back into the night. Then begins the fun of using a spoon to scrape the goopy diet sample off the rocks.

Down the beach Kevin and McKenzie are doing the same: scanning the beach with their lights, waiting to ambush incoming auklets, and collecting diet samples. By 01:54 the whiskered auklets’ arrivals have petered down, and we’ve called it a night, happy with the evening’s haul of 8 samples.

While walking our same perilous path home, we find a Leach’s storm petrel in the trail. For its own safety, we play “pass the bird” from Kevin up front to me in the back. With a “good night” to the bird, onward we sleepily walk, reaching home at 02:14.

We weigh and record the mass of each diet sample before adding 70% ETOH to each jar; this is one of the few times each season when we actually turn on one of camp’s small overhead lights. Once we’ve all washed our hands, we make a pit stop at the cooler for a 02:29 snack of a couple quail eggs.

A few minutes later I’m delighted to see the maid visited the bunk cabin and was kind enough to turn on the kerosene heater. We won’t be crawling into cold beds tonight. Flossing, tooth brushing, and late night pee trip done, I climb into bed and fall into the reading trap at 02:36.

Finally at 03:07, I’m ready to call it a night. The best part? We get to sleep in tomorrow.


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