This past week, I had the amazing opportunity to participate in Western Gull captures. This was my first time handling wild animals and let me tell you, it was quite the adventure!
We had a small crew of four consisting of my supervisor Stephanie, my boss Dr. Suryan, volunteer Roberta and myself! We decided to conduct our captures on Cleft, right off the coast in the city of Yachats. We hiked down the cliff, with all our equipment. Once we reached the bottom, we rolled up our pants and walked through the shallow rocky beach, toward the gull colony rock. After we reached the top, we did a quick scan of the colony to see if we could spot any tagged gulls. Then we set up shop and began setting up traps by nests. Our traps caught two birds! The adrenaline was certainly pumping whenever we would see the colony flush, because we knew we had to react quickly. Once caught, each bird goes through quite the process before we release it once again.
First, we do a bacterial swab of the mouth. We take a long swab and move it around the inside of the bird’s mouth and under the tongue. Second, we conduct morphometrics aka various body measurements. These are culmen (tip of bill to beginning of feathers on head), bill to back of the head and tarsus (tibiotarsal joint to the notch at the start of the toes). Third, we tag the bird with a metal band (for research) and a colored band (for public identification). Fourth, we take feather samples from the breast and the under wing coverts. Fifth, we attach a small tracking device to the birds back. It is attached like a backpack and is tracked using GPS technology. Last, we take blood samples for trace metals, stable isotope and DNA smear. Finally, we release the bird!
Once he had finished, we collected all our equipment and traps. We put on our wet suits and prepared to make the treacherous journey across the now tumultuous high tide. At a first glance, the waves didn’t look so bad. Then I realized just how big they were and had to take a step back. Luckily, my boss was very kind and he helped me swim to safety. I was pretty much flailing the whole time, but I made it! Once all crew was accounted for and we had all our equipment, we hiked back up the cliff and made our way to the car, where we changed out of our wet suits. Once back at the lab, we unloaded the car and cleaned out our wet suits. I was surely exhausted by the end, but I wouldn’t trade this exciting experience for anything! It was definitely a day to remember.