Rookery Impossi-gull

Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in a certain type of fieldwork I haven’t done before: gull captures! The Seabird Oceanography Lab has set GPS tags on several gulls weeks ago to monitor their location and progress on the Oregon coast. This recent week, members of the lab would go out to a spot near Cape Perpetua to recapture the gulls so as to collect the tags for analysis. It was a brand new and amazing experience for me!

 

From Hatfield, we drove down to the spot near Cape Perpetua which was just about 40 minutes down south. Arriving at the location, I could see the rookery of Western gulls on the nearby rocks. Its incredible to think that there were so many of them nesting in just one spot; there must’ve been about 200 of them, easily! We got prepared by placing the necessary supplies inside large waterproof backpacks as well as putting on our wet suits. From there we walked over the edge of a steep slope in which we utilized a rope to “repel” down the cliff-side. Its actually not as dangerous as it sounds. There was no need for a harness and the cliff was not a vertical drop, but the rope was used as a guide to help us on the way down. Once we were had our feet on the sandy beach, just about 20 feet below the grassy plateau, we looked for a path to cross over onto the rookery. The rookery itself was a small rocky island within several yards of the the sandy beach. To get there we would have to trudge through some waters and perhaps swim a little to the finish. It was a like crossing a very small channel. That day added a little more excitement to the crossing, as there was a light storm that rocked the waves a little more than usual. With the rain, waves, and harbor seals watching us close by it felt incredible!

 

Once on the island we walked across the to the other side, causing a ruckus with the gulls. On my way across I could see several nests… some of them even had baby chicks! We got to the other side and we climbed down into a small cave so as to be out of sight of the gulls. We prepared the nets and filled some plastic jugs with water so as to anchor the nets when they are set. The nets were then set along the edge of the nests. This way, the nets are able to catch the feet of the gulls without having concern of any damage to the contents of the nests. We would take intervals of 15 minutes to check on the nets to see if any gulls were caught. The procedure would have us capture the gull, remove the tag, and take some measurements. That day, however, we were unable to catch any gulls! Perhaps the biggest factor was the stormy weather that may change the attitude of gulls, in which they may stay on top of their nests without moving around as much. Regardless, I had an amazing time helping out in this fieldwork! Gull tagging season for the Seabird Oceanography Lab may be over but I hope to do something similar in the future one day.

Christian Cortez
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