Over the past year I have visited the Farallon Islands three times. Located approximately 30 miles west of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge these craggy rocks lie within San Francisco county: it is hard to believe as they are a wild place, the home or resting place to numerous birds and marine mammals.
I spent a couple weeks to a month in each of South East Farallon Island’s (SEFI) three research seasons working part-time as an intern for Point Blue (PRBO) helping to collect a variety of data to add to their long-term data sets. The remainder of my time was devoted to photographing and sketching the wildlife, primarily birds in the fall and spring, in winter much of my focus was on the seals and sea lions. As we head into October, the shorter days combined with the slightly crisper weather, my thoughts have turned to the couple weeks I spent on SEFI during last fall’s migration season.
In the Fall every day was different. In the morning, at dawn, there was a sense of excitement, what migrant might have landed on the island that day. As one walked around the island one was always on the alert for the next new thing, perhaps a Harris’s Sparrow in amongst the Golden-crowned Sparrow flock, a fly by Black-throated Green Warbler or a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker would make a brief appearance on the lighthouse. There was always something new to see…….
100′s of Red-breasted Nuthatches and
many Golden-crowned Kinglets littered the island ….
A few Western Palm Warblers were frequently found hopping about in Twitville, an area of Malva sp.. Although this is an introduced plant it is kept in a couple well defined areas to attract migrants. An occasional Magnolia and one of my favorites Chestnut-sided Warbler, were also found in this area and in the cypress trees by the houses. In fall the Chestnut sided Warblers are a lovely grass green color above
A number of sparrows and buntings made their way to the islands last fall: Lapland Longspur and Harris’s Sparrow
A place to always check was underneath the water tank on lighthouse hill, frequently thrushes liked to hide and forage in the moist shadows such as this Hermit Thrush.Usually a few Rock Wrens could be found hopping about on the rocks of light house hill, they remain on the island throughout the fall and the winter.
Several species of owl make there way out to the Farallones in fall: Long and Short-eared and the below two, Barn and Burrowing. The latter two species can spend many months on the islands feeding on the abundant introduced house mice. As the winter progresses the house mouse population crashes so when the endangered Ashy Storm-Petrel begins to return to the island to nest Burrowing Owls add them to their diet.
Last fall a Barn Owl frequently roosted in one of the cypress trees by the Coast Guard house.
The Burrowing Owls roosted in caves,crevices and tunnels on the islands’ rocky hillsides.
A number of shorebirds winter along the coast of SEFI, Wandering Tattler were commonly seen creeping around the rocks in places with odd names such as Garbage and Sewer Gulch or Sea Pigeon Cove.
There was too much to see and do during those two weeks on SEFI, the time flew by and before I knew it I was putting my feet back on the California mainland.