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2016 Limestone Log - Weeks 1 and 2
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Season Finale!

The ELI crew is back in town, safe and sound, after an awesome season! It went by fast and we are already looking forward to next year. Thank you to everyone who supported and followed us during 2016. This is the final Limestone Log for now, but we will be back at it next year. Have a wonderful fall everyone and keep an eye out for your favourite seabirds! 

A Black Oystercatcher chick after banding.

Highlights

Black Oystercatcher Surveying

The first week of July was spent in Gwaii Haanas. We were delayed one day due to the wind, but the next four days we were lucky to have beautiful weather. After a stop at the Maple Leaf to see James’s wife (Happy first anniversary!), we began our surveys along the shoreline and visited known territories. During the shoreline surveys, we slowly scan the shorelines from the skiff for non-territorial adult black oystercatchers. We sometimes find oystercatchers that were banded as chicks in previous seasons. During the territory visits, we exit the boat in areas that have been occupied in the last three years to find the scrape (a nest that is not much more than an organized pile of gravel) and chicks. Some scrapes contained eggs, but since this survey was later in the season, many eggs had hatched. The chicks were difficult to find, since they blended in with the rocks and some were finding creative hiding places. In territories with chicks, we collected fresh prey (mostly limpets, mussels, and chitons) to study what different pairs feed their chicks. Altogether, we found 21 eggs and 23 chicks. We also found 2 new territories! 

The following week was spent surveying oystercatchers in Laskeek Bay. This time our objective was to find territories with chicks so that we could band them. Tony Gaston, our trusted science advisor, came to ELI and supervised Viv while she got experience banding the chicks. We were lucky to have beautiful weather, and were able to visit many territories. The chicks varied in size, but many were large, fast, healthy, and difficult to catch, while two were only 3 or 4 days old and too young to band. Altogether, there were 27 chicks found, 23 of which were banded by Viv and Tony. We found many adults that were banded as well, and were able to use the band numbers to find their ages. We confirmed that the oldest known adult in Laskeek Bay is 19 years old - still doing well and breeding!

Viv and Tony banding a CAAU chick!

Mammal Sightings

We were lucky enough to see many marine mammals at the end of the season! During the Gwaii Haanas BLOY survey week, we regularly sighted 2 humpback whales from our camp at Ramsay Island in the evenings. One was swimming very close to the shoreline, lunge-feeding on schools of small fish. While we were on ELI, several volunteers, along with board member Betsy Cardell, saw a humpback whale feeding close to Cabin Cove, but it seemed to disappear after a small pod of killer whales started roaming the area.

During the Laskeek Bay BLOY survey week, we had several orca sightings. One was a pod of six, including a calf and two large bulls. We also saw a group of 4, possibly the same whales, circling a disconnected rock with many seals resting on it. When we sight orcas from the skiff, we try to get photos of their dorsal fins, which can then be used by researchers to identify individual whales.

During the last week, we saw a pod of 4 orcas - 1 large female, 2 mid size younger ones, and one calf. Our skiff was with them for about an hour, and we were joined by the Island Roamer sailboat for some of this too! After taking ID photos, we decided to try our new hydrophone (a device used to listen and record sounds underwater), and were lucky enough to hear the pod's communication! We recorded some great clips and are hoping to get it up on the website soon.

One of the Orcas we were lucky enough to see this week! Notice the notch on the dorsal fin - researchers identify different individuals by using the unique patterns and notches on their fin and saddle patch.

Chicks on ELI

There were three black oystercatcher chicks in the two territories on ELI this season. We banded two chicks in one territory, both of which were large and healthy. The third, however, we were unable to band because it had already fledged and was flying around with its parents!

We also had three Cassin’s Auklet chicks in nest boxes on Lookout Point and the East Coast plots, but when we went to weigh and band them, two had already fledged. The third was very large and healthy. We banded it but when we returned 5 days later to weigh it again, it had also fledged. We have lots of fantastic photos taken with wildlife cameras of the chicks leaving the nest box, flapping their wings, going for walks and returning to their box, on the nights leading up to fledging.

There were two active eagle nests this season, each containing one large, healthy chick. One was on Cassin’s Tower, and the other was near North Cove. We were unable to get close, however, because the parents were very protective - they made it very difficult to pull thistles near Cassin’s Tower!

The last known occupied wildlife tree on the island contained chickadees. By Week 11, however, the chicks had fledged, as it was quiet and empty.

Viv checking on the Cassin's Auklets nest boxes.

Beachcombing

In the last week, we spent a day picking up marine debris on a Louise Island beach. We recorded everything we picked up, which ended up being huge amounts of styrofoam and plastic fragments, many rope pieces and fishing floats, and 83 plastic water bottles. Adding it to the other marine debris we had collected in the past twelve weeks, we had a very sizeable pile to load onto the Highland Ranger!

Invasive Plants

During the last week, we conducted invasive plants surveys on the Skedans Islands, Low Island, and South Low Island. We walked along the shoreline of each island (careful to avoid the BLOY chicks!), and estimated the density and distribution of each invasive plant species. We found small patches of wall-lettuce, but mostly thistles. In areas that were particularly dense, we took a photograph and waypoint so that we can return next year to remove these prickly, non-native species! 

Thistle removal on ELI.

Packing up camp

As this past week was the final one on ELI, everything had to be packed up, cleaned out, and loaded onto the Highland Ranger. It was a big job that required many hands and cooperation, but the crew all had a great attitude and work ethic. We managed to fit everything from beach garbage to leftover food onto the Highland Ranger, our ride back to town, and left the camp closed up and ready for next year!

An Intern’s Perspective

I was an intern with LBCS for the last four weeks of the field season. I had never been to Haida Gwaii before, so it was a fantastic opportunity to learn how to conduct field work in a beautiful, unique area. From the first day, I fell in love with Limestone Island and I was reluctant to leave. I learned many field techniques that I will likely use for future projects at my university, and I became much better at identifying birds by sight and sound. The experience was rewarding, educational, and incredibly fun. I am very lucky to have received this opportunity, and I encourage students who are hoping to study wildlife biology to apply!

I would like to thank Laskeek Bay Conservation Society for the opportunity to be an intern, and Viv and James for teaching me so much about birds, field techniques, and wildlife monitoring. This has been one of the best experiences of my life, and I hope to return next year as a volunteer!

Terra, Viv, Tony, and a BLOY!

Visitors and Volunteers

The last three weeks, we had a visit from the Island Roamer, including board member Keith Moore as their naturalist. James showed the visitors around the deer exclosures and the camp, and they got a treat in the form of a whale swimming past Cabin Cove!

We also shared our mooring buoy with the Haida Guardian, a Haida Fisheries vessel with three crew members conducting an abalone survey. On one of our last nights at ELI, two of the crew members, Rich and Ben, joined us for a wonderful feast! They also gave us sausages and halibut for the next day, which made for a delicious last ELI meal for the season (Haawa and Thank you!). 

We would like to thank our volunteers for the last three weeks: Laura Pattison (Sandspit), Betsy Cardell (Queen Charlotte), Fran Fowler (Queen Charlotte), Eleanor Bowman (Queen Charlotte), Laura Smith (Arizona/Sanspit), Tony Gaston (Ottawa), Lance Reid (Calgary), Gabrielle Froese (Vancouver), Missy Mondoux (Queen Charlotte), and Colleen Fuhrman (Queen Charlotte). 

We would also like to thank Sasha Jones from the Highland Ranger for transportation back to Queen Charlotte, our Board of Directors, and all of our dedicated partners and funders. Finally, we would like to thank you and the community for your support.

Volunteers Missy and Colleen bushwhacking through the deer-free vegetation on South Low Island!
See you soon!
Thank you for reading our Limestone Logs and see you next season!

Our mailing address is:
Laskeek Bay Conservation Society
P.O. Box 867
Queen Charlotte, BC V0T 1S0
Canada

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