Saying Goodbye to Protection Island


“At night I pedaled my rusty borrowed bicycle back to my sleeping bag. Rushing to beat the wind that swept the light from the sky. Hurrying past the tool shed that I hoped was empty of life. And in the morning I woke to the feeling of soft open air and the sporadic sting of grass seeds in my socks.” — from my journal shortly after departing the island

It’s difficult to think of a proper send off for my time on Protection Island. I thought perhaps I would write a long post and try to capture every single memory that I made there. But it seems that photographs are really the only way for me to show you the beauty and pleasant isolation I came to know as a castaway.

I chose sunsets because they were spectacular firework displays every night. They were a reward for 20-hour work days and a show that only I had seats to. Please enjoy this gallery of Washington sunsets and let me know what you think. Thanks for reading!




















Rhinoceros Puffins


Is a seabird? Check. Is relatively small and dives for food? Check. Does not have a brilliantly colored bill like a puffin? Nope. Must be an auklet.

This is what I think happened when Rhinoceros Auklets were named. But really and truly, they are puffins. They radiated about 5 million years ago and are closely related to auklets. My research provides further evidence of this in that they have similar voices. But they are individuals in their own right.

Little is known about Rhinoceros Auklets. We have studied them on land during their breeding season.


Measuring a Rhinoceros Auklet (Cerorhinca monocerata) chick – Protection Island, WA

But we’re not entirely sure where they go for the rest of the year. We know they go far out to sea. And to watch them on land is to verify that they’re built for living on the water. I’ve never witnessed a more clumsy bird (then again, I’ve never seen albatrosses in person).

I spent 3 months virtually alone on Protection Island, WA with these birds (and the guillemots). I weighed and measured the rhino chicks every other day and recorded them every night. When they fledged their burrows, it was actually a bit sad for me. I had become their loud, obnoxious people-parent and they had grown so used to me that they would crawl into my red weigh bag every time I dipped them from their nests.

I saw some of the fledglings the next morning in the marina. They usually stick around for a single day before they head all the way out to sea–or wherever they go. So as I observed the guillemots from the boat every morning, I watched the fledgling rhinos and said goodbye to them as I fondly recalled them as tiny puffy babies.

Again, I have many photos of them as pufflings. But I cannot show you just yet because they’re tied up in a manuscript I will soon submit for publishing. Patience, my friends.

What I can do is show you some fledgling rhinos.


Rhinoceros Auklet (Cerorhinca monocerata) fledgling – Protection Island, WA


Rhinoceros Auklet (Cerorhinca monocerata) fledgling – Protection Island, WA


Rhinoceros Auklet (Cerorhinca monocerata) fledgling – Protection Island, WA


Rhinoceros Auklet (Cerorhinca monocerata) fledgling – Protection Island, WA

Do you see the tiny rhinoceros “horn” on the tops of their bills? Both males and females have those.


Rhinoceros Auklet (Cerorhinca monocerata) fledgling – Protection Island, WA


Rhinoceros Auklet (Cerorhinca monocerata) fledgling – Protection Island, WA


Rhinoceros Auklet (Cerorhinca monocerata) fledgling – Protection Island, WA


Rhinoceros Auklet (Cerorhinca monocerata) fledgling – Protection Island, WA


Rhinoceros Auklet (Cerorhinca monocerata) fledgling – Protection Island, WA


Rhinoceros Auklet (Cerorhinca monocerata) fledgling – Protection Island, WA


Rhinoceros Auklet (Cerorhinca monocerata) fledgling – Protection Island, WA

I hope you enjoyed the photos of one of my favorite birds. I am a little biased. When you spend 3 months on an island with no one to talk to but the birds, you become very attached and pretty weird.

Come back next Sunday for my final post on Protection Island, WA.

Plants are cool too

There’s really no limit to the number of things I’m obsessed with. This might be a bird blog but I reserve the right to put plants on it too. And fossils. And other rocks. And bugs. And fish. Let’s just end this very predictable list by saying: things that naturally occur outdoors.

Today I’m traipsing into uncharted territory. I’m going to show you some wildflowers and other plants of Protection Island, WA. But I’m only a field guide botanist. My mental catalogue of plants isn’t huge and it’s definitely more applicable to Colorado and Newfoundland, the places where I’ve spent the most time. So I’m going to ask you a favor. Please help me ID these beauties. Especially if I totally get it wrong. And enjoy. If we’re big fans of birds, we must be big fans of their habitat and food as well.


Pearhip Rose (Rosa woodsii) – Protection Island, WA

And now please help. This is some kind of a horsetail reed?

And these yellow darlings are nice. Any ideas?

The rest of the plant photos are below. All of the green is so alive and looking at these photos makes me long for spring as it snows outside. I’m excited to see how many of you are plant nerds!

Check in this weekend for a look at my main study species, the Rhinoceros Auklet. It’s a puffin with a tiny horn on its bill, you have to see this!