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There is something surreal about leaving the docks in the early evenings and knowing that your night of work out at sea is just about to begin.

As sun disappears just below the horizon, the R/V Pacific Storm motors its way under the Newport Bridge and out onto the open water. The mood onboard is calm and quiet as everyone begins their own mental preparations for the night ahead. The ship will not return to dock until just after sunrise and the hope is that the crew will see several Marbled Murrelets between now and then.

The Marbled Murrelet is a dove-sized seabird, listed as an endangered species in the state of Oregon. While the murrelet spends the majority of its time out at sea, the species is well known for its unique ability to travel up to 40 miles inland in order to nest in older forests. Tasked with the challenge of studying the nesting behaviors of this secretive seabird, the Oregon Marbled Murrelet Project takes on the herculean effort of carefully trapping murrelets on the ocean and tagging them with radio transmitters so they can be tracked to their nests. Captures are performed at night, as the birds roost for the evening on the gently rolling waves.

This was my first opportunity to join our crews out on the water since the start of the project. As the Program Manager for the Oregon Marbled Murrelet Project, my duties don’t often take me out into the field anymore. While we motored out to our offshore starting point, I walked around the back deck, enjoying the opportunity to chat with the skilled capture crew we bring onto the project each year. Their combined decades of experience capturing seabirds on the water lends itself to some incredible stories and well developed senses of humor. Rounding out the scientific team, our research scientists and seasonal field technicians lined the side of the ship, taking in the beautiful evening as the last light faded out. The Pacific Storm slowed and everyone went to work.

As the ship came to an idle, the research technicians filed into the indoor lab to prepare stations for taking biological measurements of captured birds and attaching the radio transmitters. Marbled Murrelet captures are done from a small motor boat, called a zodiac, while the R/V Pacific Storm acts as the mothership, awaiting the captured birds for processing. A large crane lifted the zodiac off of the back deck and lowered it into the water, followed shortly by the seasoned capture crew. Within moments, they were all aboard and motoring out into the quiet night, a headlamp illuminating their path and searching systematically for dozing murrelets.

After an hour or two, a chirp on the radio alerted the researchers that the capture crew was on their way back with a murrelet. The consistent weeks of working together were evident from the organized efficiency of the research scientists and technicians as they tidied their stations and got into position. The bird arrived at the Pacific Storm and was carefully passed up in a pet carrier into awaiting arms. Despite the running clock to have the bird back out on the water in short order, calm hands passed the bird quietly from station to station as measurements were taken and a transmitter was attached to the back of the murrelet. If any of the crew were fighting down nerves, their struggles were invisible as I admired the team working as a well-oiled machine. In a matter of minutes, the murrelet was back out on the back deck and being released into the dark night, flying off well past the distance of my night vision. We walked back indoors to await the next bird.

Over the course of the field season, we hope to provide you with a behind the scenes glimpse of what field work really looks like and the effort that it takes to study the Marbled Murrelet. Our dedicated field technicians that have a front seat view of the project will be providing you with a variety of perspectives, in their own words, to take you along with us in the field. We hope you enjoy the read and visit our website at www.oregonmurrelet.org.

~~Jenn Guerrero, OMMP Program Manager


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