My name is Rachael Orben and I am a postdoctoral scholar affiliated with both the Seabird Oceanography Lab and the GEMM Lab here at Hatfield Marine Science Center. I am writing this from Anchorage, Alaska where Abram (a Master’s student at San Jose State University) and I are just finishing gear gathering and shopping before flying on to St George Island to spend the end of May and June observing, tracking, and sampling red-legged kittiwakes.
This video is taken looking down to the beach from the top of High Bluffs, St George Island. Turn up the volume!
Just a little bit of background
Red-legged kittiwakes are endemic to the Bering Sea and most of their population nests on the cliffs on St George Island. St George is one of the Pribilof Islands located in the southeastern Bering Sea and is home to over a million nesting seabirds including auklets, cormorants, kittiwakes, murres, and puffins. The Pribilofs are also known for the large rookeries of Northern Fur Seals (http://www.afsc.noaa.gov/nmml/education/pinnipeds/northfs.php). St. George has a small Aleut community (http://www.apiai.org/tribes/st-george/) so we will be living in town and commuting by ATV and foot to the bird cliffs.
Click on the link below – Can you spot the red-legged kittiwake?
Photo credits: Caitlin Kroeger
We would like to know how individual foraging behaviour and physiology influence reproductive success and then how these might carry over to wintering behaviour.
Tracking: We will be using GPS dataloggers (10g) and geolocation/wet-dry dataloggers (1g) to track movements and foraging behaviour of red-legged kittiwakes during incubation and overwinter.
Physiology: When we catch birds we will take physiological samples to measure individual stress levels, mercury loads, and body condition that we can link to foraging behaviour.
Observations: We will observe the birds that we track so that we know when eggs are laid, chicks hatch and fledge so that foraging and physiology can be connected to these measures of breeding success. And next year we will return and resight these birds to measure survival.
This study is funded by the North Pacific Research Board (http://www.nprb.org/) with additional support from OceanClassrooms (http://oceanclassrooms.com/) for pre-breeding tracking. I also have been writing short blogs about project with the Seabird Youth Network aimed for middle schoolers that you can check out here: (http://seabirdyouth.org/category/kittiwake-behavior/)
Internet access will be intermittent on St George, but I hope to periodically post updates via Twitter @RachaelOrben (#OCGrants), Instagram @raorben, and the Seabird Youth Network Blog.