Kathy Molina,

Kathy Molina,

A weeklong electronic journal.
June 28 1998 3:30 AM

Kathy Molina,

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       We assembled on the south levee just as the sun began to break over the rim of the Chocolate Mountains. Kate, Melissa, and Angie, towing a child's inflatable pool, set off on foot for the two largest islets, where several hundred pairs of Caspian terns are nesting. Fritz and I kayaked from the deeper, southeastern corner, and with this able crew of five, we launched our tern roundup. We moved in unison, slogging across a thick and tenacious mud bottom, coaxing our little swimmers to the fence. Once they were corralled there we placed them into the floating pool for safe transport to the islet and banding. I had initially hoped to round up chicks on the second islet as well, but with no cloud cover and little breeze, the temperature seemed to rise rapidly. Conscious that our presence in the colony causes some chicks to remain unprotected, we limit the duration of our visits and restrict them to the relatively cool early morning hours. An attack on Blind Islet will have to wait for another day.
       In a brief couple of hours, we had captured and banded nearly 200 Caspian terns. To many of these we applied an additional green plastic band, imprinted with a unique alphanumeric code, which will facilitate the identification of individual terns at a distance. I've only recently begun to band this species since they have become so numerous at the Salton Sea, coordinating colors and codes with other Caspian banders along the Pacific Coast. The newly hatched young of a few late-nesting gull-billeds were still too small to band, and the skimmer clutches had not yet hatched. No doubt, banding will continue for some weeks ahead.
       Ready to release the final Caspian chick, I glanced up and noticed directly overhead a large bird with a long, forked tail and unmistakable wingspan. " Magnificent frigate!" I screamed, nearly swallowing the plastic band I had in my mouth for safekeeping. Frigates, rare and highly sought after by birders here, occasionally disperse northward in summer to the Salton Sea through the Gulf of California. As I passed around the binoculars so that all could have a good look, I just couldn't imagine a more perfect summer morning at the Salton Sea!

Kathy Molina is a research biologist studying the breeding ecology of water birds at the Salton Sea, a saline lake in the Colorado Desert of southeastern California. She is currently completing an M.S. degree at California State University, Northridge.