Kathy Molina,

Kathy Molina,

A weeklong electronic journal.
June 26 1998 3:30 AM

Kathy Molina,

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       The "glamour" of working in the field fades today as I return briefly to the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles to download temperature data. Also, I intend to capture and band gull-billed and Caspian terns this weekend, so I need to return to Los Angeles to prepare.
       I hugged the Salton Sea shoreline last evening on my drive north, stopping briefly at one of the favorite bird-watching haunts. Here, where the sea meets the road, I watched a black skimmer working the placid waters with its knifelike lower mandible. The bird skimmed so close to me, and presented views so perfect, that with each downward snap of its head, I could visualize the fish it had captured just before swallowing. Initially disappointed my camera was not available, I thought it better after all--heck, I'd have been fussing with f-stop and focus and ended up missing the whole show.
       My list of confirmed banding volunteers is still shorter than I'd like, but I think it'll flesh out by tomorrow. I've prepared three more 50-foot sections of plastic fencing, which now gives me a total of 10 sections. I think I have plenty of PVC stakes, 2.5 feet in length, one end cut on the diagonal--I must now own a full ton of that stuff. Some species of terns form tight crèches, or tight aggregations, and are far easier to capture as a group. Unfortunately, the species we are targeting tomorrow do not display this convenient behavior. The technique I've found most useful is to erect a semicircle of fence around the nesting islet, and then as we wade through the shallow impoundment, the yet-to-fledge chicks flush from the islet and into the water (a natural anti-predator response), only to be herded toward the fence and corralled there. Baby terns are incredible swimmers, even the youngest ones, but in this manner we usually capture about 95 percent of the chicks that are present.
       The refuge manager called this afternoon to report that, during his reconnaissance of the northern end of the sea yesterday, he had recovered a dead, but banded, black skimmer. The corpse was fairly well decomposed, but he had wrapped it up in plastic bags knowing I would be interested in examining it. Checking my banding records I found that No. 634-82183 was banded as a youngster Aug. 7, 1993. Interestingly, this bird was found only 4 kilometers away from the islet at which it had hatched five years before. Yet another data point that helps map the comings and goings of Salton Sea skimmers.
       I'll file one more diary entry over the weekend, which Slate has promised to post Monday.

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.