New Year’s Gales on Sable

22 01 2013

Happy new year everyone!  The gull research world has been very busy lately which has made me quite neglectful of this blog since the summer field season.  I just got back from another trip to Sable Island which reminded me to update you on some of our gull work.

This winter’s trip to Sable was especially cold, snowy, and WINDY which made for difficult gull catching.  The Sable Island weather station recorded maximum wind gusts of more than 60 km/h on 8 of the 13 days we were out there and gusts of 93 km/h, or 50 knots, estimated on January 11th…the day we were supposed to leave but our flight was canceled.  With these blowing winds the whole island feels like sand blasting in a wind tunnel and evenings are spent wiping sand from the corners of your eyes.  Nonetheless, we managed to catch 12 Great Black-backed Gulls (same as last year) and deployed colour leg bands on each of them.  Like last year, our captures were assisted by carcasses….of seals.  The gulls are ravenous in the cold winter days so we set our traps around the dead seal pups where the gulls flock to scavenge on tasty blubbery morsels.  This year’s captures were assisted by one extra rotten and extra large carcass that fed dozens of gulls at a time… a large male sperm whale had washed up on shore some time ago and was decaying in the surf while being pecked at by gulls.

Washed up by tides and waves, a large male sperm whale decays on the beach.  Two full grown people easily fit jaws of this beast.  Photo by Rob Ronconi.

Washed up by tides and waves, a large male sperm whale decays on the beach. Two full grown people easily fit into the jaws of this beast. Photo by Rob Ronconi.

Here are a few pictures to share the awesome sense of the Sable land and seascape in the cold winter months.  Stay tuned to the blog over the next couple months and I’ll bring you stories of Sable gulls that have been spotted this past fall at garbage dumps, beaches, 100’s of km offshore, and even a cemetery.

Happy gull watching in the new year!

Rob

Halifax, NS

Sable horses take shelter in the valleys between the dunes.  Photo by Rob Ronconi

Sable horses take shelter in the valleys between the dunes. Photo by Rob Ronconi

In the past Sable was known as the graveyard of the Atlantic where hundreds of vessels met their fate.  Winter storms move mountains of sand revealing portions of shipwrecks.  Poking out of the sand for only 2 days, the remains of this wreck may not be seen again for decades.  Photo by Rob Ronconi

In the past Sable was known as the graveyard of the Atlantic where hundreds of vessels met their fate. Winter storms move mountains of sand revealing portions of shipwrecks. Poking out of the sand for only 2 days, the remains of this wreck may not be seen again for decades. Photo by Rob Ronconi

Gale force winds blow the tops off waves on January 11th when winds gusting to 93 km/h were recorded at the Sable Island weather station.  Photo by Rob Ronconi

Gale force winds blow the tops off waves on January 11th when winds gusting to 93 km/h were recorded at the Sable Island weather station. Photo by Rob Ronconi

Blowing sands pile up against sleepy seals on the beaches (note the passing gull ... for the sake of the blog about gulls).  Photo by Sarah Wong

Blowing sands pile up against sleepy seals on the beaches (note the passing gull … for the sake of the blog about gulls). Photo by Sarah Wong

In the late daylight hours, passing clouds let in only a few rays of sun far out to sea from Sable.  photo by Rob Ronconi

In the late daylight hours, passing clouds let in only a few rays of sun far out to sea from Sable. photo by Rob Ronconi

Sanderlings dodge the frigid waves on the shores of Sable January. Photo by Sarah Wong

Sanderlings dodge the frigid waves on the shores of Sable January. Photo by Sarah Wong

Dressed head to toe in insulated rain gear, a researcher walks among the debris field of the old East Lighthouse that has been destroyed by decades of wind and shifting sands. Photo by Rob Ronconi

Dressed head to toe in insulated rain gear, a researcher walks among the debris field of the old East Lighthouse that has been destroyed by decades of wind and shifting sands. Photo by Rob Ronconi

Frozen sand and cutting winds carve these temporary sand sculptures in the dunes. Photo by Rob Ronconi

Frozen sand and cutting winds carve these temporary sand sculptures in the dunes. Photo by Rob Ronconi

A female grey seal swims around in iced water in one of the temporary ponds from winter storm surges that flood the beaches. Photo by Rob Ronconi

A female grey seal swims around in iced water in one of the temporary ponds from winter storm surges that flood the beaches. Photo by Rob Ronconi

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5 responses

22 01 2013
Damo

Great photographs. Nicely composed! How did you know it was a male sperm whale?

22 01 2013
Rob Ronconi

You can tell it was a male by its massive size and large teeth. Did you know that female sperm whales have teeth but they’re not erupted from their gums? Sperm whales are famous for eating squid of all shapes and sizes. Male sperm whales, however, eat lots of fish and even benthic sharks!

29 01 2013
Marielle Thillet

Awesome photos. Really like the waves being blown off!

20 05 2013
Seasons of Colour on Sable | Sable Island Gulls

[…] of gulls and terns, in August to work with Ipswich sparrows before their fall migrations, and in January to download data from our tracking receivers.  Each season seems to have its own mood and […]

11 02 2014
I know what you tagged last summer… | Sable Island Gulls

[…] Now just some rotting flesh near the head and a pile of bones towards the tail. Check out last winter’s photos to see how much has changed in 8 […]

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