Murre colony to be focus of St. Lazaria birdcam


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Biologist Leslie Slater says that the antenna cable that transmits the webcam signal back to Harrigan Centennial Hall is much shorter now, and less vulnerable to gulls and other birds who pecked apart the original shortly after it was installed in 2003.


 “When they’re sort of idle, just standing off – if their mate is on the nest or something – they were just bored. They’ll peck at anything that is unusual around them.”


Slater says she’ll pack up the new cam at the end of her research season, which should also help extend its life. Slater and three graduate students occupy a small hut on the island from late May through mid-September. Their hut – and everything else in camp – was swept away during a winter storm several years ago.


Slater says the new cam this season will be trained on murres.


 “There’s actually two colonies on the island, one of which is very unusual because it’s in a cave. They hardly ever nest in caves. The one that’s on the outer edge, on the cliff that everyone can see more easily, is where the camera is. It’s right at the top of that colony.”


The cam will be available to the public at a kiosk in Harrigan Centennial Hall. The US Fish & Wildlife Service also has plans to put the signal online. But Slater also says the cam is a research tool.


“The idea is that seabirds are indicators of what’s happening in the ocean. They’re actually considered top predators, because they’re feeding on forage fishes, mainly. So we’re using them as samplers of the ocean.”


Slater, who lives in Homer the rest of the year, has spent seventeen field seasons on St. Lazaria. She’s actively studying nine species of birds on the island. The murre colony where the cam is positioned is down slightly over past years. Slater says there have been other changes as well.

 “We’ve got increasing populations in both species of storm petrels and rhinoceros aukelets. The storm petrels in particular are offshore feeders; they go out to the shelf break and they’re feeding on invertebrates mainly, little krill-type things that fish feed on as well. And we’ve seen decreases in populations of the common and thick-billed murres, and tufted puffins. Those species groups are feeding in different regimes, and our next step is to get more definitive information on what’s happening in the ocean, and see if we can tease out what’s affecting what.”


Slater estimates that in the nesting areas of St. Lazaria Island, population densities approach 7-thousand birds per acre. Many of them are burrow-nesters, and Slater says 60-percent of her job as a researcher is spent on the ground, reaching into those same burrows. “It’s very glamorous,” she says.


US Fish & Wildlife Biologist Leslie Slater will unveil the new St. Lazaria Birdcam in a presentation 7 PM tonight (Mon 6-28-10) in Harrigan Centennial Hall.

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