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L. M. Huey's Coronado Island Field Notes

Huey with his aunt, Mrs. May Canfield

L.M. Huey went on many collecting trips, often accompanied by his aunt Mrs. May Canfield. (photo right)

The SDNHM Library Archives hold original field notes (1916–1947), as well as various transcriptions (1916–1939), and accompanying photographs.

Huey recorded observations of bird and animal behavior, notes about their populations, and details about the efforts of the collectors. In his notes from April and May 1924 trips to the Coronado Islands, he writes that the Farallon Cormorants are in danger from attacks by gulls triggered by "pleasure parties" visiting the islands, that he cannot locate any auklet nests, that he has found eggs that "constitute the first breeding record" of California Great Blue Herons on the islands. He also writes about being caught in a rainstorm, getting seasick from the boat, and meeting a "movie outfit" on the beach.

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Notes from April, 1924

Huey lists birds, describes behaviors, counts populations, tries to take photos.

Saturday, April 19, 1924

In company with Mr. Hoffman, Mr. Scott and Mr. Gallegos, I left the municipal pier about 8:30 A. M., bound for a short trip to the Coronado Islands. The day was one of glorious splendor, with hardly a zephyr to stir the surface of the sea. Both Surf and White-winged Scoters were seen in mixed flocks in the harbor and a single Caspian Tern was observed near Roseville. Stopping at the Yacht Club pier, we took Mr. Sefton’s skiff "Tommy" in tow for use around the islands.

Arriving at the North Island at 12:45, we pitched camp on the rocky shore above the breaker line and were soon all scattered through the bird rookeries. Thousands of Gulls (Larus occidentalis livens) heralded our coming, circling gracefully overhead, although at heart they had evil intentions, for well they knew that when we visited the Pelican and Cormorant rookeries, they would get their fill of young and eggs.

I found that almost the entire Pelican population had moved from the old rookeries in the middle of the island to the north end where the locality seemed better suited, for there was not so much cactus to injure the wandering young. The Farallon Cormorants had also moved with them in fact nearly the entire population had changed nesting places, for later I found that even the Brandts were occupying the cliffs below. I could not determine the reason for the move as the pelicans seemed still to remain in their same abundance of about 750 pairs although the Farallon Cormorants have been reduced about 75% of their 1916 population. This fact is no doubt due to their being disturbed by pleasure parties who visit the island during April and May, allowing the gulls to destroy their eggs & small young.

It is my estimate that less than 200 pairs of this species are to be found on the island this year.

I had never been among the Brandts in former years so I could not place an estimate on them but they now will outnumber the Farallons.

When arriving at camp in the late afternoon I had a pleasant half hour watching Brandts Cormorants diving for nesting material. This species, quite different from the Farallons, use seaweed for their nests and pluck it from the depth of the sea. Taking the air Cormorant fashion, their load so burdens them that they have to fly downwind until well above the water, then turn back or upwind to get elevation to reach their nests.

After dark I lit the gas lantern & about 7:30 Petrels began coming in. After many swings I finally caught one in the dip net.

The night being bright with a full moon, the gulls & pelicans were active until I fell asleep, which was after 10:30 p.m. and in the morning Mr. Hoffman said he had heard them most of the night.

A herd of Zelophus had taken up their quarters in a nearby cove and the night was made hideous with their noise, keeping part of us awake the greater part of the night. A heavy high fog came up very early in the morning which vexed me terribly on account of [its causing] poor photographic light.

Sunday, April 20, 1924

The day dawned with a leaden sky giving promise of poor photographic conditions. In spite of this fact, I lugged my heavy camera & set out for the rookeries with the rest.

Hoffman set out towards the north end and after an hour’s stay joined me near the saddle. We then commenced a search for Auklets & after digging out several burrows in the colony near the summit of the island with no results we went down to some caves on the west slope where I had found them commonly in 1915. Here again we failed, nor could a single auklet track be found on the soft dirt floor of the cave.

It was now nearly noon & as the boat was coming over for Scott, Hoffman too decided to go back as he figured he was thru with the Coronados.

After seeing them depart Gallegos & I rowed around on the west side of the island to inspect the sea lion rookery.

A fair breeze was blowing and the sea was rough, but we managed to get close enough to photograph the herd.

I was much impressed by the way these animals used their flippers when on land, for instead of using the front ones to scratch their faces with they used the back flippers, bending their head around and their back flippers up[. E]ven the huge bulls 8 or 9 ft in length were seen scratching their faces in that way.

I saw a single Black Turnstone in the surf near the seal rookeries.

Monday, April 21, 1924

The sun rose gloriously clear this morning and soon after breakfast, Jose and I boarded the skiff and set out toward the south end of the island. Not a breath of air stirred the water, making a heavenly day.

Three Black Turnstones and a single Tattler were seen near the south end but were in too dangerous a place to try to picture or collect them.

After making a snap or two of the natural bridge we started back and while sneaking up on a bunch of gulls that were at rest in the water, the ca-ca-ca of a duck hawk caught my ears. Searching about with the glasses, I saw it soaring about the face of a small cliff and sitting on a ledge sat its mate, also calling. I tried to have Jose land me as it was about the only way in which I could get to the nest but he proved so helpless with the oars, having never used them before, and the surf was so dangerous that I gave it up.

Near camp I saw three Parasitic Jaegers and a Pink-footed Shearwater feeding with the gulls in the water. Hoffman should have stayed as these were the very things he sought.

Rowing on up to the north end we made pictures of the Brandt Cormorants in their precipitous rookeries.

Arriving again in camp I started off to the Pelican colony for more pictures.

As I was ascending the steep slope I chanced to see a gull robbing a nest and, after chasing it away, I set up my camera, strung out the thread and awaited results. It proved a two-hour wait, but the gull did return & I made several snaps as it "cleaned up" on the nest.

Meanwhile, I had a fine chance to watch the bird life in the surrounding rookeries.

An old pelican nearby attracted most of my attention for her young, now well covered with natal down and able to stand up, kept teasing her to feed them. They would run their short beaks between her mandibles making a loud hoarse noise but apparently she was not willing to feed them for she kept pushing them away. Finally, after about twenty minutes of vociferous coaxing, she consented and opening her great beak she held her head over towards them and two of the three got their heads down into her throat. Then when all was ready she seemed to give a sort of heaving movement with her body, regurgitating half digested food of which both young procured a large beak full. The other little one then had its turn. About on the last operation a couple of small fish that appeared to be sardines escaped the beak of the youngster and fell to the edge of the nest. Two hungry gulls nearby made a dart for them but the old pelican warded them off and picking them up one at a time she gave them a toss in the air and caught them higher up in her throat & swallowed them again. The action reminded me of a dog gulping down a small sized piece of meat, lifting it from the ground & with a forward thrust of the head catch the meat far back in the throat.

The gulls stayed about much to the distress of the old pelican and whenever they came too close she would take a snap at them with her beak which would close with a vicious clap.

The gulls were abundant and were all about in pairs searching for nest sites. It didn’t seem to be so much the question of finding a suitable site, for any little depression makes a gull happy, but that of congenial neighbors for when a pair of gulls came too close to another pair that had already located, trouble was sure to follow and usually ended in a hasty retreat for the newcomers.

It seemed to be the period of copulation for pairs that had their nest site chosen could be heard everywhere uttering the mating call and many were seen copulating. The act was performed in much different way than any birds I had ever witnessed before for the male would mount the female while she was standing and with his wing extended for balance would utter the mating call while making contact. The performance would last a couple of minutes and sometimes longer. In the evening I caught another petrel with the net and they seemed more abundant than usual.

Tuesday, April 22, 1924

The sky was heavily overcast this morning so we were late in getting our breakfast. However, about 10 a.m. the sun began to burn thru & so I lost no time gathering up my cameras and climbing the island side to the rookeries.

I searched about the precipitous cliffs for suitable views of the Brandt Cormorant colonies and after several exposures I climbed on up to the Farallon Cormorants & Pelicans where I focused on a nest of the former that contained eggs in hopes the gulls would attempt to rob it. Three hours passed without results & I gave it up as the afternoon shadow was creeping over this side of the island and the fog banks were drifting in.

After dinner I set my dozen mouse traps about camp and before bed time each trap held a Peromyscus m. [maniculatus] dubious. They were again reset.

Wednesday, April 23, 1924

A threatening sky with a stiff south wind blowing came with the dawn and by six o’clock slight showers were falling. The boat was supposed to call for us today but with the prevailing weather conditions it became more doubtful as the day progressed for as we were at our breakfast rain began falling in earnest driving us to a nearby cave for shelter. The storm continued off and on for nearly 2 hours drenching everything.

Fortunately for me I had a waterproof sleeping bag but poor Gallegos was doomed to have a poor night.

About noon the sun came out beautifully and I, having given up the boat, packed my 5x7 plate camera and my Graflex to the rookeries again.

I had great luck with the pelicans feeding their babies and should have some good stuff. Nearby I found a gull’s nest with one egg in it. This was the first gull egg of the season. Later Jose found 2 more single eggs on the south end. Later taking only the 5x7 Jose & I went to the south end of the island to look over the colonies & research for auklet burrows.

A careful search failed to reveal any of the latter species, and I feel confident that they are no longer inhabiting this island.*

Gulls were seen everywhere and I estimated that 20,000 pairs must be inhabiting north island alone.

A small colony of Pelicans with a few Farallon Cormorants were found on the east side of the island towards the south end. They were very timid and left their nests en masse at our approach. This gave the robber gulls an opportunity and dozens of nests were robbed before our very own eyes.

This apparently will soon lead to the extermination of the Farallon Cormorants for there seemed to be less than 200 pairs now present in the rookeries while the Pelicans seem to be holding their own.

Returning to camp we fixed up a canvas shelter for the sky was again overcast & looked like rain. I captured two more Black Petrels with the net this evening after a two hour try.

Thursday, April 24, 1924

The boat came in early this morning & we lost no time in embarking.

Leaving north island we circled about the end of south island to sweep its slopes with the glasses.

A very large rookerie of sea lions was seen on the west shore and near the south end a fairsized colony of Pelicans was nesting on the protected eastern slope.

Numbers of Brandt Cormorants were seen on the guano covered rocks above the wash of the waves but I was unable to determine whether they were covering nests or not, tho a dozen gulls coursing to & fro overhead would indicate the birds to be nesting.

After an uneventful journey we docked about 12:30 at the municipal pier.

* A 1977 "Marine Guide to the Coronado Islands" by Al Pentis does list Cassin's Auklet as a permanent resident of "the Coronado Islands & Vicinity."

Notes from May 1924

On duck hawks, rattlesnakes and murrelets. By 1970, duck hawks no longer inhabited the island (Ellsberg, "Los Coronados Islands", 1970; Pentis, "A Marine Guide to the Coronado Islands", 1977).

Sunday, May 25, 1924

In company of Mr. Gallegos & Mr. Van Rossem I left the municipal pier about 10 a.m. [orig. p.m.] on board the Mexican Patrol boat Tecate bound for a 5 day trip to the Coronado Islands.

Stopping at Roseville we picked up Mr. Sefton’s skiff. The tide was at its lowest ebb and we hadn’t gone a great distance before striking a mud bar. Here we stayed for about half an hour waiting for the tide to rise.

An uneventful trip brought us to South Island, where, after a fine lunch served on board the ship while the sailors put our stuff on shore, we established camp.

Later we all put out searching for murrelets on the east side of the island.

I found two murrelets incubating nests while Van found several single eggs and 3 birds with sets. On the trail near camp he picked up the dried headless carcass of a Black throated Gray Warbler and a Western Flycatcher. These birds had no doubt been killed by duck hawks.

Monday, May 26, 1924

We made an early start for Little Middle Island where, as we were about to land a Rhinocerus Auklet was seen swimming near the island. Van shot it and gave it to Jose.

A pair of Black Oyster catchers were seen flying about.

We started operations by going to the large cave on the south end where to our amazement we found the place absolutely stripped of sets. Someone had beat us to it.

Returning to the top we searched carefully for Black Petrels. Two were located in rock crevices, tho only one was obtainable. This bird was having a nice fresh egg.

I found a single unattended murrelet egg in a crevice near the top of the island while Van located a bird on two pipped eggs under a pile of boulders.

Returning to the Socorro Petrel colony we searched carefully for inhabited burrows but none could be found tho abundant activities of these birds was found in the shape of newly started burrows. I found a pair of very anxious San Clemente Song Sparrows inhabiting a patch of bushes on the north side of the island. A half hour watch revealed the nest which contained two newly hatched young.

Every place we searched had been recently explored by other parties so after an hour or two we tired and started for camp. After lunch Van & I went across the cove to search for murrelets. We spent the entire afternoon climbing about the precipitous slope without finding a single murrelet. The only exciting event of the afternoon was when Van stepped directly over a coiled rattlesnake that was not observed until I called his attention to it a few moments later.

I located an inaccessible Rock wren’s nest.

While ambling around over the rocks I found the remnants of a Western Robin that had been killed by Duck Hawks during the winter.

Tuesday, May 27, 1924

An early start was made to Big Middle Island where we arrived in about half an hour.

A Great Blue Heron was seen standing in the kelp near the south island as we were rowing over.

As there was no place to use our mooring anchor one of us had to remain in the skiff, so I was elected.

Van & Jose spent two and a half hours searching thru the rocks and under the bushes without results.

Gull nests were abundant and most of them were heavily incubated. 2 clutches of young were found & taken for skins.

The most unusual thing was the finding of a nest of Calif. Great Blue herons with 2 new hatched young & one pipped egg. These were taken for specimens and constituted the first breeding record for the Coronados of this species.

A pair of Duck Hawks had been soaring about overhead during our morning stay at the island and as we were rowing towards south island the female [orig. uses symbol] was seen to fly directly into a recess in a good sized cliff on south island.

My two and a half hours spent in the bobbing rowboat resulted in a most terrific case of sea sickness, making me useless the rest of the day.

Late in the afternoon I felt a bit better & we all went up on the island to search for murrelets.

None were found tho when passing over a recently burned area Jose found a new quail’s nest that had been destroyed by the fire.

Van had three single murrelet eggs that were found Sunday afternoon. We looked them over & found no birds incubating or second eggs yet laid.

Wednesday, May 28, 1924

We all started to the west side of south island in an attempt to locate the Duck hawks’ nest and collect them if possible.

The female [orig. symbol] met us at the crest of the island and Van took a pop at her without results tho some of the shot struck her.

Proceeding down the cactus covered slope very cautiously on account of rattlesnakes, Van soon from a vantage point over the nest cliff shot the male, dropping it into the surf below. This necessitated the return to camp and the embarkation for a long journey in the skiff so he left his gun & the shells with me.

I did not have long to wait before the old female [orig. symbol] returned and a long chance shot failed to reach her, however she returned and a charge of 5s brought her screaming to the ground at the foot of the cliff.

While I was peering about over the edge of the cliff marking the location of the fallen bird I saw two young duck hawks perching on the edge of a ledge near the south end of the cliff. Thinking that they were about ready to fly I shot them.

It took me fully an hour and a half to get around to the base of the cliff where the old female [orig. symbol] had fallen and when trying to cross a fair sized brush patch I bombarded it with large rocks before venturing in. In this case the efforts proved worthwhile for five different rattlesnakes responded and I chose another route.

After picking up my old bird I attempted to get my small duck hawks but found that it was too dangerous to climb, owing to rotten rocks without a short rope, tho it was but 10 feet up or down to the ledge.

On going above & looking down I found that by throwing rocks I was able to knock one of the dead birds off and while doing this, to my surprise, the cackling voices of two more young greeted my ear.

Meanwhile Van Rossem had made it around in the skiff, picked up his bird and was again at the top of the cliff. I called him down and with his help I was able to get to the edge of the nest ledge and secure my other dead young one. The two live ones were wild so it was found necessary to return at some future time with a rope.

When on the edge of the nest ledge I gathered up a few handfuls of feathers to examine for species later. The whole place was one mass of feathers, in fact it appeared as tho a few feather pillows had been torn apart there.

These feathers later proved that such birds as Russet-backed Thrush, Hermit Thrush (subs.?), Western Tanagers, Ash throated Flycatchers, Xantus Murrelets, Petrels, Dusky Warblers, Housefinches, Mourning doves and others that could not be positively identified had fallen prey to these vicious birds.

When we were returning to camp, a Western Wood Pewee was seen and Jose shot a Traill Flycatcher.

At camp we found a movie outfit working. They had a couple of palm trees piled up on the beach but the weather made it impossible to make up the set. A very strong north wind sprang up and the skiff was dragging its anchor so bad that it was necessary to pull it upon the rocks.

This worked fine until about five p.m. The wind & waves having grown worse, I chanced to look up just in time to see the skiff going to sea—and it was not without worry and help from another fellow on the island that we again had it safely moored with an additional anchor.

Thursday, May 29, 1924

We all made an early start for the north end of the island, taking with us a length of rope with which to safely descend to the Duck Hawks’ nest. We searched for Murrelets in every cranny along our way but were unsuccessful.

Three rattlesnakes were killed near the trail as we passed along. The reptiles were coiled up in the warm sandy spots awaiting some victim at which to strike. After shooting a couple of Gulls for Jose, Van and I went back to the Duck Hawk’s nest which we were able to reach without difficulty with the rope.

The shelf was literally covered with bird feathers and I picked up 42 pairs of Murrelet wings from the nest and found a new bird or two that had fallen victims of these diabolical Duck Hawks - Epidonax And Passerella.

The two young ones were present end very much on the fight when I attempted to pick then up. One grabbed my arm, clawing blood before I could get him loose. I had hoped to keep them alive a day or so to acquire some photos, but they were too bad. While I was busy with one, the other crawled along a ledge of the cliff and gained another recess some ten feet farther along the wall in an absolutely inaccessible place and I had to kill him with rocks.

Again reaching the summit of the island, we found that the "Tecate" had arrived, so I hastened back to camp while Van picked up a few of his single Murrelet eggs. One of his singles was found on the first day and now had a companion egg laid during the night but no bird was present.

After everyone arrived in camp we lost no time packing up our goods and were soon on board the ship—bound for home where we arrived about 3 p.m.

Notes from June 1926

Thursday, June 10, 1926

As the guests of Dr. Van Wart, Wright M. Pierce of Claremont, Mr. Jones, botanist of Pomona College, and myself set sail at 4:30 this morning aboard D. Van Wart’s small yacht, "Loafer," bound for a day’s trip to the Coronado Islands. The tide was exceptionally low this morning and the skipper of the boat held his craft too close to the mud, causing us to stop with a jerk near Buoy No. 6. This caused us a delay of about 20 minutes and it necessary to launch the skiff and carry an anchor out into the deeper water and pull the ship off the mud.

After an uneventful trip, we were landed on the South Island of the Coronados at 8:30. We began an intensive search for Murrelets, but apparently the height of the season had passed, as I found many places where the eggs had recently been hatched. Most interesting, however, was the fact that in one of the holes where a Murrelet set had been taken on May 30, a single fresh egg was located of exactly the same type of egg taken from this hole on the date previous, showing that the bird had returned to this location in another attempt to make her summer home.

We left the island about 11:30, with but very little for our trouble, Pierce and I each having but two sets of eggs. We scanned the Little Middle Island as we passed, but was nothing of interest there. The great rookeries of Cormorants were not present this season, although Gulls were abundant and no doubt nesting.

We arrived at North Coronado Island at 12 sharp, dropping anchor about halfway down on the east sled of the island. Lunch was eaten before attempting to land. A survey from the water of the birds present on this island proved interesting as there were but very few Farallon Cormorants near the central summit and the large rookeries of Brandt Cormorants that were formerly present on the northeastern cliffs were entirely lacking this season. Gulls were in abundance and I would venture to say that they showed an increase of 200% over their abundance in 1916.

Landing at the old quarry, we searched hours for Murrelets. I was fortunate in finding two more good sets and an old bird with two small young. Pierce had gone to the top of the island and reported, upon his return, nothing but large quantities of young Gulls that had been recently hatched. The time was so short on this island that I did not have the opportunity of getting to the summit.

As Dr. Van Wart was anxious to get into the harbor before dark, it was necessary for us to start back at 2:30. Just before starting about a dozen gulls were shot about the boat and I selected eight of the most perfect ones for specimens.

En route home several Sooty Shearwaters were seen and one or two Black-vented Shearwaters.

We arrived at the Municipal Pier at 5:45 P.M.

About the Field Notes

Cast of Characters

Jose M. Gallegos was "one of [the Mexican government’s] leading scientists" from the National Museum, Mexico City (San Diego Union, April 20, 1924). The April trip to the Coronado Islands was the first official trip with the San Diego Natural History Museum; however Prof. Gallegos had made trips with Mr. Huey prior to this. Gallegos died tragically the next year, while studying a locust plague in southern Mexico (San Diego Union Oct 2, 1925).

Records of many of Gallegos’ trips in association with the San Diego Natural History Museum are held in the SDNHM Library, in the form of L.M. Huey’s field notes and photographs. The Library also holds a copy of Prof. Gallegos’ report on trips to Sierra San Pedro Martir and Guadalupe Island with L.M. Huey in June and July 1923. The report is typewritten, in Spanish, and illustrated with Huey’s photographs, hand-annotated by Gallegos.

Ralph Hoffman was director of the Museum of Natural History in Santa Barbara, California.

Carroll DeWilton Scott was Director of Education at the San Diego Natural History Museum (Engstrand & Bullard, 1999, pp. 66-68, 78)

"Mr. Sefton" was probably Joseph W. Sefton Jr., banker and SDNHM President from 1922 to 1951.

A.J. Van Rossem was an "internationally-known ornithologist" from the California Institute of Technology, "one of the world’s leading authorities on the birds of Mexico and Central America." (San Diego Union Feb 14, 1935, Evening Tribune Feb 14, 1935). He had a longstanding association with Huey and the San Diego Natural History Museum, and in 1935, he moved from the department of vertebrate zoology at Caltech to the SDNHM.

References

Engstrand, Iris and Anne Bullard, 1999. "Inspired by Nature: The San Diego Natural History Museum After 125 Years." San Diego: Conklin Lithographers.

Evening Tribune, Feb 14, 1935. "Expert Added To Staff Of S.D. Museum." Gallegos, Jose M., [1923]. "Exploracion en la Sierra de San Pedro Martir e Isla de Guadalupe."

San Diego Union, April 20, 1924 Sunday morning."Mexico Joins with San Diego in Biological Investigation."

San Diego Union, Oct 2, 1925. "Mexican Biologist Dies, Martyr To His Science."

San Diego Union, Feb 14, 1935. "Expert On Birds Joins Staff Of Museum In Park."

Technical Information

The text of these notes was obtained mainly through scanning and OCR (Microsoft Document Imaging tool, Grayscale, 300 ppi) of an unedited transcription of Huey's original field notes, made by Rosemary Fiebig from 1987-1989.

Scanned original of Huey's Field Notes for May 25, 1924

Gaps in the unedited text were supplemented by text from an edited transcription, made earlier, perhaps by Mr. Huey or an assistant. (These portions include the first two paragraphs of April 19, 1924; a few sentences at the end of May 28, 1924; the entry for May 29, 1924).

The text follows the original notes as closely as possible (click image at left to see a larger picture of the notes), with punctuation, capitalization and abbreviations preserved, based on the unedited transcription (which may contain minor errors in these respects); certain editorial changes, based on the edited transcription, are noted in [ ]. Paragraphing follows the original notes, except for the entry of May 29, 1924.

Source List
Original (SDNHM Library Archive Box 310) and photocopies of handwritten field notes (SDNHM Library QH 105 C2 H5 v.II).
Unedited transcription of field notes by Rosemary Fiebig, 1987-1989. Electronic typewriter. (SDNHM Library QH 105 C2 H5 v.II)
Edited transcription, editor/transcriber unknown, date pre-1960s? Typewriter. Original and carbon copy available (SDNHM Library Archive Box 309. See also Box 300)