Photos of readers

August 19, 2019 • 1:30 pm

Today’s reader photo is of evolutionary ecologist Bruce Lyon. It features birds, of course, and here’s his caption:

A photo (and some explanation) for the readers doing interesting (incredibly stupid?) things topic.

A blast from the distant past—1978 at a place called Cape Hay, on Bylot Island in the eastern Canadian arctic. My friend, Erick Greene (also now an evolutionary biologist, University of Montana) took the photo with my camera. Erick had a summer job working on arctic seabirds for the Canadian Wildlife Service and he convinced his boss that they needed another person for the field crew and so finagled a job for me. Counts from photos indicated 140,000 thick-billed murres nesting on the cliffs (black and white bird in foreground) and smaller numbers of black-legged kittiwakes (gulls in background).

The small dark blog in the corner in front of me is a murre chick and the green device in my hand is set of calipers for measuring the chick’s leg and beak size.The nice splashes of color on my worker overalls are bird shit. We often had murres on ledges above us—when murres need to relieve themselves while tending eggs or chicks, they simply lift their tail and let fly with a giant squirt, some of which would land on us. Definitely not a place to look up with your mouth open. Even more disgusting was the time a kittiwake nest dislodged and landed on Erick Greene’s head. It turned out that the nest material, rotten seaweed, was absolutely seething with some sort of worms, probably nematodes. This cliff was only 200 feet high but the next year a different site in Hudson Bay we climbed 1000-foot cliffs.


13 thoughts on “Photos of readers

  1. I haven’t commented on this series yet, but this is a good time – because that’s an amazing photo to take, let alone pose for!

    Nice new series!

  2. Bruce,
    Abseiling down a sheer rock cliff while being bombarded with shit…..I bow humbly before you. Hell, I’ll even kow-tow upon request.

    I must be certifiable but that sounds like a helluva great summer job.

    Thanks for all you do and have done for my feathered friends.

    Paul Peed

  3. Exactly the place I’d like to be. We were on the rocky cliffs of Ireland checking out the nesting birds, but I, with my camera, were stuck only looking over the edge and down. Not really an optimal vantage point. I wish I had the right equipment.

  4. TITLE: “Butch [out of picture] & Bruce with proud ‘tache foil Bolivian Army murre ambush”

    I’d be wanting a beekeeper’s suit. Strange boots for climbing – are those Wellies?

  5. Yes Wellies!! My friend and traveling companion Bob Montgomerie noticed your comment and decided to give me a double dose of grief over the Wellies via email. Note: I am dangling from a rope, not actually rock climbing, a feat that requires zero skill and zero in the way of fancy boots. The ledges were thick with slimy murre shit so Wellies seem like the perfect footwear. In fact, aren’t Wellies the perfect footwear for most occasions?

    1. As a troglodyte of many years, wellies certainly are the footwear of choice for the slimier jobs of the world. Quoth the Big Yin himself, “If it wisnae fir yer wellies / Whir wid ye be? / Ye’d be in the hoospital / Or infirmary!
      Is that an original Jumar I see before you?

      1. We called them Jumars so I think so. For others who are not familiar with this item, it is the device used to climb back up the rope. It has downward pointing “teeth” that lock on the rope when weight is applied but can be slipped upwards without weight. One Jumar has a foot loop attached to it and the other attaches to the harness one sits in.

        1. Yeah, the design has been around since the – maybe even he 60s, certainly mid-70s, with the distinctive yellow paint. A very good first design to replace doing the job with bits of string on the main rope, but with one major flaw – the body was made of die-cast aluminium and had a horrible habit of undergoing brittle fracture at the most inconvenient possible moment. So you were always reminded to clip a krab around the robe above the Jumar body, with the security link to your harness passing through it and several of the various clip-in holes around the body. That way, if the frame breaks, you’ve got a chance of staying in contact with the rope rather than getting the full 32 feet per second per second.
          I knew a guy who used them in a trio for “rope walking” way back in the mid-80s (when I was tackle master for the university caving club, and had to worry about such things) but they were practically unobtainable by then, being replaced with various designs from various manufacturers using folded sheet aluminium for the body, which is much tougher and generally gives warning (visible fractures) before breaking.
          The toothed cams are still made of cast ally though, and remain prone to brittle failure in a fall, so modern practice strongly recommends at least one of your “jammers” (generic descendent of “Jumar”) have a safety krab on it, or you use a forged-smooth cam jammer as your top device.
          Sorry, I spent several years sharing a flat with a guy who, amongst other things, wrote training manuals for Industrial Rope Access, as “silly rope tricks” is now called. That included in the 8 months while he was recovering form breaking his back when he got it wrong one day.

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