On a clear day, you may have seen the spikes of rock jutting out from the Pacific off the coast of San Francisco. If you're new here, you probably asked what those were, and after a foggy summer like this one's been you probably haven't seen them in a long time. But those, dear friends who may not know, are the Farallon Islands, or, as they were originally christened, "Los Farallones de los Frailes" (The Cliffs of the Friars). SF Weekly's Joe Eskanazi has just penned a feature detailing the history of humans on the islands, only one of which is really habitable: Southeast Farallon. Many of you may not know that there's a dwelling out there which is home to a handful of wildlife researchers at any given time who have been continuing a tradition of documenting bird and mammal populations on the Farallones that goes back to 1968.
The rocky islands, covered (and heavily scented) with seagull guano and populated by hundreds of smelly seals and sea lions, are home to a small but vibrant hub of ecological field work called Point Blue Conservation Science. They're 28 miles from San Francisco, and you can imagine it's pretty isolating out there. Basically, this kind of field work is not for everyone, but the island has a long history of being home to grumpy hermits and the like, hired by the Navy or whomever to man the lighthouse. Thankfully now there is Netflix, and Skype.
Also, there's a weird, brown, freshwater spring on the island that allegedly tastes like unsweetened lemonade and will cure diarrhea. And no one is technically allowed to travel out there except the authorized biologists, because it's a National Wildlife Refuge.
The current researchers maintain this blog, which details much of their work. It tells of encounters with unusual bird species like the Northern Gannet, a native of Scotland and the North Atlantic which just made its first recorded appearance in California, on the Farallones, this past spring, likely due to climate change and the melting of the Northwest Passage through the Arctic.
Anyhow, if you have a minute, it's a decent read.