Fall 2011

[Alumni News]

Jim Tietz

Keeping Careful Watch on the Farallon Islands

Jim Tietz in a boat

TO SAN FRANCISCANS, THE Farallon Islands are the sign of a clear day—as in, you can “see all the way to the Farallones.” Days that clear are rare. This granite archipelago, 27 miles off the San Francisco shore, is cold, windswept and pointedly indifferent to its few human inhabitants: researchers from Point Reyes Bird Observatory (PRBO) Conservation Science, led each fall by HSU grad Jim Tietz.

A quiet, thoughtful songbird specialist, Tietz (‘94, Environmental Biology; ’06, Wildlife) is the head biologist for PRBO’s fall wildlife survey. For 13 weeks each year, Tietz is the scientific and physical custodian of Southeast Farallon Island, supervising wildlife surveys, managing interns and directly observing all the island’s inhabitants. Throughout a given year, hundreds of different bird species stop to rest, feed and breed on the Farallones, as do seals and sea lions, who in turn attract a loyal following of hungry great white sharks. Tietz and his crew take careful note of all of them.

Jim Tietz

Tietz’s easygoing manner belies fierce attention to detail. “He never takes any shortcuts,” says fellow biologist Rob Fowler (‘06, Wildlife), who worked with him on the island for three seasons. “He’s very, very thorough.” In his five seasons on Southeast Farallon Island, Tietz has discovered Asian and eastern American birds blown wildly off course, and rare hybrids, such as a Philadelphia vireo / red-eyed vireo cross, whose identification earned publication in the journal Western Birds.

Tietz didn’t grow up birding, and came to Humboldt with no clear plan for his future. “When I took Field Ornithology,” he recalls, “I didn’t even know what a robin was.” Tietz credits HSU Professor Dan Norris’ General Botany course for sparking his interest in field biology. “I was just blown away by how amazing biology is,” Tietz says. “It’s always a source of amazement for me to step outside and catch a glimpse into the natural world and have a partial understanding of what’s going on out there. That just keeps me wanting to learn more.”