Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Visitors and Exciting Plane Rides

Jan has been here on Midway with an Oceanic Society tour since a week ago Monday. Her flight out to the island was uneventful and she had a very nice time seeing the islands and joining me in my work. Monday at 9 p.m. she left to return home. About an hour out from Midway there was a loud clunk and the right engine flamed out. The plane lost quite a bit of altitude and leveled out at a much lower level. At that point the pilot came on and said they had lost power in the right engine and would be returning to Midway. They got turned around and returned to Midway by about 11 p.m. They were not sure how long the group would need to stay before another plane was found to fly out and return the group to Honolulu. Finally yesterday a deal was made for a private Gulfstream III to come out to Midway and return 11 of the group to Honolulu. Since Jan had a flight arranged for Friday she left here about 2 a.m. Thursday morning to return home. Three of the people from the tour are still here and will probably be here until the original plane has a new engine installed. Possibly they will leave as early as Sunday but maybe much later next week. It was a scary evening for Jan, and the rest of us, and a reminder of exactly how remote we are from the rest of the world here on Midway Atoll.

Bicycle Parking

Sometimes the birds present unique challenges to life on Midway. Unless we park in a bike rack we lay our bikes down so they don't accidentally fall and kill or injure a bird. Even when we lay them down complications can arise. The chicks are getting larger and are wandering farther from the nest and end up in all kinds of strange places as you can see from the attached photo.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Midway Bowl

There are cultural opportunities around every corner on Midway. Jan and I bowled 2 games tonight in a bowling alley that must have been built in the late 50's or early 60's. It has 12 lanes, 6 of which work and the others have been scavenged for parts to keep the first 6 going. It is open from 6-7 on Sunday evening and we had a good time.

Saturday Snorkel Under the Pier

We don't work Saturday and we had another great swim under the Pier. For the most part the fish move slowly and if I swim slowly and carefully I can approach the fish fairly easily. There are bright ones and dull colored ones and I'm still learning the bright ones. From the top the pictures are: Scorpionfish, Whitetip reef shark, & Hawaiian Monk Seal. You need to look very carefully to see the well camoflaged Scorpionfish in the top photo. It is a curled shape with it's tail up.

Last Easter Sunrise on U.S.A Soil

There are no more sunrise services here at least partly because of many petrel burrows but it is probably still the last sunrise each day on U. S. soil.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Midway Construction Project

As you can see from the photograph any construction here faces unusual obstacles. The yellow pipe on top of the ground is a water supply for fire sprinklers in the reconstructed officer's houses. Trenching is only possible for about 2 months in the Fall so all the plumbing in the street is done and covered with a plate and the rest of the pipe will be buried next Fall when the Albatross are gone. There were no nests where they exposed the main in the street but the chicks and adults like high places so they moved onto the pile of dirt almost immediately.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Laysan Duck Surveys

Each week we perform a Whole Atoll Survey of the seeps and wetlands that are most likely to contain Laysan Ducks. The surveys start at sunup with one of us doing the survey on Eastern Island and another volunteer on Sand Island. They are timed so there is less chance that ducks will be counted twice if they fly between seeps. On Eastern Island the survey is not quite as rushed as there are fewer seeps to visit and there is less time spent moving between wetlands. At each stop we do a count of the total number of ducks and try to determine how many are banded and how many are unbanded. If there is any time left we read and record as many bands as possible. The Laysan Duck has a very restricted range which now consists of Midway Atoll and Laysan Island. They were found on other islands in the Hawaiian chain in the past. They are one of the rarest waterfowl species on the planet with a total world population of about 1,000 birds. It is a treat to work with such a rare bird.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Snorkel Trip to the Reef

We had a wonderful trip to the reef to snorkel this afternoon. My supervisor has said that I could take time off to be with Jan's group anytime so I took the afternoon off and went snorkeling. Most of the group went and we motored to the reef on the north side of the lagoon. The fish diversity is amazing and I don't get more than 100 yards from the boat for most of the swim. Some people choose to cover lots of territory and I usually choose to concentrate on the details. Jan enjoyed the snorkeling and didn't get too cold even though it is all wet suit swimming at this point. From the top the pictures are: Spotted Puffer, Hogfish, Blackside Hawkfish, Ornate Butterflyfish, and Oval Butterflyfish.

Monday, March 22, 2010


One of the main forms of transportation on the island is bicycles. The island is mostly flat and the distances are short so it is an ideal way to get around. Some of the supervisors have golf carts or small 4 wheel drive mules but most of us pedal. I've not seen bike racks that look like Midway's since I was in elementary school.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Snorkeling Information

The area where we snorkeled near the reef is 4-7 feet deep at low tide. You can swim and float until you want a rest and then pick a sandy spot between the coral heads and stand up with your head above water to rest for a minute. Most of your time snorkeling in these areas is spent right on the surfaces with your face in the water looking down on the fish and other critters. When the tide is changing current can make it difficult to hold a position to take a picture but most of the time is spent swimming or floating.

Snorkel trip

This afternoon we went out to the reef in the boat for a snorkel trip. The fish diversity is amazing. The large school of fish are Convict Tang. The largest grayish fish with the projection on it's head is a Unicorn fish.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Cable Ship, "Restorer"

The cable ship "Restorer," is an interesting story in itself and rather than try to retell it here I found a very interesting link that tells much of the history of the ship. I hope the link works.

The Doctors Cemetery

The only cemetery I know of on the island is known as the Doctor's Cemetery. There are 6 graves and all but one are doctors or medical people from the cable era. The 6th grave is a man from the Marshall Islands who was a seaman on the Cable Ship "Restorer." He died here on Midway and his stone was installed by the officers and crew of the ship.

Laysan Albatross Band Repair

Last evening when I returned from dinner there was an adult Laysan Albatross in our yard and it had a band. Banded birds are uncommon enough in our neighborhood that I looked at it closely and it was open and in need of repair. About this time my housemate, Ann, came home and we decided to try to repair the band. I watched the bird and she went to our office to get the banding pliers. While she went inside to get gloves, the bird walked right near me and I captured it easily. Ann came outside, readjusted and read the band, and we released the bird. It all went very nicely and gave us a chance to practice our rusty skills. The pictures with this post are other birds in the yard. I didn't think to photograph the bird with the band.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Volunteer Work on Midway

Our work schedule this year is a little different than last year. We work Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. with an hour off for lunch. One of the marine debris projects that we worked on last year has ended but much of the rest of the work we do is the same as last year. We have 5 Albatross reproductive success plots that we monitor weekly and 3 Red-tailed Tropicbird survivorship and reproductive success plots that we monitor 2 times per week. We also have whole atoll counts of the Laysan Duck population that we perform each week. We do more work this year in the greenhouse propagating native plants and also spend time out planting plants that were produced by previous volunteers. We also spend time pulling and chopping invasive species. Most of our days are full and varied. I have time to take pictures and write on this blog because many of the chores and activities that I do at home are not available out here. Also, my camera fits easily in my pocket, where it resides all the time.

White Tern Gallery

White Terns are common on Midway with about 7,500 nesting pairs. They lay their eggs on fences, building ledges, branches and even faucet handles. The sometimes hover a foot or 2 above your head and call quietly which is when these pictures were taken.

The Albatross of Midway

There are 3 Albatross species that are seen regularly on Midway. They are: Laysan Albatross, Black-footed Albatross, and Short-tailed Albatross. Midway is the largest Albatross colony on the planet with more than 500,000 breeding pairs. It is also the largest Black-footed colony and the largest Laysan Colony on earth. There are only 3 or 4 Short-tailed seen each season but they were once the most numerous Albatross in the North Pacific. They were decimated by the feather trade in the early 20th century. There are only 1000-2000 Short-tailed Albatross world wide now but they are increasing slowly. Combining all the breeders and non breeders gives a total of more than 1.5 million albatross on Midway. They are quite a presence! In the attached pictures the nearly all white birds are Laysan Albatross, the dark brown birds are Black-footed Albartoss and the seated bird with the massive bill and brown head is a Short-tailed Albatross.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Hydroponic Garden

The hydroponic garden has been expanded beyond the operation I saw last year. The gardener has added tomatoes, cucumbers, and bell peppers. The plants are still grown hydroponically but not in water trays. Each plant is rooted in a very porous stone and perlite mixture and a water and nutrient solution is run through the stones on a regular basis. All of the greens that are used daily on the island still come from this garden. With the added plants it is expected that all the peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes will also be produced here. All of this is housed in a white, shade cloth structure. The pictures that are attached show the new plants and their support structures, an overall picture of the area where the greens are grown, and a picture of Chat Chai the gardener.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Black Noddy

Another of the birds that we see regularly on Midway is the Black Noddy. It is nest building now and I see it collecting weeds and small sticks for nesting material. The only nest I've found was about 20 feet up in an Ironwood Tree. On Tern Island I saw them nesting in low bushes. All 4 of the attached pictures are Black Noddys.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Albatross in Flight

Albatross are ungainly on land and are incredibly graceful in flight. One of the best places I've found to see them in flight is from the end of the cargo pier on a windy day. The pictures attached show a raft of mostly Laysan Albatross on the water, 2 light colored Laysan Albatross in flight and one dark brown Black-footed Albatross in flight.

Old Terminal Questions

No, the sign, the map nor the museum have been moved at this point.

Albatross Chicks

The albatross chicks are growing quickly. Skroll back and compare these pictures of Laysan Albatros chicks with the pictures from the first days I was here.

New Airport Terminal

I've attached some pictures of the new terminal building. The old building no longer has power and is only used as an indoor bone yard as far as I can tell. The old building was very impressive and made a nice place to meet and greet when the planes arrived. The old terminal has some structural issues and is no longer used for that purpose. The planes now unload much farther out on the taxiway and passengers are moved around with large golf cats.