Saturday, December 31, 2011

Albatross Count

We are working every day and continue to make progress on the count. It is good to see what a group of people working closely together can accomplish. Large numbers like 400,000 have more meaning for me now. I don't know how many more days of work we have on the count but the included maps give you some idea how much we have accomplished. The yellow on the maps are completed sectors.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Albatross Count

We continue to count every day after a day and a half off for Christmas. I think everyone is a little tired as our days are getting a little shorter but I'm still pooped by days end. We were back to Eastern Island today and I didn't hear what the percentages were for the sectors we finished. Yesterday we again saw a Peregrine Falcon being mobbed by 30 or 40 White Terns. It is neat! Several Hawaiian Monk Seals were on the beach in areas we were counting so we give them a wide berth. We counted near the Short-tailed Albatross nest today and saw the male sitting on the egg. There are only about 2,000 of these birds on the planet after uncontrolled feather hunting at the end of the 19th century. They used to be the most numerous albatross in the North Pacific. They have been slow to return but are on the increase. My best friends in the counting group will be leaving on Thursday to go back to the real world and I will be sorry to see them go. I think we are more than 3/4 done with the count.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Bird and Bike

Toy Odyssey

What an Odyssey these 3 small toys have had. I picked them up far from the beach while we were counting albatross. The only way they could have gotten onto the island was in the gullet of an adult albatross coming into the colony to feed a chick. So, these 3 toys got into the ocean any number of ways: thrown off a ship, down a storm drain from a gutter in Asia, a washed out dump, you name the ways, but almost certainly from Asia.They then washed far out to sea where they were inadvertently eaten by an adult albatross on a feeding journey. They were then carried back to Midway and fed to a growing chick as part of a load of food. There are 2 possibilities at this point in the chain of events. The chick coughed up a bolus just before fledgling of all the inedible material it had been fed or the chick starved because its insides were completely filled with plastic and it could no longer be nourished. After death the chick decomposed and the plastic ended up on the ground far from the sea. These 3 small toys with a pen for size comparison, are part of several tons of plastic that end up in the albatross colonies on Midway each year.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Albatross Photographs

I finally got a few minutes after work to take some bird pictures off the end of the cargo pier. The wind was blowing 20-25 mph and the albatross where flying all around me. They are just beginning to fly and glide at there best in this kind of wind. Here is a Black-footed albatross on the top and a Laysan Albatross on the bottom. They are incredibly graceful in the air

Eastern Island

Today, Wednesday, we worked on Eastern again. The counts continue to be low on much of the island. Near the shoreline there are new arroyos that in some areas are cut down 5 or 6 feet. They are the channels that were carved by the water leaving the island after the March 2010 tsunami. It is impressive to see how much sand and coral were moved as the water ran back to the sea. We have had beautiful shirtsleeve weather but it sounds like that may change soon. There is rain and wind forecast for later in the week.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tuesday on Eastern

Today we had a full day of counting on Eastern Island. I don't have a sense of how the count is going overall but the sectors we did today were washed over completely by the Tsunami in March and the number of birds was down. No one knows if there is a correlation but many people are asking questions about the connection. Yesterday we saw Manta Rays feeding in the Harbor. There were several and one of them swam directly toward us to within about 100 feet. They feed very close to the surface and the light was very good so I could look straight down its large oval mouth as it cruised for the small animals it feeds on. I guessed 10 feet from wing tip to wing tip so it was quite a sight. We also saw a Peregrine Falcon circling high overhead with a cloud of 40 or 50 White Terns mobbing it. The days are short so I don't get anything done after work in the way of picture taking or snorkeling.   

Monday, December 19, 2011

Counting Albatross

We had our first full day of work on Saturday and it lived up to my expectations. We stepped through into empty nesting burrows on a regular basis and always when you least expect. Some are nearly knee deep so it is hard on your legs and ankles and even more on your spirit. There was also heavy growth of Verbesina, an awful invasive that covers huge areas on the islands. Some areas we worked through yesterday, the growth was chest high and dense enough that you couldn't see the ground you were walking on. I had imagined all these scenarios before coming and my imaginings were not too far wrong. We are seeing interesting things regularly and I'm always excited to be here.Today, Monday, was a replay of yesterday and we are getting lots of work done. Tomorrow we head out to Eastern Island to begin the sectors out there. It will be a 10 minute boat ride across the channel and then a full day of work there. Like I did the last time I was here I'm teaching the English class for Thai second language learners while the regular teacher is off island. They are a great group of guys and are appreciative of even the most hastily prepared lessons. There was an Origami project going on when I arrived here to fold a thousand cranes and one of the new volunteers realized that I was "uncle Gary" who had taught all of the Thai men Origami. It's gratifying to have a legacy on Midway!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Getting Started

I arrived on Midway last night about 8:30 and immediately out of the plane was greeted by friends from my past trips and hundreds of Bonin's Petrels in the air. Welcome back. This morning we had our orientation that all new arrivals receive and then had a short tour of the island. This afternoon we actually got to work. I had a pretty good idea of the protocol we would follow but like any new skill, knowing how to do it and being able to do it quickly are 2 different things. I'm sure speed will come with practice. Today was a beautiful day in the upper 70's with clear skies and very little wind. I hope we have more like it. A full day of work tomorrow so we are jumping right in.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Return to Midway

After being away from Midway for 18 months I will be returning for about 30 days beginning in mid December 2011. Each Winter, every albatross nest on the 3 islands in the atoll are counted manually. I don't know the exact protocol at this time but basically we walk all the nesting areas and put a small spot of paint at each nest to prevent double counting. I don't know what my days will be like but I will try to write regularly on this blog.