Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Work Week

This weeks work has again been a good mix. I've spent time laying out a trail around the old cable house and am beginning to figure what materials will be needed to complete the project. To build trails on the sand requires a strong mesh with a layer of shade cloth on top to prevent the Bonin Petrels from tunneling in the trail. After all that is stretched out, it is nailed in place with 6 inch staples every foot or so, and a 12 inch nail with a 2 in washer every few feet along both edges. It is a labor intensive project and will probably be unfinished when I leave for home. I've also been to Eastern Island to look at a remote camera setup that is malfunctioning. I found a corroded wire and will splice it and waterproof the splice and hope that solves the problem. I've also spent time cleaning in our garage and tool room and trying to bring some order to an area that gets used by many people. I'm experimenting with composting the cut branches and plant waste I generate in my projects along with waste from the hydroponic garden. We have a shredder/chipper that grinds the small branches and leaves so they compost much faster. The goal is to produce compost for the native plant propagation program. Native plants are grown and planted out into areas that have been recently cleared of noxious weeds. I stay busy everyday.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Hard to Watch

Some days it is difficult to watch what goes on around us. In a large bird colony such as Midway there are always many dead and dieing birds. It is just part of the life processes that take place in a seabird nesting colony. This time of year, with the albatross chicks learning to fly and making the transition to caring for themselves, is particularly stressful for the birds and hard to watch if you have a soft heart for wildlife. The chicks practice hopping and flying and move toward the edges of the island this time of year because of some inborn plan. If they get to an open beach with the wind blowing toward the beach they make their first flight and crash and become waterlogged and drift back to the beach to dry out and try again. If they happen to fly downwind off the island, land on the water and become waterlogged they drown. If they take their first flight off of some man made precipice, land, and become waterlogged they don't have a second chance and drown in large numbers. I've learned not to look in certain corners that collect these waterlogged and drowning birds, but the death continues. I remind myself that these deaths have gone on for untold albatross generations and this year had a record 660,000 albatross nests on Midway.

Important People

There are many talented and important people that keep this island humming along. There are supply people, craftsmen, the hydroponic gardener and laborers that all do their important work to keep us in place at Midway. It is a tall order when the speck of land is so isolated. Among these important people is Pong, our lead cook. Pong and his crew are wizards! They keep us well fed and with amazing  variety. When the plane comes we all enjoy the fresh fruits and other goodies but day to day the cooks continue to keep us well fed with good tasting and nutritious food. Attached is a picture of Pong in front of one of our solar freezers.

Monday, July 13, 2015


My work week was a mixed bag. I'm still using a hand held grinder with a wire brush head to clean and prepare the flag pole for painting. I cleaned, prepped and put a first prime coat on about 50 feet of the main pole and the cross tree. The grinder is hard on my hands so I mix in other jobs and I don't end up with numb hands. I cleaned and raked the Japanese Fisherman's monument and partially buried black floats in the 4 corners to delineate the markers. I also spent time cleaning and raking in the Doctor's Cemetery and the trail to the first gun emplacement past the cemetery. The trail took several sessions to smooth out all the Petrel damage and get a reasonable grade up the steep slope. I started work on the "Ave Maria" monument on Friday.This monument is a small structure that protects some artifacts from the church that stood in this location. It isn't a building but an open air backdrop and roof to provide some weather protection for the artifacts. It will be an ongoing project with lots of plastic mesh and shade cloth laid along the concrete to slow the damage created by burrowing petrels. There is also some damage to the small roof that I will need to repair. Friday I did some pruning and looking at what was there so I can decide how to proceed. I also got over to Eastern Island to do a seep check looking for dead or sick Laysan Ducks. The ducks contract botulism  and the spread of this disease can be slowed or stopped with seep monitoring and pick up of dead or dieing ducks. The sick birds can usually be successfully treated and released within a couple of days. The Galley sign that I had been working on has a White Tern Chick sitting on the lower portion, so that has stopped work on the sign for a couple weeks.While I put the roof on the front side the adult Tern sat firm on the egg incubating but since it has hatched I need to stay away until it takes off from the ledge where it was hatched. I mentioned earlier that the internet has been very slow and this makes uploading pictures very difficult. I'm going to write more and upload fewer pictures and try to keep you up to date that way.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Commuter trafic

This traffic may be a little different than most of us deal with in real life but this is the traffic reality on Midway. Yesterday I rode past a chick just as it extended it's wings and it caught between the spokes and the frame of my bike. This is the stuff of bad dreams! The chick grabbed my leg and yelled stop and I did. I looked down and it's wing had been drawn into the space between the spokes and the frame. I had visions of how I was going to put down this chick with a broken wing. I backed up slowly and it rattled it's wings and settled them into place and walked away!

Red-tailed Tropicbird

Red-tailed Tropicbirds are breeding and raising young in many areas on Sand Island. They perform spectacular breeding display flights in which 3-5 birds, and sometimes more, fly together in a large vertical circle. Through part of this display they appear to fly backwards and sometimes the bottom of this circular display is close to the ground. While this flight is happening they are very vocal, producing

loud guttural squawks for lack of better descriptors. These photographs were made from my yard about 2 p.m. today during one of these displays.

Island Smells

As you can imagine there is quite an odor in a large seabird colony such as Midway. With more than 1.5 million seabirds living and visiting a small space such as Sand Island there is a lot of guano deposited. There are also thousands of decomposing, dead chicks that are part of the natural cycle. When you step off the plane the smell is very strong, and for me was still pretty intense when I got outside my first morning here. Interestingly, the intensity of the odor diminishes over a few days and I rarely notice it now. I've read that our sense of smell becomes desensitized pretty quickly to strong odors, and this beautiful, smelly seabird colony is a perfect example.

Friday, July 3, 2015

White Tern

This White Tern is sitting on an egg. Notice the blue breeding color on the bill. They nest in precarious spots of all kinds including faucet handles, fire hydrants, branches barely big enough to hold the egg but a surprising number survive.

Work Projects

This time on Midway my job will be very different. There are many historic markers and buildings from the early 20th century Pacific Cable Company, through WWII, and the cold war. This environment is very harsh and man made structures suffer from weather, the salty environment rusting iron and steel, deteriorating concrete from the salt air and several termite species. This isn't a complete list but it gives you an idea of the maintenance issues. My volunteer position this time centers on these monuments and structures that can use the help of a painter/carpenter/handyman to help in their preservation. I have been working closely with the Thai workmen from DBSI, the contractor that provides construction and maintenance workers for the island. This past week I spent time scraping and painting the lower portion of a 70 foot flagpole that will be hinged down next week so I can work on the rest of the pole. Lots of scraping, power wire brushing and then 2 prime coats of paint and a top coat of silver colored paint. Once the painting is complete, I will figure out what parts need to be replaced
while to pole is down and then coordinate with DBSI to get it raised again. The shipping containers behind the pole give some scale to the picture. I also have been working on a sign from the Navy days that stands in front of the old dining hall. I've refurbished the roof structure and am just getting started nailing down new shingles. After that we will talk about paint and protection for this neat hand made sign. This is a new volunteer position and we are building the job description around whatever skills I can provide. I'm tired each night from working in the harsh Midway sun but feel like my accomplishments are worthwhile.

Inquisitive chicks

The chicks are interested in everything. If you stand still very long they will walk to you and give your legs the same once over they are giving my bike. It is best to keep moving though as eventually they will bite down hard to see what you taste like. Ouch!