Thursday, June 17, 2010

Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge

Before I get home, I am lucky enough to be living and volunteering for a month here in this gorgeous place:



Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Stuff We Did

Just to dispel any thoughts that we were lazing about on tropical beaches sipping cocktails, I wanted to share some of the work we did during our 3 month stay.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Aloha Pihemanu

Given the fast speed of the internet connection and the sound of cars on the street, it appears that I no longer find myself on Pihemanu. I've been in a bit of denial of this fact as my experience on Midway was something amazing and not really anything I can appropriately describe in words.

The things I will miss most are:
  • Clipper House meals
  • beautiful North Beach
  • being "brined" on
  • nightly albatross and petrel serenades outside my window
  • weekly ping-pong and basketball games
  • observing the life of seabirds up close
  • relying on a bicycle for transportation
  • the awesome people of FWS and Chugach! I love you guys!
But! My first big splurge off-island was a ridiculous dish of ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery. So in certain ways I'm happy to be back in the land of personal indulgences. :)

I'm currently spending the next month at Hanalei Wildlife Refuge on Kaua'i and then it's back home for me. I still plan to keep the blog going for a while for those who want to keep checking back.

Hope to see many of you soon!

Aloha,
MD

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Midway Past

At one time, Midway supported as many as 5,000 people. Because many of the structures from that time are still standing and unused, I often feel like I live in a ghost town. Here are some images.

Hole #9

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Raindrops

video

They also line up to enjoy the garden sprinklers too.

Chicks, man.

It's a good time to be on Midway. Tons of activity going on and more and more chicks are hatching. You could almost die from all the cuteness. Here is a sampling.

Black Noddy

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Things on the Beach (Part 2)

Part 1 of Things on the Beach showed you the things you are supposed to find on a remote island far away from civilization. Seashells, fish and lobster parts, sea urchins and the like. Unfortunately, there has to be a Part 2 that shows us all that there really is no such thing as remote.


































Sunday, April 25, 2010

Friday, April 9, 2010

White Terns

I think that one of everyone's favorite birds here is the White Tern. Besides it's obvious appeal - the white plumage, big eyes and blue-black bill - it has a curious streak that often leads to up close and personal investigations of your face.


You will be minding your own business, walking on the trail, when a group of one to three birds are suddenly fluttering around your head and squaking at you. To my knowledge, this doesn't happen because I've invaded their nesting territory, but because they are simply checking out the strange bipedal creature that has landed on their tropical planet. I have to admit to feeling quite special on the occasions where I've had a flock of ten White Terns following me on the beach.


Monday, April 5, 2010

In addition to being a wildlife refuge, Midway serves another purpose: it's the Pacific's go-to place for medical emergencies and mechanical failures. We've got a Physician's Assistant on island to attend to any injuries or illnesses as well as a fully operational airport facility that can receive any aircrafts wishing to refuel or even land safely in the event of, well, something bad.

Just in the time that I've been here, there have been quite a few events along these lines.

In early March there was a worker aboard a Chinese ship that had crushed his hand. They sailed here so that he could be brought on island to be looked after and then flown to Honolulu.

In this really bad picture, you can see the ship just off the reef.

Later, this Coast Guard plane arrived here to refuel on its way to a rescue mission. The crew was looking for a sailboat somewhere between here and the Aleutians that was sending out a distress call. Turns out the signal was a mistake and everybody was okay. Good thing because that's a HUGE search area.

Just last week, we had a visitor group that was on their way back to Honolulu when one of the plane's engines failed 45 minutes out (!). With only one working propeller and engine, they were able to turn around and land here safely. Yikes.

On a slightly different note, we were recently treated to the arrival of the Kahana, a US Fish and Wildlife freighter boat. Everyone gets really excited about this because the Kahana brings supplies and goodies such as fresh fruit, soda and most importantly, beer. I was excited about this because the Kahana was on my favorite show, LOST.

You know, the freighter that blew up?


Yup, it was that very boat. Don't worry everyone, I got pictures.

Chick Update:

Older and fatter.



Check out these tracks in the sand:

They consist of two small webbed feet and one large belly mark in the middle.

This has contributed to spontaneous bouts of giggles on my part.

To all the history buffs out there...

I apologize.

With so many feathered distractions around, I've been slacking on my Midway history. I know the gist of what went on here but have yet to dig deeper into the details. But! I have been taking pictures of some of the older buildings built during the military days and thought that they may be of interest to some of you.



Sunday, March 28, 2010

Odd Birdities

Er... Bird Oddities.

Given the hundreds of thousands of birds found here, you're bound to see some "special" individuals here or there. Ones that stick out in some way or show some characteristics that are unusual for their species. I tend to like these birds because they allow me to distinguish them from their many look-alike (at least to me) neighbors. And because, I suppose, their special-ness is somehow endearing. (No jokes about my own special-ness!!)

Sometimes, they're just superficial things such as missing feathers...

















or missing legs...













Other times it's the behavior that's peculiar. This Bonin Petrel has chosen to nest between the roots of an ironwood tree instead of in a burrow like a good normal petrel.



















Maybe it arrived later than the others and couldn't find a suitable burrow? Or maybe it just likes to think out of the box, I dunno.

This Red-tailed Tropicbird chick is almost ready to fledge. This is unusual because it's super early - most tropicbirds are just beginning to lay their eggs right now.













You can blame this one on the weirdo parents.

And finally, you have the genetic mutants.

This is an albino Laysan Albatross chick. Both of his parents have completely normal plumage so albinism must be a recessive trait (?). Apparently, there's an albino chick in the same nest every year.













This one is probably the most confused of all. He is the result of a Laysan and Black-footed Albatross pairing and displays characteristics of both species. Two or three hybrids like this one are seen each year on Midway.

















Hybrids tend to associate with Laysans, but perform the courtship dance like a Black-footed. Here is a video of the hybrid trying to woo a Laysan. They're obviously not completely in sync, but there have been recorded Laysan x Hybrid pairings so there's hope for him yet.

video

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Rare but Common

It's an interesting thing: nearly every day I see at least one member of a very rare species. Here, on this tiny speck in the middle of a giant ocean. I guess this makes sense as Midway, along with the other Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, make up the only specks of land for a loooong ways.

Alaska is just straight ahead,














and Antarctica is directly this way.













It's still strange though. I see or hear Bristle-thighed Curlews almost every day. Worldwide they number only 7,000. In our weekly surveys, we observe about 300 of the world's remaining 1,000 Laysan Ducks. And Midway boasts three fabled Short-tailed Albatrosses who currently number around 2,200 (up from 25 remaining individuals in 1954). Their recovery is absolutely amazing and inspiring to me. It's exciting that two of the three Midway birds make up a pair and have exhibited nesting activities in the recent past. The hope is that a new Short-tail colony will be established here and efforts are underway to attract more birds.

As if these birds weren't enough, I am also lucky enough to see some rare marine species as well. On the aptly named Turtle Beach, I see around 15 or 20 Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles resting on the beach daily. Population estimates for this one are sketchy, but one source says that only 100-350 breeding females remain. There are also quite a few Hawaiian Monk Seals that hang around the shore. This is a species that I'm told could quite possibly go extinct in mine or my children's lifetime. So you can see how it's even more poignant for me when I get to see a pregnant seal resting on the boat ramp.

I count myself very fortunate to see many of these each day. It is my wish that they will be equally as successful as the Short-tailed Albatross (or more so), and that the world will see that they are worth saving.\

Bristle-thighed Curlew
















 

Laysan Duck


















Short-tailed Albatross














Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle














Monk Seal with Sea Turtle

















Thursday, March 18, 2010

Monday, March 15, 2010

Wacky weather and a wave that never came

I still have not gotten used to the weather here. It can be a little extreme.

My first week here was very rainy and cold. I practically lived in the only sweatshirt and pair of pants that I brought. There was one day where the winds got up to 50 mph and I could not physically bike to work! It was wild. (I was also excited to mark a 9 on the Beaufort scale for the survey that day - crazy!).

It has lightened up significantly since then and we enjoyed sunny weather all last week. I was happy to finally break out my shorts! Intermittent showers always caught me by surprise though and although I did not have a mirror on hand, I suspect I looked something like this:

It was probably a Monday.

As if this wasn't enough to remind me how remote and vulnerable we actually are here on this tiny island in the middle of nowhere, there was also a tsunami scare on the 27th. I think most of the world has heard, but as a result of the massive earthquake in Chile on Feb. 26th, all Pacific Islands received tsunami warnings shortly thereafter. I think Midway had 16 hours of notice to prepare for any damage, which was quite a bit of time, and I was impressed by how calm and organized everyone was. Important equipment and vehicles were driven up to Mt. Bart - the highest point on the island at 34 feet - and we were all ordered to the 3rd floor of Charlie Barracks to wait it out. We were considerably relieved to hear that waves in Hilo, Hawaii only reached around 3 feet and we ended being sent back to our homes after the warning was lifted. Our tsunami wave thankfully never came. Gary's account has pictures.

Call 911! Oh, wait.