Rusty Bucket

There’s a magical spot on the north west shoreline of Sand Island (the main island of Midway Atoll), called Rusty Bucket, featuring the remnants of a refuelling pier.

It’s a perfect place to watch the sunset, and is a magnet for the photographers among us.

It’s an easy walk along the beach, but often one’s path is blocked by a monk seal or several (which we are not supposed to approach or pass within 150 ft), so an alternative is to bicycle along the trails past Henderson Hill, through a forested area, and out to a disused runaway, before dismounting and walking through a pathway among the naupaka to the shoreline…a longer but very pleasant route, passing acres of albatross by day and buzzed by countless Bonin petrels on the return trip after dusk.

Usually there is a monk seal, sometimes two, hauled out on the sand nearby; always there is a large group of noddies perched on the old iron pilings emerging from the edge of the turquoise ocean.


As we gaze out to sea, there’s the constant background sound of Black-footed albatross, whose display antics are even more raucous and entertaining than the Laysan! (Sadly, bandwidth prevents me from sharing video while still on the island.) — Dec 2017: Added some video, see below.


Not much can beat sitting in this one spot for an hour or so at the end of the day, watching and listening to the birds, and seeing the sky turn all kinds of wonderful, as the albatross dip and glide above the ocean.

Dec 2017: Here’s a sample of the black-footed antics at Rusty Bucket:

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Message in a Bottle

As many are aware, Midway has become a dumping ground for the depressingly endless piles of garbage floating around in the ocean. 

Volunteers collect interesting (and less interesting) bits of trash whenever they are beachcombing or checking on the birds. A couple of days ago I found a baby pink toothbrush lying half in/half out of an albatross nest, and gave it to a colleague who’s specifically collecting toothbrushes. 

Another is collecting plastic lighters for an artist friend who transforms them into collages. Here’s one piece made for the barracks where we are staying:


Some days ago, when teams were counting albatross on Eastern Island, one counter, Sandra, found a well-corked wine bottle with several sheets of clean dry paper rolled up inside it. There has been some excitement building about the contents, so she decided to make a special event of it and open the bottle at our Christmas lunch.

Firstly, I should say that the feast did not disappoint! Here’s the menu posted on the door:


So, after being well wined and dined, Sandra attempts to extract the message from the bottle. Easier said than done! Seeing the struggle, the head chef (who is Thai) offers to help. He disappears into the kitchen, eventually proudly reappearing with a clean bottle, and no paper.

Seems the original intention got somewhat lost in translation! Turns out he assumed she just wanted the bottle, so he filled it full of water, shook it vigorously, yanked out the sheets which were by then in tiny sodden shreds and chucked them away.


An ambitious and optimistic few were determined to piece together the matted soggy puzzle. They could clearly identify some English words and phrases including ‘ship’ and ‘leak’ and ‘stupid’, so I’m hoping there isn’t someone stranded on a desert island still waiting to be rescued! 😜

I’m not ashamed to say I left them to it,  to enjoy a sunny Christmas Day walk on the beach instead! 

Christmas Eve on Midway

After a full day’s counting (and an excellent dinner as always), Christmas Eve was all about the white elephant gift exchange. 

Santa(!) dropped in for a visit with a few Thai elves! πŸŽ…πŸ˜† (yup, the elves got gifts too!)

 

There were far too many hours of hilarity to go into detail here, but the gift that I (admittedly) stole from a fellow team-mate, Liz, was a superb, framed picture of a Bonin petrel.

Sadly, it was subsequently stolen from me (by some b**tard who will remain nameless at least for this post!), but I discovered the gift was donated by the artist himself, Eric, who is a volunteer here.

Having realized just how much I loved it, Eric drew me my very own Bonin on a paper napkin! 

OK, OK, so it’s not quite the quality of the original, which really is a work of art, but I will frame this one myself and treasure it as the perfect memory of a truly special evening of friendship and side-splitting laughter! πŸ™‚

Mele Kalikimaka!

P.S. To Marilou: Yes, we spent an entertaining evening at Captain Brooks this week making tree decorations from ocean trash; I discovered your albatross skull and the bizarre phallic creation in a box, so you’ll be amused to know that both made it onto this year’s tree! 😜

Minefields of a different sort

Sunday was our first full day of counting, and we started to get the system down, though that doesn’t mean it’s a piece of cake. There are plenty of obstacles to weave over and around while still keeping an eye on your colleagues (we wirk in teams of 6), and not losing count…oh, and managing two clickers, to count the black-footed albatross separately from the Laysan!
…and then there are the Bonin petrels! 


These petrels are a success story for Midway! Their numbers had been decimated by the growing rat infestation; but, since the rats have been eradicated from Sand Island, the Bonin numbers have rocketed upwards. Good news for the Bonin’s; not so much for us! Their burrows are so numerous, and have undermined the soft earth and sand, that they can collapse under the weight of even an albatross…so you can imagine the effect when a team of humans comes tromping through their territory!

The burrows are impossible to avoid. Every time one of us collapses a burrow, the rest of the team has to halt and wait for that person to dig out the burrow, to ensure there isn’t a trapped petrel (or two!) in it. So, the counting is very much a stop-start process but, with a strict discipline and good communication along the line of counters, it’s a surprisingly efficient and accurate method.

Later in the day we covered a sector beyond the runway near the shoreline. I was hunting for nests in a thick growth of naupaka when I came across a white tern sitting on a branch. It seemed to have no fear of me and made no attempt to move from its perch. With those huge round black eyes, it’s hard to beat them for cuteness!


** I’ve tried since Sunday to load a couple of very small photos and post this, but no luck. I doubt if I’ll manage to post anything further until mid-Jan when I return to Kaua’i (since Midway posts just aren’t worth much without photos), but I’m keeping notes so then maybe I will post retrospectively.

In the meantime, to all a very good night!

First impressions

Nothing – not any blog post, video, nor friend’s personal account – could truly prepare me for my arrival on Midway! As we taxied in the dark, the runway was bordered on both sides by the ghostly shapes of countless nesting Laysan albatross, while Bonin petrels flitted across the sky.

We were ferried in a couple of extended golf carts from the runway to our lodgings in Charlie barracks. On the way, we often had to avoid an albatross sitting in the middle of the road. Petrels constantly circled around us, attracted by the headlights, and one flew into the cart, settling on the floor at our feet. We gently placed it back on the ground; no harm done!

At Charlie barracks, we were welcomed by a number of cheerful staff, who are no doubt used to the delight and amazement of incoming volunteers. After a brief orientation regarding house rules and regs, we headed for bed. All windows have blackout curtains to avoid birds flying into the glass so, with lights out, I peered out of my window…

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Later, much later, I drifted off to sleep to the ‘tune’ of whistling albatross.

Saturday, our first morning, a few of us headed out to the beach before breakfast, and enjoyed watching dozens of albatross accelerate down sandy runways to launch themselves into the air and head out to sea.

 

 

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After breakfast we were each issued with a bicycle for our stay. They are all foot-brake bikes, which didn’t thrill me, but I managed the first day without falling off (which should make Mary Mair smile if she’s reading this, as hers has caused me some angst in the past)!

After a detailed and informative orientation meeting, our team leaders gave us a tour of the main island, Sand Island. Albatross cover the landscape in all directions!

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Charlie barracks is in the distance; Β Bravo barracks to the right is abandoned

In the afternoon we had our first taste of counting. The three islands of Midway Atoll are divided into sectors…there are 60+ sectors of varying shapes and sizes to be covered over the next three weeks. We managed just 2 on our first day! However, we soon got the hang of the system and were able to speed up as the afternoon progressed.

We were done around 4:30pm. Time for a much needed shower before dinner (5pm-6:15pm), followed by a walk on the beach at sunset.

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A month on Midway!

I’m sitting at LIH airport, taking advantage of a one-hour flight delay, to resurrect this blog which I started when we first moved to Kaua’i.

Today I’m heading out to Midway Atoll, to spend a month among the birds. Since this means Christmas and New Year away from home, I’m very grateful to my old man Steve for fully supporting this opportunity. I’m sure he’ll enjoy his month’s vacation from his ball-n-chain too! 😜

I’ve been looking forward to this trip for months. Excited? I should coco.

I’m part of a volunteer team who will be carrying out the annual albatross census. We’ve been warned that the Internet is very slow (and definitely no wifi), so I’m not sure how many photos I’ll be able to upload during the trip, but I hope at least to share a taster of my experience over the next few weeks.

For those wondering where the heck is Midway…

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It’s at the far north-west edge of the Northwestern Hawaiian islands; it’s home to several species of albatross, mostly Laysan, as well as many other seabirds, and very few humans…which is exactly how the birds like it!

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This is what it looks like from the air, though I won’t experience that amazing view, as we’ll be landing at night, to avoid bird strikes.

I’m the only one on the team from Kaua’i, so I’m very much looking forward to meeting most of the team in Honolulu later today. We’ll fly from there to Midway by charter jet, and meet the team leaders who’ve already been preparing for the census. Tomorrow we’ll get to find out what we’ve really let ourselves in for! πŸ˜„