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;  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! 😄

Saturday’s free-for-all at the Refuge

Free admission to the KÄ«lauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, that is!

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KPNWR entranceIn case it escaped your notice(!), last Saturday was National Public Lands Day (NPLD), as so eloquently proclaimed by our President. In recognition of the occasion, the KÄ«lauea Point National Wildlife Refuge offered a fee-free day.

While kids age 15 or under have free admission every day, our fee-free days are a big deal for all the bigger kids, no age limit.

Nene - Hawaiian State BirdNPLD also coincided with our Nēnē Awareness Day. So, this was an opportunity to showcase our State Bird, the nēnē (Hawaiian Goose) , and educate and entertain our visitors with relevant information and activities.

The rangers did a great job of preparing for the event.

Nene walkOne of my favorite features was the NÄ“nÄ“ Walk. (OK, it doesn’t look quite so great in my photo, what with the fencing and poop, and the fact you can’t read the cards…perhaps you had to be there!)

As visitors wandered from the entrance along the pathway to the lighthouse, the rangers had laid a number of nÄ“nÄ“ cards, each with a snippet of information. For example, I was shocked to discover that in 1949 the nÄ“nÄ“ population was down to a mere 30! Today? Somewhere around 2,500! They are still endangered, but it’s a remarkable success story so far. [For those friends in California, the nÄ“nÄ“ is not the same as the pesky canada goose. The nÄ“nÄ“ is protected and revered, as opposed to being regarded as a noisy, messy pest!]

Matt, Forestry and WildilfeMatt, from the State Division of Forestry and Wildlife was on-site to provide nÄ“nÄ“ banding information. Kids were ‘banded’ in the same way…well, not quite…they were given a temporary paper band around their wrist, rather than a permanent plastic band around their ankle; still, like the nÄ“nÄ“, girls were banded on the left wrist, and boys on the right.

The ‘tattoo’ station was also very popular, and not just with the children. Many adults proudly displayed their temporary tattoos to me as they left.

Save our ShearwatersVolunteers also manned an exhibit highlighting the Save our Shearwaters campaign. On Kauai, there is particular concern at this time of year for the Newell’s shearwater fledglings who are often disorientated by lights, particularly bright lights pointing upwards. The wedge-tailed shearwaters fledge a little later, in November. With increased awareness of the plight of these endangered seabirds, and to avoid violating the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), night-time roadworks and other floodlight activities cease each year between September 15 and December 15.

Another reason for celebration on Saturday, was the $25,000 check that KÄ«lauea Point Natural History Association and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service received from Hampton Hotels, as part of their Save-A-Landmark program. The donation will be used for the ongoing KÄ«lauea Lighthouse Restoration.

The Kīlauea Lighthouse is the 60th site to be acknowledged by the company since Save-A-Landmark was launched in 2000, and was selected in 2011 for the award through a national voting campaign in which Hawai‘i residents and lighthouse supporters from around the world cast more than 25,000 votes on its behalf. A pretty impressive feat by such a tiny state!

Kilauea LighthouseThe lighthouse is in full renovation mode at the moment, with its body covered for lead-based paint removal and installation of new windows (the original openings having been bricked up in the 1930’s). The plan is to have it completed, and returned to its original splendor, prior to its centennial celebration on May 1, 2013 (which coincidentally is my brother’s birthday…think about it, bro, that could be quite a birthday party for you!)

* Thanks to US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for the nÄ“nÄ“ photo, and KÄ«lauea Point Natural History Association (KPNHA) for many of the details above. ‘Like’ them on Facebook to keep track of future activities.