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! 😄

Our girls are back in town

And so the world turns!

November is the month that the Laysan albatross return to Kauai to mate, nest, and raise their young…well, some of them will raise their young, while others, like our pair of females are more hopeful than successful.

Last year I posted the tale of our two. We were fascinated by their behaviors, since that was our first year in residence. This year we were delighted when they returned to our yard to try again. It’s a special day when the first albatross of the season is spotted in our neighborhood. This year the first one was about a week earlier than usual, November 4, but our two always seem to be among the later arrivals.

So it wasn’t until November 23 that 338 arrived back in town after spending the summer months somewhere off the coast of Alaska. 643 was just a few days behind her, arriving November 26. They spent the next day close together, clacking, whistling happily, and preening one another. They also scoped out some potential nesting sites.

2012-nestThey seemed no more savvy about their nest location than before! Last year they ended up at a low point of our front yard to the right of the garage (after 338 followed one of the eggs that had rolled down a slope and ended up just a few feet from the driveway).

This year they chose an equally unsuitable spot…deliberately, it seems!

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We were optimistic when 338 initially began hanging around on our front yard near our huge Poinciana tree. We hoped she’d snuggle into the side of the tree, on a flat patch, where the long established roots might provide a safe haven for her and her egg…

… but, no… perhaps she was influenced by 643, who knows!

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Together, they moved downhill, closer to the house (on the left hand side of the drive this time), and seemed intent on squatting in what we considered to be the least appropriate spot of the yard, where, during winter downpours, the storm waters gush off the driveway. Not the most comfortable spot to set up the family home.

Once an albatross pair have met up in November and (in the case of a heterosexual couple) have enjoyed their roll in the hay, they both fly off again for a week or so, for their albatross equivalent of a baby-moon.

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So, while our girls were away, Steve (with the blessing of our local albatross guru, Cathy) laid a tarp and a chair barrier, as a form of gentle persuasion (for their own good!) to find a more suitable location.

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However, bird-brained or doggedly persistent, whichever, when 338 returned on December 3 she was pretty determined to find a way back to that same spot.

…even if it meant sitting on a chair leg!

IMG_9466Eventually, though, she grudgingly conceded defeat…sort of! She settled just a couple of feet away on slightly(!) higher ground but even closer to the drive than last year and, sometime overnight, laid her egg**.

643 showed up the following day, swapped with 338, and promptly laid her own egg.

As is fairly typical for all-female partnerships, since they can  successfully incubate only one egg, she forced one of the eggs to the side, giving Cathy the opportunity to remove the abandoned cold egg.

IMG_9505So now 643 has settled down to take the first long shift while 338 is away at sea, feeding and building up her strength for the second incubation stretch.

Sadly, yet again this year, there is no plan to provide PMRF adoptive eggs to the Princeville nesters, so our two girls will eventually give up hoping for a chick and, sometime early year, will leave the egg and us for their Summer in Alaska.

…and so the world turns!

** Having reread my blog post from last year, I was interested to note the role-reversal: last season, 643 was the first to return and lay her egg, on December 3, followed by 338 the following day. I’ve no idea if rotating the first arrival is a regular pattern…I guess I’ll need a few more years’ research to see any pattern emerge! 🙂

Winter Swells on Kaua‘i

It seems that Winter has arrived. Hawai‘i has just two discernible seasons, Summer and Winter…or Hot and Cold.

Of course, ‘cold’ is a subjective term. This week the temperature in Princeville dropped to around 60°F in the middle of the night. Since the same week brought blizzards and 6 foot drifts to parts of the mainland, I recognize this is hardly likely to gain much sympathy, but when it feels sufficiently cool to warrant something other than a thin sheet on the bed, that tends to be news around here.

Along with cooler weather, Winter on the north shore brings rougher seas and higher surf, sometimes particularly dangerous and vicious. Drownings are sadly too frequent at this time of year. Most residents quickly learn to respect the winter surf, but visitors don’t always understand the dangers of hidden rip currents or ‘rogue’/sneaker waves.

The huge swells on November 13 triggered a high surf warning along the north and east facing shores, from Ke‘e Beach to Anahola. Steve and I drove out to Lumaha‘i Beach, a beautiful spot to witness nature at its finest. The impressive seas had drawn a small crowd, both residents and visitors.

At one point we noticed a couple close to us; a husband was attempting to capture a photo of his wife with the waves crashing behind her. He appeared to be waiting for the perfect moment, the one memorable shot.

The largest sets of waves can be some minutes apart, so we heard him tell his wife to be patient, but each time he was about to press the shutter on a sufficiently impressive set, she heard the almighty crash of surf behind her and leapt out of the way. She had my sympathy! When the large sets come through, the surf will encroach many feet further onto the beach, and can easy whip your legs from under you if you’re not watching.

With each attempt he became more exasperated with her. He seemed a bit of a jerk, but who am I to judge…could be he was a lot smarter than he looked…could be he’d recently taken out a life insurance policy on her and was looking for a quick claim! 😉 I suggested she offer to have him stand on the shoreline and for her to take the photo! She appreciated the joke, he didn’t!

Later that day, I was volunteering with my friend Alice at the Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge; our regular Wednesday afternoon slot. In between chatting with a record crowd of visitors who were awestruck by the Point and views, I captured some more video of the swells, and of our less dependable and lesser known north shore equivalent of Po‘ipū’s Spouting Horn.

Hi-tech beachcombing on Kaua‘i’s north shore

Steve has a new hobby on the island, and a new toy: a metal detector. Ah, but … not just any old Joe Schmoe metal detector! Oh no! This is the White’s Surf PI Dual Field metal detector! Oh yeah, baby!

Dutch MedfordHis purchase earlier this year included a meeting at Lydgate Beach Park with the White’s agent on Kaua‘i, Dutch Medford … as it turned out, a two hour ‘meeting’ that was part instructional and part browsing through Dutch’s impressive ‘portfolio’ of finds, listening to some amazing stories. Admittedly his album extends over decades, but it was fascinating to see the amount of valuable and sometimes historic items he’d uncovered.

Since then, Steve’s taken occasional metal-detecting strolls along a few of our north shore beaches, usually with me and the purpose-made scoop (Dutch’s invention) at the ready.

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One day’s haul from Hanalei Bay

He’s succeeded in turning up a large number of exciting items: money (I think we’re up to 53 cents now, ignoring all the foreign coins), can ring-pulls, firework spikes and sparklers, bottle-tops…oh and one cheap (very cheap) hoop earring. Yup, it’s certainly a lucrative hobby so far! 😉

Steve has left his card with the local hotels, which have beach fronts, as it’s not uncommon for visitors to lose valuables on the beach, particularly in the water.

DSCF0092Let this be a lesson to everyone: NO jewelry on a beach day. Fingers do shrink and rings, even if you think they are too tight, do drop off, earrings can easily be dislodged if you fall off a surfboard or SUP board, clasps on necklaces, bracelets, and watches can come undone. Just don’t risk it, no matter how cool you want to look on the beach!

Around the time that Steve acquired his metal detector, a canoe club friend of mine was mourning the loss of her husband’s wedding band that had dropped off his finger some weeks earlier while bodyboarding somewhere along Hanalei Bay. Steve tried on two occasions to find it, but unfortunately the area they could pinpoint was too vague, and so far we’ve had no luck with that one.

However, a couple of weeks ago, Steve received a phone call from a visitor staying at the Princeville St. Regis. Married on Saturday, lost his wedding band on Monday! Not the most auspicious start to married life, and certainly likely to cast a permanent shadow on the honeymoon.

The pristine beach at the St. Regis, raked by tractor each morning at 7am :)

The pristine beach at the St. Regis, raked by tractor each morning at 7am 🙂

The following afternoon Steve met him on the beach. Luckily, he was able provide the exact location, because he had felt the ring slip off. Yet, despite that immediate awareness, his two hour search with (according to him) 20 others the previous day had been unsuccessful. Needles and haystacks come to mind.

Not surprisingly, the poor chap was pretty forlorn; I’m assuming his bride was none too pleased with the situation.

Steve waded in and was prepared to spend a couple of hours with him searching the area, but it took only 10 minutes to rescue the band from the clutches of the Pacific!

Elation and effusive thanks followed … and that truly is the ultimate satisfaction of metal detecting. To see that look on someone’s face when you can return a personal item to them, particularly something that holds far more value than mere dollars.

Steve was chuffed to bits, having converted that couple’s honeymoon from a dismal memory into a happy story to tell the grandkids one day.

The grateful groom rewarded Steve generously for his efforts, which was kind of him since nothing was expected. Dutch advised us that Hawaiian law is specific in this area: if someone asks you to find something for them, then its their property and they owe you nothing (though it’s great to be given something for your trouble, or at least to cover expenses). However, anything that you find when searching an area for yourself is yours to keep … even if someone approaches you after the fact and claims the item is theirs. A beachcomber has no duty to find the owner or return the item; though, as Dutch confirmed, part of the fun of the find is tracking down the owner and reuniting them with something they assumed was lost forever.

photo-1I’ve started a photographic record of all Steve’s finds, starting with his very first cent, and I was particularly delighted to add this special item to the album!

Paddling in Paradise

The outrigger canoe race season is in full fling.

This weekend the Hanalei Canoe Club (HCC) participated in our second regatta of the season. Like the first, it was held in our beautfiul Hanalei Bay. It’s a great day out for the entire family, with kids’ races all morning, and adults’ all afternoon.

Setup on race days starts at 7am. I try to get there early to enjoy the tranquility and grab a few morning photos before the hoards arrive.

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We gather at the Hanalei Pavilion beach park, and both park and beach are quickly buried under tents and bodies.

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Our clubhouse is located on the edge of Hanalei River, close to the river mouth at the east end of the Bay, so it’s easy to paddle our canoes from the club to the Pavilion early in the morning, where the kids enjoy helping to haul them out onto the beach.

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At the beginning of each regatta the Hanalei Canoe Club tradition is to form a circle around our canoes for an opening blessing, and usually the club song, Queen’s Jubilee. However, Devin our master ukulele player and honorary ‘musical director’ was MIA this weekend, so no song. It’s not easy to remember the Hawaiian lyrics, so I found a recording (there are plenty of them!) on YouTube to help me get it into my head for future events.

As a Brit, I was interested to learn the story behind the song, which was written by Queen Lili’uokalani after traveling to London as a young princess with a large Hawaiian contingent to attend Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.

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All the club members help at various stages, in various roles during the day. Everyone brings food to share; paddlers are a hungry crowd, and the food table quickly looks as if it’s been attacked by a flock of vultures, so we try to stagger the ‘unveiling’ of dishes to make them last a little longer.

At every regatta, and other events too, we sell club merchandise to visitors and club members, which helps raise much needed funds for the club. It takes a large number of helpers to set up and unpack, to man the tables all day, and then to pack up at the end of the event.

We carry a vast array of logo clothing: teeshirts and tanks (cotton, capilene, mesh), sweatshirts, hoodies, caps/visors/beanies, shorts, swimwear separates – in many colors and in all sizes from 6 months to XXXL. So if anyone out there fancies some Hanalei Canoe Club clothing from the Garden Island, let me know! 🙂

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Each club also provides one or two members to work in the official race tent, recording results and timings. I’ve done a stint in the tent at both regattas so far, and it’s interesting to learn how it all comes together.

Besides the official tent, we have our own club Mission Control, where the teams for each race are selected and race results monitored. This week, our extraordinary coach Lilinoe was ‘on duty’ as usual, from first thing in the morning, with baby Kaleb beside her, despite them both having experienced a C-section delivery 12 days previously. That’s Lilinoe below, busy at work in the yellow/green sarong, and Kaleb’s hidden in the buggy. She even showed up at the club with Kaleb when he was just four days old. She’s one tough cookie!

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However, some folks work a tad harder than others! 😀

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We were blessed, again, with gorgeous weather and ocean conditions; yet another glorious day of paddling and camaraderie in the Bay.

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This year the Hawaiian Island Canoe Racing Association (HICRA) State Races will be held in Hanalei Bay on August 3rd. It will be an especially fun occasion for us all at HCC, as the State Races are only held here on our home turf in our home surf once every six years. The event is held on O’ahu every other year, and on a neighbor island other years.