Sunday, December 28, 2008

Happy Holidays

We completed our Christmas bird count for the Audubon Society this week. We counted 11,442 birds on this island of 16 species, 15 if you don't count the Laysan/Black-footed hybrid. It took about 4 1/2 hours. We were supposed to do the other islands also, but the weather was bad, so we didn't count them until yesterday. There were 454 birds on Trig Island, 3893 birds on East Island, and 82 on La Perouse Pinnacle (including the peregrine). There would have been a couple thousand more if we had counted earlier in the morning and later in the evening when the birds aren't out feeding. You'll probably end up seeing most of these species on my blog at some time.

Our Christmas was uneventful, but we had a nice ham meal. I don't know what to do with all these days off over the holidays, so I end up doing a few projects. That's the trouble with living in your office.

The volunteers are about to start the bird count on a Tern Island winter day.

I took some pictures today of a young frigate bird playing with a stick. They like to pick things up, chase each other around, and drop things so they can catch them again. When the Sooty terns are here, many times they'll pick up a small chick and play with them too. The chicks don't make it though.

Apparently this monk seal couldn't find a comfortable spot on the beach.

I tried to figure out what these little eels were. The best I could come up with are that they are young conger eels. Feel free to correct me if you know what they are. There were thousands of them washed up on the Trig Island beach.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Bad Weather & Bird Counts

We've been having some more heavy wind and rain this week. We've been mopping up the water from the leaks in the barracks for the last few days, and our internet and phones were out for a couple days. The satellite signal can't make it through the thick clouds. Again, what can you expect on a remote island. I'd still rather have this than the below zero weather back in North Dakota, and I still love it here! Some of the albatross nests were flooded, but as long as they stay on the egg, they should be ok. One good thing is that all 5 of our water tanks are completely full.
We are doing the Christmas bird count for the Audubon Society this week. That will be a big project since we are supposed to count every bird of every species on the entire atoll in one day, and there are only 6 of us. Last year there were about 12,000 birds on this island alone. There will probably be another couple thousand on East Island. It will be really difficult to count the birds at LaPerouse Pinnacle since we can't get on it, but we'll try to count them from the boat.

This is what our runway looks like after a couple weeks of rainy weather and no time to scrape the weeds off. Needless to say, I've got some work to do before our plane comes in a few weeks.

We hope to see the bird with the orange bill on our bird count. It is a Nazca booby (the one in front is a masked booby). Their normal range is the Eastern Pacific, especially the Galapagos Islands. They were considered a subspecies of the masked booby, but now are considered separate. This one was here last year, but there is only one, so it probably won't be nesting anytime soon here.

Here's a closeup of a masked booby.

The red-tailed tropicbirds are starting to come back now too.

Here's a little crab that was wandering around in the catchment pad area. It was about 6 inches wide.

I spotted a few Spotted eagle rays as I went around the island on my entrapment walk this morning.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Bad Weather and Marine Debris

This week was pretty busy. I'm trying to learn where everything is and its taking a while. The volunteers were counting all of the Black-footed albatross nests and banding all of the nesting birds. It took most of the week.
We had some bad weather with big surf. The waves washed about a quarter of the way across the island in some spots. A lot of nests were washed away, bushes uprooted, and rocks thrown around and we lost most of East Beach. It was over 100 yards long, but now it's just a little sand slope. We also took a trip to Trig island and East Island. All of the nests on trig island got washed away (about 250). It looks like the birds were all ok. They'll just have to try again next year. About 1/4 of Trig island got washed away too. Now it's 2 separate islands. That happens quite often in the winter I guess. Hawaii got the worst of it though, they had mudslides and flooding everywhere.
East island was interesting. There was a lot of marine debris to pick up. We brought a lot back on the boats, but there's still a bunch over there. We only found one glass fishing float, the rest was the same old junk, like nets, bottles, plastic fishing floats, nets, ropes, etc.
This week will be more of the same, except this week it will be counting and banding Laysan albatrosses.

This is East Beach a few weeks ago.

This is East Beach now.

This is East Island. The big pole has a camera to monitor turtle nesting. There is a transmitter also so we can check the island from here.

We had to rescue a green sea turtle that was stuck here in the shallow water behind the seawall. They sometimes are feeding near the seawall when a wave will push them through the holes. They usually can't get back out, so we have to put them back out. There have been 3 stuck in the last week. One was about 80 pounds, and was pretty hard to catch, but we got it out. The others were smaller. Sooner or later the seawall will get repaired, when there's enough money for that project.

While we were boating, we saw this contraption. We thought it was trash and were going to pick it up. It says on it that it's "providing valuable ocean research data" and not to remove it from the water. I looked it up on the internet, and they attach these things to ghost nets (abandoned fishing nets) to track their movements. They actually put their GPS information online so you can see exactly where they are, but this serial number wasn't being tracked on their website ( I hope it doesn't get stuck on our reef or tangle any animals.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Snorkeling Day

This week the manager left and so I'll be in charge until March. There are 6 of us here now, 5 1/2 volunteers and me. The 1/2 volunteer is working on satellite tagging albatross the rest of the time (we did that last year on Midway and I showed some pictures of it on my Midway blog). I'm hoping it won't be too crazy around here. So far we've had a few electrical problems, water problems, and boat problems. But what can you expect on a remote island?
We work 6 days a week and only get Sundays off, so today a few of us went snorkeling since it was finally a fairly calm day. We saw the usual suspects; turtles, sharks, eels, and lots of other fish.
This is how the waves were looking for the last week or so. It's great to look at, but not that great for snorkeling or boating. Today we went snorkeling from the northeast corner of the island, along the whole north side (which is the calmer area in this picture), and got out at the boat ramp on the southwest corner of the island.
This is a whitemouth moray eel. They are fairly common in Hawaiian waters.

This is a gold-ring surgeonfish (aka: kole tang, spotted surgeonfish), and in the background you can see part of an "old woman wrasse". Don't ask me where that name came from?

Here is a convict tang (aka convict surgeonfish), a yellowtail coris, and a raccoon butterfly fish. You can probably guess which one is which. The yellowtail coris is one of my favorites. This picture doesn't do all the colors justice.

Here are two whitetip reef sharks. The third one was off to the left and didn't fit in the picture.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Happy Late Thanksgiving

We had the usual Thanksgiving feast out here, including a 20 lb. turkey. We're still on leftovers, but now we're only down to turkey soup.
The day before that, we took a boat trip to Trig island to count the albatross nests and pick up marine debris. There are only a couple little portulaca plants on that island since it gets washed over fairly often. The birds are nesting on the high spot so I hope they'll make it there. The main reason we went is so I could find the way to get there, since when Dave leaves next week, I'll be left in charge. There's a small opening in the reef with little clearance, so it'll take some practice to not scrape anything.
After Trig Island, we went to LaPerouse Pinnacle to check which bird species are present. The peregrine falcon was there and no blue noddies, so it will probably take them a couple years to get going there again. There are also a lot of Brown boobies, White terns, and Great frigatebirds. The volunteers got to snorkel there and it looked like a great spot. It's from 10-20 ft. deep right around there so the coral and fish are a lot different than near Tern. I only got to look in the water next to the boat since we don't anchor there and someone has to drive.
This is our dining area. We had our T-dinner buffet style so that's why it looks skimpy.
This is Trig island. Lots of sand and a few birds. The picture is a little washed out because it's my little waterproof point and shoot instead of my nice camera.

LaPerouse Pinnacle up close.
It's not very wide. For being 120 ft. tall.

Here's the only Laysan/Blackfooted albatross hybrid on the island. It doesn't have any better luck with mates than the ones on Midway did.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Birds and Sharks

The weather here has been nice. I went snorkeling a couple of days ago. It's a lot like Midway, but a lot more sharks. I saw 5 of them. A gray reef shark and a bunch of white-tipped reef sharks. I was busy learning again too. We tried to take the boats out so I could learn the reefs, but they were acting up, so we'll have to look at them this week. There are also a couple of fish that I haven't seen before, like Potter's angelfish and Yellow tailed coris. They are both really colorful.
There are a lot of Black-footed albatross nests now, and a few Laysan albatross nests. The island is starting to fill up with them. The Black noddies are also laying eggs right now.
Things are going fairly smoothly around here, and I'm getting more comfortable with the cooking. Last night I made sesame chicken that I think turned out pretty tasty. On Thanksgiving we'll all do the cooking and cleaning.

This is the gray reef shark that was following me. It's about 6 ft. long, so it's bigger than the other ones I've seen. It was following pretty closely which was a little unnerving. I heard there is one gray reef shark that doesn't like people swimming through his area, so when you see him getting mad, you're supposed to swim quickly out of there. This one wasn't doing any posturing, so I wasn't too worried.

This is our one coconut tree that I told you I'd show you. The others are heliotrope (Tournefortia) trees. That one in the back is the biggest one on the island and the rest are pretty much just bushes.

This is LaPerouse Pinnacle. It's the last remaining part of the original island. It's still 120 feet tall. This is where the peregrine was hanging out and where the blue noddies used to live.

These are some Blue noddies on Nihoa. Here's are Brown and Black noddies for comparison.

Brown noddy.

Black Noddy. It normally looks more black than this, but the sun was really bright.

Since I showed you the noddies from Nihoa, here's another bird I saw there. This is a Nihoa finch in a native popolo plant (Solanum nelsonii). They are endemic to Nihoa. They are endangered since they are found nowhere else.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Almost Week 2

It's been a windy, rainy week. Since there's only 1 scrawny coconut tree on the island, there isn't much to stop the wind. The birds like it though. The fledglings are learning quickly how to lift off and land.
I've been pretty busy learning the ropes. The hardest part is trying to find things. I've had to do a few minor repairs and it's taken me far longer to find the tools than to do the work.
There are a couple of vagrant birds hanging around. One is a female Northern pintail duck (I haven't got a picture yet) that will probably stay around for the winter and fatten up for spring. There is also a peregrine falcon which I saw being chased by the white terns. The white terns seem to be the only ones that try to chase away birds of prey on these islands. The peregrine has pretty much taken care of the population of blue noddies (formerly called blue-gray noddies) that nest on La Perouse Pinnacle. Last time anyone went out there they found only 1. Next week I'll give you a picture of the coconut tree, La Perouse Pinnacle, and some blue noddies on Nihoa.
I didn't cook ramen for everyone's meal last week. I kept it fairly simple though until I learn my way around the pantry and cupboards a little better. I just made spaghetti with sauce from a jar (and a couple extra veggies and spices). Most people do it up a little more than that. So far the food has been really good. Right now we are on a 6 day rotation (supper only) and Sundays we fend for ourselves. We have 7 people, but our IT person who's here for a week, doesn't have to cook. She's been making good deserts anyway.

This is the sign greeting people from the plane. It's posted up on our tractor shed. It should really have flip numbers since the population fluctuates a little.

The masked boobies and brown noddy fledglings like to sit on the runway.

The frigate birds like windy days. Here's two young ones.
Our seawall is in bad shape so one of our daily projects, which we also take turns doing, is called the entrapment walk. We just look in all these spaces around the island to make sure no birds, turtles, or seals are stuck in there. It takes about 45 minutes to walk around the island.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I'm Here

After about 10 weeks I finally made it to Tern Island! It’s a lot like Midway but much smaller, no trees (or bowling alley), and we have to take turns cooking. Right now there are 6 of us here in rotation so I’ll get my first chance to cook for the group on Friday. The food pantry is stocked pretty well but I think I’ll try something easy. There’s about a 2 year supply of ramen packages so maybe I’ll just boil some of those up.

The room I moved into needs some work. I’ve got to evict about 20 brown widow spiders (I heard they aren’t quite as poisonous as black widows). I’ll also need to try to coax the roaches into someone else’s room. We also don’t have a clothes dryer so we use a line outside. You just have to ignore the white stains that you get on everything from the birds.

Today was a holiday so I got a chance to snorkel off the east side of the island. The fish and coral are pretty much the same as at Midway, but the current is a lot stronger since the reef doesn’t surround the whole atoll like it does at Midway.

I’ll probably be here until about March before I get some time off the island. It looks like it will be busy around here, but I think I’ll love it.

This is the plane we take. We have to fly about 40 min. from Honolulu to Kauai, top off the fuel, then fly about 2 and a half hours to Tern. It can only take 720 lbs. so that's usually only about 3 people and gear.

This used to be a tennis court for the Coast Guard station that was here. Now it catches our water for the barracks. It only runs through 2 filters and a UV light, so it smells a little weird. We use a lot of tea/Kool-aid/Crystal Light/Tang etc. mixes.

One of the cool things is that you get to see endangered species through the window. A Hawaiian Monk seal is sleeping about 20 feet away from the barracks.

This is the view from the southeast corner of the island to the northeast corner. As you can see, it's not that big! A few Black-footed albatross are sitting at the end of the runway.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Quick Trip to Tern

Ok, here is the new blog! Thanks for waiting. By the way, I won't be doing this daily because it takes a lot of time, so maybe once a week or so. We'll see.

I've been in Honolulu for about 2 months waiting to get out to Tern Island, and I finally got a chance to get out there last week for a day. The Kahana (supply ship) was bringing up a work crew and I can't be there permanently until Nov. 10th, so I took a ride up. On the way up we stopped by Nihoa, the first island in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. People need special permission to go onto the island so it's really special to get there. The crew we dropped off had to check on the endangered/endemic Nihoa finches and Nihoa Millerbirds. I got a chance go on the island for about 20 minutes. There was a native Hawaiian settlement there up through the 1700's so there are ruins of terraces and other interesting archeological items. Nihoa is important in Hawaiian culture so a cultural monitor accompanies the groups that go to Nihoa to perform a spiritual ceremony and make sure that things are not disturbed.

Tern island is small. It's only about 30 acres, we catch rain for our drinking water, and we use mostly solar power (generator backup). We do have internet, but no TV. I'm just giving you a brief preview and you'll get more of the story on my later posts when I actually get out there.

Here's a picture I took of the Kahana at Midway. For those of you who watch "Lost", it is the ship that got blown up in season 4. It was a 6 day trip to Tern and back. Great food by the way!

A view of Nihoa from the southwest.
Looking east down the Tern Island runway. The barracks are on the right.

As you can see, the barracks are right on the water, so it's a nice view for the volunteers (my room looks at the other barracks rooms).