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.