Sunday, December 6, 2009

Back to Tern

I've got some bad news for now. The internet on the island is out thanks to the Hurricane Neki evacuation. I'm going to try to get it going when I get back out there, but it might not work until our next plane in February. It was a good time off the island and I got some good Wilderness First Responder training in Bend, OR (which is a really nice town, by the way). The Kahana is Taking us out in the morning in the biggest swells in 40 years in Hawaii. It's going to be a rough ride. I'll fill in some details if I ever get the internet back. So I hope I don't lose too many of you. I don't even have any pictures to put up, but don't worry, I'll be back.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hurricane Neki

If you've been following Hurricane Neki, you might have noticed it's supposed to get very close to French Frigate Shoals. The island was evacuated by a Coast Guard C-130 today, so Ty, all 4 volunteers, and all 5 construction workers are safe and sound in Honolulu.
Once the hurricane passes, the Coast Guard will fly over and survey any damage. So we'll have to wait and see, but at least everyone's fine.

Here's a link to the video of the Coast Guard plane landing on Tern.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Last blog for a while

As always, it was another busy week. On Wednesday, we had some visitors stop in from the office in Honolulu and the from the Regional Office. They hopped on the Kahana at Midway so they could see how things are going on Laysan, French Frigate Shoals, and Nihoa. After a tour of Tern Island, Ty and I got lunch on the Kahana, then took the group to East Island and snorkeling at LaPerouse Pinnacle. It's always good to give people a look underwater, since the atoll has only about 67 acres of land and 232,000 acres of coral reef. Sarah (volunteer) left on the Kahana too so now we have 4 volunteers to take care of business until Dec.

We had a plane on Friday. Another 10 minutes and we wouldn't have. It started pouring rain just after it landed. I'm sure they would have had to turn around like last week since the visibility would have been too bad. We don't have a full service airport here so pilots have to fly on visual flight rules. It's tough to land if you can't see the island. The runway got covered in water, but thanks to our high tech water removal equipment (the volunteers and a bunch of brooms), most of the water was swept off of the main takeoff path.

If all goes well, I'll be out on the plane tomorrow (Monday). On my time off, I'll be doing some first aid training in Bend, OR, working in the office in Honolulu, and hanging out in Cleveland, and whatever else looks good while I'm gone. I may or may not make any vacation posts, we'll see if there's anything interesting in the rest of the world. If not, then I'll probably post when I get back here in Dec. See ya!

This is Round Island. It comes and goes. I hope it stays around long enough for this pup to wean. You can see Tern Island on the horizon. I wish I could bring my nice camera in the boat, but I'm not taking the chance on it getting wet. This is about as good of a zoom as I can get with my little waterproof Olympus.

These are "Nenue". That's the Hawaiian name for various species of chubs, which all look very similar, so we'll stick with nenue. They are very common around here and every now and then we'll see a yellow one in a school of gray ones.

Here is a bluefin trevally swimming below me. They usually follow seals around to see if they scare up any food. They also follow people around, until they see that we aren't doing anything interesting. They are fairly big and get up to 25 pounds. The giant trevally, which also follow seals and people, get a lot bigger, about 5 ft and 150 lbs. My pictures weren't as good of those guys this time.

This is a blue-grey noddy on LaPerouse Pinnacle. It's a bit fuzzy since I had to zoom in a lot on the computer, otherwise it would have just looked like another guano spot.

This is what our warehouse looks like with no walls. It's probably a little more interesting for people who've been out here before. It should be all fixed up by the time I get back.

This is the runway today. It looks a little better than it did a couple of months ago.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

New volunteers and rain

I got the new helpers on Monday. I'm glad that Adam and Sarah are still around to help show them the ropes. Ty is catching on quick for all the "acting manager" jobs that he'll have around here while I'm at training and on vacation. He says it reminds him of working on a ranch, with all the cooking, cleaning, and other chores that everyone has to pitch in on. He also said, "You have a really cool job". I know.
We finally got some rain. The problem is that it came the day the plane was bringing more construction workers. They got here and the visibility was terrible and there were big lakes on the runway. They flew over, took a look, then flew back to Honolulu. It rained again the next night, so we got up early and took brooms and spread all of the puddles around to dry them out. It was a pretty big job to get that done. It ended up being pretty dry so at least the plane could land on Wednesday. It was a bit muddy though. I'm hoping it doesn't rain on the 21st, since that's when I'm supposed to be flying off.
I finally got a Sunday off today, so I went snorkeling with the new people, went for a run, and watched "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels". So absolutely no work today. The construction guys worked a half day, and were glad they could get finally get off the hot roof for a bit.

Here comes some of our supplies and new volunteers. The Kahana is in the background.

I'm training Ty on how to get through the little channels to get to the other islands. We took our lunch along and ate it on Trig Island. I think we need one palm tree on this island. I believe some introductions are in order; Sarah, Erika, Alex, Ty, Adam, and Katie are in the picture.

Here is one of two Bristle-thighed curlews that are visiting right now. They usually prefer the other atolls for some reason. They nest in Alaska and take their winters on islands and atolls throughout the pacific. Last I heard there's only about 7,000 of them in the world.

This is the other curlew that's here. I'm glad it got this grasshopper. It's invasive and we're trying to get rid of them. It was interesting to watch the bird try to kill the grasshopper before it could eat it. It would shake it up to stun it, then slam it on the ground, and catch it again before it could get away. These grasshoppers are tough, this one is about 4" long and even a stomp with the old shoe usually doesn't phase them. These birds will also eat other birds eggs, which they crack open by hitting them with rocks.

Here's another uncommon shorebird I haven't shown you before. The little light colored bird is a sanderling. The other 4 are ruddy turnstones. The turnstones are always around but there are only a couple of sanderlings here each season.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Happy Labor Day

It's another working weekend for us on Tern Island. We had a plane today, which brought a runway inspector and John and Josh, who'll be working on the warehouse. They came today so that they can help unload the Kahana tomorrow. It's bringing the rest of the construction materials, plus 3 new volunteers and Ty, who'll be taking care of things out here while I'm gone. He usually takes care of Tern Island from Honolulu, so now he gets some hands on experience. We are losing 2 volunteers, Whitney gets to take the Kahana to Midway and fly back from there, and Therese will fly back to Honolulu from here in a few days. Sarah will stay to help train the new volunteers and take the Kahana back, and Adam will stay out here a while longer.
We'll have another plane the day after tomorrow with a few more construction workers. So we're well on our way to the 14 that'll be here when I leave. Things are really busy around here, but it feels good to see some results.

The plane is taking off for Honolulu.

Since I talked about the nice view I had while running my 10k's, I thought I'd show you. This picture shows the nice blue water, but it also makes it look like a desert island with all the dead vegetation. It has been really dry out here lately, but still beautiful.

Sarah and Whitney were watching the seal crew do their work. The sooty tern was just looking for a good spot for..... whatever they use their spots for?

This brown noddy chick is only a couple of days old and wandered out into the middle of the runway. Either that or a frigatebird dropped it before it could eat it (more likely). I put it off to the side, near the most likely parents, but its chances aren't good.

I haven't shown you a baby turtle for a few weeks. Here's one that we let go early in the morning and is almost home.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

New Manager

OK, it's supposed to be official as of today that I am the new manager of Tern Island. I was only "acting" manager up until now. I had to be here a year before I was eligible for the increase in grade. It won't change anything, but I'll at least get a raise.

We've been busy, as usual, out here. This time we've been clearing out the warehouse so the construction work can start in a week or so. It's really difficult to find other places to store all that, since that's why we have the warehouse in the first place. They should be done with it by late Nov, so I'll just have to keep things cluttered until then.

I've still had time to continue with my jogging. I decided 5k wasn't enough excercise though, so I bumped it up to 10k. Now that's enough excercise, at least for the time being. That's 5 laps around the runway. The scenery is great, so it doesn't get old. And some of the meaner birds like to try to peck my head at certain spots on the loop. It keeps me paying attention at least.

We'll be starting our flights this weekend. Many of the sooty terns have gone and I hope even more leave by the weekend so none of them get hit. The Kahana will be coming up on Labor day to bring the rest of the construction gear and 3 new volunteers. Ty will also be coming out from Honolulu to act as manager while I get my time off the island in Oct/Nov. So there's only one more week of 5 people, then by next week, we'll be back up to about 13 people. It makes cooking night a little harder, but other than that, it should be alright.

I took a little time this week to go out with Whitney and band some Bulwer's petrel chicks. We have these nest boxes for them since it hard for them to dig burrows with all the coral chunks everywhere. They use them quite a bit. Here, there are 3 chicks out of 4 nest boxes.

There was another nice sunset this evening.

This red-footed booby was just watching me work on the tractor.

This is one of my favorite little fish. It's a Hawaiian cleaner wrasse. They have little cleaning stations where bigger fish come to get cleaned. This picture is a little blurry, but I've been trying to get a picture of one forever, so this is as good as it gets.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Tern Island - Population: 5

I thought being on a little island out in the middle of the ocean meant kicking back, reading some books and watching the wildlife. Not quite, apparently. We had 2 more ships this week. Really, they were the same 2 as last week, but instead of big offloads, we had big onloads. The Sette came through on Thursday and picked up the seal crew and all of their stuff. They also picked up the 6 seal pups that they tagged last week. I got an email from them saying that they let them go at Nihoa and everything is good with them. I hope they make it. We had one pup that just weaned that didn't make it. It was attacked by a shark a couple of days ago, but finally died yesterday, probably from infection.

The Kahana came today to pick up all of our trash and recycling from the last 5 months. Elizabeth also went aboard and is headed back to Honolulu. We are now down to the usual island poplulation of 5. Four volunteers and me. It's more cooking nights, entrapment walks, and cleaning duties for each of us, but it's kind of nice to have it so low key. All of the people who come out here are great, but it's just nice to have it slow down sometimes. When the construction on the warehouse starts in a few weeks, we'll be back up to 15 again. So I'm enjoying it while I can.

We're getting all of our trash into pallet tubs to put on the Kahana this morning.

We're bringing out a boatload of gear to the Sette.

A young brown booby was checking out our propellers as we waited to pull up to the Sette.

This is a brown noddy with its albino chick. It can fly now, but the parent still feeds it. Like I've told you before about albinos, seabirds don't usually make it to adulthood. There are a lot of factors working against them like bad eyesight, sun damage, being picked on, more obvious to predators, etc.

Just a gecko on the window.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

More Groceries

It's been a very busy week with 2 ships and people coming and going. We offloaded the ship all day Saturday and had a couple of loads on Sunday morning, but we've got everything we need and we're back up to "good" on the food supply. And more importantly, we're good on the TP now too.

No one left on the Kahana today, but Elizabeth came on island to work on our emergency planning and supplies. She'll catch the Kahana on its way back from Midway to get back to Honolulu.

The volunteers have been working extra hard, so after the ship left this morning, I took them out for a reef survey where we snorkel around and look for entanglement hazards. We only found one net, but saw a lot of nice coral and fish. We also watched "Jaws" two nights ago. I remember when I first saw that as a kid. I was even scared to jump into the deep end of a pool for a couple of years. The one white-tip shark I saw today didn't worry me, but I think I'll wait on letting new volunteers watch it until after they've seen a few sharks. Along those lines, I think it's probably good that we don't have a copy of "The Birds" on island.

This is the landing craft from the Kahana bringing our food and construction materials.

A few of us took a break after work a couple days ago to go jump in the ocean.

This seal is going to be relocated to Nihoa where it will have a better chance of surviving than here. It's got a satellite tracker on it's back so it can be monitored. If no one is around to remove the device, it will just fall off when the seal molts.

Whitney is swimming through a school of little fish.

Here's Therese and Mark swimming around a nice bunch of coral.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Food and Mail

The NOAA ship Oscar Elton Sette stopped by today and brought us some food. Even though Sunday is "fend for yourself" day when it comes to food, we decided it should be a big salad night, since everyone was probably going to have one anyway. I'm not really that big of a salad person, but I must say, it was pretty good. At least we've finally got more ingredients than pasta and beans (a slight exaggeration, but barely). It was great to get the mail today too. It's been a few months since our last mail. Thanks for the package, Dasha! The Kahana is also coming later this week to bring us even more food and supplies, so as usual it's either feast or famine around here.

We now have 2 fewer people on island. Jon, Austin, and Mike (shark catchers) left to catch the plane at Midway next week. Derek and Monica (monk seal biologists) also left to go to Laysan to do some seal work there for a week or so. We got 3 new visitors too. Charles, Bob, and Tenaya are here to also work with monk seals. They are going to relocate 6 weaned pups to Nihoa, where pups have a higher survival rate than French Frigate Shoals. A pup just got bit by a shark this week, the morning after it's mother left. This one had one of it's rear flippers bitten off, so it probably won't make it since even the perfectly healthy ones have a tough time. We were bummed that it was a pretty healthy female, since the population needs females more than males at this point. I hope the seals do well on Nihoa. They'll be satellite tagged so that NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service) can keep track of them for a little while at least.

Therese and Whitney are banding a Christmas shearwater chick. These are some of the best mannered birds on the island. They don't try to bite while they are being banded.

This Laysan albatross chick was just watching the waves smash the seawall a few inches in front of it. There are only a couple dozen left on the island now. All of the black-footed albatross are gone.

One more baby turtle picture for you. I sat by a nest a couple nights ago and waited for them to hatch out. I only had to sit there about 45 minutes until they decided it was time.

This is a bird I haven't shown you before. It looks just like a Great frigatebird, except for the white spots under its wing and it is a bit smaller. This is a Lesser frigatebird and they usually are found in the southern hemisphere.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Blogspot Finally Works Again (for now)

I can finally do my own blogs again. Thanks for putting them up for me all those weeks Dasha. It must have been some setting that they changed, because our internet service is a little bit worse than usual. Oh well, it's always going to be something.

We've been finding more and more turtle hatchlings that are crawling around the island instead of finding their way into the water. They usually crawl toward light and with a bright, high moon like it is now, they sometimes go for the middle of the island instead of the surf.

The seal pups that have weaned also have been scooting up all over the island too. The runway isn't a good spot for them, so we have to put them back on the beach. I think they learn fairly quickly that there isn't much for them up here anyway.

We're getting ready for a couple of ships in the next couple of weeks. Next Sunday, the Sette will come and get the shark guys and 2 of the seal crew. They'll be dropping off 3 more people to help with some seal work that I'll tell you about next time. They'll also be bringing about 15 boxes of groceries for us, so we're kind of looking forward to that. A few days later, the Kahana will be bringing a lot of supplies and some construction materials to fix the warehouse up. We'll finally be getting some mail too. The last time we had that was in June. I hope people sent me some goodies!!

A baby green sea turtle is trying to get into the water. I put it in a bucket though and we let it go after sunset, since there are fewer fish and birds to eat them at night.

There was a question last week on the tagging. So Buzz, here's what the seal tags look like. This one was on Midway. They just put it on the tail flippers. With the sharks, they implant a tracking tag and they also give it a dorsal fin tag so they immediately if they've caught it before. I don't have pictures of that though.

This is a bush near the barracks that the black noddies love to nest in.

This is just a picturesque bush near the beach.

The brown noddies nest on the ground or on roofs and the chicks are usually white or gray when they are small. The black noddies nest in the bushes and the chicks are always black, except for the front of their head.

Monday, July 27, 2009

More Baby Turtles

Dasha was away at hockey training last week so no one was around to publish my blog. Now that she's back, I'll catch you up on what we've been doing. Thank you Dasha!
In the last couple of weeks I got out on the boat a couple of times. I went to Trig island with the seal crew to go pick up a young pup that just weaned. We like to get them away from Trig as soon as the mom leaves them, mainly because of shark predation. This one already had a bite and it was only on its own for less than a day. It wasn't a really serious bite and seals are pretty good at healing, so it shouldn't die from that.
I also went on the boat with the shark tagging crew. I guess the sharks had better stuff to do than get tagged that day, because we didn't get a single one. Usually they at least catch some kind of shark, like sandbar sharks, or gray reef sharks even if they don't tag them. I saw one shark earlier today when I went snorkeling. It was a white tipped reef shark so it wasn't one that gets tagged either. I don't know where all the Galapagos and Tiger sharks went. If they stay away at least a few more albatross chicks might make it out of here.
It was nice to get out and snorkel today too. It's been a while since I've gone. I saw a bunch of green sea turtles swimming around and a monk seal came over to see what I was up to. The water was a bit cloudy, but I'm sure none of you feel sorry for me.
Mike and Austin are pulling in the shark line.
Here's a picture of them from a few weeks ago with a decent sized tiger shark. The seal crew happened to be passing by when they were tagging it. Thanks to Monica Bond for the picture. The sharks are usually pretty docile when they are flipped over on their backs.
It's time to start digging out hatched turtle nests. After the nest hatches, we give them a few days and then dig into the nest to make sure there are none stuck under big hunks of coral. Here you see Therese, Sarah, Whitney, and Adam with another 2 feet or so to go to get down to the nest.
There are a lot of nests hatching now, so between lost turtles on the runway and in the weeds, and digging out the stuck turtles, there are a lot to be saved.
I didn't get a picture of the seal today, but Derek Lee from the seal crew had this nice picture and said I could use it. So that's about what I was seeing except the water wasn't as clear today.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Baby Turtles

It was another beautiful week. Lots of sun and enough wind to keep it from getting too hot. We got enough rain to supply water for another half of a day. There hasn't been much out of the ordinary going on except that the turtle nests have started hatching. That means when we do our entrapment walks every morning, we have to look for confused baby turtles that crawled up toward the runway instead of down to the water. We collect them in buckets to get them out of the heat and wait until after sunset to let them go. They will die within a few hours of being in the direct sunlight if we don't pick them up. The adults are still nesting, so that means we'll have to be on the lookout for them for at least the next 3 months. Saving baby turtles is always a popular activity around here.

Here's the first 2 baby green sea turtles in the bucket. If they can escape from all the predators, they may be back to start breeding here sometime within the next 20-50 years.

This mom and pup monk seal are always right near the barracks building. We can take pictures of them through the window.

Here's another Great frigatebird picture. This is all the way at the east tip of the island looking west. I've shown a lot of frigatebirds lately, but this was a good shot of the whole island, so you get another one.

Adam, Sarah, Whitney, and Therese are looking for the Bulwer's petrel nests. I showed you what they look like last time. They like to nest in places like the broken concrete at the old Coast Guard dump. That bird in front of the camera is a sooty tern. Objects in lens may not be larger than they appear.

Monday, July 6, 2009

A Normal Week

It was a “normal” week on Tern Island. At least for us. The usual projects are still going on; seal monitoring, shark tagging, bird banding, and a lot of other smaller projects. We had an extra day off this week for the 4th of July holiday. That was nice, but for most weeks, 2 days off is too much. I don't know if I mentioned it before, but we work 6 days a week here. Any more than one day off and people usually end up doing work projects anyway. Besides, there's really nowhere to go.

It's been fairly calm here this week, so we snorkeled on the outer side of the atoll. It's similar to the inside of the reef, but there's a lot more coral growing out there, and bigger schools of fish. I would show you a picture, but I had to send my little camera back for repair. The battery compartment won't register as closed, so it won't take any pictures. I also had other camera trouble. My lens for my nice camera went bad, (won't focus anymore). I had to send both off on the Sette with Dave, and he mailed them off. I hope I get them back when our next mail ship gets here in about 5 weeks. I still have my 100-300 mm zoom lens and an old 35-105 lens for my Canon. So I can still take some new pictures, and at least both things are still under warranty. I have enough pictures to keep showing new ones anyway, even if I couldn't take new ones for 5 more weeks.

Thanks for posting again, Dasha!

Here's a bird I haven't shown you before. It's a Bulwer's Petrel. It looks a lot like a Christmas Shearwater (which I've shown you), and a lot like a Tristram's Storm Petrel (which I haven't shown you). These birds are bigger than a Tristram's and smaller than a Christmas, but they all look pretty similar- nondescript, brown birds. Normally these birds live in holes or under things so you don't get pictures of them just sitting around in the daytime, but this little troublemaker was trying to nest under the tractor tire, so I have to keep putting him outside, until he finds somewhere better to nest. They have a weird call too. They sound like dogs off in the distance, “woof, woof, woof”.

Here's a fat little monk seal pup born this year. This little guy came swimming by while I was behind the seawall, so he couldn't see me. We always try to stay 150 ft from all of the seals, to minimize disturbance to them, but it would have been more of a disturbance for me to jump up and run away, than to sit and let it go by. This is one of the times that I was glad I still had my good zoom lens.

I haven't shown you a Gray-backed tern chick yet either. Here's one with its parent. They like to nest out in the open on the rubble.

Here's what that little chick will look like in a few more weeks. This one is almost ready to fly.

Another 50,000 reasons that we don't fly in April-August. For some reason, the sooty terns really like the runway.

A little bunch of Masked boobies are holding their ground on the runway. They like it there too, but there are not that many of them.