Sunday, June 28, 2009

New Acting Manager

Well, I'm acting Refuge Manager for the time being now that the NOAA ship “Oscar Elton Sette” showed up on Thursday and picked up Dave, Jim, Irene, and Sheri. The ship is doing lobster research on this cruise, and since they were coming by anyway, they were nice enough to give those 4 a ride. They also gave us a little fresh fruit and some much needed coffee. We had about 3 weeks of coffee left and our next supply ship isn't for almost 6 weeks. Even if you don't have great math skills, you can see that that's not good. We're doing canned and frozen food for 6 more weeks, but some people get pretty creative on their cooking nights and make great dinners.
The volunteers are finally done banding the albatross chicks. I didn't count exactly how many there were, but over 3,100. Although some of them have died, since the most of the parents have stopped feeding them. It's up to them now to learn to fly and find their own food. The Masked and Red-footed boobies are next on the list for banding. They bite a lot harder than the albatross chicks, but at least their bills aren't quite as sharp. So more bruises, but fewer scars.
The weather is getting a little less windy here so Jon, Mike, and Austin (the shark crew) can finally get back to their tagging. Their project is to tag tiger, Galapagos, and blacktip sharks and monitor where they go. Shark predation is a major cause of death for monk seal pups here. They've already got a few this year, so the more they understand the sharks movements, the more they can figure out how to minimize the loss. Most of the other islands rarely lose pups to sharks. French Frigate Shoals is a good example of a “predator dominated ecosystem”. So far they've caught over 100 different sharks (some too small to tag, or a kind that doesn't really eat pups), but it hasn't slowed down anyone's snorkel trips. It seems they prefer seal pups and albatross chicks.
Thanks for posting Dasha!

Since I didn't talk about turtles this time, you at least get a picture of one. Here's a male green sea turtle swimming by while I was snorkeling.
We've been collecting a lot of marine debris lately. The seals love to play with this stuff and sometimes get stuck in it. Most of this is just from the last few weeks. Sometimes it washes up on this island, but the seal crew picks up a lot of it on their boat trips across the atoll.

I thought this was kind of funny. Here's two different species of birds (red-tailed tropicbird chick and sooty tern adult) both with eggs from red-footed boobies. I'm sure the tern has an egg of it's own to worry about and the chick just doesn't care that it's there.
A Greater frigatebird is perched on one of our plot markers with sooty terns flying over.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Another Nice Week

It's been a busy week once again with the usual things going on. The seals are having pups and keeping the seal crew hopping. The volunteers are still busy banding the 3000 or so albatross chicks, and we helped the turtle crew take down their camp on East Island, since they have to get all their gear cleaned and stowed by the time they leave (Wed. or Thur.). The shark guys have been taking a bit of time off because it's been pretty windy and choppy out in the atoll, and no one wants to fall in when they are tagging a 14 ½ ft tiger shark on their little 17 ft boat.
It's Dave's final week on the island too. He took a job at Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge so that will leave me in charge out here. It will probably take a while to get all the paperwork done to actually make me the manager, and it will take even longer to get another assistant manager out here. I hope a new asst. mgr can get out here faster than I did.
The maintenance volunteer, Jim, will be leaving on the Sette with Dave and the turtle crew, so there will be 4 fewer mouths to feed until the construction guys get out here this fall.Here are some Achilles Tangs for a bit of color. This is one of the Christmas shearwaters that we are monitoring. Here is the shark crew hoisting their boat onto their trailer. We don't use the boat ramp because it's too rough usually and the boat gets beat around too much. The hoist is easier. The young great frigatebirds are catching and eating small sooty tern chicks all the time. There are tens of thousands of chicks still around, but we still don't like to see them get eaten. The sharks are getting a lot of the black-footed albatross chicks too.Here's a sooty tern chick hiding under the Chenopodium. Of all the bird chicks on the island, the sooty and grayback tern chicks are the only ones that are scared of people. They are really the only ones that have predators here though. The frigatebirds leave the other chicks alone.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Seals, Turtles, and Sharks

Things are still busy on Tern and our internet is still not up to par, but thanks to Dasha, I'm getting another blog out this week. Besides the seal, turtle, and shark work going on, the Hi'ialakai (NOAA ship) is here doing their own things, such as more shark tagging, and some archaeological diving. The Hi'ialakai looks exactly the same as the Oscar Elton Sette, which I showed you before. They brought us a big supply of food, so it's nice to have them come through. The volunteers are still trying to get our almost 3,000 albatross chicks banded. They are about 2/3 done, so their getting their practice in. The bird noises are a little different than when I left. It used to be albatross and red-footed boobies making all the racket while I tried to go to sleep, but now it's sooty terns and wedge-tailed shearwaters. The shearwaters sound pretty weird. They have 2 basic noises. One sounds just like a ghost from cartoons, a rising and lowering “ooooooooooooooo”, got that? And the other noise they make sounds like a baby crying. It usually only takes about 1 night to get used to the new birds when they get here.

A couple of the Black-footed albatrosses have already fledged. This guy needs another month or so. The sharks are starting to patrol the islands pretty closely looking for chicks who got in the water thinking they were all ready to fly, but really aren't. Quite a few of them have already been eaten.
Irene is measuring a turtle. There are 2 turtle techs here right now, Irene and Shari, and they camp over on East island since that is where most of the nesting takes place. They work at night and count, and monitor all of the nesting turtles that are there. They take turns coming back to this island after 3 or 4 days each. I went over one night and checked out what they do. It was very interesting, since I didn't get to see much nesting activity over at Midway. Over 90% of the population of Hawaiian green sea turtles nest here at French Frigate Shoals. Here we are coming back to Tern on the boat. These are 3 of the volunteers, Whitney, Sarah, and Adam. The weather has been great lately for getting over to the other islands.
Here's Mark, one of the seal crew, snorkeling out at LaPerouse Pinnacle. It only looks about 6 feet tall here, but it's really 120 ft. And good news. We saw a few blue-gray noddies back on the rock. We hadn't seen any since the peregrine falcon came around. So it's good to see there are at least 3 of them around.
Here's a Red-footed booby stretching its wing.
The Red-footed booby chicks are getting big now. Only a couple had hatched when I left. This chick must have had a tiring day of squawking, since it's yawning now, and they really don't do much. The Great frigatebird chicks are pretty big now too. None of them had hatched when I left.

Monday, June 8, 2009

You're probably wondering why I haven't posted for a while, at least I hope you're wondering. It turns out that Google products do not work from the island anymore. Blogspot and Gmail are both out of commission here. So, I sent the text and my pictures to Dasha (my wife) and she's putting it up. Thanks Dasha! For those of you who were checking Mary's blog too, that's why she couldn't post either.
Anyway, I'm back on Tern island with 15 other people. It's pretty busy around here. There are 3 people tagging sharks to see where they go, 4 people monitoring and tagging monk seals, 2 people tagging nesting green sea turtles, 5 volunteers, and Dave and me. The good thing is that we are finally getting some of the food from 2003 eaten up. Today, I'll catch up on my ride back to Tern and show you some pictures of the other islands. They all look a lot alike. Low sand islands with no trees and a lot of birds.

Here we are unloading supplies on Green Island at Kure Atoll. Kure was also a Coast Guard station like Tern Island.

This is the old Coast Guard building. I got to spend the night here since I was helping set up.

The people at Kure will be staying in the tents since there's not enough room in the building.

The verbesina is almost as bad at Kure as it is at Midway.

This is Southeast island at Pearl & Hermes Atoll, aka Pearl & Hermes Reef.

This is a view completely across the island looking at the Oscar Elton Sette.

Here is the seal camp at Pearl & Hermes.

A population of Laysan finches was brought to Pearl & Hermes as a backup to the population on Laysan Island. They are very curious. About 50 of them came to check out the new supplies.

Some finches flew out to the ship and would not fly back to the island. We think that they were looking for fresh water, which was scarce on the island. We had to catch them, put them in this bucket, and have someone come out from the island in a boat to bring them back. The picture was taken through an air hole in the bucket lid.

This is Lisianski Island. See, most of these islands are similar, but you can tell them apart.

A monk seal watches us set up the tents on Lisianski for the seal monitoring crew that will be out here for the next couple of months.

Colleen and Angie sitting on the beach in front of their tents on Lisianski Island.