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Preview: Pete at Midway

Pete at Midway

Updated: 2018-02-14T11:48:02.295-11:00


Last Post From Midway


 I got so busy packing and squaring things away that I didn't even realize I didn't do a post last week, so this week I've got a lot of pictures.  I usually like to keep it short and to the point, only because that's what I like to see and read, but there were quite a few things worth taking pictures of the past 2 weeks. I don't have any information yet about anyone else starting a Midway blog, but I'll post something if I hear.  In the meantime, if you are on Facebook, you can keep up with things out here by liking the Friends of Midway (FOMA) page.  They frequently post updates and will keep you informed about this amazing place. Penny is planting some native goosefoot (Chenopodium oahuense) on Eastern Island.  It grows pretty well when it's planted in the middle of the bunchgrass. This is what the goosefoot should look like in a year or so.  It's good habitat for a lot of the birds and doesn't grow as thick as the invasive plants.This is a photo of the one native popolo (Solanum nelsonii) plant on Eastern Island.  The White tern was checking my camera settings.  You can see the brown mustard (Brassica nigra) growing pretty thick.  We'll hopefully have that eradicated in a couple of years.Here's another photo of Hope painting stuff.  This time it's the 3" gun on Eastern Island. Bret and Denise are removing an entanglement hazard from the beach.The Great frigatebirds are building their nests and looking for mates.Same for the Red-footed boobies.  Both species should have eggs anytime now. Here's the tree with the 2 birds above.  You can see a little White tern nesting in this tree too.  A lot of times you have 6 or 7 species or more nesting in or under 1 tree.The Eastern Island invasive species crew is on the way back from Eastern Island. The Kahana brought us another 6 months of supplies.  They are swapping out the field crew on Kure Atoll this weekend and will be back on Monday.We took another trip out to the reef.  I hope these White terns don't lay their egg here because usually the reef chicks get washed away before they can fledge.This is an old woman wrasse, or blacktail wrasse.  The emergent reef in the photo above this probably looked like this a hundred centuries or so ago, when that was actually submerged. On our way back from the reef, we saw 6 Hawaiian monk seals hauled out on the boat ramp.We had a bit of a problem with birds stuck in trees this week.  This Bonin petrel had its foot stuck in some branches and had to be rescued. This Laysan albatross got really tangled up in this tree.  That's actually the bird's right wing all the way over on its left side.  It took a long ladder, a long stick, and a pole saw to get it unstuck.  It took a day or so, but the bird recovered.Here's a photo of Bret and I getting the bird free.  Cynthia Vanderlip happened by on her way back to the Kahana and took this photo.  I didn't have a chance to get it from her before she left so I grabbed it from the Kure Atoll Conservancy Facebook page.  They have some good posts about the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands so it's worth liking them.The mulberries across from the old galley are getting ripe. This is the view from the Clipper House (our dining hall).  I still am not tired of it even though I've seen it at least twice a day for all of the years I've been on island.[...]



It was another cool, windy week.  At least the albatross chicks aren't getting overheated yet.  A Coast Guard C-130 came in for a day this week.  They had a search operation in the area.  Landings were more common when we were able to do more medical evacuations from passing ships.  Other than that, it was a usual week with the Laysan duck botulism checks, albatross plot monitoring, invasive plant removal, and of course, trying to get all my affairs in order to move out 2 weeks from Tuesday.  Thanks for the nice comments this past week!

 The C-130 crew spent the day here since they have to land and take off at night, and the pilots need their rest.
 Volunteer Hope is painting some of the Short-tailed albatross decoys in the garage.

This is Frigate Point.  This area is closed, so we don't go there much, but I was giving Bret the island tour.

There are even fewer albatrosses in this photo of the parade field than when I showed the same area 2 weeks ago.



I've got some news for you.  We've got a new deputy manager.  Bret Wolfe came out on the last flight.  He was previously the marine program coordinator for the refuge system.  He was out here last summer for a short time but is back for a permanent position now.   That brings me to the next news item.  I'll be going over to the headquarters office in Arlington, VA.  Bret and I are doing a position swap, so I'll be going there for a permanent position.  I won't be doing the exact same job as he did, but I'll be working as a biologist in the Branch of Wildlife Resources.  It will be nice to finally live with my wife again.  You may be wondering if I'll be continuing my blog.  Last time I left Midway, I did start a new blog:  However, French Frigate Shoals is as suited to blogging as Midway is.  Although I'm sure I'll do some interesting things in the Washington D.C. area once in a while, I'm afraid most of my posts would be photos of me stuck in traffic or doing yard work.  So I obviously will be bringing this blog to a close, and don't plan on doing anything when I get back to civilization.  I'll be leaving in April and I'll post until then.  I'll let you know if anyone else will be doing a blog from here.   I've been busy getting ready to move, so I hardly took any photos this week.  We have to do our daily seep checks for sick or dead Laysan ducks from botulism, so all my photos on this post were from my 2 hour trip to Eastern Island this morning.  I think I'll miss this place. On my way to Eastern Island this morning, the motor got tangled in a fishing net that was submerged and stuck on some of the coral.  It took a couple of minutes to get on my way again and I cleaned up some marine debris.  I guess that's almost analogous to a flat tire on the way to work.As I walked from the pier to the island, I saw this green sea turtle sleeping on the beach.A Black-footed albatross and chick were sitting near Sunset seep.This is one of the guzzler ponds that we have on the Eastern Island revetments to ensure fresh water for the Laysan ducklings if the island gets washed over again.  I think I mentioned before that the revetments on Eastern Island were made during WWII to protect airplanes and ammunition from causing chain reactions if they caught fire or exploded. There were 29 ducks in the Monument seep today. I've got quite a few pictures of the beading water running off of the ducks, but I keep taking them anyway since they are always kind of cool.I saw one of the ducks with a plastic ring stuck around its neck.  It's very wary and we haven't been able to catch it yet to remove the ring.  The ring is loose and doesn't seem to be causing any harm, but I'd rather take it off if I can.                            It's a nice view from up on the revetment.  I've got quite a few photos from this revetment because there's a guzzler here too, and this one has a bit more elevation than the other one.I took this photo from the same spot as the previous photo, but facing the other direction.On my way back to the office, I saw a monk seal up in the field.  They are usually closer to the water.  Since I had a threatened green sea turtle photo and a couple of endangered Laysan duck photos, I figured I'd add an endangered Hawaiian monk seal.[...]



The albatross chicks are mostly on their own now.  There are a few parents still incubating the chicks, but most are out getting food to bring back.  It has still been consistently windy, and I wish that I had pictures of the huge waves that have been pounding the reef from the northwest.  The reef is about 4 miles away from the North Beach, so the photos of the 30-60 foot waves don't do them justice.The volunteers have been organizing journal clubs lately.  They choose a journal article to read and then have a discussion.  The last article is interesting reading that you should be able to find online if you're interested.  It was originally in The Auk journal in 1912.  The article tells the story of the introduction of the canaries to Midway in the great prose of the early 1900's.  The article is titled, "The introduction and acclimatization of the Yellow Canary on Midway Island", by William Alanson Bryan.This canary is one of the descendants of the one original pair that was brought here in 1909 and 2 additional males that were brought in 1910.A Laysan albatross chick waits in the parade field for its next meal.  The parade field is less crowded with most of the parents out to sea. This parent is back to feed its chick. Our marine debris pile is getting large again.  That red container in the back wasn't debris.Here's one of the more ironic items that washed up.  It says "keep our beaches clean" and "Heal the Bay".  At least we are reusing it and filling it back up. Those big waves that I was talking about cleaned up the beach next to the cargo pier.  I'm sure a lot of that stuff will be back soon enough.[...]

New Manager


I forgot to mention something a few weeks ago, since the news happened the night that I left for Honolulu.  We have a new manager at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.  Dan Clark will be in charge out here, and his wife is able to join him.  I worked with Dan and Kathy a couple of years ago when he came out on a work detail.   We are happy to have them.    The wind finally slowed down for a few days, so we got a chance to go survey the reef.  We like to check things out to make sure nothing is amiss out there, so I'll have a few photos other than birds this week.  Don't despair, birders, I'll still put up a couple of bird pics.Here is a Black-footed albatross chick asking for food.That little dark line on the horizon is Sand Island (where we live) from the very northern tip of the atoll.  It would be even harder to see if it wasn't covered with ironwood trees.  It was sunny for the early afternoon, but got cloudy later on.  More fish come out of their hiding spots when it's cloudy, so it's not that bad.This coral is growing very close to the ocean surface.  The water is only about 6 inches deep here.  It's too shallow to snorkel, but there are channels that are deeper that we can swim through.  The coral in this area is beautiful and healthy.  One of the benefits of the cold winter water is that it is much clearer for photos than in the summer when it's warm.  There is a lot less micro sea life growing in it now.  A wetsuit is a must for most people.The reflection of the coral on the surface gives a really cool effect. Here is a nenue swimming by.  There are a few convict tangs in the background.There are some nice tide pools on the emergent reef. This obviously is the other bird photo.  It's a Northern shoveler with 2 Laysan ducks.[...]

Eastern Island Birds


There wasn't a lot going on last week so I'll make small talk about the weather.  Once again it's been pretty chilly for Midway.  The temps have still been in the high 50's and there's been quite a bit of wind, so everyone is wearing their winter gear out here.  The chicks are getting bigger and most don't seem to be bothered by the cool weather, except the really small ones.  I only took a few photos this week and most were on Eastern Island, so here are a few of the birds over there.
The Short-tailed albatross chick is getting big.  It's about 6 weeks old now.

 The Great frigatebirds are starting their displays for nesting season on Eastern Island.  They don't nest on Sand Island.

The Masked Boobies also don't nest on Sand Island.  I only saw one nest over there this week.

This pair may be getting ready to have a nest sometime soon.

Wisdom's Chick


It's nice to be back on Midway, after my 2 weeks working in Honolulu.  The big news is that Wisdom has another chick.  For those who don't know who Wisdom is, she's the oldest known wild bird, and is at least 63 years old, banded as an adult in 1956.  She still looking about the same as always.The Short-tailed albatross chick is old enough to be left on its own now.  The parents don't leave for long when the chick is young, so they are feeding it frequently.  It has been very cool, windy, and a bit rainy for the past month or so, so the other albatross parents are aren't leaving them alone much yet.This is Wisdom and her chick.  You can see a bit of Wisdom's red leg band on her right leg.   Here's another photo of Wisdom and her chick. This is the greenhouse over on Eastern Island.  It was originally built as a temporary Laysan duck home when they were first translocated from Laysan Island.  The greenhouse is empty right now because the weather has been so bad that the crew hasn't been able to spend much time over there.   Here are some Black noddies on the roof of the hydroponics garden.  I don't go in there too much, but we had a tour for some folks from the regional USFWS office out here on a site visit. It wasn't the best day for hanging out on the beach, but it was OK for taking albatross pictures. A lot of marine debris has washed up on the beaches in the last month due to the wind.  This fishing float has quite a few barnacles growing on it. Most of the chicks are hatched now, but this in one of the later ones that is only one day old. This chick isn't quite ready to be left on its own, but the parent is giving it a little space.[...]

In Honolulu


I've been working in Honolulu this week, so there isn't a lot of Midway news that I have for you.   I told you a while back that you can look at Google street view and take a virtual tour of Midway, at least on Sand Island, but they have now put up streetview for most of the rest of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands.  You can now see Lisianski and Laysan Islands, Pearl and Hermes Atoll, and French Frigate Shoals (Tern and East Islands).  If you've ever been wondering what some of those other islands look like, now you can find out.  Here are a couple of links that talk about it. I probably won't post a blog next week, but I will the week after when I'm back on Midway.I took this photo before I left.  This shows one of the access trails that we maintain on Eastern Island.Our flight back to Honolulu was pretty quick.  You can see how fast the plane was going. I've been staying in the USFWS bunkhouse to save some travel money.  I used to stay here all the time when I worked on Tern Island.  There are a few other temporary FWS people staying here too. It's the Chinese New Year (year of the Horse) so we went to Chinatown last night.   It was pretty crowded over there.Today I went over to the tide pools near the Makapu'u lighthouse with my friend Julia, who used to work on Kure Atoll.  If you were watching the pro-bowl today, you saw that Oahu wasn't very sunny today. There is an interesting blowhole there from the surf.  This is called the Dragon's Nostrils.It's a little more impressive in this photo. There were quite a few humpbacked whales in view.  Most of them were too far out for good photos, but I got a few fin and tail photos.[...]

More Chicks Hatching


It's been a pretty windy winter so far.  We haven't been able to get over to Eastern Island too much lately. According to the wind forecast, we'll have winds in the 20's and 30's (mph) for the next few days.  I'm glad the volunteers finished up the albatross survival plots this past week.  Those are the plots that we check every year to see how many adults survive from the previous years.  The black-footed albatross chicks have started hatching.  I don't have any photos of them yet since there are only a few so far.  By next week they should be hatching everywhere.  I'll be off island for 2 weeks starting Tuesday, but I'll be working in Honolulu so I should be able to put up a few more photos next week. Hoku and Shirley are checking one of the Laysan albatross survival plots on the south side of Eastern Island.  I finally got to Eastern Island to get a few photos of the Short-tailed albatross chick from this season.  It looks pretty similar to the 2 that hatched in 2011 and 2012.  We'll probably be posting a couple more links to video on the flickr page over the season. I had my 300 mm zoom and cropped the photo so you could just see the Short-tailed albatross' head.  I didn't adjust the color in this at all so you could see how golden the head looks in the sun.  Sometimes it's hard to tell the real color of these birds since most people try to adjust the contrast or saturation of their photos to make it look brighter yellow.  By the way, I rarely change anything in my photos other than crop them, although since the bright sun makes such harsh shadows out here, sometimes I'll adjust the shadows so you can actually see what's there. This hybrid Black-footed/Laysan albatross was over on Eastern.  I rarely can get photos of them all together. We had a couple of birds with problems this week.  It's pretty common to have Laysan ducks get plastic rings stuck around their necks.  This female duck flew off before we could catch it.  We'll have to try again later.  This is the other bird.  You can see the fish hook stuck in the Black-footed albatross' foot.  Thanks Hope Ronco for these two fish hook photos.You can see we have only the most up to date surgical equipment for working on our birds.   Volunteer Ann, the Physicians Assistant, Mike and I are removing the hook.  Those stainless steel hooks are extremely hard to cut.  We tried 4 different kinds of metal cutters and these giant bolt cutters were the only thing strong enough to cut through the hook. The waves coming in from the north behind the emergent reef were pretty big again, although not as big as a month ago. Here's another visiting bird that is normally not seen on Midway.  This is a Slaty-backed gull, which normally is on the East coast of Asia or western coast of Alaska.I was wondering why this bird liked to sit in the water instead of the land.  After watching it for a while, I saw that it only had one foot, although you can't tell from the 2 photos that I put up.[...]

Back From Vacation


I'm back from a 2 week Christmas vacation in Alexandria, VA.  I like to get back to the cold every once in a while so I'm reminded that 60 degrees on Midway is actually pretty warm.  The end of December was pretty busy around here with 2 monument groups visiting for a few days each.  One group had members of the Monument Management Board, and one group had the communication team from the monument.   The yearly albatross nest counters also were here (while I was gone).  The numbers aren't official yet, but it looks like there are fewer nests than last season.  That's kind of expected since last year was a pretty good year and it usually drips after a high year.  Some other big news is that another Short-tailed albatross chick hatched on Eastern Island on Jan. 9th.  The pair took a year off last year, so this is the third chick that has hatched at Midway.   I haven't gotten over there yet to get any photos, but we got some remote video.  Here is the story with a couple of links in it: On the last post I showed you a photo of my backyard on Midway with all of the albatross.  This is a view of my backyard in Alexandria on a snowy night. Dasha and I went to Arlington Cemetery on Christmas Day.  They place wreaths on many of the graves. This is the Monument Management Board group checking out Sunset Seep on Eastern Island. I didn't have many photos for this post, so I went out this morning after brunch and took some photos from the North Beach. These birds have a nice spot overlooking North Beach.  The sweet alyssum has been really fragrant the past few days. You can see Charlie Barracks in the distance.There's always some bird getting in the way of my other bird photos.[...]

Happy Winter!


We've been getting a lot of wind and rain for the past week, and it's supposed to continue through this week too.  I'm not complaining.  At least it's in the 60's, although with people in winter coats and wool hats, you wouldn't guess that.We had a group come to the island for a couple of days this week.  People on the Monument Management Board (USFWS, NOAA, and the State of Hawaii) were able to visit.  We always like to have people who are involved in management decisions come out and are able to see what it's like out here.  Most of them end up saying, "I knew there were a lot of birds here, but I didn't expect this many".   Wisdom's mate is now back on the nest.  She's out filling up with food after laying that big egg. The MMB group is getting a tour of Eastern Island.  That brown stuff on the horizon is all of the dead verbesina that was recently sprayed.  Is anyone missing their front bumper cover? We took the group out to Reef Hotel for snorkeling.  It was really rough.  You can see a big surge coming over the emergent reef toward Rick. This was the first time I've been out there where water was actually washing over the reef.  Normally it dissipates before it gets there.The underwater photos weren't quite as good as usual with all the bubbles. This is what it is supposed to look like (taken in June)."OH, OH, OH!  The Clipper House Christmas decorations are up.This is the view out the back door of my house.  There was a decent rain, but you can't really tell from this photo.[...]

Wisdom is Here


 For those of you who were wondering, Wisdom is back again this year and has laid another egg.  If you are new to the blog, Wisdom is the oldest known wild bird.  She is at least 62 years old.  We know she is at least that old because she was banded as an adult on a nest in 1956, and albatross are at least 5 years old when they mate.  I noticed that I never did mention that her chick fledged last season.  We are assuming that it did, since we had no evidence to the contrary.  Here are a few links with more of my photos, and a video that I got of Wisdom laying the egg. was the Thai king's birthday on December 5th.  We had a nice celebration here at one of the Thai houses.  The Thai's usually have big celebrations for the king's birthday and Songkran (the Traditional Thai New Year), which is in April.  Wisdom (on the left) is sitting with her mate.This is Wisdom a few minutes after she laid her egg.There were photos and information about the Thai king posted in the Clipper House for the week.There was also a birthday card for people on island to sign.The actual birthday celebration was a good time with a lot of Thai food.I haven't shown many Black-footed albatross lately, so here's one.[...]

A lot of food!


 I hope everyone had a great long weekend.  We had a great Thanksgiving dinner.  The cooks did a wonderful job cooking turkey, ham, steaks, all the usual side dishes, and more.  I just finished up my leftovers today. We're keeping busy monitoring the albatross plots.  It's about the peak of egg laying this week.  We also have to put bands on any new nesting birds in the plots so we can keep track of which parent is on the nest.  Luckily, most of them have bands on them already since we've been monitoring these areas for a few years and the birds nest in almost the same spot each year.As usual, the tables at the Clipper House were all put together for the holiday meal. Wine isn't normally allowed at meals in the Clipper House, but they make holiday exceptions. The pumpkin pie and carrot cake was good.The volunteers check for new eggs in the Black-footed albatross plot near the end of the runway.This is what the parade field looks like this week. This albatross has a rusty fish hook in its neck.  We caught it to try to remove it, but it's been in so long that it has healed into the skin.  I'm sure the hook was nice stainless steel when it went in and it will probably be worse for the bird to take it out since the bird looks very healthy.  [...]

Happy Thanksgiving!


I hope you have a great Thanksgiving week.  This past week we said goodbye to Refuge Manager Sue Schulmeister and her husband Bob.  They've done a lot of great work out here the past couple of years.  We'll be getting a new manager out here in January.

We're starting our albatross monitoring this coming week.  We'll mark nests in 5 different plots and follow those nests to see how many of the eggs hatch and how many chicks end up fledging to determine reproductive success.

Egg laying for the Laysan and Black-footed albatross is in full swing.  This bird has an old aluminum band that isn't even readable anymore.  We'll have to see if we have time to replace it this season.  

 This is the old officer housing, which now is mostly the Thai worker housing.

We keep a few interesting artifacts in the seaplane hangar.  This is a section of the anti-submarine net that would keep out any unwanted submarines.  There are also a couple of the old tank turret pillboxes that were used as protected shooting spots for defensive forces in WWII.   

Since I hardly took any photos this week, I'm pulling one out of my older photos file.  This was a recently weened Hawaiian monk seal checking out the boat.

Happy Retirement, Sue!


Sue Schulmeister, the refuge manager, will be retiring soon and leaving Midway this week.  We're sorry to see her go.  We'll also miss her husband Bob, who has been a really big help with most of our projects out here over the past couple of years.  We wish them both the best.  We've also got some news about the Short-tailed albatross.  The pair on Eastern Island has another egg.  This is the 3rd egg from that pair since 2010.  The female laid the egg and has been out feeding for the past week or so.  If all goes well we'll expect it to hatch in mid-January.         I said last week that I would post a photo of the Veterans Day Ceremony.  People are gathering for the ceremony in this photo.The Thai workers made another beautiful wreath for the ceremony. Sue and Bob recieved a few going away gifts at the retirement/going away party.  This is a photo of the DBSI employees on island in a handmade and painted frame (made by Apiwat and A2). Our viewing station for the remote camera on Eastern Island is set up in the visitor center.  It's nice to be able to monitor the Short-tailed albatross on their nest from my office.  We can't see the egg too easily, but we should be able to see the chick when it hatches.  I want to say thanks to NOAA for bringing the cameras out her originally. Speaking of Short-tailed albatross, this one showed up by Rusty Bucket yesterday.  This is a 5 year old bird that has shown up for the last two seasons. The albatross are starting to clog up the roads.  It's easier to get around on a bike than in a golf cart now.Not all of the birds are paired up yet, but you can tell the ones that are with their mates.[...]

Thank You, Veterans.


Thanks to all the veterans who have served or are still serving!  We'll have a small ceremony at the Navy Memorial here tomorrow.  I'll put up a photo next week.It has been pretty windy for the last few days, which is bringing a lot of albatross in.  Every day the numbers are doubling.  It's good that all of the construction is wrapped up for the season.  There were quite a few people on island the last couple of days.  Most of our flights are every 2 weeks now, but every once in a while we have flights that stay here for 2 days.  That's when people like the termite inspectors, fuel inspectors, and anyone else who only needs a short time on island will come out.  So our hectic two days has passed for now. The field behind the new fuel farm is filling up with both Laysan and Black-footed albatross. There was a turtle nest on Eastern Island this summer.  This was only the fourth nest that we have documented at Midway.  Most Hawaiian green sea turtles nest at French Frigate Shoals.  We wait until it has had plenty of time to hatch and then dig it up and see how many eggs hatched.  It took a while to find the exact spot, but with help from Dale and Hoku, we finally found it. There were 91 eggs in the nest, with 6 that didn't hatch.  That's in the normal range.  With all of the crabs, birds, fish, etc that are trying to get the hatchlings, there will probably be very few, if any, that will make it to adulthood. Konrad and Dale got the remote cameras on Eastern Island up and running so they had time to help out with other things, like digging up a turtle nest and installing a couple of aerators in two of our wetlands.  The photo shows one in Brackish pond.  We're hoping that the extra oxygen in the water will reduce the number of botulism cases in Laysan ducks. One thing I've been doing for years is cutting up my plastic 6-pack holders for just this reason.  This Laysan duck got entangled in one.It took a little while to catch him, but we netted him and removed the plastic.[...]

It's November Already?


This year is just flying by for me out here and it's hard to believe it's already November.  More birds are coming back every day, including a few Laysan albatross.  The female Short-tailed albatross on Eastern Island still hasn't shown up yet, but we're hoping she will soon.  We had no flight this past week, so it has kind of been business as usual out here.   Our rain catchment area was cleaned out this week.  The algae gets pretty thick in there so it has to be cleaned out every year or two.The naupaka bushes in front of the office were trimmed, so we have a better view of the old sperm whale skeleton.  Here is one of the very few Laysan albatrosses on island right now. This is the male Short-tailed albatross that hangs out near the runway on this island.  It still has a little bit of brown on its neck, but will probably finally have its full adult plumage next year. Here are a couple more of the winter visitors to the island.  These 2 species are very similar, but the one on the left is a Pectoral sandpiper and the one on the right is a Sharp-tailed sandpiper. Konrad and Dale found some old costumes for our Halloween party at Capt. Brooks.  They added some marine debris to the costumes.[...]

They're Here!


There's a little less activity on island now that the taxiway crew is gone and the barge has departed.  Just in time, since the albatross started coming back this week.  There have been Black-footed albatross showing up all over the refuge.  Two Short-tailed albatrosses have also returned.   One on Sand and one on Eastern Island.  We've got some technicians from Seemore Wildlife here to get our remote camera working again to monitor the Short-tails on Eastern.  It's cooled down quite a bit in the last couple of weeks, so we are finally seeing less botulism in our Laysan ducks. Our new airport taxiway is looking good.  The airplanes shouldn't have to drive through large puddles anymore.  Here's one of the early Black-footed albatross on Sand Island.This Black-footed albatross is taking a nap while waiting for the rest of the birds to show up on Eastern Island. The native nohu, or Tribulus cistoides is ground cover for most of Eastern Island in areas cleared of verbesina. This looks very similar to the photo above of the nohu.  The difference is that this is the invasive verbesina that grows 3-6 ft tall and is poor nesting habitat for the seabirds.  The nohu is mostly less than a foot and the albatross can easily flatten it to nest.  We are hoping to have this area cleared in the next couple of weeks. A lot of vagrant birds have been showing up lately.  Here are two of the 25 or so Northern pintails.  I haven't had a chance to count all of the vagrants yet, but there are also some Northern shovelers, American and Eurasian wigeons, and some sandpipers.Yesterday I saw 4 Laysan ducks at the Monument seep on Eastern that had been sick with botulism and treated.  You can see that this one has a temporary lavender band on its right leg.  He would have died had we not found it and got the anti-toxin into him. Dale and Konrad are fixing up the remote camera at the Short-tailed albatross plot on Eastern Island.  We'll be able to monitor the nest without bothering the birds.  You can see a few of the decoys in the background.  Konrad used to help us out on Tern Island with NOAA's remote turtle camera.[...]

Back to Work


I don't want to get political on this blog, since there are thousands of others where you can get opinions.  A few words from me probably won't change anyone's mind about anything anyway, but it's good that government employees are back to work.  Even though we were busy out here keeping things going with safety projects, we had no support out here for IT, admin, nor could we buy anything we needed.  So we're back to normal, or at least as normal as we can be with our reduced capacity.The taxiway project is almost complete so the barge and all equipment will be out of here this week.  That will reduce our island population by about 30 workers.  The albatross will start showing up anytime now, so we're all glad that the birds won't be slowing down the work.  I didn't take a lot of photos this week so I've added a couple that I took a long time ago.  I just found them again when I was asked by a museum in Alaska for some photos of dead albatross with plastic in them.      It was a nice day on Eastern Island today.  I didn't find any sick or dead ducks from botulism, and the view was great. Here is the White-tailed tropicbird chick that I showed a couple of weeks ago.  It looks a lot better than when it just hatched.This Brown noddy chick is living under some solar panels on Eastern Island.This is an older Brown noddy that probably hatched in July.  You can tell because it doesn't have the full white cap yet.I don't think I've posted these photos before.  These are just a couple of examples of the thousands of dead chicks that we see each season with plastic in them.  By the way, both photos are exactly the way I came across the birds.  I didn't touch or add anything.  Since Chris Jordan's Midway movie trailer has been getting a lot of views, I've been asked many times if the problem is real and if the photos are manipulated.  Yes, the plastic is a problem, and no, the birds or plastic are not manipulated other than some photos may have had feathers or leaves moved out of the way to see the plastic inside. [...]



You're probably wondering how the government shutdown is affecting us out here.  Since this isn't an official USFWS blog and I do it on my own time, I won't go into it too much other than to say that we are officially shut down like all of the other refuges.  Since the visitor program and volunteer program were already suspended, at least we didn't have to send anyone home.  The three FWS employees on island are still working since we are responsible for the health and safety of the island population.  Our duties are somewhat limited at the moment though.  The taxiway work can still continue, since that was is a safety issue that started before the shutdown and we're still an emergency airport.    We had a small going away dinner at Captain Brooks' for the crews from Northwest Demolition and Iniki Enterprises.  They are done working for this season but will be back next year to continue to remediate the lead paint on the older buildings and help to keep our wildlife healthy out here.The barge is back again on Midway from a quick turnaround to Hawaii to pick up more materials for the taxiway upgrade. A batch plant has been set up on the abandoned taxiway for processing of the aggregate for resurfacing. There is a lot more heavy equipment than ususal.A Masked booby is sitting on one of the range markers in the lagoon.This is another photo of Sand Island with the "dramatic" setting on my Olympus camera.[...]



A barge came in this week bringing equipment and materials for our taxiway repair project.  With our lead based paint abatement still going on, there's a lot of activity.  We have to do these kinds of projects while the albatrosses are gone because it's really difficult to move equipment around when they are everywhere.We're losing 9 of our Thai workers tomorrow, since it's the last day of the fiscal year.  Most of them have been out here more than 6 years with one leaving after 17 years.  We'll miss them and all the work that they do out here.     The barge is being brought into the atoll by a tug.The barge is quite a bit bigger than the Kahana.  They have to go back to Hawaii to get more materials and will come back in a couple of weeks.  It's been windy and rainy lately.  Only one big section of a tree has fallen so far, but it's supposed to be windy throughout the week.  I'm glad there are no albatross around that would be squashed. The old theater at the Midway Mall has been treated and painted to take care of the flaking lead paint.  A White-tailed tropicbird chick just hatched today.  I hope the parent is just out getting some food and will be back to keep it warm and dry.[...]

Oscar Elton Sette


The NOAA ship Oscar Elton Sette came in for a day this week.  They were picking up the monk seal monitoring camps throughout the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.  They usually don't have crews out on the islands during the winter months because the weather is normally stormier during that time, and emergency evacuations would be more difficult.  A couple of the people from Tern Island were dropped off to fly back to Honolulu from here.  I was hoping to have some time to catch up with what was going on back on Tern, but didn't get a chance to chat with the guys.  We also had a big influx of people this week.  A crew came in this weekend to do some work on our taxiway at the airport. Most of the people working on the lead based paint abatement are still here too, so they'll have to make a lot more food up at the Clipper House. The Oscar Elton Sette pulls up to the cargo pier.A Brown noddy is trying to climb out of its egg on an old ironwood stump on Eastern Island.There were 4 Hawaiian monk seals playing at the pier on Eastern Island as I was trying to leave the island.  I didn't get a photo of all 4 at once.  I had some time to take a couple of photos since I had to wait for them to get away from the boat before I started it.The Hawaiian spinner dolphins are around fairly frequently these days.Here was a mom and youngster (cow and calf if you want to be technically correct) jumping nearby. For every decent dolphin photo I get I honestly have dozens of photos like this, either blurry, nothing but splashes, or just water and sky.This is the maintenance shop at the old fuel farm.  I like the "Dramatic" setting on my little Olympus camera to make some of these shots a bit more interesting.[...]

Extra Help


We have a bit of extra help around here for a few days.  The crew working at Kure Atoll is swapping out for the winter so we had the group going out there for about a week, while they waited for a ride from the supply ship, Kahana.  The Kahana came in on Friday, with our supplies, then went to Kure and came back today.  We'll have the off going crew here until Thursday when the plane comes in.    Thawal waits to catch lines to tie the Kahana up.   The light was nice just after sunrise on my bike back from meeting the Kahana.We needed a lot of extra help looking for sick or dead ducks this past week.  Thanks Scott, Nick, Richard, Gary, Noah, Jenny, and Mary Ann.A gas cylinder of some sort washed up on the cargo beach last week.  The turtle doesn't seem to mind, but I got rid of it anyway. It's been a little while since the tennis court has been used, but Jackson, who's here doing some maintenance at the airport, likes to play so he cleaned it off.  It was the first time I've played in a couple of years, and my shoulder is a bit sore today from serving.  I lost, in case you were wondering. We got out to the reef today and this young monk seal came over to check us out.The waves were breaking above the convict tangs.  These fish usually swim around in large schools and all converge in one little area to feed at the same time.[...]

Paint Work


It's been a nice but busy week again.  A few rain showers have made the ducks happy.  They love to splash around in puddles on the street after a rain.  Our botulism problem isn't really slowing down yet, but I'm hoping it will soon.  I've been saying that for a while, but one of these weeks it may happen.  I can't believe that we've still got some albatross chicks around too.  There are only a few, but it's a couple of weeks past the normal time for them to be gone.  It's nice to have the work crews on island for the lead based paint removal.  There's always a bit more socializing when that group is here, and they are preventing quite a few albatross deaths by removing or sealing the lead paint. Chris Jordan's Midway Film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival a few days ago.  I was looking for some writeups or reviews, but haven't found them yet.  I still haven't heard anything about distribution of the film yet, so don't expect to be able to see it right away.  I, like the rest of you, am anxiously awaiting the opportunity to see it. The lead based paint abatement project is ongoing again this summer.  The workers are remediating the paint on the Midway Mall right now.   We've been doing some work around the Midway Memorial.  The petrels keep digging under the sidewalk causing sections to collapse.  There's now some fencing under the dirt to keep them out from under the sidewalk.  It'll look nice when the grass grows back again.We went over to Eastern Island to see if any seal pups needed tagging.  We found one that needed a tag, and quite a bit of trash on the beach too. I had a report of a dead monk seal in the corner of the harbor.  It might look dead, laying in the marine debris and dead albatross feathers and bones.  Don't worry though, it's fine.  It just picked a gross spot to sleep. This is Bravo Barracks.  No one lives in it anymore.  The third floor was deemed unsafe quite a few years ago, and now we've just put people up in houses or Charlie Barracks.  It will probably be torn down one of these years.  Wisdom, the albatross, nests behind this building and was already raising chicks when it was built in 1958.[...]

Late Albatrosses


Well, not quite all of our albatrosses are gone yet.  I see only a few per day, but I've never seen them hanging around this late in the year before. We're still finding sick and dead Laysan Ducks, so it's another working weekend, like every weekend this summer.  It's not too bad though.  We just walk around all of the duck ponds on the two islands.  We do have to search through all of the plants and grass around the ponds, so it takes a few hours every day.  Every now and then I see some dolphins or manta rays on the way over to Eastern Island and the boat trip is almost always nice, so don't feel too sorry for me having to work the weekends.    This is one of the few Laysan albatross chicks left on island.The Wedge-tailed shearwater chicks hatched recently.  This chick and parent are in the bunker by the south beach.  A motorcycle helmet washed up on the beach and someone put it on the rock so it wouldn't wash away again. I still take a lot of flying White tern photos.  I've got thousands of them, but they are asking for it by just hovering a few feet overhead. I like the back-lit shots but it's tough to get good ones. We haven't had many social events lately, but Saturday night we had a bingo and karaoke night at Capt. Brooks'.[...]