Sunday, March 27, 2011

Getting back to Normal

As most of you probably heard already, our (approximately) 60 year old Laysan albatross, Wisdom, has been seen coming back to feed her chick. She actually showed up the same day as her mate, so the chick got a big meal that day. At least the suspense ended with a good outcome. We still have not seen the short-tailed albatross parents, but they don't stay long to feed anyway. The chick seems to be doing well, so it seems that it's still getting fed. We've got a visiting photography group out here right now led by environmental photographer Chris Jordan. Rather than tell you about them myself, I would highly suggest checking out their blog, Flickr pictures, You Tube videos, and facebook page. They are filming a movie out here as well as taking photos. So please look at these pages: Other links are on this page. Really good vids and photos on all pages. This site is done by a high school student that came along. She has an interesting story. The islands are finally drying out. We've been seeing a lot of albatross chicks dying off. Even though they made it through the tsunami, they may have been injured, stressed, or not found by their parents. We are seeing a lot of new plant sprouts coming up in the devastated areas. Hopefully they are mostly natives. Nesting season is ramping up for Red-tailed tropic birds and white terns, and the sooty terns and gray-backed terns are starting to return. The first Hawaiian monk seal pup of the season was also born a little over a week ago. So the life is returning. We had a Coast Guard C-130 stay for a day this past week. We also got a visit from our supply ship, the Kahana again. Wisdom preens her chick.
The short-tailed albatross chick is huge now and waits to be fed.

Between past posts on this blog and my Tern Island blog, you've seen the Kahana a lot. So here's a slightly different angle.

The USCG C-130 lands about an hour after sunset to minimize interaction with birds.

Jan, Jim, and Victoria are getting some shots for the Midway film on Bulky Dump.

While they were out there, they found two adult albatrosses that fell into a sinkhole. It was produced when the water washed the sand down into the voids of the dumped materials. Quite a few were formed and we try to fill them or at least make a ramp for the birds to climb out. I had to crawl in head first to get this one out.

I found this red-tailed tropic bird on Cargo Beach. I don't know if it was a tsunami injury, but it wasn't doing well. I put it in the shade under a naupaka bush, at least giving it a chance.

This is what most of the washed over west half of Eastern Island looks like. There's not much vegetation left.

This is taken from the top of one of the old airplane revetments looking to the eastern part of Eastern Island. There's a lot of life where the tsunami didn't wash over (too bad it's mostly invasive mustard).

Bad sunlight angle, but there's one chick in the middle of the picture surrounded by adults. This is the only chick in this whole area visible in the picture.

Many of the chicks are sitting on the dead birds. This Laysan albatross chick is sitting on a dead black-footed albatross adult.

This Laysan albatross chick was in the surf and found his way back up the beach.

The parrotfish don't look quite so intimidating when they are alive.

Our seabird biologist from Honolulu, Beth Flint, is inspecting the damage on Eastern Island. Quite a few of the bottles have been turned into little terrariums.

The great frigatebirds are ready for mating season.

Here's the same bird.

At least the dead tournefortia trees are still useful nesting sites.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Thanks Everyone

Wow, thanks for all of the support to everyone who commented. I'm glad that so many people were interested in what happened out here. It's very nice to hear.

The big question as of late seems to be "Is Wisdom ok?" If anyone doesn't know, Wisdom is now recogized as the oldest wild bird in the U.S. at least 60 years old (she was banded as a breeding adult in 1956). There's no reason to think she's not ok, since her nest was not in an area that was affected by the tsunami. If she was at her nest, she would have been ok, and if she was feeding, she would most likely have been flying out in open ocean. I'll let you know when we spot her though.

I have been putting up some of my pictures on the USFWS Flickr site. Many of them are here on my blog, but I posted a few more there. There are also some photos of Laysan Island, and a map that I made of the flooded areas of the islands on Midway. It's worth looking at it (it's the last of the 50 pictures).

There is also an official news release at: It is under the Recent News Releases toward the bottom.

We had another couple of days of finding more buried birds. And we did some more cleanup of the Monument seep on Eastern Island. We sometimes have problems with botulism outbreaks in the endangered Laysan ducks. Decaying proteins (i.e. dead birds, fish, and vegetative debris) can give the botulism bacteria great growing conditions, so it was important to get that out.

Aside from a visitor's group from the Oceanic Society, we also got the crews from Laysan Island and Kure Atoll. They were all a big help with seep cleanup and habitat restoration. The NOAA ship Hi'ialakai was kind enough to evacuate the island crews to Midway. They will put new crews on those islands soon.

Thank you all again!

This seal found its way into a washed up net on the boat ramp. Luckily, it wasn't stuck too bad yet and we could quickly pull the net back over its head. It went right back to sleep after we removed the net.

I finally found this chick after 6 days. It was still alive, and still pretty snappy.

This Black-footed albatross only had one wing stuck for days. The 2 Laysan albatross in the photo only had their heads uncovered. Albatrosses can sit on their nests for weeks without going for food, so as long as they aren't too stressed, there is a possibility that they can survive.

One of our visitors, Connie, is freeing a buried Laysan albatross. Most of the birds are biting while we dig them out, making it a bit more difficult. I've got about 20 separate cuts from them on my hand. They usually quit biting as soon as we pull them out.

You can see the NOAA ship Hi'ialakai in the background as their SAFEboat brings in the 5 people from Kure Atoll.

Enough of the depressing pictures. There is still a lot of life here, and our facilities are all still intact. For instance, here's Captain Brooks Tavern.

The white terns seemed to be mostly unaffected since they usually sit in trees or on raised objects. I have better white tern pics on my older posts.

This picture is really cool at full resolution, but it lost a bit when I shrunk it down. Since I went through the work, I'll post it. This green sea turtle was eating floating vegetation in the harbor.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Midway Tsunami Pictures

Here's some pictures from the tsunami. It's late here, so I'll write the text when I get up tomorrow. Thanks for your comments everyone! It's great to see that so many of you are thinking of us out here.
OK, here's the text:
It's been a long couple of days here on Midway. Starting out with the preparation for the tsunami, on Thursday night. We moved most of the vehicles, heavy equipment, and our big safeboat up to Radar Hill, which is our highest area here. After that, we all evacuated to the 3rd floor of "Charlie Barracks" where we waited to see if anything happened. This is the first time I'm glad I wasn't able to move into my house yet, since I am currently living on the 3rd floor already. We had all 67 island employees/visitors up here watching the news on BBC and watching our tide gauge data over the internet. We saw that we had about a 5 foot rise in the tide gauge level, but were glad that we couldn't see any water when we looked out the windows.

After looking at a bit of the washover on Sand Island, and setting a crew to work on digging albatross chicks and petrels out of the debris, Greg and I took the boat over to Eastern Island. On the way, we passed thousands of albatross adults and petrels that had been washed into the water and lost their ability to stay dry. Their feathers were messed up by being tumbled over the island and through the vegetation. We pulled some into the boat, but needed to get to Eastern Island, so we had to hope that most of them would paddle to shore.

Eastern Island was mostly washed over, so 10's of thousands of chicks were washed away. I'll have to look at our count numbers from Dec. to figure out how many chicks were in the affected areas. There were dead fish by the hundreds up in the middle of the island. The short-tailed albatross chick must really be wondering what kind of place it lives in because it was washed away from the nest for the second time this year already. This time, it was about 40 yards away from the original nest. It was easy to spot because all the other chicks were washed away in a previous storm. I didn't want to pick the chick up, because it was already stressed and upset, but the parents may not have found it that far from the nest. I put out a sheet of plastic and when it stepped onto it, I gave it a sled ride the 40 yards back to its nest. I hope that's all the excitement that it has for the rest of the season.

There were a lot of chicks and adults buried in debris (mostly dead vegetation). Greg and I were digging out stuck birds all day. We took our volunteers and some people from the visitors group over yesterday and dug out another hundred or so birds. We also found 2 turtles that were washed quite a way up onto the island, which were then carried back to the beach and seemed glad to get back in the water. At least we didn't find any injured Hawaiian monk seals or Laysan ducks. The seals were back resting on the beaches on Friday.
Although we lost a lot of wildlife, all of the people who are here because of the wildlife are safe.
The 3rd floor of Charlie Barracks wasn't the most comfortable place for 67 people. But it was safe.
The boat dock in the harbor has finally seen its last days.

Water washed pretty high near the cargo pier, and hopefully this little Laysan albatross chick will get fed and be able to preen that mud off.

A piece of the pier on Eastern Island washed up onto the gun.

Two of the visitors brought one of the turtles back to the beach on Eastern Island. Thanks Anna and Connie.

This was the biggest fish that I saw washed up on the beach. It is an Ulua (Giant trevally) that is about 3 ft long. There were at least 15 different species of fish on the island.

Here is where the short-tailed albatross chick ended up. It's a tough little bird.

The chicks and adults got washed up into big piles of dead vegetion.

There's no way to know how many bonin petrels were trapped in their burrows. We saved this one, since its head was still sticking out.

There are two Laysan albatross chicks and one adult stuck in this pile. We got them all out.

I could have taken hundreds more of these pictures, but I wanted to concentrate on digging them out.

All of these chicks would have been washed into the harbor had the naupaka bushes not been there to seine them out.

The debris formed a little island in the lagoon. Too bad the birds couldn't climb up on much.

One red-footed booby found something to stand on. The rest of the birds will have to swim for shore.

These 2 have about given up. We pulled them into the boat and put them on Eastern Island. It'll take a couple of days to dry out though.

Here are 5 Laysan albatrosses and one Bonin petrel that we brought to Eastern.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Midway Tsunami

Just a quick word. Everyone here is ok. We had some washover on the runway and the airport was closed for a bit. Eastern island got about 60% washed over. I'll post some pictures tomorrow, unless I'm still digging out buried birds, then maybe Sunday. And the short-tailed albatross chick is ok for now.