Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Molesting Chicks........For Science.

Bird banding requires the bander to crimp a metal ring around a birds leg. Birds have hallow bones, making their legs particularly delicate. Why then would you ever consider using pliers and stainless steel bands anywhere near them? The answer is simple. Birds, unlike humans have faces that look exactly the same. All birds in a given species look virtually identicle. Given our species affinity for aggressive land use, we need to be sure that our activities do not interfere with the vitality of wildlife populations. It is important than to be able to recognize the individuals.

Hence, bird banding. To a birder, this is like making the haj, of touching the wailing wall. It is the closest you can really interact with a bird, and have a good reason to do it. Of course we can tell ourselves that we are doing the good work, and helping people learn the good knowledge. The real reason though? Glory, its all about the glory. Yes, those are my hands on the pliers, and the glory goes to me.......What about those other hands in the picture? I said me, all me.

This is what is inside that towel.

This one is still a little young to get a band. Besides if you get close to a parent like this, they will go for the jugular.............or eyes depending on what kind of mood they are in.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Walk it Off

So, it's tough out there for the Albatross. Foraging bouts lasting days and covering thousands of miles, stormy seas, tiger sharks etc.

However, we the capitalist Uber-consumers make it worse. Much Worse.

This Albatross chick is surrounded by Vebensina sp, an invasive that was introduced during the European invasion of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The plant grows fast in the summer creating a canopy around the chicks. This has several consequences:

1) Parents may have a difficult time finding and feeding their chicks
2) Nesting density in decreased in areas with the invasive plant. This is a big deal when the
nesting colonies are located on islands that are only a few acres in size.
3) Chicks like this one are not able to stretch, and flap their wings. This practice is crucial for
chicks that have a chance of fledging.

This particular chick was daylighted during an intensive ecological restoration effort. (weed pull)

Another problem associated with the European Invasion is the Mosquito. They spread avian pox, which although not usually lethal has the potential to deform the eyes and beaks of infected chicks. The Albatross did not evolve with this pressure, and have no natural defence. Occupation of these remote atolls by people increases the pooling of fresh water (in our piles of garbage), and in turn the number of mosquitos.

Albatross eat our plastic. This decomposing carcass is barely recognizable. It will soon turn to dust. The plastic will be there forever, maybe even be consumed by a curious chick that is unfortunate enough to walk by.

All Albatross eject a bolus before they fledge. Alot like an owl pellet, it contains the undigestible parts of their diet. Things like squid beaks. There is one squid beak visible in this bolus which is comprised mainly of plastic. The Albatross whos cause of death is known to be plastic impaction have an average of 1.5 oz. of plastic in their system. The average amount of plastic in an Albatross that fledges from Midway is 1.0 oz.

Albatross eat squid, flying fish eggs etc. These things float on the surface of water like plastic. This stuff was all brought to Midway by Albatross parents.

So was this stuff.

And this stuff. SO, I think to myself, I don't throw my garbage in the ocean, I am not resposible for this. Then I remember that awesome seared Mahi Mahi I had once, and think about the fisherman I support who does throw his garbage in the Ocean. Ever taken a cruise, before recent legislation, they threw all their crap overboard too. Ever shop at Walmart. Capsized cargo vessels on their way from Asia to the U.S. heavily supplement the plastic eaten by the Albatross. Childrens toys for example are unusually common.

This unfortunate chick is one of many called "droop wings". They have lead poisoning from eating the lead paint chips peeling off the "historic" navy buildings left over from the war days. It will not survive. It has been estimated it would cost the government around 4-5million dollars to fix this problem permanately by removing the lead paint. Lets take a moment to think about what we currently spend our tax dollars on. Remember "Shock and Awe"? God Bless America!

To end on a positive note. Many Albatross like this black-foot will survive, live for decades, and possibly provide some of the inspiration for the change we need.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Grand Central Station

This is the "G-1". It is the plane I came in on. It is the plane I will leave on. For a museum piece that is nearly 70 years old it runs pretty well. Last week it brought in a film crew ,the second visiting the atoll this summer, and there will be more.....many more. Evidently the plastic floating around in the Pacific Garbage Patch is becoming a big deal.

Today is "plane day". Quite the happening event here. I am expecting cookies from Mom. There will be some island residents leaving for various reasons, including Gene the bike guy. Need a flat tire fixed, maybe some monkey bar handle bars, he's or he was your man. He will be missed. There will also be new people coming in.

This is the NOAA research vessel Hi'ialakai. It is full of heavily tanned, hard drinking sailors who are really into coral, clouds, and other ocean-related stuff.

Very interesting. Good People.

Evidently this monster is parked just over the horizon. It is a converted oil-drilling platform, and the most expensive ship in the world, at over 1 Billion Dollars. It is supposed to detect nuclear missiles, and is highly classified. Agents from the MDC or missile defence council will be crawling all over the island for the next couple of weeks while N. Korea carries out its nuclear tests over the fourth of july. They shuutle to and from the atoll in a ship ironically called the "DOVE".

Very lame. Scary People.

I did not take this picture.

Finally the USS Walnut shown here in a picture not taken by me, is due in about a week. The other half of my luggage is rumored to be on this vessel. To be honest, it has been so long, I forget what is actually in there. Hopefully some clean socks.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Frea...uh....."special" Albatross

Moby Dick, the Albino Laysan Albatross. Technically, not an albino, notice the pigment in the eyes.

What happens when Red-tailed Tropic birds nest in close proximity to.......

Normal Laysan Albatross

The LAAL X RTTR Hybrid....not really.

Finally, I would ask that anyone with small children leave the room......

Ladies and Gentlemen I give you the four-legged beast. This Black Foot Chick seems to have a nested twin protruding out of its side.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Noddys -- Noio Koha and Lae hina

The Noio Koha or Brown Noddy - These sea birds are ground nesters. They build their nests on the edges of the runways, and other open areas. This makes them an ideal target for photography. An adult is doing its best to look scary and guard the nest.

This one is less vigilant.

A brown Noddy Nest, like many seabirds they lay only 1 egg per year. Hopefully the eggs will start to hatch soon, and I can post some pictures of the chicks.

The Black Noddy or Lae hina nest high in the trees, and are much harder to photograph. They are slightly smaller than the Brown Noddy.

They build more complex nests than the brown ones. I am guessing that is what this one is doing.

A male Black Noddy doing his best to impress a female.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Celebrity Albatross




Friday, June 19, 2009

1st LADUs Treated for botulism Released

This duck is a part of the next group slated for release after being treated for avian botulism. There were several mortalities, but so far two have been treated and released, with three including this one on deck in the aviary.

Healthy Adult LADUs. Hopefully capture, treatment, and monitoring of the sick ones helps them stay that way.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mau-o-ku are everywhere

White Terns eat fish.....lots and lots of fish. You should probably enlarge this picture by clicking on it for full enjoyment.

These two like to hang around outside the Midway Mall which includes the general store, library, internet cafe, barber shop, and the All Hands Club, our local bar.

The invasive Ironwood tree from Australia is harmful to the albatross, but increases the nesting habitat available to the White terns. This chicks have special claws on their feet for the first few weeks of life that helps them hang on to their "nest".

This is why they are sometimes called fairy terns

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Botox hits Midway

This ~55 day old duckling believe it or not is still alive, and not sedated. It has most likely been exposed to botulism toxin. Several have been found in this condition over the past week. Botulism toxin is produced when a protein source (a dead bird) is introduced into a low oxygen environment (the bottom of a seep or duck pond) in the presence of bacteria. Humans have been known to inject this same substance into their faces to maintain a youthful appearance.

1/2cc of a botulism anti-toxin is injected into the breast muscle by biologist John Klavitter assisted by Ken Foote. This will bind to the toxin and help the duckling pass it out of its body.

Fluids are replenished with a 10cc sub-cutaneous (just under the skin) injection in each leg.

Finally the duckling is topped off with 5cc of Pediolite and Water.

These ducks have been treated, and are resting. They will be kept in an aviary while their condition is monitored, and hopefully improves.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Bonin Petrel

There is no Hawaiian name for this bird. They are creatures of the night on midway who spend the day foraging at sea. They dig burrows for their nests. Here is an adult doing some house keeping.

A bonin chick. Any time I walk off the trail I have to be very aware of their burrow homes. Most people here have collapsed a burrow. So far all mine have been unoccupied (they dig a new one every year). This does not stop me from hitting my knees and digging sand in a rescue attempt every time it happens. Remember your training and you will survive.

A fledgeling that has been hanging around our doorstep lately. I have not seen him in a while. He is probably slaying small fish in a distant sea by now. Be brave bold petrel.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Koa'e'ula

The Koa'e'lua or red-tailed tropic bird is the species we handle the most here on Midway. This one is incubating a chick. At least twice a week we go out and monitor, capture, and band these birds.

You will probably have to enlarge the picture by clicking on it to see the chick and the red tail.

The bands will stay on for life, which can be decades for the Koa'e'ula. Birds banded here have turned up in Japan and the Philippines.

We call these DFCs or downy feathered chicks.

Here is a PFC or partially feathered chick.

This is an albino albatross who hangs out with a tropic bird. Quite the identity crisis.