Monday, June 1, 2009
1st day of work
This is "Seagull" Steve Tucker. He is a volunteer here on Midway, and the author of the illustrious BB&B (This can be found under the "Midway Links" section on the right hand side of this page). He is showing me how to survey for Laysan Ducks. This involves moving up to ponds and wetland areas while maintaining a "low profile", and getting close enough to read the leg bands that individually mark these ducks. This low profile described in the survey protocol is important because the ducklings can become separated from mom if they are frightened by observers. This leaves them open to being killed by the Albatross. Albatross do not eat the ducklings, they are simply curious birds with razor sharp bills as long as my hand. The Laysan duck is the second most endangered species of duck on the planet with only a few hundred individuals alive in the wild (so every duckling counts). They survive on two atolls, Midway and Laysan (smaller than midway, located several hundred miles back along the Hawaiian archipeligo). If you enlarge the picture above by clicking on it, you can see a LADU behind Steve, just above the steering wheel. This was not part of the survey. Decommissioned runways are not usually ideal LADU habitat, but this one seems to be making it work.
These are the bands that mark the LADUs. Almost all of the adult ducks wear them. They can be read with binoculars from a fair distance away. Why go through all the trouble? Well, these particular ducks are either pioneers or their descendants from a relatively recent reintroduction effort on Midway Atoll. This means that information about their survival and reproductive status can be very valuable. Previously they were only found on Laysan. That situation leaves the species vulnerable to extinction from a catostophic event like an outbreak of avian botulism for example. Reintroducing them to Midway increases the chances of the species persistence. Fossil records show that before the arrival of Polonesians, the LADU was widely distributed throughout all of the major Hawaiin islands. Europeans furthered this damage by removing them off of all but one of the remote north-west atolls. Now though, fast forward, and it looks like the LADU may march back up the chain of Hawaiian Islands one re-introduction effort at a time. This means lessons learned from the Midway population could help shape the future.