Aloha Pihemanu!

14Mar15

So, my four month term in the USFWS biological volunteer program came to an end and my flight off Midway Atoll was a few days ago.  I’m both ready to get back home and also already missing the birds, the ocean, solitude and geographic isolation.  There are a few people I will miss too and hope to work with again some day.  I’ll continue to post more interesting photos and video of Midway once I am home in Tucson, though I will also return to making posts of the desert life and other wildlife work.

Ipomoea (species of morning glory). Copyright: Greg Joder/USFWS

On Midway, the albatross are in full swing raising their chicks.  The nestlings are getting bigger and hungrier, so the adults are making lots of trips to sea to catch food.  Most of the chicks are too big for the adult to brood, though some still try (See below), so now the adults are either absent from the nest for periods of time or they rest near the nest.

Laysan Albatross and nestling. Copyright: Greg Joder/USFWS

Some chicks are getting a little daring and are starting to explore away from their nest, though they return after a bit:

Laysan Albatross chick. Copyright: Greg Joder/USFWS

Make sure and watch in HD:

 


nest time lapse

15Feb15

The albatross nestlings are growing quickly and it’s been fun watching them at their nests.  Some are big enough now that the adult attends it from the side of the nest rather than trying to brood it in the nest bowl.  In this time lapse you can see the nestling performing nest maintenance, being fed, pooping and napping.


Big yawn… Laysan Albatross nestling. Copyright: Greg Joder/USFWS.

In the last few weeks the albatross chicks have started to hatch and now it seems the majority of nests have nestlings rather than eggs.  It’s a fun sight to see!

Laysan Albatross chick… Copyright: Greg Joder/USFWS.

Some of the chicks are pretty small and the adults will still sit over them in the nest.  However, some of the chicks are already so big that the adults now rest beside the nest in order to be close enough to preen and feed the chick.  Sadly, once in a while a small chick will get knocked out of the nest or fall out on it’s own.  If the nestling is younger than 10 days old (more or less) the adults don’t seem to recognize them and so stop feeding them and they die.  The good thing is if you put the chick back in the empty nest bowl the adult will recognize it and start taking care of it again.  Here’s an example from yesterday:

 


Albatross Sunrise ~ Copyright Greg Joder/USFWS

Recently there was another group of volunteers working on the islands of Midway Atoll.  Their goal?  To count every active Laysan and Black-footed Albatross nest on the Atoll.  This is an annual census that sheds light on population trends and continually confirms the importance of Midway Atoll as a nesting site for these two albatross species.

Just this last week albatross chicks have started hatching.  Yesterday I took this video:

Here are the albatross numbers from the USFWS press release on the annual census: “This year (hatch year 2015) far surpassed any previous documented year for nesting Laysan albatross on Midway Atoll with 666,044 pairs recorded (Figure 1). The current year count for Laysan albatross represents a 52% increase over the average number for the period from hatch years 2010 to 2014. Black-footed albatross nesting pairs came in at 28,610 for the atoll, also a new record (Figure 2), up just over 18% from the 2010-2014 average. The previous high year for Laysan albatross was 2006 with 487,527 while for black-footed the previous high was 28,581 in 2011. The reference “hatch year 2015” defines the albatross breeding season from the time eggs were laid in November 2014, hatched in January 2015, and expected to leave Midway Atoll by July 2015. ”

Each active nest is recorded as a pair since adult albatrosses have lifetime pair bonds and both take turns attending the nest.  That means that over 1.3 million birds utilizing the atoll during the nesting season.

Here’s a time lapse video of what it looks like on the atoll these days:


One of the most interesting pieces of marine debris you can still find on the beaches of Midway Atoll are glass floats.  These are hand-blown glass balls that were used by Japanese fishermen as early as 1910 (They were first developed and used in Norway in the late 1800’s).  It’s difficult to age a glass float, but it’s safe to say those remaining afloat in the pacific are pretty old since the use of plastic floats began.

There has been a strong northwest wind blowing for almost a week now and there has been a lot of debris washing on shore.  The other afternoon after work I took a walk on the beach and was lucky enough to find not one, but two small glass floats.  One the size of a tennis ball and the other the size of a golf ball:

A small glass ball on North Beach, Midway Atoll. Copyright GregJoder/USFWS.

Very small glass float, Sand Island Midway Atoll. Copyright GregJoder/USFWS.


Green sea turtles frequent the sea and beaches of Midway Atoll and we often see them by the cargo pier.  The atoll provides abundant food sources and resting beaches for the Honu.  The green sea turtle is listed as Threatened (with extinction) and some of the human threats to its continued existence include long-line and trawl fishing, illegal trade in its eggs or carapace (shell) and marine debris ingestion or entanglement.

Honu ~ Green Sea Turtle on Sand island, Midway Atoll. Copyright Greg Joder/USFWS.

The Hawaiian name for the green sea turtle is Honu.  Click on the photo above to learn more about the Hawaiian Honu legend.

A sea turtle near Sand Island, Midway Atoll. Copyright Greg Joder/USFWS.


Just curious if there’s anything about Midway Atoll that any of you are wondering about that I can take photos of or make a video about?  There’s so much history here, both human and wild and I’m sure I’m missing things that others would be interested in seeing.  If you have any request about a subject for a Midway blog post let me know in the comment section below.

We’re having a long 4 day weekend and I’m having fun putting together a few more videos.

Albatross Love:

A bike ride from the field house to the beach:

Bonin Petrels may outnumber albatrosses, but it’s difficult to know because they are nocturnal and live in burrows:

 

 




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