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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Holidays at Tern

First Masked Booby (ʻĀ makaʻele) egg of the season!!!  This MABO is located on East Island, near the center of Kanemiloha'i (FFS).  Photo by FWS Volunteer Sarah Youngren.
On Christmas Eve, got the boats up and running, and conducted the first outer island survey in over three months.  Yeah!  Melinda captained the Safeboat, while Jimmy and I went in the whaler.  We stopped at Trig Island to count birds and seals, did a drive-by count on Round, and stopped at East Island.  Most of the islands are small sandy islets, but Tern and East (and previously Whale and Skate) islands have scrubby vegetation.

The first masked booby (ʻĀ makaʻele) egg of the season was on East -- go boobies!  Sarah and I puttered home in the whaler while the rest of the group took their first quick look at La Perouse before heading home.

La Parouse Pinnacle (Photo from 2002).

Christmas was a great success -- We had Secret Santa presents, as well as a great feast featuring spamkey (spam 'turkey') and other delicacies.  In the photo below, we modeled our Secret Santa presents:  Santa made Dan a hand-crocheted nautilus to snuggle at night; Paula received a sweetheart photo of her infidel boyfriend, a flat fly named Roberto; Sarah models her Tern Bird Wrangler helmet, complete with feathers and shells (made from a marine debris bicycle helmet); Jimmy plays his Jimmy Dean Original Banjo, made from marine debris; Melinda was adorned with a sporty hand-woven ankle bracelet made from marine debris glass and beads; and Kristina plans uses for her Message-In-A-Bottle Kit (only slightly disappointed that there wasn't any beer in the bottle :-)). 

Tern Christmas 2010.  Dan Rapp, Paula Hartzell, Sarah Youngren, Jimmy Macaulay, Melinda Conners, and Kristina Dickson, around a Christmas Tree adorned with specimen tags, bird bands, flags and other misc ornaments.  Photo by FWS volunteer Kristina Dickson.

Next posting will be next year!!!  Hau'oli makahiki hou, kakou!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mele Kelikimaka e Hau`oli Makahiki Hou!

A special warm Mele Kelikimaka e Hau`oli Makahiki Hou to all of our families and friends, from the folks on Tern Island this holiday season!

Photo by FWS Volunteer Sarah Youngren, with assistance from one of Santa's elves.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Yeah!!!   We were delivered the rest of Team Tern yesterday!!!  Yeah!!!!  Sarah Youngren and Kristina Dickson arrived via plane, and Trish Jackson was able to head back home to her family.  Yeah!!!  Now we can figure out a 'routine' (or as routine as it gets out here), and settle in for a winter of hard work. 

The lunar eclipse/solstice was quite a symbolic day to make this change over -- How do you figure the pilots managed that?!  Thanks to Bob and Charlie of Pacific Air Charters for flying out here, even when they had to dodge puddles on the runway.  We really appreciate that.

Much thanks to Trish for all her hard work, willingness to do WHATEVER, and sticking in there.  She made some great contributions.  Thanks, Trish!!!

New Winter Team Tern Photo:

Team Tern - Winter 2010 (Left to Right):  James Macaulay, Pilot Rob, Kristina Dickson, Paula Hartzell (front), Sarah Youngren, Melinda Conners, Dan Rapp, Co-Pilot Charlie.  Photo by FWS Volunteer Patricia Jackson.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Who is the buddhahead?!?

Aloha kakou!  There's good news, and bad news.

What we want to know on Tern is....WHO is the buddhahead who keeps putting zip ties and fishing line, tied around the feet of albatross?!?  This is something that has been going on for years -- we find them on Tern, Midway, and even Ka'ena Point.  We find around 10 birds a year like this, just on Tern.  Poor albatross, with zip ties or fishing line tied around their legs -- probably someone trying to keep them as a pet, although a few could potentially be by accident -- ends up cutting off the circulation to their legs, cutting into them, and probably killing many of them.  Can't be fun for anyone.
Melinda Conners is holding an albatross we found with the regular metal band (above, with room to spare), and a zip tie around its leg.  The zip tie is cutting into the birds leg, and had we not removed it, eventually caused the leg to lose circulation, possibly rot off, and cause death to the bird.  Not so good.

This is the same bird as above, with the zip tie removed.  This bird will heal now, and get along fine.  There are probably many others that aren't so lucky.  Let people know that this is NOT an okay thing to do!  Notice that the metal band (under melinda's thumb) is still round, has extra room, no sharp edges, and is not squeezing the bird's leg.  We spend a lot of time training, and making sure the band is the right size, shape and material, not to cut into the bird's leg.

The albatross -- and the other species here -- are doing well, and enjoying this nesting season.  Lots of happy birds (and volunteers!)

A Laysan albatross on her nest.  Albatross nest on the ground, piling up sand, rocks, shells, sticks, grass -- whatever is handy -- into a mound.  It rained lately, so they have built their nests up higher to protect from any flooding rain water.
Gotta check and make sure that egg is still there.... Really, this Laysan is talking to its egg.  Albatross chicks are born knowing their parents' voices, because the parents sing to them the whole time they're in the egg.

Trish with a friend, Tern Island, Dec 2010.

Another beautiful sunrise on Tern.  Photo by FWS Volunteer Patricia Jackson
 p.s.  For the Hawaiian monk seal fans out there, counted 17 seals on Tern this week, including the new weaner (PN3).  The shark-bit pup (T148) has taken off for greener pastures.  Hopefully we'll see him again in the summer!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lightening Strikes at Tern

There was a huge lightening strike last Wednesday, and the barracks was directly hit at least once, and maybe twice.  Besides scaring the begeezus out of me, which it did, it also knocked out our solar powered 110V electricity source...

The burnt out electronic compontent in our solar power inverters.

Well, the long and the short of it is that we all know quite a bit more about our solar power system than we did before the lightening strike.  :-)  We've replaced one of the inverters, and have our 110V system back online... Yeah!!!

Our other big news this week is finishing the first of the black-footed albatross sweeps.  We had more than 2,400 nesting black-footed albatross (meaning at least that many nests), as well as several hundred walkers. 

This week, weather permitting, we will start the first of the Laysan albatross sweeps.  We are also keeping our fingers crossed that the plane bringing new volunteers and returning Trish home will be able to take off soon - but the runway must be dry and safe before that happens, so we wait with bated (and perhaps baited) breath...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Black-foot albatross sweeps continue

We have been spending most of our time working on the albatross sweeps (adult mortality monitoring) this week.  So far, we've recorded about 2100 black-footed albatross bands.  There are maybe another 500-1000 to go....  We should be done with the first black-foot sweep by the end of this week, and then we'll start on the Laysan albatross Sweep 1. 

The plane flight schedule for Tuesday was delayed until Monday or Tuesday next week, due to pilot illness. :-(  Bad news for those eager to go home (Trish Jackson), as well as those eager to come out (Sarah Youngren and Kristina Dickson).  Soon!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Life after our first week....

We are sooooooo busy!!!  The new crew at Tern is great -- Everyone is learning their new jobs, while the returning albatross are keeping us very very busy trying to record all the band #s for the birds returning to nest. 
Dan Rapp and Melinda Conners work on banding a black-footed albatross during adult survival monitoring ('sweeps' -- since we do a sweep through the island checking each bird).  Photo by FWS Volunteer James Macaulay.
Laysan Albatross incubating egg on Tern Island, November 2010.  Photo by FWS Volunteer James Macaulay.
Patricia Jackson reads a black-footed albatross band, while Jim Macaulay records. 
Our little Moe friend, pup PN3, born this fall.  Much sleep is required when you play so hard in the water. :-)

The weather has been too rough for snorkeling, but we saw a female eagle ray with an entourage of males swimming just offshore.  Photo by FWS Volunteer James Macaulay.
We expect the next flight in and out of Tern for Tuesday, when we'll do our last staff switchover for the next few months.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Crew Change and Thanksgiving

The Fall Crew left Tern on Tuesday -- again, many thanks to Phillip, Ty, Sarah and Keith for their months of hard work and dedication!

Fall 2010 Crew Members Keith Burnett, Phillip Howard, Sarah Harvey, Patricia Jackson, and Ty Benally (Nov 23, 2010)

The new crew arrived just in time for Thanksgiving, Tern Island style.  We are all thankful to be here, thankful for our families and friends and their good health, and the continued survival of seal pup T148, who has hung in there following a shark bite.  Go T148!

Team Tern for Thanksgiving Dinner, from left to right:  Patricia Jackson, James Macaulay, Melinda Conners, and Dan Rapp.  (Paula Hartzell taking photo)

Melinda's bread turkey! 

We're thankful seal T148 is still alive!  This seal, born this summer, received a serious shark bite, but is working hard at healing here at Tern.  There are so few Hawaiian monk seals left, each one is very important.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Headed to Tern (Hopefully!)

We're all set and ready to head out to Tern today -- Now, if the runway is just dry enough for us to land! 

Friday, November 19, 2010

Next Week -- The exchange of crews on Tern

Aloha kakou!  This week is the final week for the crew currently on Tern:  Ty Benally, Phillip Howard, Sarah Harvey, and Keith Burnett.  They have done a great job, particularly in the face of numerous maintenance (and shark) issues.  This crew has been the first on Tern to quantify shorebird mortality, to look at wedgetail shearwater burrow habitats and chick weights.  They have also participated in the first vegetation monitoring in years, in addition to all the regular bird work. They will be heading out on the 23rd, back to Honolulu and home, after six months on the island.  Trish Jackson will be staying over for a few more weeks, while the new Team Tern comes in.   Thank you all for your hard work, patience with each other, and volunteered time!!!
Sunset on a very wet runway at Tern Island.   Photo by FWS Volunteer Keith Burnett.
Let's hope the runway dries out by Tuesday, or the crew exchange flight may be delayed!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Albatross nesting on Tern

Aloha kakou!  The albatross are nesting on Tern starting this week -- We already have three eggs in the ka'upu (black-footed albatross) plots! 

The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are home to most of the breeding albatross in the world.  New nesters will continue to come in and lay new eggs over the next couple months.  Albatross come back to the same place each year, and lay only one egg at a time.  They generally come back to lay every other year, and don't lay another one that year if the first is lost, so survival of each chick is more important that for species that lay lots of eggs.  (This kind of strategy, where you invest a lot of time and energy into one offspring, is typical for long-lived species like albatross -- and humans.) 

One of the first moli (Laysan albatross) returning to nest on Tern this year.  'Aa (masked booby) in the background.
Photo by Keith Burnett.

These magnificent birds fly thousands of miles across the North Pacific, eating squid, but also fish.  They return to the place they were born to nest, though.  You may see the same bird behind a fishing boat in the Bering Sea, and find it nesting here in Hawai'i.  It is during this time that they often ingest plastics, when they see something brightly colored in the water, thinking it some yummy fishy goodness. 

Both moli and ka'upu populations were declining in the early 1990s.  The moli populations appear to be increasing since that time, but are more difficult to assess since their interannual nesting numbers vary a great deal from year to year.  The ka'upu return more regularly, and are increasing slowly but surely over the past ten years.  The ka'upu (black-footed albatross) in the photo below was banded as a 'teenager' in 2006, nested in 2007 and 2008, and then was gone in 2009. 

One of the first ka'upu (black-footed albatross) returned to nest on Tern this year. 
Photo by FWS Volunteer Keith Burnett.
Albatross chicks born on Tern get a plastic yellow-and-black band on their left foot (seen on this ka'upu).   Each bird also has a metal band on its right leg, in case the plastic band breaks -- but its much harder to read those bands, and less disturbing to the bird to read the big-lettered plastic bands.  These bands help us to identify the bird whenever it returns. 

Welcome back, albies!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Volunteers on Tern

From Keith Burnett, Volunteer on Tern since June 2010:

Having the opportunity to volunteer here on Tern Island and be a guest of the seabirds in their own home - away from most human influence - has been a real blessing.  Every morning before work I have the opportunity to walk down the runway to the East end of the island, enjoy the sunrise and see all the birds during the time they are most active.  It never ceases to put a smile on my face to be able to share the same space with thousands of birds who are more concerned with themselves than me as a human, and every day I see a new behavior, or perhaps even the same behavior that makes me laugh and view these birds as individuals and part of their own society.  Each bush, even, has its own story to tell with the chicks that have grown up and the adults that return to the same places each year.  This photograph is a nice diverse representation of most of the birds on the island and how they interact with their surroundings including Masked Boobys, Red-Footed Boobys, Brown and Black Noddys, Black-Footed Albatross, and Great Frigatebirds.  The only other seabird species not represented here that are regulars at Tern are the Sooty Terns and Laysan Albatross (who have left the island to feed and will return to breed) and the White Tern.

View of Tern Island Wildlife, Photo by Keith Burnett (FWS Volunteer)

The following is from Kristina Dickson, who will be heading out to Tern in December:

Hi, my name is Kristina Dickson and I am from Covington, LA.  I look forward to being one of the interns at Tern Island for the next 7 months. I am a 2009 graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in Biology. I spent a year studying marine biology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, which sparked my interest in marine mammal and seabird research.  Since graduating I have volunteered at the New Orleans Aquarium of the Americas as a naturalist guide, interpreting animal behaviors and working to provide educational information about the exhibits to visitors. I have always loved the water and enjoyed swimming.  I swam competitively for 10 years and now enjoy applying my swimming ability to other water sports such as scuba diving, surfing, body boarding, and water polo. My overall goal while volunteering at Tern Island is to get more hands on experience in the marine science field and to make a contribution to the work being conducted out there. I look forward to learning more about marine mammals and seabirds, and I am excited to be able to see these animals living in an unspoiled habitat.  Living on a remote island is not something many people have the opportunity to experience and I hope to make the most of my time out on Tern Island. I am looking forward to joining the volunteer team on Tern Island and I hope that I can make a positive contribution to the program out there.

Kristina Dickson, Volunteering on Tern Dec 2010-June 2011.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Shark Bit Fin!

Ty Benally and his shark-bit fin!  Photo by FWS volunteer Keith Burnett
Ty Benally, Acting Tern Manager, had a big surprise this weekend, when a shark bit his fin!!!  Ty and volunteer Keith Burnett report that a tiger shark came up and bit the fin off, then swam away.  Apparently, the Tern Island Speed Swimming Record was set shortly thereafter. A good reminder that this is, in fact, a wild and remote location, and we humans are not immune to harm. We're glad everyone is safe!!!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

New seal pup on Tern!

Its very late in the year, but we have a new seal pup on Tern!  This is especially wonderful for this critically endangered species, because shark predation is not an issue on Tern.  The new pup will still need to get fattened up enough from mom's milk to survive until it learns to feed on its own, which is a big challenge.  But at least no shark-wrestling for this guy!  This mom had a pup on Tern in 2008, and was seen on Nihoa in 2010.

New Hawaiian monk seal pup with mom, on Tern Island/FFS.  (Photo by Keith Burnett)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Big surf at Tern!

An amazing photo of the big surf at Tern -- The surf does not normally come anywhere near topping the seawall.  Photo says it all!
Waves crashing over the northeast seawall, Tern Island.  Photo by Phillip Howard Nov 2010.

First 2011 Moli Returns!

The first Laysan albatross (Moli, with kahako's over the 'o' and 'i') of the 2011 reproductive season returns to Tern Island!  It's hard for an albatross to dance alone, but more are on their way...

First Returning Moli (Laysan Albatross) of the 2011 season returns to Tern Island!  (Photo by Sarah Harvey)
Sarah Harvey and Phillip Howard send a few photos from Tern Island this week:

Red-tailed tropicbirds chicks getting ready to fledge.  Although they are such a pure white as adults, the chicks are spotty black and white at fledging.  (Photo by Sarah Harvey)

Evening at Tern Island, November 2011 (Photo by Sarah Harvey)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Volunteering at Tern

Usually there is one US Fish & Wildlife Service person on Tern with three or four volunteers, to do all of the biological monitoring, maintenance, safety, and enjoying this unique location.  Its a lot of work, sun, wind and bird doo.  But it can also be extremely satisfying. 

Here's from two volunteers:  Sarah Youngren, who volunteered last winter, and is coming back to help me out this winter, on why she volunteers at FFS; and Trish Jackson, on her present experiences on Tern.

Sarah Youngren:

Sarah Youngren on Tern Island, French Frigate Shoals, Spring 2010
 Hi *waves* my name is Sarah Youngren and I have found that migration isn't just for the birds! I spent last winter as a volunteer on Tern, and enjoyed this once in a lifetime experience so much that......I'm coming back for another 6 months!

I was given a formal introduction to the land of the island nesting seabird in July of 2008 while working on a project through the University of Alaska Fairbanks. I finished up my bachelors (Biological Sciences from UAF) in December of that year, and have been living the transient seabird researching field biologist lifestyle ever since (summers in Alaska. winters a bit closer to the equator) and loving every minute of it!  I'm really excited to return to Tern because I feel that I have even more to offer to the year than I did last, have gained greater perspective on the biology and workings of the island. Some time in the not so distant future, I plan on returning to school using the field skills I have gained working on varied projects towards my own masters or phd project!

Trish Jackson:

I have been at Tern Island for over a month now and feel this to be one of the most memorable events of my life.  At times I have the urge to pinch myself thinking this experience is so unlike anything imaginable or explainable.  I've asked my husband to send me a tape recorder so I can capture the most unusual sounds that come from this island.  From the soothing sounds of the surf just outside my bedroom window to the haunting sounds some of the birds make at night and the chatter and squawking of all during the day.  Even though I have much to learn, I have already encountered many new and interesting things since joining this small group who seem just as awe struck as I.  The rest of the world can only attempt to imagine such things as I have experienced.


Trish Jackson, at Tern Island/French Frigate Shoals, Fall 2010

Monday, October 25, 2010

Schools and InTerns

We will be starting our first partnerships with some Hawai'i schools this winter -- Each volunteer will be matched with a class to work on a project together.  Thanks to the supporting teachers, classes, and principals from Roosevelt High School, Lana'i High School, the Hawaii Center for Deaf and Blind, and `Iolani School!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Welcome to the New French Frigate Shoals / Tern Island 2011 Blog!

Aloha kākou! E komo mai o French Frigate Shoals and Tern Island.

The staff and volunteers at Tern Island are in the midst of change – Station Manager Pete Leary left at the end of September, and will be starting as the Midway Wildlife Biologist in November.  Congratulations, Pete!!  Pete has kept a blog going for Tern Island for a couple years (Tern Island Times) -- we can't replace his amazing photographs and unique perspective, but hope to keep readers going with this new blog.

Photo:  Tern Island Crew in September 2010, with marine debris on Tern.  From left to right:  Sarah Harvey (volunteer), Phillip Harvey (volunteer), Paula Hartzell (staff), Pete Leary (staff), Ty Benally (staff, sitting), and Keith Burnett (volunteer).

Ty Benally is Acting Manager for the Fall season, working with volunteers Phillip Howard, Patricia Jackson, Keith Burnett, and Sarah Harvey.  They will keep the Tern Island Station going until the next change-over in personnel at the end of November.  (Photo)    Paula Hartzell will be the new manager in December, with volunteers Sarah Youngren, Dan Rapp, Jimmy McCaulley and Kristina Dickson.  Melinda Conners will be continuing her research on albatross and boobies, as well as volunteering.

Photo:  First black-footed albatross on Tern Island for the 2011 albatross season (October 2010).  Photo by Keith Burnett.

Our first albatross returned to Tern Island this week!  (Photo)  You can see the yellow and black band on the albatross in front – E126.  It was last seen on Tern in 2008.  Over the next few months, many of the albatross that were born on Tern will be returning.  The earliest arrivals are the black-footed albatross; the Laysan albatross are expected shortly. 
Those returning albatross that are still 'teens' will be flirting with others, learning how to act like an adult, learning their dance, getting to know potential mates.  Those teens are called 'walkers' (as opposed to 'nesters).
Many of the albatross that are a little older will find a mate, lay a nest, and raise their next chick.  Albatross go back to the same place to nest -- not only the same island, but the same spot.  They stay with the same partner as long as they are both alive, and they greet each other with an elaborate dance, with much head-ducking, wing flapping, 'mooing' sounds, and bill clapping.  It is amazing to watch.
Albatross don't always lay an egg every year; they may wait 2, 3 or even 4 years before they try to raise another chick.  Their health and body fat influence how often they come back.  Being fat is a good thing for these birds -- they have to fly hundreds and even thousands of miles, and deal with cold air and cold water.  Because albatross only have one chick at a time, often skip years between breeding, and because many, many of the chicks die from ingested plastics, each chick is very important.
We look forward to this year's albatross season -- as well as to the many other species which breed in French Frigate Shoals. 

A hui hou—Until next time.


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