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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Aloha kakahiaka!

This has been a great seal week -- Some of the seals had a romantic Valentines Day (really!), and we are seeing lots of nice, fat females.  Nice fat females means nice fat babies, and enough fat for the moms to feed them throughout weaning. (The moms don't eat from the time they give birth, until after they wean, so lots of body fat is essential.)  Go fat seals!
This nice fat momma seal is 18 years old, and has had 7 pups so far.  Go Momma!
   It has been rain, rain, rain for quite a while now -- so we race out for a quick snorkel whenever possible.
Little toby guards his junk.

White-tipped reef shark at a distance.
We also had some water-based training with the Miller board.  This type of safety practice is very useful in figuring out what we can and cannot do - and so we all feel more comfortable handling this equipment when we actually need to evacuate a hurt or unconscious person in the water.

Water-based Miller board practice.  FWS Volunteers (clockwise) Kristina Dickson, Melinda Conners, Dan Rapp, and James Macaulay move scenario victim Sarah Youngren safety through the water towards shore.  La Perouse is visible in the background.

Oops!  Kinda got that one backwards.... Now her head is down...  Important lesson that we won't forget next time!

A successful rescue!!  Kristina (in wetsuit) demonstrates the proper way to lift, while the others demonstrate improper lifting technique.  Way to go, Team!  :-)

And last but not least... the Photo of the Week:
Joy on the runway.  Dan Rapp expresses his enthusiasm.  Photo by Sarah Youngren.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Rain, rain, rain...

The weather has been rain, rain, rain, but the Termites have been accomplishing a lot this week – both humans, birds and seals.

French Frigate Shoals was highlighted in newspaper articles from Honolulu to New York, after the release of information of the discovery of the Nantucket whaling ship Two Brothers by NOAA in 2008.  The ship wrecked off of Shark Island on February 11, 1812.  News reports are at these websites:
A vagrant gull we’ve seen the past few weeks was identified by Peter Pyle/Bishop Museum as a Herring Gull, probably the Larus argentatus vegae subspecies from Siberia.  They will be using photos that Sarah Youngren took, with credit to FWS, for the Museum’s Herring Gull webpage.  This subspecies has been documented several times at Kure, Midway, and French Frigate Shoals in the past.  Go Sarah!

Fifteen seals were observed during this week’s seal walk.   This week’s identified seals were 1, 3, 4, 6, 8 and 12 years old – a really young age spread for FFS, which we’re delighted to see.

Gratuitous 'ilio holo i ka uaua photo

We finished checking the 2011 adult albatross monitoring data, and here’s what we got:  5,092 black-footed albatross nesters, 5, 166 Laysan albatross nesters, and 13,290 adult albatross total!!!  Considering we read each albatross' band twice, that was quite an effort.  This is good news; both species had modest increases in nesting attempts since last year.  Both species have been slowly increasing in numbers on Tern since the mid-1990s, albeit Laysan numbers are much more erratic from year to year than BFALs. 
 Okay, seriously – Try to deny this Laysan Albatross is the cutest thing you’ve ever seen.
The result of albatross nesting -- The albatross chicks are big enough that the parents are leaving them alone for short periods of time.  These little guys just hatched a month ago, and this little moli is sitting up 20 cm (8”) high already. 

A red-tailed tropicbird (koaʻe o Kū, or bird of Kū) on Tern Island.  Sufficiently shady nesting habitat has been reporting as the limiting factor for tropicbirds at other locations.  This species’ reproductive effort has dropped drastically over the past decade, perhaps due to reduced nesting sites as shrubs die off on Tern.  We’re currently working to increase the shrub cover on Tern.  (Photo by FWS Volunteer Sarah Youngren.)

Wednesday was ‘Cut Wires Day’ on Tern.  Once a month, we go around the island, cutting and removing wires that erode from the shoreline, removing entanglement hazards for wildlife.  The crew collected roughly 100 pounds of wire and related debris.  Among other things, the crew came back with the biggest, brassiest insulator we’ve ever seen.  Anyone know what this was used for? 

Kristina Dickson, with assistance from Jimmy Macaulay, painted some beautiful murals on the bedroom walls here at Tern -- The last person to do great wildlife murals here like this was Patrick Ching, when he served as a Tern volunteer.  Kristina has been fixing up the barracks rooms before additional volunteers arrive; her efforts are greatly appreciated by those living on Tern.  Of course, now we all want a mural in our rooms... They are truly amazing.

painting by Kristina Dickson

painting by Kristina Dickson

Kristina Dickson painting humu mural.  Photo by Melinda Conners.

Safety First!  Melinda taught us how to operate the HF radio, and then Team Tern practiced with the Miller Board.  I must say, they seem to be enjoying this a bit too much…   Clockwise from bottom left:  FWS Volunteers Melinda Conners, Kristina Dickson, James Macaulay, Sarah Youngren, and Dan Rapp.  FWS staff member Paula Hartzell tied to board.

Life on Tern. 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Another week at Tern -- Mardi Gras, Conners, and Birds

Another week passes at Tern, with the crew working really hard, and the albatross chicks growing.

Finishing up the season for one researcher:   As part of an on-going study led by Scott Shaffer (SJSU/UCSC), Melinda Conners (UCSC) has conducted field work at Kanemilohaʻi for the winter season each of the last four years.  Melinda has served as a half-time researcher and half-time volunteer.  Her work focuses on breeding season foraging and diet of Laysan and black-footed albatross, as well as boobies.   She has been satellite and GPS tagging these birds, figuring out where they go to eat; then when they come back to feed chicks, she collects samples that will let us know what resources these birds depends on.  Today, Melinda collected back the last of her satellite tags for the year.  She has worked very hard to increase our knowledge about albatross and boobies.

In addition to her research, we thank Melinda for the thousands of hours she has served as a volunteer, and the enthusiasm she has shared with FWS staff and volunteers.  Thanks, Melinda!

Melinda Conners (right) with FWS Volunteer Sarah Youngren.  Conners has served as a half-time volunteer/half-time researcher each winter for the past four years on Tern. Having spent about 5,000 working hours on Tern, she has an enormous amount of institutional knowledge and bird handling experience.  Her greatest impact may be on more than a dozen young volunteer biologists she has worked with and inspired.  We will miss her greatly when she leaves Tern for the last time in March 2011.    Photo by FWS Volunteer Dan Rapp.

 And some misc photos from this week:

Sleeping on the beach....This 27 year old female seal ("2LL") has had 5 pups in the past 10 years.  (She deserves a nap!)

Black-footed albatross chick playing (building a nest) while its parent snoozes overhead. 
The masked boobies, red-footed boobies and frigatebirds are still working their way up to laying... With great demonstrations of their prowess for intended partners...

Who are YOU looking at???  While masked boobies have flat feet and nest on the ground, red-footed boobies have 'monkey-feet' that feel like little hands holding onto you -- all the better for nesting in bushes.  Photo by FWS Volunteer Sarah Youngren.
Here's a great video by FWS Volunteer Kristina Dickson demonstrating what happens when you set your camera down on Tern Island:  Silly albatross (video)
I'm thinking about discontinuing this blog...please let me know if you'd like to see it continue.

Mahalo nui e a hui hou!
Kristina Dickson baked us a King Cake for Mardi Gras (with Jimmy Macaulay looming for a first bite).

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