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Monday, March 21, 2011

The Kahana arrives!

Aloha kakahiaka kākou!

The ship that brings us people and supplies arrived on Saturday!  We say a very fond and thankful fairwell to Melinda Conners, and welcome new FWS Volunteers Lindsey Kramer and Curt Youngren!!!  Lindsey has been working for the National Park Service on the Big Island, and comes to us with a marine science background.  Curt owns his own construction business in Alaska, and has taken a break to come fix all our broken and aging facilities.  We're very glad to have them.

FWS Volunteer James Macaulay works with the Kahana crew to offload supplies and send empty propane cylinders back for filling.  The Kahana crew is incredibly helpful and friendly -- making the sometimes stressful offloads a fun event.  I was really thankful for such a great volunteer crew -- They were all over everything that needed to be done without ever a moment's hesitation.  Made things flow -- and safer.  Thanks Team Tern and Kahana crew!  Photo by FWS Volunteer Sarah Youngren.
The offload itself was a bit of an adventure, with the Kahana's tender vessel engine overheating, and us with only the small whaler Mōlī.  Sarah Youngren braved the rather hefty swell on the front of the Mōlī, while we bashed repeatedly into the side of the Kahana - a large steel boat -- shuttling people back and forth to the island.  Staff and volunteers headed to Laysan Island took the opportunity to see Tern, and got a rather exciting ride in return when we had to haul the Kahana's tender with the Mōlī.
Offload of supplies or water park ride?!?  Towing the temporarily disabled Kahana Tender, Melinda Conners (at left) heads up to Midway and then home.  Michelle, the new Laysan Biotech, along for the ride with Kahana crew Nalu and others.  Photo by FWS Volunteer Sarah Youngren.
All's well that ends well, though!!!  We got most of our supplies, and had a regular Christmas day unpacking everything.  The Kahana headed up to deliver supplies and personnel to Laysan Island (which had been evacuated after the tsunami, which created a lot of damage there).  They then head to Midway Atoll.  We'll see the Kahana on the way back down, when they'll be delivering the rest of our supplies -- and hopefully, some new (used) fiberglass boats from Midway.  Yeah!!!!

Laysan Albatross chicks contemplate the Tristram's storm petrel plot sign.  Photo by FWS Volunteer Sarah Youngren.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The night of the tsunami, and the morning after.

As I mentioned last night and this morning, we were very fortunate to have had no real effects from the tsunami on Tern.  We have a nice big atoll around us, which serves a a wonderful buffer, for which we are very grateful.  Kure, Midway and Laysan were not so fortunate -- the wildlife were really hammered there.... All the people are safe, though, so that's great!!!

So a couple shots to share the Tern tsunami experience...

We heard that Laysan experienced large waves, so evacuated to the top of the warehouse, a strong weather-proof structure which puts us up out of harms way.  We only had two cushions, though, so all six of us were pretty cozy... Note that we have emergency radios, immersion suits, first aid, EPIRB, etc, all handy.... The team handled the stress of a potential emergency so well.  Either that, or they were actually asleep at the time.  :-)

The crew wakes up after a not-so-comfy night on the roof.  From top left:  FWS Volunteers James Macaulay, Kristina Dickson, Melinda Conners, Sarah Youngren, and Dan Rapp (laying down on the job).  

The crew packs up in the morning, to have bacon and pancakes for breakfast before starting back to work...and another beautiful day.

Our animal friends and their homes are also okay.  ʻĀ wāwae (red-footed boobies), mōlī (Laysan albatross) and kaʻupu (black-footed albatross) chicks in the foreground.  Yeah!

ʻEwaʻewa (sooty terns) and one koaʻe ula (red-tailed tropicbird) fly overhead today.  There's roughly 4,000 ʻewaʻewa flying over the island now -- These birds are so amazing.  They just fly and fly, and donʻt land at all, until it's time for them to lay an egg sometime in the next couple weeks. 
Life goes on in Kanemilohaʻi....

p.s.  We'll try to get a pākalakala video soon!

All is well on Tern.

All is well here as of Friday 5:30 am.  Crew asleep on top of building. ... I have to go do a surprise photo before they get up. :-)

As of 2:08 am, we have nothing...

As of 2:08 am on March 11, we haven't gotten any noticeable waves.  That's good! 

Hope everyone else out there is doing well.  Our hearts go out to the folks in Japan who suffered from the earthquake and tsunami.

Waiting, waiting, waiting...

Hey All!

Just to let everyone know we're okay, and keeping an eye on the potential tsunami headed this way.  We're prepared to move on top of the warehouse (a storm-ready structure) with all the emergency accoutrements.

We'll keep you updated.  No worries!

To all our friends and family in Hawaiʻi and other Pacific Islands -- Be safe!!!


Friday, March 4, 2011


Pākalakala (gray-backed Tern)
 The pākalakala -- gray-backed terns --  are back, and starting to find mates!  Pākalakala roam across the Pacific, breeding on the northwest Hawaiian islands and some small islands near the main Hawaiian islands, like Ka’ula (near Ni’ihau) and Mokumanu (O’ahu), as well as a few other Pacific Islands.  They have become locally extinct on many islands due to rats and/or feather or egg hunting.   The largest extant breeding population is in the northwestern Hawaiian islands, although we don’t really have a good grasp of the current population status – Populations studies for this species were mostly conducted in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Pākalakala look a lot like sooty terns, except sooties have black backs.  Gray-backed terns are also much more flighty, and less aggressive than sooty terns – maybe that's why there’s hundreds of thousands of sooty terns, and only a few dozen gray-backed terns on Tern Island.  Pākalakala live into their 20s, and maybe longer.

Gray-backed terns returned to Tern Island!  Yeah!  Pākalakala may be my favorite bird here, because they don't bite, they don't peck -- they're just kind of more subtle altogether.  The highest numbers of these birds are on Lisianski, Nihoa and Laysan Islands in the Northwest (at least as of the 1980's).  As far as I know, we're the only ones regularly monitoring this population, however.
 There is very little known about pākalakala behavior beyond what little we see during their breeding season.  They are very skittish, and will fly off as soon as a person approaches the area, leaving their egg or chick alone (but they do come back as soon as you leave, or if you sit down in the same place, motionless, for a while).  They have only one egg at a time, but we really don’t know if they re-lay or not, if their first egg fails.  It's very important that we don’t disturb them too much, as the eggs and chicks are very likely to be eaten by great frigatebirds (‘iwa) when their parents are not there. ….This is also why pākalakala aren’t on the main Hawaiian Islands, because dogs, cats, and rats can easily eat their eggs and chicks.

Pākalakala are very funny when they are finding their mate.  They stick their wings out and back, like a person sticking out their elbows with their hands on their hips.  Then they put their heads down and circle around each other with their wings strung out akimbo, and kind of shuffle along.  It reminds me of some traditional country dances.  After they’ve bonded, they’ll chase other gray-backed terns from the little area around their nest.  

Two pākalakala doing the courtship dance.  They remind me of traditional country dancing, when people put their hands on their hips, stick their elbows out, and do little mincing steps.  It's pretty funny.  (Or, apparently sexy if you're a gray-backed tern.)
 Gray-backed terns eat by dipping and swooping, and eat pretty much anything vaguely fishy that is small enough to fit in their mouths.  They’ll eat moths and insects, too.  Their favorite food is probably juvenile thorny cowfish (makukana).  Sometimes they follow schools of tuna, to eat the fish that the tuna scare up.  The male pākalakala will feed the female by regurgitation, and then later they both feed their chick.

Pākalakala pair have the perfect spot -- free from sooty terns and easy to defend from other gray-backed terns -- unfortunately, it also means the egg and chick will be immediately conspicuous to great frigatebirds ('iwa) who feast on little chicks.  We'll follow how their offspring fares this spring, as part of reproductive plot monitoring.
 Gray-backed terns nest along the seawall, maybe because the sooty terns (that will start laying eggs soon after the gray-backed terns) are so much more aggressive, and will kill their chicks.  Pākalakala keep their eggs right along the seawall or rocks, or even in coral rubble along the seawall.  They seem to like the more windswept side, and avoid the leeward side (probably because it's easier to take off on the windward side).

We’re waiting for their first egg this season.  Should be any day now.  
Pākalakala and its mate.  Tern Island, Feb 2011.

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