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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

World's Oldest Bonin Petrel!

Bonin petrels are nocturnal seabirds that live only in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and a couple small islands off the shores of Japan.  They are a little bigger than your hand, and feed at night alone or in pairs, near the surface of the water.  Because they are nocturnal and breed in burrows (or artificial nest boxes), they are difficult to monitor.  They can only live on islands that have no predators like rats, mice, cats and dogs.

The largest BOPE populations exist or existed on Lisianski, Midway, and Laysan Islands.  Those populations were heavily impacted by the recent tsunami, as hundreds (or perhaps thousands) of active nests were inundated.  Unfortunately, the petrels are not monitored at those locations. At Tern Island, however, we have a very small but steady population of Bonin Petrels that we study at night throughout the breeding season.  Our small population appears to be holding steady or increasing -- but we only have a 20-30 breeding pairs on Tern, versus 10s of thousands that are/were on Lisianski, Midway and Laysan.  We do have an excellent opportunity to study the birds at Tern Island, however.

We just got the official word, and three petrels that Dan Rapp and Sarah Youngren observed this winter all break the existing record for oldest (longest lived) Bonin Petrel in the world!  The previous record was a 22 1/2 year old BOPE.  Dan and Sarah found two birds that were breeding adults in 1981, and one bird born in 1981, as identified by their metal bird bands.  The two older birds are probably at least 35 years of age, although we don't really know for sure, other than they were breeding adults 30 years ago.  Not only did these birds break the record for longevity, they have been breeding now for 30 years.  Pretty amazing!
Sarah Youngren with the last of the season's Bonin Petrel chicks from Tern Island before fledging, June 2011.  

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Changing the Old to New

We are very sad to say goodbye to the outgoing volunteers -- Sarah Youngren, Jimmy Macaulay, Kristina Dickson, Dan Rapp, Lindsey Kramer, and Curt Youngren.  Thank you all so very much for your hard work, your caring, your friendship, and tenacity while at Tern.

We also welcome our new Assistant Manager, Meg Duhr Schultz, and our two new volunteers, Erin Kawakami and Scott Sturdivant, and the Turtle Crew members Irene Nurzia Humburg and Tyler Bogardus.  Along with the folks still on Tern (Manager Paula Hartzell and seal crew Shawn Farry, Mark Sullivan, Brendan Hurley, and Ben Cook), these folks will make up the summer crew here on Tern. 

The Searcher (of 'Lost' and 'Voyage to Kure' fame) offload at French Frigate Shoals on Sunday.  
NMFS seal crew members load gear into their Montauk at the stern.
Sarah Youngren with just some of the many, many buckets of supplies we offloaded from the Searcher to Tern Island.  We depend on these offloads for food, equipment, supplies -- anything and everything we eat, drink, use, sleep in or on, or use for work -- so these offloads are very important!
Speed offload!!!! Sarah Youngren, Jimmy Macaulay and Dan Rapp demonstrates the fastest safest offload technique in history.  (The others were busy hustling buckets to the barracks, and putting things away.)  
Team Tern 2011
The New and the Old:  Outgoing and Incoming Crews.  Top Row:  Ben Cook, a Searcher Crewmember, Mark Sullivan and Brendan Hurley.  Second Row:  Erin Kawakami, Scott Sturdivant and Dan Rapp.  Third Row:  Curt Youngren and Linsdey Kramer.  Fourth Row:  James Macaulay, Kristina Dickson and Sarah Youngren.  Bottom Row:  Paula Hartzell and Meg Duhr Schultz.  (Not pictured:  Incoming Turtle Techs Irene Nurzia Humburg and Tyler Bogardus.)  E komo mai!  
"We love you and miss you!!!" from the fledgling leaving Tern Island to the volunteers leaving Tern Island. (Photo by Sarah Youngren)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Fledging Albatross, Baby Seals, and Immersion Suits

"I'm flying!!!"  Well, almost.  The kaʻupu chicks have started to fledge this week -- We've seen several taking off from Tern and Trig Islands.  They'll continue fledging over the next month.  The mōlī (Laysan albatross) will start fledging in the next couple weeks as well.  These birds will spend the next several years at sea, not returning to land until they are ready to start learning how to be parents.  Most of these birds will return directly to Tern.  Its been very exciting watching them grow up!  Photo by Paula L. Hartzell.

Team Tern on East:  From left to right, Dan Rapp, Sarah Youngren, Kristina Dickson and James Macaulay banding black-footed albatross (ka'ula) chicks on East Island.  We are excited about banding on the outer islands of the atoll, because this information will help us better understand how these birds adapt to changes in island geomorphology, storm events and tsunamis.

An ʻilio o ke kai mom and pup move up on land to sleep for the night.  A healthy mom will stay with her pup throughout the nursing season, never leaving the pup to feed.  A fat mom is a good mom, because she births fatter pups and nurses them longer.  Attentive moms are also more successful at protecting their pups from sharks.  Photo, with La Perouse Pinnacle in the background, by NMFS crew Mark Sullivan.
View of Gin Island from Little Gin Island.  The NMFS crew has been camping on Gin for two weeks straight, in an attempt to monitor and protect pups on that island. Can you imagine staying on such a small low island overnight by yourself?!?  Photo by Paula Hartzell.
Lindsey Kramer and James Macaulay cheerfully pump gas into -- and back out of -- the Spam.  Sometimes you think you're going somewhere, sometimes not.... But they kept a smile on their faces regardless.  You never know what the conditions or challenges will be, so you have to be willing to roll with the punches...
Safety Training!!! The team practices with immersion suits... Kinda funny on a tropical island!!!  We need to know how to use the suits, though, if we have to evacuate via boat for long periods of time, or at night, when hypothermia is a real possibility.  Still, it was pretty funny to see the honu swimming up to check out the bright orange people....  Here the team practices making a raft with their bodies, for an ʻinjuredʻ person to rest on top, out of the water.  Practice makes perfect -- especially when you need to be able to rescue yourself, even when the situation is scary.  It is very important to be knowledgeable and practiced at emergency procedure when youʻre this far out at sea.

Sarah demonstrates relaxing in an immersion suit...a tricky proposition at best.  :-)  
Beauty and the Beast:  Fratricide in the MABO world.  Masked boobies, ʻA makaʻele, have two eggs as insurance in case they lose one.  If both eggs hatch, either the parent or the other chick will most often kick the weak one out of the nest to die (and hence why twins are rare).  Mark Sullivan caught this event on camera -- Nature is often incredibly beautify, and horribly harsh at the same time.
Dancing with Manta Rays.  Kristina Dickson and a manta ray enjoy underwater ballet.  Gorgeous photo by Sarah Youngren.
Happy seal pup.  Photo by Mark Sullivan.
"Give me your ankle!!!" [Sooty Tern, ʻEwaʻewa]

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Chick bands, and two weeks to go

The bustle of activity on Tern this week and next is preparation for a change of all the volunteers in two weeks, on June 18.  The current volunteers are working hard to make sure their projects are complete, and all materials are ready and organized to handoff to the new volunteers.  Our focus now is getting chicks banded before they take off onto the Pacific; it will be years before most of them return to land to breed as adults.
Lindsey Kramer learning banding and release of ʻā maka ʻele chicks.  1,000 sooty terns supervise.  Although the masked booby chicks aren't ready to fledge for a while, they're large enough to band -- so we'll get them done with the current crew, which has quite a bit of banding experience under their belts by this time.     
See no evil, hear no evil, speak no...well, you can’t really expect masked boobies to be quiet.  This parent proudly shows off not one, but two chicks.  This must be an oceanically productive year, based solely on the number of twins hatched and raised this year. 
 Eagle Eye James Macaulay found this Agrius cingulata moth this week – so we definitely do have a resident population of this nonnative pollinator, and not the native endangered Blackburn's sphinx moth.  (Ah, well, one can dream....)  Photos by Sarah Youngren.

Both Sarah Youngren and Dan Rapp received notification this week that their posters reporting their work from this winter on Tern were both accepted for presentation at the Wildlife Society Conference in November.  Congratulations, Sarah and Dan!!!
Hatfight!  The thing about wildlife at Tern is that they arenʻt always shy.... as this kaʻula chick demonstrates, demanding its fair share of Kristinaʻs hat.  You really have to be careful where you set things down, because these young albatross are more than curious, and getting bolder every day.
Pākalakala chick.  Our chicks are growing up!  This has also been a productive year for this species, particularly after we added wooden shelters in the areas where there was (previously) insufficient shelter for the chicks to hide.
Dan's socks.  Maybe we ought to consider paying the volunteers....
Fashion is everything.
Sarah Youngren holds the last of the Bonin petrel chicks to be banded this year (below).  This chick will fledge in the next couple days.  The current volunteers prepare to leave, and say goodbye to all the friends they’ve seen laid, grown, banded and fledged. It will be a hard transition back to city life, so as the volunteers scramble to finish their projects and dream of a cold beer, there is also more than a hint of sadness to the end of the field season.

The Refuge Manager spent a few moments spreading paper flower leis free in the ocean on Memorial Day, in memory of her son, Kerry Scott, who died in Iraq.

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