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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Tern Island: Moonlight to Sunrise

What does it feel like to be on Tern Island?

...on a small, sandy island in an atoll -- an island that is about a half-mile long, less than a football field wide, and only 4 feet above sea level?

For me (Barb Mayer), being on Tern Island for a week felt peaceful, especially when standing by myself and watching the change from a moonlit night to sunrise. Using my simple point-and-shoot camera, I recorded this 2+ minute video clip as I stood near the eastern end of the island. The video begins in the early morning darkness; you'll see the almost-full moon in dim twilight. Although the blustery wind is loud, you might be able to hear birds in the background, especially when I'm not facing into the wind. I turned around, rotating through a circle twice, recording the sky during the first rotation and then more of the ground and birds during the second rotation. The video concludes with a third rotation taken at sunrise.

I hope the video, despite its poor quality, helps you imagine being on Tern Island. How do you think you'd feel?!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A new season

It's the start of a new season, biologically and personnel-wise. 
A rather angry looking manu o Kū (white tern) sitting on its egg.  These guys nest anywhere they can find a flat space -- a ledge, a faucet, a boat trailer, or in this case a cement block left by the building.  White terns nest year-round, so we can always count of a few eggs and chicks around the island.  Most of the seabirds start nesting in December or January, though, so we're just starting up the seabird monitoring for this reproductive season.
We saw the summer crew off on the Kahana this week -- They worked hard and accomplished a huge amount over the past six months. 
Team Tern December 2011:  The whole gang!  Bottom Row (L->R):  Morgan Gilmour (UCSC Researcher/Volunteer), Dakshina Marlier (Winter Volunteer), Erin Kawakami (Summer Volunteer), Sarah Youngren (Winter Volunteer Team Leader).  Second Row:  Kathy Kawakami (Native Plants Expert Volunteer), Barbara Mayer (Education and Outreach Volunteer).  Third row:  Dan Rapp (Returning Winter Volunteer), Meg Duhr Schultz (Summer Manager), Ralph Blancato (SeeMore Assistant).  Back Row:  Abram Fleishman (Winter Volunteer), Paula Hartzell (Winter Manager), Scott Sturdivant (Summer Volunteer), Konrad Schaad (SeeMore Satellite Technician).  This group has produced so much -- Thanks gang!!!
The winter crew, satellite technicians, special volunteers and the crew of the Kahana leaving Tern.

The remaining crew.... Dakshina Marlier, Morgan Gilmour, Dan Rapp, Sarah Youngren, and Abram Fleishman.  (Photo by Paula L. Hartzell)
The ka'upu (black-footed albatross) have all arrived for the most part, but the mōlī (Laysan albatross) are still trickling in.  Looks like a gang-buster year for the ka'upu this year!  We'll have better numbers for you on that soon, as we've started the next adult albatross sweep -- That's where we go through the colony and read every band on every adult albatross across the island.  We'll do this four times over the next month, as part of a mark-recapture study tracking the albatross' breeding populations across the northwestern Hawaiian islands.  The staff at Midway Atoll and Laysan Islands follow the same procedure, so we can compare the results, and get a number for most of this species' populations.

Konrad Schaad helps with an albatross count on Trig Island. The ka'upu (blackfooted albatross) have arrived en force; the mōlī (Laysan albatross) are still arriving. Photo by Paula L. Hartzell.

We have a new double-egged ka'upu nest this week!  Albatross usually have only one egg, but this bird is a super overachiever. 

Sarah Youngren, Dan Rapp, and Abram Fleishman continue work on getting the bird acoustic monitoring system set up.  They've been troubleshooting the electronics, have built frames to mount the solar battery charging panels and microphone, as well as to keep birds from pooping on these.  The tricky part is to get everything to work without messing up the other electronic monitoring devices, like George Balazs's turtle cam -- but persistence pays off, and they're moving forward.  Later on, we'll compare the results from the acoustic monitoring of Tristram's storm petrels with Sarah's burrow monitoring results, to calibrate the methods to estimate number of breeding adults. 
Dan Rapp working on setting up acoustics equipment.  Photo by Sarah Youngren.
Okay, these people are seriously just too excited about bird monitoring.
Weeding, weeding, weeding!  The invasive goosefoot and cheeseweed has begun to sprout up all over the island, but has not yet seeded, so we are starting to spend a significant amount of time pulling these buggers before they go to seed.  Both goosefoot and cheeseweed grow into tall, dense monocultures, creating a barrier to wind and movement, and pose a serious threat to albatross chicks later in the winter and spring, when chicks bake in the heat inside these stands. 
'Ilio o ke kai (Hawaiian monk seals) enjoy the warmth and security of the black pipe placed at the back of South Beach by the summer crew.  This pipe will keep most Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle (honu) hatchlings from crawling into the colony by accident and dying; it should also minimize the amount of wasted energy by adult honu lost in the colony.  As an added bonus, it minimizes our disturbance seals on the beach by delineating the area better, and providing a visual and sound barrier for the seals.  We counted 25 seals in this week's count, one more than the highest count last winter.  Really great job, Summer Crew!

Juvenile noio (black noddy).  Photo by Meg Duhr Schultz.
East Beach at Tern Island.  The sand has shifted way to the north.  The beach shifts with seasons and storms, but also provides the best winds for gliding seabirds.  (Photo by Paula L. Hartzell)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Trip In

The new Tern crew loaded up -- along with SeeMore satellite technicians Konrad Schaad and Ralph Blancato, and Tern special volunteers Kathy Kawakami and Barbara Mayer -- on December 1st, for the three day trip out to French Frigate Shoals.
Women to Tern Island:  Morgan Gilmour, Sarah Youngren, Barbara Mayer, Dakshina Marlier, and Kathy Kawakami onboard the ship Kahana en route to French Frigate Shoals.
The first day at sea was pretty shaky, or at least most of the crew was. Things calmed down (both weatherwise and physically) after that, though. All of us enjoyed some great food onboard the ship Kahana, and some nice home-made music in the evening, courtesy of the Kahana's Nalu and our own volunteers.
A quiet moment as La Perouse comes into view. 
We arrived at Tern on Sunday, with a speedy offload due to good weather.   Come along on one of the small boat transfers from the good ship Kahana to the Island--

So much has changed since this summer!!!!  The crew on-island has built a tremendous amount of artificial habitat, experimenting with different materials and styles to see what the birds will accept for nesting.
Mōlī (above) and ka'upu nesting in runway.  Since some vegetation has returned to the runway, albatross are enjoying the extra room to nest.
The island is also green with winter.  As some vegetation starts to fill in the runway, both black-footed and Laysan albatross are moving nests into the green parts.  This will greatly expand their nesting area by about 30% -- a significant enlargement on one of two islands in the atoll that do not get washed over regularly.  The habitat is also important in that French Frigate Shoals is not as readily damaged by tsunami and storm waves as some other important seabird locations, such as Kure, Midway and Laysan, so provides an important refugia.
Albatross Love.  Photo by Ralph Blancato.
Manager Meg Duhr Schultz shows the crew around, and fills them in on all the rules.  We live happily on Tern Island -- but must always respect that this is the home of the wildlife first!
Manager Meg drills the troops (Dan Rapp, Dakshina Marlier, Barbara Mayer, and Abram Fleishman, L>R).
Meg leads the first entrapment walk -- All folks must participate in orientation when they arrive.  (Morgan Gilmour, Dakshina Marlier, Abram Fleishman, Meg Duhr Schultz)
Sarah Youngren and Abram Fleishman work on setting up acoustics equipment for monitoring seabirds at night.  Sarah is working with UCSC's Matthew McKown and Nexleaf in this first-ever deployment of this remote monitoring system totally-off-the-grid (as in no cell phone even).  This project is pretty exciting because if it works well, we can use it to monitor nocturnally active seabirds without tromping through their burrows.  It could also be used in remote places like Nihoa and other uninhabited islands, without people staying there.
Konrad Schaad repairing our satellite system....Yeesh!!!  We have him to thank for this blog being posted -- and for use of our turtle cam and email systems!
We also had our first off-island experience of the season, counting seabirds, seals and turtle while Konrad and Ralph worked on the turtle cam (East Island).  We were happy to see a whole lot of nesting albatross, as well as a lot of mostly healthy looking seals. 
First 'a maka'ele (masked booby) eggs of the season!!!  Photo by Sarah Youngren.
A juvenile 'iwa (great frigatebird) inspects Konrad's work at the top of a telephone pole.  Konrad is fixing the cameras used by sea turtle researcher George Balaz for monitoring East Island -- where roughly half of the entire species nests!  Konrad is a tall man:  check out how this young frigatebird's wingspan dwarfs him in perspective.  Photo by Ralph Blancato.
Silver bellied 'ilio o ke kai (Hawaiian monk seal) juvenile.  Photo by Paula Hartzell. 
We expect the Kahana to return from its trip up to Midway around December 13th.  We will have more bird and seal news coming all winter!

A mother-daughter team on Tern:  Kathy Kawakami and Erin Kawakami tackle native plant propagation on Tern Island.  We appreciate Kathy's experience and Erin's energy -- and the willingness of all our volunteers to give their time for wildlife conservation at this remote location.

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