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Monday, August 27, 2012

We're back!

Hey everybody!

Long time, no post---sorry about that! At long last we have finally returned to blogging about the goings-on at Tern and French Frigate Shoals. We have a new blog/website, please find us at:

Hopefully Paula's blog will remain available online for some time to come. It remains a great source of information and photos from Tern.

Thanks and see you at the new site!


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Paula's very last blog post....

Aloha kakou!

I have had so much fun, and learned so much at Tern Island Field Station over the past three years.  I send sincere thanks to all the people who have worked to improve the station, the quality and effectiveness of our work there during this time -- as well as the hundreds of others who have done so in the past.  A particular special thanks to all the volunteers who have donated their time because of their passion for conservation and protecting our wildlife and refuges.

Mahalo nui loa!!!

As a parting message, I attach links to a couple of classic videos during my stay at Tern....

First Five Weeks at Tern (2012, by Abram Fleishman)  (a vimeo link)

Albatross Hammer Time (2011, by Dan Rapp)  (a youtube link)

and finally, a salute to TeamWork:

The Original Team Tern: a Well Oiled Machine

Above and beyond all of our hard work and efforts, thank you to all of the wildlife -- birds, seals, turtles, people, fish, invertebrates, and habitats marine and terrestrial.  Without you, our life would have no joy.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

New Crew on Tern

Welcome to our new crew on Tern!  The Kahana arrived on Monday with the new summer crew:  Summer Manager Meg Duhr Schultz, and volunteers Catherine Fox, Ryan Potter, and Megan Juran.  The new and old crew will work together over the next 10 days, passing the torch.  The winter crew will be leaving when the Kahana comes through on its return trip to Honolulu, and Meg will be taking over the blog.

Offloading supplies and getting new crew:  Left to right:  Dan Rapp, Ryan Potter, Morgan Gilmour, and Abram Fleishman.  Photo by Sarah Youngren.
Abram Fleishmman and Megan Juran stack milk in the food room.  All food must be labeled with date of arrival and stored in its proper place.  This food will last the crew -- plus folks from NOAA's seal and turtle crews this summer -- until October, when the next crew switch-out occurs.
Biologically, the honu (Hawaiian green sea turtles) are starting to show up in slightly higher numbers -- from 0-1 per day on Tern in mid-winter, to more than a dozen per day now.  (It will be more like 100/day on Tern later, and double that on East Island in peak season.)  We're seeing a few turtle 'rafts' or 'dog piles' -- a bunch of males vying for a female turtle's attention. 

Basking honu on Tern Island
'Old style' metal tag, #G692.  We were lucky to happen to see the first female turtle of the season digging high up on the beach, checking out good spots to nest later in the season.  She was last seen nesting in 1996 and 2002. 
 We also saw two red-footed boobies (ʻĀ wāwae) with signficant oiling in the past month.  One had about 15% of its body covered, and another had about 30%.  We've spotted a handful more with small (quarter-sized) spots.  The oil looked to be old, but we collected feather samples, just in case the oil needs to be analyzed. We'll be keeping a sharp eye out for additional oiling, and are starting to photograph the 'small spot' birds in order to assess how many birds have actually been affected.

Sarah Youngren finds a returned invasive -- sandbur -- under the clothesline.  It was probably accidentally reintroduced by people coming back from East Island, where the weed reappeared four years after 'eradication' -- perhaps due to old seed bank being exposed by record-breaking turtle nesting activity last summer.  Bird, seal and turtle crews will have to be particularly careful not to accidentally move these sticky seeds around more; right now we're hoping to keep re-eradicate the weed in the next several years.

The only bummer news for this week is that because Paula (the manager) has to go back to Honolulu to work in the office, and won't be staying or returning this summer, the benthic monitoring project we were planning to start this winter (but hadn't yet because we had no working boats) will not be carried out.  Of course Paula is very sad to miss out on all the summer actvities (particularly the benthic plate project, as well as helping out the turtle and seal crews), but Meg will be carrying the torch high and proud, and all the other activities will carry on under her guidance.

Dakshina Marlier (USFWS), Abram Fleishman (USFWS), and Morgan Gilmour (UCSC and USFWS) will also be sadly returning to Honolulu, but they have great plans after that!  Dakshina will be moving on to a summer biking position in Alaska, and Abram and Morgan have wildlife jobs in California.  Morgan may be entering graduate school, and if she gets the permits, returning to Tern next winter to continue tagging albatross and boobies, and working on her dissertation tagging great frigatebirds!

More good news is that Sarah and Dan will be staying on at Tern to work on Paula's data quality project, funded by the USFWS Inventory and Monitoring Project, so we can get some of the 30 years of bird monitoring data.  They'll also be able to complete their work on acoustics, plastics, burrowing seabird habitat, working alongside Meg, Megan, Catherine and Ryan.  Yeah!!!

Neighbors.  Snorkeling photos by Abram Fleishman.

Ka Hiapo, our eldest mōlī  (Laysan albatross) chick.  Notice his nice new 'wrist-bracelet' -- a flexible poultry band used to identify chicks.  Ka Hiapo, a.k.a. Goliath, is also the heaviest of our chicks, and part of Dan Rapp's study looking at the effects of plastics on chick growth.  Photo by Sarah Youngren.

Dakshina Marlier, enjoying the sunset.  Photo by Abram Fleishman.
Measurements before applying a geolcator tag to a red-footed booby ('a), as part of Scott Shaffer's (UCSC) study.  The tag will provide us with a map of where the booby goes to forage.  From left to right:  Abram Fleishman, Sarah Youngren, Morgan Gilmour.
Manu o Kū (white tern) feeding its chick.  Does anyone know if this is a mahi?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Hawaiʻi Academy of Arts & Science PCS Experiences Tern Island

On Monday, February 27, 2012 Tern Island came to Mrs. Randi Brennon's grade 7 & 8 science classroom...or at least it felt like that.
Students studied maps of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument and learned where Tern Island is located.  They also learned about some of the other NW Hawaiian Islands, and their Hawaiian names.
Students were challenged in an activity with a poster showing the many kinds of plants and animals that live on Tern and in the surrounding ocean.  There was a lively discussion about taking care of this special island, and possible careers students could follow in their future.
Big Island resident, Erin Kawakami, volunteered as a wildlife monitor on Tern Island from June through December 2011; she shared her experiences while living on the small island.
Erin learned to recognize the 4 different stages that Laysan Albatross chicks go through as they grow up: Downy, then Partly, then Mostly and finally Fully Feathered Chick

Erin and Abram are getting ready to walk through the Laysan Albatross colony on Tern Island.  Each chick will have its own number on a yellow band around a leg.  Every week Erin and Abram will find each chick and write down on the data table if each chick is a DFC, PFC, MFC or FFC.  The 2 volunteers will do this job for many weeks, until...the chicks "fledge," or fly away!  
Erin is teaching the HAAS PCS students how to write the chick stages in the data table.
Every student had a photo of a Laysan Albatross chick pinned to his/her back.  Erin is pointing to the yellow tape where the chick's number is written.  Only yellow bands with black numbers are put on albatross that are hatched on Tern Island.

Students moved around the classroom to find every chick, identify its stage, and write the information in their data table.

What stage do you think this Laysan Albatross chick is: DFC, PFC, MFC or FFC?

This student is getting some help from an albatross hoaloha (friend).
Looks like the Hawaiʻi Academy of Arts & Science PCS has a healthy colony of Laysan Albatross!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

#4 - Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program at French Frigate Shoals

Get ready for a sad picture, from the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program's Facebook Page --

The tale of French Frigate Shoals continues. In 1984, in response to decreasing condition of young seals, small numbers of weaned, female pups were captured at FFS and transported to Oʻahu for captive care to increase their size and improve their condition and likelihood of survival. They were then reintroduced into the wild at Kure Atoll (in the NWHI). This photo shows an example of a young seal who is struggling to get enough food.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

#3 - Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program at French Frigate Shoals

photo credit P. Leary

Today's topic from the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program's Facebook Page: The island that disappeared.

One of the factors contributing to the decline of the French Frigate Shoals seal population is the loss of important breeding habitat. Over the course of about 20 years, the low-lying, well-vegetated Whale-Skate Island disappeared. It was an important breeding site for monk seals, turtles, and numerous birds. 

 It isn't certain what caused the disappearance, probably a combination of sea level rise, currents and storms. The loss of Whale-Skate may be a sign of things to come based on climate predictions. This picture shows the submerged sand and reef of what was once an important monk seal pupping site. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

#2 - Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program at French Frigate Shoals

from the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program's Facebook Page
 "The story of the rise and fall of French Frigate ... Since 1989, beach counts at FFS have declined by 75%, and the annual number of births dropped from a high of 127 in 1988, to 37 in 2011."

Friday, March 2, 2012

#1 - Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program at French Frigate Shoals

If you're a Facebook-er, you really should "like" the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program's Facebook Page.  In the last few days they have been posting interesting information about Hawaiian Monk Seals on our atoll.  Here's the most recent post, from today (Fri., March 2, 2012)--
"It's the first Friday of the month and we are going to focus on a scientist that has done a lot of work at French Frigate Shoals, Dr. Frank Parrish. Dr. Parrish's research focus has been on the feeding behavior and habitat use of monk seals, mostly at FFS. 
But he is also interested in the ecological interactions between monk seals and other predators. Here is a link to a presentation that Dr. P gave several years ago, using Crittercam to look at competition between monk seals and other apex predators. It's a little long, but fascinating; presentation starts at about 2 minutes in. 
The gist of it is that in much of the footage Dr. P observed fish and sharks escorting monk seals while they foraged. The predators exploited the seals’ superior ability to flush hidden prey from bottom cover by the probing, digging, and flipping of rocks. In many instances, the seal and predators competed for the same prey item. This was the first record of intense direct competition between monk seals and their competitors and revealed a potential major factor in poor juvenile survival."

Sunday, February 5, 2012

More videos of Tristram's

A couple more videos for those of you who are Tristram's storm petrel fans.
Videos complements of Dan Rapp and our trail cam:

Tristram's storm petrel call to mate

Getting your head into your work: Digging Tristram's

Saturday, February 4, 2012

More photos of the STAL

As a mid-week break, here's some photos by Abram Fleishman, of the short-tailed albatross that visited us for a couple days on Tern:

Look how small the other albatross look around the STAL.

And my favorite....

Here's what Ian Jones tells us about the 2002 sightings of STAL on Tern:

"Congratulations on your January 31 Short-tailed Albatross. In relation to the 2002 bird, I saw a nearly full adult plumaged individual Short-tailed Albatross (STAL) three times on widely scattered days over several weeks in February 2002 (presumed to be the same bird) ...  The bird was only seen flying, making repeated passes over the island near the barracks and warehouse and checking out groups of LAALs and BFALs on the runway verges. To encourage the bird to land, I constructed six STAL decoys (in a variety of poses similar to the decoys on Midway) using paint and materials scavenged at Tern and set these up on rebar supports opposite the barracks."

Thanks, Ian!  I wasn't aware of this history, so we really appreciate the info.  We are considering deploying decoys again here soon -- probably should be sooner than later, since they've been seen here multiple years in February!

Although we haven't seen our friend after the first two days, we're hoping he/she'll come back for a longer stay.  Hopefully we'll have more STAL news soon -- We'll keep you posted.

Be sure to check out the news on the nesting STAL on the Midway blog as well!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Albatross News -- STAL on Tern!!!

We're definitely in albatross season now!  Chicks are everywhere, and growing like mad.  And this morning, while I was writing this blog, Morgan Gilmour found a short-tailed albatross on Tern!!!!  These endangered birds have only been seen in FFS once in February 1994, and Februrary 2002 -- so this is a special sighting!
Short tailed albatross on Tern today!!  Photo by Dakshina Marlier (above), and Sarah Youngren (below). 
(We'll have better pictures later, but we dont want to disturb him/her.)

Along with our previous O'ahu moli visitor, and a current nesting moli on Tern, banded on Kaua’i in 2008 -- French Frigate Shoals is turning into quite the metropolitan place to nest!

Morgan Gilmour is working on a project tagging albatrosses at Tern Island, for the Tagging of Pacific Pelagics program (University of California, Santa Cruz).  She is using both satellite and GPS tracking to monitor where the adults find food during incubation and chick-rearing.  This will tell us something both interesting, and useful if we need to protect an area or resource, or if we are impacting these resources.
Below is a GPS track of a female ka’upu (black-footed albatross) that was originally banded as a nesting adult in 1998.  During her month-long foraging trip, she traveled very near to Vancouver Island and then Haida Gwaii (formerly Queen Charlotte Island) in British Columbia.  Unlike the mōlī (Laysan albatross), that tend to forage more in the central Northern Pacific, ke ka’upu seem to prefer foraging up the West Coast of North America.  The amount of plastic floating around in these areas also shows up in their chicks – a lot more in the mōlī, who forage closer to the “garbage dump.”
Satellite track of a ka'upu (photo below) heading up the West Coast, looking for food before returning to its nest. 
It seems that this bird encountered stormy weather near Alaska, because when she arrived back on Tern, the GPS tag was water-logged.  Only the first half of the trip data was recorded, as you can see on the map.  What a long way to go just for dinner!!!   After she returns to the nest, her mate will take off on a similar foraging trip.  This long trip appears to have been successful because the egg hatched two weeks after the bird returned to Tern Island, and the chick is doing well.
This is the very bird who was tracked heading up the West Coast (above), with its chick.  Photo by Morgan Gilmour.
In addition to the satellite and GPS tracking, Scott Shaffer (UCSC) and David Hyrenbach (HPU) have agreed to let us combine part of our monitoring program efforts with part of theirs – so we can study where not only where the parent’s go, but how that affects chick growth.  We may also be able to match up the plastic ingested by chicks with where their parents’ foraged.   This kind of partner cooperation makes the whole much larger than the sum of its parts.  Thanks to David and Scott for agreeing to be so cooperative, and thanks to Morgan and Abram for getting the work done!  (It takes a team to do great science!)

Above:  Measuring the tarsus.  Below:  Drawing blood samples.  Abram Fleishman is holding the ka’upu.  Morgan Gilmour is taking measurements and samples.  This information will tell us a lot about the health of the bird.

And some other assorted news and photos:
Dan and Sarah saw a ka'upu with a 'streamer', and tracked it down.  The bird had a hand-braided nylon line wrapped twice around its uper leg, knotted twice, and with a bolen-loop on the other end.  It looked awfully like someone had tied this bird up, and it escaped.  Luckily the crew removed it before much damage was done -- the bird is scarred, but won't lose its leg.  Nice job, crew!

Female turtle on South Beach.  We see mostly males and juveniles in the winter, but there's always exceptions.

Tern Island 'new' runway from the East end.  We're glad to see birds nesting in this area.

Paula Hartzell and Dan Rapp releasing a small honu out of the double seawall.  Turtles get stuck behind the seawall after they washed over by high waves, then can't get back out.  This one was particularly tricky because it was swimming around in hip-deep water.  We waited for low tide so the waves wouldn't bash us, and so the turtle had time to calm down and go to sleep, then Sarah herded it to us.  We had to hand-pass the turtle to a wide enough opening, because the bottom of the wall is lined with broken rusty barrels facing up -- like tires on a football field, only rusty and jagged.  :-)  Everyone was careful, and the turtle was released healthy and unharmed.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Holy Mōlī -- First Laysan albatross chick of the year!

First mōlī chick of the year!!!!  We'll call him/her Ka Hiapo, First Born.  Ka Hiapo is in Nest #48 of our chick growth study looking at the effects of plastic marine debris ingestion on chick growth, so we'll be able to follow this chick through the season with you.
Ka Hiapo:  The first Laysan albatross chick of the year!  (Photos by Sarah Youngren, 21Jan2012)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

First ka'upu (black-footed albatross) chick of the year!

Yeah!  We've received our first ka'upu (black-footed albatross) chick of the year, as of yesterday!!!
Pictures to come -- don't want to shove the chick out for pictures so soon.

("Happy Hatchday" music is courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corps Band.)

Monday, January 16, 2012

New Bird Videos and Sound Clips

Short but sweet this week:  Dan Rapp, who is practicing recording at burrow entrances and artificial nest boxes with a night-vision trail cam, has shared some videos of nocturnal seabirds in front of artificial nest boxes on Tern Island.  Nocturnal burrowing seabirds can be very difficult to monitor, so it is difficult to track if their populations are increasing, decreasing, stable, or gone.  Night vision is one way we may be able to 'see' these animals without accidentally crushing burrows, sticking our arms or equipment into their burrows, or otherwise disturbing them.  Few people will ever get to see these birds -- so this is pretty cool to see!

Tristram's storm petrels live only in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands and the Bonin Islands of Japan. These giggly little seabirds flutter and patter over the ocean when they feed. (If you watch the video, keep watching to the end -- the sound actually comes after the bird moves out of sight.) 

Dan Rapp checking on trail camera at Tern Island. 

Tristram's are actually quite large for storm petrels, which are usually the smallest of all the seabirds.  Birdlife International lists Tristram's as 'near threatened'; because we really don't have a reliable population estimate by any stretch of the imagination, their conservation status is really unknown, but they certainly are not widespread nor numerous.  They're active at night, and nest in burrows or artificial nest boxes.  Over this last year, Sarah Youngren and Dan Rapp found that Tristram's chicks are among the hardest hit by plastic ingestion (along with the more well known Laysan albatross).  Tern Island is the only place in the United States, and perhaps the world (we're not sure what's going on in the Bonin Islands right now), where Tristram's are actively monitored -- so its important that we do a good job with this species.
Bonin petrels also live only on only a few islands in the Pacific, with a largest portion in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands.  They feed both when sitting on the water and by dipping for prey. Bonin petrels used to breed in the main Hawaiian Islands, but rats killed them off there. They were almost eradicated from both Midway and the Bonin Islands, but since rats have been elimiated there, the Bonins are coming back.

Like many of these seabirds, Bonin petrels can live to be pretty old: Last year, Dan Rapp and Sarah Youngren found the oldest recorded Bonin Petrel in the world living right here on Tern Island! That bird was banded 30 years ago on Whale-Skate Island -- an island about 3 miles southeast of Tern that no longer exists. Imagine a bird that is older than most of the people reading this blog..... Over 50% of the world's Bonin population still live in the U.S. Pacific islands, so knowing about this bird's status is very important to us.
Sarah Youngren setting up acoustics array.  There's a microphone, cell phone (for relaying the signal to the computer & satellite dish), and other innards attached to the solar array, which powers the equipment.  After calibrating this equipment, we may be able to use it in remote locations and sensitive locations such as Nihoa or Gardner Pinnacles, where people can't stick around to monitor seabirds.  The acoustics allows us to obtain a relative number of seabirds active in an area -- and hence to follow trends in breeding populations.

Sarah Youngren has recorded the night sounds on tern Island, with support and equipment from Matthew McKown (UCSC) and Martin Lukac (Nexleaf Analystics).  Like the night-vision camera, the acoustics recorders can share some sounds that very few people will ever hear -- like this Tristram's storm petrel and albatross from Tern.

(I have to say, I can't stop laughing when I hear the Tristram's!)
Finally, some photos from this week...

Manu o Ku (white tern, love tern) on egg.  How do they DO that?!
Noio (black noddy) on egg. 

Ka'upu (black footed albatross) sky moo as part of their dance.  Tern Island.  Photo by Sarah Youngren.
Northern sky on Tern Island.  The land and birds were lit by moonlight.

Tern Island Gothic.

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