The Mother of All Sectors, #4

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Nesting under verbesina.

It was a beautiful morning and it actually got hot and muggy before lunch. We took the “B” part of sector 4. All 3 teams went in and attacked this sector today. In the past a single team has said they would take it on but it is such a moral killer when you have been in there for 3 days and you still aren’t done. The area is full of verbesina (dead and woody), a tree bush I know of as Autograph tree (big round firm leaves), Naupaka, and wedge tailed shearwater burrow. This is not a fun combination. You end up crawling under and over and out of all this stuff. I pretend to be a linebacker and just push my way through the verbesina when I can and pray I don’t go into a burrow in the process. I went into one burrow half way up my thigh today. For a moment I was unsure I would be able to get out. It’s quite an odd feeling.

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More verbesina and naupaka to the right.

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Sector 4 is the biggest sector. Sector 50 is all airstrip and it doesn’t have any of the pitfalls of sector 4. Birds do nest along some of the edges.

We have Bingo for money tonight and a toast at midnight. We will be the last to say goodbye to 2013 and hello 2014. So Happy New Year to you all.

 

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Midway’s Green Mother

Our sector today is known as Avionyx. It is surrounded by airstrip on two sides and roads on the other 2 sides. In the middle at the runway side is the new fire house with all the modern gizmos along with air traffic control. After finishing the sector, we visited the firemen, Dave and Keith, and the air controller, Tim. A real nice bunch of guys and they seemed happy to show off the workstations. Tim showed us all his computers that tell him about weather and his touch screen light controls. They work on Zulu time or GMT which is actually 11 hours ahead of Midway time.             

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Green Mother

Fireman Dave very proudly showed us their fire engine, Green Mother. She has 500 horse power and 800 pounds of torque. She carries 1500 gallons of water and 200 gallons of foam. They have every piece of equipment a fireman could want on board and there are even extra oxygen tanks in the dead spaces. No area goes to waste. One of the coolest parts of the truck is how well it has been designed for ease of care. All of the filters are in one place so you don’t have to crawl around up under her to do the work. Both Dave and Keith have 15 years of experience in fire fighting and have been here on Midway for nearly 4 years. 

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Dave with airplane axe.

Firefighters helped to design the axe that is now used to cut open planes. A regular axe would just go all the way through and get stuck. This axe works like a can opener and had stops on its sides to keep the blade from going all the way through the skin of the plane. 

These firefighters have to be ready to handle any kind of fire from a structure fire to an airplane fire or fuel spill. Every bit of water, foam, or dry material used must be cleaned up completely. All debris from an airplane accident must also be left in place until the scene have been fully investigated. These 2 guys have quite a job on their hands.

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Airplane axe

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Water or foam can be sprayed from these nozzles and completely controlled from a joystick inside the cab.

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Eastern is Done :(

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Eastern Island with service roads.

 It was a beautiful sunny day today. We had the morning off and some people went swimming, others walked  the beach, and others wandered the island just enjoying being here. After lunch some went to Eastern and mainly new people went to Spit. We had intentionally left some of Eastern uncounted the other day so we could go back. It is bird heaven on Eastern. There are only a couple of tiny buildings and mother nature is quickly covering the old airstrips. 

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Breck up on the highest point on Eastern.

The remainder of sector 10 on Eastern was fun and pretty easy to do. Probably didn’t take more than an hour to actually count. Afterwards we had time to wander and take photos. There is a mound of who knows what in the middle of Eastern and I climbed up there to get these vast area shots. Breck Tyler had the idea first so I joined him.

So today we finished Eastern and Spit. Out of 61 total sectors we have finish 35 in 9 days with 2 of them being half days. The first half day was orientation and training day the second was today. Half days in the middle of the count are a great blessing for 2 reasons. The first reason is that you get some extra rest and a mental break. The second reason is that you know that you are doing well in the progress of the count. To finish off my day, I went bowling with 4 other counters. The lanes a warped and the pins are dead but we still had lots of fun. We’ll probably go again next Sunday.

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Eastern Sky Moo, one of the many dance moves an albatross must learn.

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Yellow means it is DONE.

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Female sea turtle basking on the beach right by Eastern’s pier.

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Waiting for our ride home to Sand Island.

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Goodbye Eastern. Hope we meet again.

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Where is Midway Any Way?

Midway is at the western end of the Hawaiian archipelago with Kure Atoll being the last in the chain and almost touching the international date line. We will be among the last people to ring in the new year.

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Map of Hawaiian Archipelago

The Polynesians were the first to occupy these islands and lived off of the land and sea for thousands of years before others discovered  the islands. On July 5, 1859, Captain N.C. Brooks made the first recorded landing on Midway. In 1903 President Theodore Roosevelt charged the Navy with safeguarding native birds from Japanese feather poachers. Midway became an “unorganized, unincorporated insular area” of the United States. To this day, you must have a valid passport to reenter Hawaii. Midway is not considered part of the state of Hawaii.

In 1902 the Commercial Pacific Cable Company began installing telegraph cables to connect San Francisco, Midway, Honolulu, Guam, Manila, China and Japan. There is only one of the 4 original cable houses still in existence. The other 3 were torn down this past year. The remaining Cable house has been re-roofed and the exterior repainted.

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Last Cable House on Midway with new roof and paint.

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Midway Atoll with its reef barrier.

The larger of the 2 islands is Sand. It has the airstrip that is used for all arrivals and the occasional emergency landing. A Delta 747 landed here in 2011 because of a cracked windshield. Two planes had to come out, one to pick up the passengers and the other with a new windshield and a repair crew. Midway is a crucial point for such emergencies. It is also used to MedEvac people who get injured or gravely ill on ships. All the runways you see on the island to the right were the runways used during WWII.

 

 

 

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Midway 1941

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Present day Midway

At the time that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Sand Island was much smaller and without a protected harbor. After WWII was over, Sand Island was enlarged so that a new airstrip could be built and a protected harbor was created. All of the added land was created by dreading the harbor and ship channels. You can see the extra depth indicated by the darker blue water. In the 1941 photo above, the red lines indicate the added land mass and the green lines show where the current airstrip is.

 

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Eastern Birds

Another beautiful day at Eastern Island today. My team went in and knocked out sector 4 in half a day even while we were running out of paint. No paint is a very bad thing. Without paint, you have no idea where you have been and what you have counted. We scrounged up enough to get our job done. It was a good counting day. 

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Real Short Tailed Albatross center right of the decoys.

After lunch at the beach, we went down to sector 6 to sneak a peek at the nesting Short Tailed Albatross. Another team had counted around her earlier in the morning and she was a little stressed. When we got down there, she had her head up just long enough for us to find her and then she tucked her bill back into her wing and disappeared into a sea of albatrosses. At least she was a little more relaxed while we were there.

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Juvenile Frigatebird

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Female Frigatebird in snag.

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Laysan Ducks

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Mystery duck. Looks like a mallard, but not quite. Might be a hybrid. I’ll let you know if the mystery gets solved.

 

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Moving Right Along

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Verbesina on Midway in the past. Photo taken by Forest and Kim Starr

After 4.5 days of counting, we have completed 19 of 50 sectors on Sand Island and the largest 6 of 10 sectors on Eastern. We are doing super well and a big part of that is the removal of the invasive plant verbesina. Verbesina is in the daisy family. On Midway, it grew to 4+ feet tall. When it dies back, it becomes woody and is very hard for counters to get through and can be a death trap to the birds. We counted sectors today that in the past might have taken 2 teams to count in one day. It only took us hours today. Our team counted 3 different sectors today. We counted the sectors know as Where’s Waldo and the Parade Field.

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Bonin petrel

Many years ago the rats were eradicated from Midway. As a result, the Bonin petrel population has exploded. They are really cool little birds that come in from sea at dusk and tend to fly into your head lamps because they are attracted to the light. It’s always a wonderful sight to see them coming in because they fill the sky. With the explosion of the population comes the increased number of burrows. They make the nest under ground. When we step into a burrow, we have to repair it. We clean the sand out and make sure that there are no birds buried in the sand. Some times we have to build a ramp so a bird can climb out. In any case, it mean getting down on your hands and knees and digging with your hand. This does not make counting easier. We now employ a method of counting called “air counting.” We do not mark each nest. Instead, the people on the end of the lines paint lines along the edge of where they are counting and look towards the next team member and count the nest between each other. It’s a good method for avoiding burrows.

 

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My Christmas Day Birding

After the great party last night, I thought I would sleep in. And I did until 6:30. Woke up and it was breakfast time so I decided to go eat. We do a lot of that around here. The grand Christmas feast started at 11:30 and we all eat until we are stuffed and then make plates for dinner. I haven’t eaten this much in months. Thank goodness we go back to a little bit more normal eating schedule tomorrow. The Clipper House starts to have this Pavlovian effect on you. I started walking over for Christmas dinner thinking I wasn’t hungry and then as I started to step up to the porch, I’m suddenly starved.

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Short Tailed Albatross 12/25/2013

After breakfast, I went to Rusty Bucket. It’s the western end of North Beach. It’s one of the prettiest places on the island to me. Of course I saw lots of albatross and I saw Midway Canaries, Bristle Thighed Curlew, and Black Noddies. After the feast, I rode down to the airstrip and saw the young Short Tailed Albatross. He’s probably around 20 years old now. Almost all of his dark neck juvenal plumage is gone. In the photo to the right, the black footed albie and the Laysan albie in the fore ground are in the same plane. The black foot by the short tailed gives you and idea of how much bigger the short tails are. You can see just a touch of darkness still at the base of his neck. That will probably be gone next year. And yes that is a pink bill with a blue tip.

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Short Tailed Albatross 12/25/2010

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Location, location, location

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Incubation exchange. It can take a while for the incoming bird to convince the incubating bird that it is time to switch. There always seems to be a bit of a conversation over the job.

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This little canary may soon be considered a subspecies of the canary family. They were released on the island by someone who was here during the Navy era.

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Bristled Thighed Curlew

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Laysan Albatross at Rusty Bucket

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Take off

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2013 Christmas Stocking

It has become a tradition to decorate our doors for Christmas. This year, we got here so late that I didn’t have time to go beach combing for marine debris until today. And look what I found, a Christmas stocking. It’s always fun to do these kinds of things.

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