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.
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.
Last Cable House on Midway with new roof and paint.
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.
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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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.
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.
Female Frigatebird in snag.
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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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.
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.
Short Tailed Albatross 12/25/2010
Location, location, location
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.
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.
Bristled Thighed Curlew
Laysan Albatross at Rusty Bucket
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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I made it. I’m here. Someone pinch me. I’ve got a nice room with a fridge and a TV. Doubt I’ll use either one much. As I sit here typing I can hear Laysan squealing and clacking. I took a cruise around the block with Maura Naughton, a wildlife biologist with Fish and Wildlife Service. We know each other from seabird conferences. We petted albies and I held a Bonin petrel. There are bird everywhere. It’s just unbelievable. And I haven’t even seen the place in day light.
Goodnight from Midway.
What a wonderful day. We had our coffee on the lanai (yes, we do this every day we can) and then we had Christmas. Oh what fun it was. We got some great gifts and really enjoyed watching each other opening presents. I couldn’t have asked for a nicer Christmas day and I get to do it all over again in 10 days.
OK folks. Here’s some photos of where I am heading for the next 24 days. This first shot is of the whole atoll. All of these island used to be as big as the rest of the Hawaiian islands. Over time they have eroded away and all that is left are a few islets. Midway atoll is made up of 3 islands that total 1540 acres and are surrounded by a reef that creates a 14800 acre lagoon.
As you can see from the photo, the landing strip is on Sand Island. This is where I’ll be most of the time. Sand Island has a port and the airstrip is about 8000 feet long. Midway is use in times of emergency by planes flying under ETOPS (Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards) rules.
We leave from Honolulu at 4 PM and will arrive in the dark on Midway. Planes always arrive and depart in the dark because the birds aren’t flying much at night. I hear that they still have to run some birds off the runway.
Well I’m going to try to sleep tonight. I’m packed and have my boarding pass already. Clothes are out and waiting for me to jump into them. So the next time I write I will be on Midway and trying to sleep again.
Spoke with my friend Brenda the biologist today. She went on this journey to Midway 2 years ago and has been prepping me for months via the phone. We had planned to go together, but her life took a big turn for the better for her and she hasn’t been able to get the time off from work. Maybe next year. Anyway, I think Brenda is almost as excited as I am. She told me about how nice her room was in 2007 and we are guessing that things maybe even nicer now that ecotourism has started up at the atoll again. I’m to make sure to get a bike with a front basket on it. “You won’t want to be riding around with your backpack on. You’ll be looking for every opportunity to get that pack off your back.” Practical Brenda, always thinking about how things should be done.
After talking to Brenda, I went into the gym and got one more good workout in before I leave. There is a weight room on the island and I don’t know how much time I’ll have to use it. I’m thinking that on my 2 days off I’ll be able to get a workout in. Of course, it’s not like I’m going to be lying around for 24 days.
Tonight we went to a big Christmas party at Neide’s (one of our favorite restaurants). Only in Hawaii will you find banana leaves for Christmas table decor. Actually works well. There was lots of great food and drink. Neide loves a party. She had the food catered. Music was spun by a DJ. We sat and ate with Neide’s chef, Adam, his girlfriend and their roommate. Adam kept saying, “I don’t know any of these people.” We left early. First to the party, first to leave is our motto.
Tonight is Christmas eve for us. Tomorrow we’ll open our presents and watch our traditional movie, “Scrooge.” It doesn’t seem like it’s Christmas until I’ve seen “Scrooge.”
The cats let us sleep in today. That was nice. We did our usual rituals and I remembered to go check the SOS aid stations. I’m so ready to go that there are few things that I need to do. I did do some laundry and got in some cardio work.
About 2:30 this afternoon, I called my mother. We had a great conversation. She asked me what ALL I was going to be doing at Midway. I told her I would be counting albatross nest. And then I would count albatross nest and then I would count some more albatross nest. There probably will be close to half a million nest to count. The nest count is up in Princeville, so it is likely that the Midway count will be higher this year.
Mom asked some good questions that let me know she’s been reading my blog. That’s the wonderful thing about sharing your blog with your mother. If no one else reads the blog, you know your momma will. Thanks, Mumb.
I say there are 3 more sleeps to go, that is if I can sleep. I’m feeling great and the excitement is really building. The guarantee is that I will be able to sleep after a day’s work at Midway.