satellite view from PMNM
E komo mai; welcome! Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge is surrounded by a lei of foam in the middle of the North Pacific; it's a beautiful, special place.

Not only are there albatross on Midway, but many other interesting kinds of wildlife, both on the land and in the sea. Please enjoy exploring FOAM, an educational blog actively done while on Midway from May through August 2010. Posts are added from off-Midway, as information becomes available. If you're interested in a particular topic, please use the search box or the alphabetical list of "labels" along the left side of the blog page.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Short-tailed Albatross Nest on Midway for the First Time!

 photo of female STAL on nest by USFWS volunteer Sarah Gutowsky, Midway, 12/1/10
That's right!  This is the very first time a pair of this endangered albatross has made a nest on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge!  To see volunteer Joanna's video of what a Short-tailed Albatross looks like, visit FOAM's Nov. 14 post, "Golden Gooney seen on Midway Atoll!"

As acting Refuge Manager John Klavitter writes, "On Nov. 16, refuge staff observed an adult short-tailed albatross incubating a freshly laid egg on Eastern Island...."  [Look at the aerial view of Midway Atoll at the top of this page; Eastern is the triangle-shaped island on the southeast side of the Atoll.]  "Since then, the refuge staff members have observed the male and female trading off incubation duties."

During modern history, Short-tailed Albatross (STAL) have been found only in territory belonging to Japan; their main nesting grounds are on Torishima Island.  In fact, Midway's "Mr. and Mrs. STAL,"(if we can call them that!) were hatched on the Japanese island; Mr. in 1987, and the younger Mrs. just seven years ago in 2003.   But it's a good thing these adult birds have come to nest on Midway.  As the picture below shows, their home island is an active volcano!  (On the map, Midway Atoll is one of the small dots in the Hawaiian Island chain; it's probably a dot near the right-hand edge of the photo.)

map, by Hiroshi Hasegawa, located on the Wake Forest University Albatross Project website

Isn't it wonderful that this pair of Short-tailed Albatross has chosen to nest on Midway, where there's no volcano?  Wouldn't it be terrific if their egg hatches, and they return in the future to lay more eggs?  And wouldn't it be REALLY GREAT if this pair were joined by more STAL and they establish a colony in the Refuge?!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Laysan Albatross Return to Midway Atoll: You Are There

Laysan Albatross Photo Gallery; James Lloyd, 2007
What a difference a month makes!  Have a look at this ~30-second video that Joanna recorded on October 17.  See any albatross?  Nope, because there aren't any on the entire Atoll.  There's no audio to this video, but if there were, you probably would hear only the breeze and maybe some White Tern "rubber-band" calls, since these birds live on the Atoll year around.
Midway Atoll, October 17, 2010 from Barb Mayer on Vimeo.

Now watch Joanna's video from a windy day on Sunday, November 14.  Can you see that there are now albatross present?  And she says only a little more than half of them are back; more are arriving every day!  In the video, you can hear the wind...and albatross whistles.
Midway Atoll, November 14, 2010 from Barb Mayer on Vimeo.
December 2010 update:
Here's the newest video by Joanna; LOOK AT ALL THE LAYSAN ALBATROSS!!!  Pretty amazing, huh?!  And do you hear them?!  Albies: welcome back to Midway, your largest nesting colony in the world!

Midway Atoll, December 14, 2010, from Barb Mayer on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Golden Gooney seen on Midway Atoll!

Short-tailed Albatross Gallery; James Lloyd, 2007
I'm no longer on Midway, but my friend Joanna is.  She's one of two volunteers now on the Atoll, and she's experiencing the return of thousands of albatross.  It's getting quite noisy!

Wow; she spotted the very rare Short-tailed Albatross (STAL) on Sand Island!!  The photo to the left shows an adult bird.  With that golden head, you can certainly understand why it's also called the Golden Gooney.

Below is a video of the STAL taken by Joanna.  The caption says the video is mine, but she's the videographer, not me. We're just storing the video on my Vimeo account.

Enjoy Joanna's video!  You'll notice the bird doesn't have the same golden head and neck as shown in the photograph to the left.  That's because the bird that James photographed back in 2007 is an adult, and Joanna's bird is younger, not fully adult yet.  However, it's still a big bird; notice how much bigger it is than the Black-footed Albatross, with which it doesn't seem to get along--

Short-tailed Albatross from Barb Mayer on Vimeo.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Final Post -- Aloha, Midway Atoll!

Midway Atoll's Eastern Is. and the emergent reef "lei"
It's the end of August, and my time on Midway has come to an end.  I'm now back home in Waimānalo on the island of O`ahu.  I had a WONDERFUL three months on the Atoll, and my sincere thanks go to the US Fish and Wildlife Service for allowing me to serve as a volunteer.  I had an opportunity to help with many different kinds of wildlife management projects, and I learned a lot.

So, this is my last post, at least for the foreseeable future.  I'd love to volunteer again, especially at a different time of year, to be able to see the albatross, Laysan Ducks, and other wildlife at a different season in their life cycles.  If I do get another volunteer opportunity, I'll certainly re-open FOAM; I've enjoyed creating it very much!

Aloha nui loa, Midway...a hui hou?!
a few pictures taken from the plane as we flew back to Honolulu--

Pearl and Hermes Atoll

Laysan Atoll
Maro Reef

Goooooooo! Laysan Albatross Takeoff!

Imagine you're a Laysan Albatross chick. 

I know it's hard, but try.  You started life inside an egg.  Sure, a Laysan Albatross egg is bigger than the egg in your refrigerator.  But it's still an egg, and you're crammed in there for 2 months.

Then you hatch out of the egg; whew!  But the view doesn't get much better because you're so close to the ground, you can see the sky only when you look straight up.  And that's only when a parent isn't sitting over you.

About 5 months after hatching, you "fledge," meaning you lose the last of your downy feathers and you grow flight feathers.  Now you're ready for a long life spent mostly flying over the ocean!

But right now you're on the ground.  You've never, ever flown before.  How do you do it?  Well, first of all, you practice, like the albatross in the picture above.  Stretch out your wings, and get the hang of it, as shown in this practice video--

Laysan Albatross PREPARE to Fly from Barb Mayer on Vimeo.
Once you get the hang of it, you'll take off on this "albatross runway," like these adult birds.  Off you goooooooooo!

Albatross Runway, Midway from Robert OToole on Vimeo.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Quack Patrol

photo by Cari
Come along with the Quack Patrol!

In the hot summer months the Quack Patrol conducts almost daily checks of every wetland on Sand Island for deadly bird botulism.  If we find a dead duck, we'll collect it carefully and put it in a ziploc bag with information about where and when we found it.  Then we put the bag in a freezer until a veterinarian can examine it to find out if botulism poison really did kill the duck. 

If we find a sick bird -- good news! -- we wrap it in clean towels and take it into the US Fish and Wildlife Service lab, where the duck is cared for.  You can read more about the care of botulism-sick ducks in the July 3 post "Laysan Ducks: Battling Botulism."

As you can see in the picture, I and my bicycle are loaded down with equipment.  My binoculars, with sunglasses hooked on, are strapped across me.  In my pocket is a pencil...and even a second one, in case I lose the first one.  I'll stuff the clipboard with its data table into the bike basket. The net (for scooping dead ducks out of the water) will be stuck through the basket's handle.  My metal water bottle is already in the bike basket, along with my backpack.  The pack contains clean towels for sick birds...and ziploc bags for dead birds, which I hope we don't find!  

We're ready to ride to the first wetland, called Ball Field Big; let's go!  After seeing the 5-minute video, perhaps you'd like to check out any of these 3 FOAM Activity Pages:  

Bike Ride to Laysan Ducks from Barb Mayer on Vimeo.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Marine Debris INSIDE Albatross

Here's a post by me: Auntie Moana Laal--

Adult albatross ready to feed its chick
Have you ever had a really bad stomach ache?

Have you ever had something stuck in your throat?

Imagine having both at once, and maybe you'll have an idea of what it's like for our albatross chicks to get too much marine debris in their stomachs!

It's pretty awful!  You can read about it in a reader's theater script about me "saving the day."  I won't spoil the ending by telling you how I saved the day, but I'm sure glad I did.  My nephew Kawika, Jr. almost died from too much plastic in his stomach!

Laysan Albatross carcass filled with plastic marine debris.
You see, albatross chicks are accidentally fed plastic by their parents, who have accidentally picked up plastic marine debris that's floating on the ocean.  I've made the mistake myself.  Sometimes a floating cigarette lighter looks like squid, and I eat the lighter.  Another time maybe one of my favorite foods, flying fish eggs, are stuck to a floating plastic bottle cap, and I swallow both.  Then, if I don't know I've made a mistake, I accidentally pass the plastic to my chick during feeding.  Auwe!

Let me tell you about a sad but important video made by my friend Paulo Maurin.   His 5-minute video "306 Punches" is about a Laysan Albatross chick on Kure Atoll that probably did die from swallowing too much plastic.  As you watch the video you see Cynthia Vanderlip, the Field Station Manager of Kure, performing an autopsy on the chick...and then you see how much plastic was inside that albatross!

Like I said, we saved my nephew Kawika.  The good news is that most albatross chicks don't die; they grow up to become adults, like me.  We can live for more than half a century, flying for hours over the beautiful ocean...but we need help.  Learn how you can help by visiting my cousin Makana, at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Aloha; mahalo for your concern!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Rubber Band Birds

When they are on Midway, the peculiar whistling and clacking albatross calls are the loudest bird sounds of anybody.  Sounds from the Red-tailed Tropicbirds are also loud and squawk-y.  But what does Midway sound like when the albatross and Tropicbirds have flown away?

White Terns are year-around Atoll residents.  Don't you think they make a sound like the twanging of a rubber band?!

Rubber Band Birds from Barb Mayer on Vimeo.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Curious Way of Walking

Here's a post by me, Edward Bfal.--

I know that Barb had quite a few FOAM posts about our cousins, the Laysan Albatross (LAAL)...but not quite as many about us, the Black-footed Albatross (BFAL.)  At the moment I'm not on Midway; I'm enjoying the open-ocean life in the North Pacific.  BBC Arkive's short video showing BFAL flight will give you an idea of what I think it feels like to soar over the sea: wonderful!

We BFALs return to Midway earlier than the LAAL, but that won't be until sometime in November.  Then I'll find Clarissa, we'll mate, and she'll lay our 2011 egg!

But I do have some photos from this summer at our Sand Island B8 neighborhood to share with you FOAM folks.  Above is a rather nice picture of me sitting in the native plant pōhuehue (beach morning glory, Ipomoea pes-caprae.)  Here's a larger picture of one of my nephews that makes me laugh, with his wild "haircut."  And I think you might enjoy this short video showing the rather curious way we BFALs walk.

Black-footed Albatross from Barb Mayer on Vimeo.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Big, Green Machine: Midway Atoll's Fire Truck

from left to right: firefighters Keith, Dave B. and Dave G.
It takes a lot of people with different skills to support Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.  The Refuge is about 1200 miles northwest of Honolulu.  Some visitors and scientists arrive by ship, but most arrive by plane.  Which means the Atoll has an airport.  Which means it has an airport fire department.  Which means firemen Keith Castellano, Dave Buczek and Dave Gellert, Jr. are here.

Dave B. and Keith are recent arrivals on Midway, and they are proud and happy to be helping the Refuge.  Dave B. started work at his hometown Bullhead City, Arizona airport as an aircraft fueler.  He was selected for more training and became an airport fireman.   

When Keith was 8 years old growing up in Albuquerque, New Mexico he loved tires; the bigger, the better.  He wanted to have a job with tires, but one day something happened that changed his mind.  Keith had an uncle whose house caught fire.  How wonderful that another uncle was a firefighter and came with the town’s fire crew to put out the first uncle’s fire.  No wonder Keith grew up to become a fireman! 

Dave G., Keith and Dave B.
Now the 2 Daves and Keith work in Midway airport’s fire department.  Look at their huge airport fire engine.  The guys look short, standing next to the 12-foot tall Oshkosh Striker fire truck!  Their tools have been made especially for airplane fire rescue.  Remember: Midway Atoll is in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean, far away from anybody else.  These men have the best truck and equipment to be able to handle airport emergencies all by themselves.

Come with Dave B., Keith and me as we perform a daily check with the Striker.  Dave will sit in the driver's seat, while Keith is outside to take some pictures.  Dave and I test the heat-detecting camera, and there’s Keith on the monitor.

This photo, the one on the left, and the one below are by Keith.
In the left-hand picture you can see the Striker's two turrets, or high-powered water hoses.  One is on top of the truck, and the other is at the center of the truck's front.  These turrets can really shoot out water; great fire-fighting!

photo by Keith

The Striker accompanies planes as they taxi down the runway.  If there's an emergency the fire truck is right there.

Say, look how big those truck tires are.  For scale, we put a can of soda on top of one tire.  Keith is lucky: he's a fire fighter and he gets to work with one of his favorite things: tires!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

"Bracelets" for Red-tailed Tropicbirds

adult Red-tailed Tropicbird
The left-hand picture shows a Red-tailed Tropicbird chick that's grown up and ready to fly away from Midway Atoll to start its own life.  It's at what we call the "fully feathered chick, or FFC" stage.  But before it flies away, the US Fish and Wildlife Service would like to put a "bracelet" on it.

RTTR bands, ready for use
The bracelet is a small metal ring called a "band" with a number.  Each band has a different number; so each bird that gets a band has its own number.  This identifies the bird.  When the FFC grows up, and returns to Midway, we'll know who it is.  If it mates, lays an egg, and raises its own chick, we'll have a record of the family...sort of a "family tree."

Do you see what looks like a large safety pin in the picture, to the right of the metal bands?  That's actually a clip that came off a fishing float, which was found as marine debris on one of Midway's beaches.  We pretended the clip was an RTTR's leg, and learned how to band Tropicbirds.  In this series of pictures, you can see how it's done:

1) A bird band is in the front position in the special, banding pliers.
2) The pliers are squeezed to close the band around the "bird leg."
3) The bird band is rotated.
4) The band is moved to the pliers' back position; the pliers are squeezed...
5) ... closing the band and making it round.
6) The band is on the "bird leg!"

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

"Banyan Chick" -- a Fairy Tern

I haven't yet done a FOAM post about one of the prettiest birds here on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.  Its official name is White Tern (Gygis alba rothschildi.)  Many people call it Fairy Tern, which I like better because I think it gives you an idea of how pretty it is.

The bird is also known as Manu o Ku, and is an important bird in Polynesian navigation.  In the morning, Manu o Ku is generally flying away from land for a day of fishing.  Toward the end of the day the bird is returning to land.  This information helps a navigator know which way land is.

When I first arrived on Midway the White Terns were pairing up, and some still are.  A male and female Tern, who are thinking about choosing each other as mates, fly together in the blue sky, sometimes really high.  It's amazing to see them!  They are flying very close together, almost wing tip to wing tip, and are making dips and circles, never crashing into each other.  I don't know how they do it!

White Terns mating in an ironwood tree.
banyan tree, with my bicycle for scale

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Red-tailed Tropicbirds Grow Up

adult RTTR
Red-tailed Tropicbirds (RTTR) look very angry, with the black feathers around their eyes, and they make terrible squawking sounds.  But they are really beautiful birds.
  • Look at that red bill!
  • Look at that long, thin, reddish tail feather!  
  • Look at those glossy, white feathers!
These magnificent ocean birds mate, nest and raise their chicks during the summer on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.  Here are some "kid pictures" of RTTR--

(2) probably still in the DFC stage
(1) adult with DFC (downy feathered chick)

(4) made it to the FFC stage!
(3) maybe getting to the PFC (partially feathered chick) stage

The chick on the right is called a fully feathered chick, an FFC.  It's not an adult yet, since it doesn't have a red bill,  but it is ready to be banded!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Albatross Have Big Feet

Barb's foot alongside bones from an albatross foot
Yes, albatross do have big feet.  For comparison, my foot is a size 8.  What size shoe do you think a Laysan Albatross would wear?

albatross footprints
live albatross feet
See what albatross feet can do in this half-minute movie--

Albatross Feet Underwater from Barb Mayer on Vimeo.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Kure Atoll: Part of the `Ohana

Hawaiian Islands
Midway Atoll isn't the only island northwest of the populated Hawaiian Islands.  There's a whole chain of islands.  A few are rocky, but most are sandy atolls stretching for more than 1200 miles away from Honolulu.

About 30 million years ago a volcano was built over Hawai`i's hot spot.  No one was here to see it, but there must have been quite a show when the volcano finally erupted above the ocean's surface.  There would have been huge explosions of red-hot lava, clouds of seawater steam, and blobs of pumice shooting out in all directions.  Wow!

As millions of years passed, the volcano began to change; it slowly grew older and older.  The volcano was part of the Pacific Plate, a piece of the Earth's crust, and the Plate was moving away from the hot spot.  The volcano had no more lava building it, so it stopped growing.

Also, the wind, rain and ocean waves hit the volcano and began to break it down.  Incredibly huge chunks of the volcano, the size of buildings and bigger, broke off and tumbled into the depths of the ocean.  The volcano was getting smaller and smaller

But the volcano had developed a lei of coral around it.  As the volcano itself got smaller and smaller, the coral lei grew larger and larger.  The coral always grew enough to stay just below the ocean surface.

This drawing of an atoll represents both Midway and Kure Atolls
Finally the volcano disappeared beneath the sea surface, and coral sand started to fill in on top of it.  Seawater came in and formed a shallow lagoon.  The volcano had become what we call an "atoll."  And this 30-million-year-old atoll is Kure Atoll (say "cure-ay"), the oldest land mass in the Hawaiian Islands.  Kure is Midway's older sister, about 50 miles away to the northwest.

Kure Atoll is owned by the state of Hawai`i.  Jason Misaki and Syd Kawahakui, Jr. work in the state's Division of Forestry and Wildlife within the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR.)    Jason and Syd will spend 3 days on Kure to see for themselves that Kure is kept as natural a place as possible...that its resources are kept intact.

satellite view of Kure Atoll
Visiting Kure means a lot to Jason and Syd because both are kama`aina, born and raised in Hawai`i.  They truly are stewards of their homeland.  Jason comes from Kualapu`u, Moloka`i, and grew up in a family that worked for conservation on his island.  Jason earned a degree in botany with a minor in environmental studies at the University of Hawai`i, Mānoa.  He has the job of Wildlife Manager, and is supervisor of the Kure Atoll project.

Syd was born and raised in Waialua on O`ahu; he attended Kahuku High School, graduating from Kamehameha Schools.  He earned a double major at UH, Mānoa in Hawaiian Studies and Hawaiian Language.  As a young man, Syd began 10 years of volunteer service with the Protect Kaho`olawe `Ohana (PKO.)  He became what is called an Access Guide, or Kua.  Kua is the Hawaiian word for backbone.  Just as your backbone supports your whole body, so does a Kua support PKO.

Here's a picture of Jason (left) and Syd (right.)  The picture on the right shows Syd following proper Hawaiian protocol by blowing the pū (shell.)  The small boat will take them to NOAA's ship, Hi`ialakai, which is outside Midway Atoll in deeper water.  The ship will travel overnight, taking Jason and Syd to Kure.  They will take these 3 values with them:
  • aloha `aina (love of the land)
  • mālama `aina (taking care of the land)
  • ho`oulu `aina (re-growing the land)
Just as Kure and Midway are part of the Hawaiian chain, an `ohana of islands, so we people are an `ohana of stewards, or care-givers, for our land.  All our best wishes go with Jason and Syd!