Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Keeping Track of the Birds

Well, it's been a solid few weeks of work here on Midway. So far the tax payers are getting their money's worth out of me and my all-star crew of volunteers! The birds are such a joy to work with that we hardly notice when they rip into the skin on our hands, wrists and arms. Lately we've been busy deploying archival data loggers on selected birds (picture on the right). These little devices are pretty slick. We use them to record the position of the selected birds daily when the animals are out at sea foraging. During incubation these birds will take several trip to sea, lasting anywhere from a few days to three weeks, and ranging to the Bering Sea and the Coast of British Columbia. The data logger has a light sensor on it, and it determines the bird's position from the timing of sunrise and sunset (via a pretty complex algorithm). Each tag has enough memory and battery power to collect data for over two years, which enables us to gather data on the birds movements throughout the breeding season (Nov. - July) and through the non-breeding season as well (Aug. - Oct.). These are data logging devices though, they are not transmitters, which means we have to get the logger back to get the data! Fortunately the birds nest in the same area year after year, so this time next year we will be searching for our birds to get our logger back. I have to admit to a little bit of anxiety each time we put one of these tags out (we have 30 of them). I keep thinking, "Well, there goes $750 of my budget. I hope I see it again next year!" Putting these tags on is a three person job, and my crew has been awesome. That is Matt holding one of the Black-footed Albatrosses that we put a logger on yesterday. He and McKenzie have been doing a fantastic job so far. They make my job a lot easier.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Medical Evacuation

Well, my first week back on Midway was, long, full, and eventful. Thursday night we had a medical evacuation of a crew member from a Japanese fishing boat. I was part of the crew that headed out to retrieve the patient in one of our Fish and Wildlife boats. This is actually the third medical evacuation that I've participated in at Midway so I'm getting to be a pro at it! Fortunately this fellow was in pretty stable condition and we had no problems getting him back to Midway. It was a little intense though, given that this was the first night evacuation that our crew has done together and the fishing boat is just so much bigger than our boat. Shortly after we got the patient to the dock and off in the ambulance to the airfield a Coast Guard C-130 flew in to medevac him out. Unfortunately the plane experienced mechanical problems in one of their engines and they could not leave that night! It wasn't until the following night that another C-130, this one from the Coast Guard air station in Kodiak, AK, was able to come in and get the patient and the crew of the other C-130 out to Honolulu. Then they flew back in last night with a spare engine and mechanic crew who are currently working to get the new engine attached to their plane and ready for departure.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Stormy Welcome

Well, I'm back on Midway for another winter. I'm here to continue collecting data for the project I run for my employer, US Fish and Wildlife Service ( and you, the good tax payers). I was greated with stormy skies and 50 knot winds that blew down trees and made riding my bike around the island a hazard. Now, before you start feeling sorry for me (as I'm sure you all are) keep in mind that sunny warm days and 70 degree water will be here as soon as this front passes through.

Visit to Keauhou

I am on the Big Island of Hawaii visiting my friend Tonya who is volunteering at the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center, run by the San Diego Zoo. The facility is amazing and the work that is being done here is incredible. The Center is a captive breeding facility for some of the most critically Endangered bird species in the world. Many of the species here are not able to produce enough chicks in the wild to sustain the population. The 'Alala or Hawaiian Crow is the star species of the Center, and my personal favorite. These birds are extremely charismatic and gregarious but unfortunately their numbers in the wild became so low that the few remaining birds were taken into captivity to prolong the survival of the species. There are now 60 of these birds in captivity, with 40 of them living here at Keauhou. As far as I know there are no plans to release any of the birds into the wild.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Cyclocross Action

I went out to Estacada Oregon to watch a cyclocross race this weekend. It was the third race in a series that is held every fall in the Portland area. The race was a real blast! I think I'm going to get geared up for joining the race series next year. The combination of road racing speed with off road biking challenges really appeals to me. More pictures from the race can be found at my Flickr site:

Monday, September 10, 2007

Port Townsend Wooden Boat Fest

Spent the weekend in Port Townsend at the Wooden Boat Festival with my old friend Jessie. It was a perfect day for wandering the docks looking at some amazing boats. Didn't get out on the water but I did get a look at some amazing boats, sailing in the nice stiff breeze. The picture is of Adventuress, the schooner that I crewed on two years ago. She had some work done on her recently and she is looking better than ever now!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Hike into the Mt. Adams Wilderness

Wow, I just got back from a great trip into the north side of the Mount Adams Wilderness with Camille. I have seen the north face of Adams before, from the Goat Rocks Wilderness, but I've never been close to this side of the mountain before. From our campsite the Adams Glacier seemed to be cascading right down on top of us (in reality we were still about a half mile away from it but it looked big and close). Mt. Adams is a huge bulk of a mountain, rising to over 12,000 ft. I've climber it a few times, but only from the much mellower south side. Climbing from the north side, as the picture on the right suggests, would be a very burly undertaking. Our campsite also had great views of Mt. Rainier to the north and the Goat Rocks Wilderness to the northwest. I would definately suggest this hike to anyone wanting to get a view of Adams, which is a mountain we don't see too often from Portland. The trail leading in is loaded with people on horseback though so you have to be prepared for that.

Jefferson Park Adventures

Stuart, Karl and I just got back from an epic trip to the Mount Jefferson Wilderness. The hiking was pretty burly and my body is beat but happy. They headed in on Friday morning but I had to work, so I joined them later that evening. It was about a four hour hike in with a pretty respectable elevation gain. I hiked the last hour or so in the dark, and managed to get off the main trail at one point, but I met a group of three women who were camped by a nice little lake and they got me headed back in the right direction. The picture is one that Stuart took from our campsite on the second night. It was a great spot to spend the night. We woke up to snow falling, although it cleared as we got ourselves packed up and on the trail back to the cars

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Travels with Klaus

What a great weekend! I really needed to get out of the city so Camille and I loaded up Klaus with sleeping bags, chairs, books, firewood, food and beer, and we headed out on a road trip. First we went up to Mt. Hood to get a look at the mountain and to see some snow. We still have a fair amount of snow up in the mountains here in Oregon and Timberline ski are is still operating up on Mt. Hood. We got lunch at Timberline Lodge, which is one of the grand old lodges of the west, built by the WPA and dedicated by FDR himself. They didn't use beams to construct the interior structure, they used old growth logs! If you have ever seen the Stephen King movie "The Shinning," all of the exterior shots of the lodge, with all. of the crazy snow piled up, that is Timberline Lodge. Anyway, we got back on the road and headed out to the desert for Smith Rock State Park and the BLM campsite at Skull Hollow. We had a terrific night camped out in the sagebrush country, with a nice warm fire. We even raosted up some marshmallows over the coals! The next day we headed over to Smith Rock for some hiking. Smith is an outstanding park, with big red rock formations jutting up out of the desert floor. It is a rockclimbing mecca, and for good reason. Back in graduate school I used to go out there all of the time with friends or teaching climbing classes for the university. It was good to be back there after so many years.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Klaus the AutoBaus

Well, after a 13 year hiatus, I am back in the Volkswagen ownership game! A few weeks ago I picked up a 1966 VW Camper from a fellow up in Seattle. It is in fantastic shape for its age and I get compliments on it wherever I go. The bus rolled off the production line in Hannover Germany on December 16, 1965, part of the 1966 model year. It is one of the old version, split windshield transporters that preceded the typical VW hippie bus of the 1970s. Klaus, as we have come to call the bus was originally produced as a panel van; with no windows other than the windshield, drivers and passenger doors and a rear window. He was imported to Seattle and likely made his way down to Vancouver Washington where a company called ASI was converting panel vans into campers for the Riviera Company of Beaverton Oregon. ASI put a picture window on the drivers side and cut two windows into the loading doors on the passenger side. Klaus has a fold out bed in back, with a closet, a cold box and storage under the seats. A stove was certainly a factory option but it is long since gone. This weekend Klaus and I are headed to a VW show in Woodburn Oregon to check out other buses, look for parts (he is not without his problems) and generally relax in the VW culture.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Fuzzy Little Friends

Well, I'm back to Midway after a two month whirlwind that took me all over the west coast and Hawaii. It feels good to be back with the birds and to see the progress that all of the chicks are making. When I left here in early February most of the eggs had not hatched yet. Now things are completely different! There are fat fuzzy chicks waddling around all over the place. They are fattening up on squid oil provided by their parents, which is just loaded with energy to get them growing fast.

I am here to band chicks from nests that we began monitoring back in mid-November. It is such a trip to see a pudgy Ewok of bird and think that when I got here it wasn't even laid as an egg yet! The most striking are the birds that live on the driveway of my house. I watched their parents incubate them as eggs over the course of the entire winter, now the little ones snap at me as I walk by to get on my bicycle. Yes, the little chicks are cute, but that hooked bill of theirs can still pack a mean bite. I have a nice slice on the palm of my hand where a cute fuzzball latched onto me and ripped at my flesh!! It is hard not to admire these wonderful creatures.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Kauai Wandering

Camille and I just finished up a wonderful week of vacation on the island of Kauai. We had a fantastic time and a much needed break from the hectic lives we have been leading over the last few months. Over the course of our stay we managed to pack a lot of activities in, plus we put in some good beach lounging time. We tried to swim in the ocean at least once a day, including playing in some nice big waves. The water was nice and warm and clear, great for swimming. I only got trundled under and near-drowned a few times!!

We did get away from the beach for a day or so when we went up to visit Kokee State Park and Waimea Canyon. The canyon is pretty spectacular with red rock and lush green vegetation. We went on a really wonderful hike in Kokee that led us out on to a knife's edge ridge with views down either side plunging almost straight down. It is a pretty dramatic location. In the picture of Camille the cliffs start right in front of her! One of the highlights of our time in the mountains included seeing 9 different short-eared owls in 30 minutes while driving up to Kokee one night.

When we weren't hiking through the forest or lounging onn the beach we spent our time eating wonderful food and seeing the sights. We spent our first Friday night on the island touring a bunch of little art galleries in the town of Hanapepe. Camille picked up a few nice things at a little boutique. My favorite sight-seeing stop of the whole trip though was the Kauai Coffee Estate. It is a working coffee plantation that produces some amazing beans. We sampled different coffees and and took a tour that explains all of the steps in the coffee making process. By the time we left I was completely jacked-up on caffiene. I also had a bit of work to do while we were there, but it was fun work. We went and visited a friend of mine who is the widlife biologist at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. She and I needed to discuss some details of the albatross project that I am running. Camille got to hold an albatross while Brenda banded it, and we got to see hundreds of Red-footed Boobies flying all around the cliffs of the refuge.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Journey to Laysan Island

I have just returned from a research cruise out to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and it was a remarkable trip! I hopped on a boat in Honolulu (the M/V Searcher) and we headed out to drop a crew off on the remote and uninhabited island of Nihoa. It is an amazing little island, very rugged and tough to get people on shore due to the cliffs that surround most of the perimeter. Once we dropped the crew off we headed out on the four day journey to Laysan Island. There is a permanent field camp on Laysan and I was headed up there with the incoming crew that was to replace the three guys who had been out there for the last six months. Like Nihoa, Laysan is remote and not open to the public. Laysan Island is a major seabird colony with a large poulation of both Black-footed and Laysan Albatrosses. The island also has a population of Greater Frigatebirds. The breeding male frigates were diplaying all over the place with their large red pouches inflated to call in all the ladies! All three species of Pacific Boobies (Red-footed, Masked and Brown) nest on the island. I am a huge fan of the Boobies and it was great to have so many all around to photograph!

My work on the island was pretty straight-forward. I was out there to check on the work that the outgoing crew had been doing on my albatross project. Laysan Island is one of the field sites that we are using to monitor adult survival and reproductive success so that we can assess long term trends in the population. The guys did a great job, despite having minimal guidance from me. In truth, I was learning how to do this work on Midway this winter while these guys were learning it for themselves on Laysan! I had a great time out there and I would have gladly stayed longer, but after four days we loaded up and headed back to the southeast to pick up the crew we had dropped off at Nihoa. The trip back to Nihoa and on to Oahu was pretty rough and I spent one long day pretty queasy as we bounced into some big seas.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Leaving Alaska

With heavy hearts but excitement for our future, Camille and I said goodbye to Alaska last week. Dustin and Cecille gave us a nice send-off party at their house. I said goodbye to some of my closest friends that night but I know I'll be seeing a lot of them either on visits to Alaska or down in Portland. We had an epic journey getting out of Alaska and down to our new home. After driving 750 miles from Anchorage, heading for the town of Haines (where we were suppossed to get on the Alaska ferry to Washington), we were stopped 40 miles short of our goal by a blizzard that shut down the highway. So, instead of a nice relaxing four day cruise on the ferry, Camille and I drove 2,200 miles down the Alaska Highway to get to Portland. The drive through the Yukon and B.C. was beautiful but extremely tiring. Both Camille and I were driving our own trucks with a cat on our lap. Fortunately Dustin let us borrow walkie-talkies for the trip and that saved us!! I am glad we did it because I have always wanted to drive the highway, and the hot springs at Laird River, right on the B.C. /Yukon Border made the whole trip worth it!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Tearing it up, Alyeska Style

Me and two of my good friends, Matt Crockett and Dustin Davis, had an epic day at Alyeska Resort today! The weather was pretty darn cold but the riding conditions were fantastic. Although the mountain has not received any fresh snow in over a week the trails were all in great shape. The groomers were fast and lots of fun. Dustin and I lucked out because Matt brought his camera with us and he popped off a bunch of great shots. These two pictures were both shot by Matt. In the group photo from left to right are Matt, Dustin, Shannon Roy (our old friend who works as a ski patroler) and me. Matt keeps up a real nice blog with lots of pictures. In fact, Matt is the person who inspired me to start a blog in the first place. He always does such a great job of sharing all of the high quality photos he takes. You can check out his blog at

Friday, January 19, 2007

Albatross Chicklets

Break out the cigars and make sure you have a lot of them to share. We have many proud parents here at Midway because the first albatross eggs have begun to hatch. It is a very exciting time. Our first Black-footed Albatross chick was found on Monday and our first Laysan chick hatched today. Over the next few weeks we will have close to 400,000 eggs hatch and little ones will be all over the place. I haven't worked on a seabird colony for five years and this is so much fun for me to witness this explosion of life! The chicks are amazing. The little Black-footed chick in the photo above was still wet from being in the egg when I took the picture, but it was ready to eat. After 65 days of incubating the egg the real work is just beginning for the adults. They will have to work hard to feed their little ones, all they way through to June.