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.