28 November 2010

Rest of October, 2006

I have fallen behind in updating my blog from 4 years ago... how much worse can I be?  Alas, I'll try to make up some ground by including pictures from the remainder of October 2006.

One thing that stood out about this period of October were some rarities that started to show up.  Being such a tiny speck of land in the middle of a very vast ocean, it was a fairly attractive spot for lost birds...

Here is a NORTHERN PINTAIL that showed up a stones-throw from our house.  Note that it's sitting in the only freshwater available on the island; a puddle on the catchment pad!  The bird went missing after a day or two; hopefully it made it somewhere it was supposed to be.

Some neat shorebirds also made appearances.  Here is a SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPER.  This species is actually Asian and very rare in the lower 48 states.  However, Hawaii gets several of these each fall so it was not that much of a surprise.  We ended up seeing 3-4 different ones.

Another shorebird that showed up was this DUNLIN.  We only saw this one individual the entire fall:

Perhaps the rarest bird we found on Tern Island during our entire stay was this BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER.  Although they breed in Alaska, they migrate through the central part of the US, not the west coast.  Clearly this bird was VERY lost and I believe Hawaii had fewer than 5 state records:

These guys were the opposite of rare, the numerous WEDGE-TAILED SHEARWATERS that nested on the island:

A personal highlight for me during my stay on Tern Island was getting to watch BONIN PETRELS.  These are very rare or nonexistent in the lower 48.  However, Tern Island hosts many breeding pairs every year.  These birds come to Tern Island only under the cover of nightfall (a nice way to be sneaky).  One night I wanted to see if I could find some of these petrels.  I remained very still as nightfall came over the colony and pretty soon, I could hear and even feel the wingbeats of this rarely-seen species.  Bonin Petrels rarely see humans and are thus very tame!  A quick click of the flashlight reveled one at my feet:

... and here is a look at one scurrying around on the ground, checking out holes for potential nesting spots:

Another thrill for me were the TRISTRAM'S STORM-PETRELS that nested on Tern Island.  In fact, we had buried nest boxes for these rare seabirds (which they use!).  With easy-open lids, we were able to check which boxes had nesting birds and which didn't.  Here is a quick glimpse into one of the boxes:

Another exciting event was the arrival of the first albatross!  Although the island was soon to be inundated with Black-footed and Laysan Albatrosses, here is the first BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS that arrived:

At this point in the season, I would often take my spotting-scope to the corner of the island and scope for passing seabirds.  I couldn't help but to snap a few pics of some rough seas to the north one evening:

Another thing I spotted while scoping was this vessel, something we definitely didn't see very often.  I forget now, but it may have been the NOAA vessel that was conducting some tests nearby:

Here is proof that I scoped seabirds once in a while.  And yeah, some music went a long way in helping me maintain sanity:

And lastly, more and more BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSSES started showing up as the month came to a close.  Here is a different albatross that recently arrived:

08 November 2010

First third of October, 2006

Still trying to gain some ground, I'll show pictures from the first third of October, 2006.

I realize I haven't shown much of our living quarters on Tern Island.  Well, here is a black-and-white version of some of our living room.  We also had a TV off to the left.  With no cable or anything, we used it only for watching movies.  You can also see the corner of the ping-pong table.  

This view shows our table and chairs and also the ping-pong table.  Here Jeff is clearly either playing ping-pong by himself or trying to juggle paddles:

I'm not sure how exactly it came about, but this scary scene being drawn by Jeff is supposed to be me prior to an imminent frigatebird and shark attack:

We also had a pool table in the living room area.  I greatly improved my pool skills (which didn't take much considering I don't play!) but also used it as a "I'm bored" photo opp.

Speaking of being bored though (shame on me, right?), this was probably my "bored look" on Tern... always with sunglasses.  It was also a great place to enjoy the sun, I didn't touch a single t-shirt for 2 months straight:

Out from our living quarters is a deck with a table that overlooks the "courtyard".  You might notice in the lower left corner of the picture how the building is raised up off the ground.  This gives the many shearwaters plenty of bare ground to wander around (although I'm sure this wasn't the real reason to have the building up off the ground).  Many of the Wedge-tailed Shearwaters nested under the building and thus, the midnight wailing would commence:

In the courtyard is a shaggy little pine.  Here you can see the BLACK NODDIES and a WHITE TERN perched in it:

I may have mentioned how the WHITE TERNS will nest anywhere with a ledge of any sorts.  Here is one that is incubating its egg on a cement ledge:

I tried snorkeling again.  Although I never got pictures of any of them, we did see sharks but mostly Reef-Sharks, small little guys that weren't ever aggressive.  For some reason, I can never remember if we were seeing Blacktip or Whitetip's.  Anyway, here is proof that I actually did snorkel again:

... and a really crappy underwater photo!  I suspect this guy is another Convict Tang:

La Perouse Pinnacle was visible in the distance from my bedroom window.  Upon a closer look (we boated out to it a couple times), you can see the whole thing is covered in bird droppings.  This constant bombardment of nutrients from the poop have actually created some pretty interesting environmental conditions on the rock and also below it:

Here are some interesting things about La Perouse:

* It stands 120 feet tall.

* It is the oldest volcanic rock in the Hawaiian islands. 

* Scientists have found several new species to science on this one rock!

Back on land, about this time in the season one can expect most of the tropicbirds to have hatched.  Here is a spunky RED-TAILED TROPICBIRD chick peering at me from underneath its bush:

And if you haven't had your share of BLACK NODDIES by now, here is another look.  Pretty long bill on these guys, huh?

Many evenings I would wander up to this rigging and scope passing seabirds:  

Here are some of the sunsets, of which there were many:

02 November 2010

Rest of September, 2006

I need to ramp up my catching-up efforts on this blog!  Thus, I'll include some pictures from the rest of September 2006 in this post.

In case you're just joining in... all these pictures were taken on... well, the sign on Tern Island sums it up well:

You'll notice it says "No trespassing"... that's true since Tern Island has so many nesting seabirds, etc.  Secondly, no, I sure didn't see anyone that was going to be trespassing!  You'll also notice how the sign is covered in bird crap.  Everything was there.  In fact, it was on our weekly list of things to do: clean solar panels of all the bird poop."

Another sign on Tern Island was this one:

You'll notice the "4" and "6" are changeable.  That's because the population on the island can range from 3-4 all the way up to 15 or so.

Moving on from signs, here are a couple pics of adult male GREAT FRIGATEBIRDS:

Frigatebirds are amazing for many reasons.  First, they are amazingly efficient kleptoparasites.  This essentially means they steal their food from other birds (kind of like pirates).  Other kleptoparasites include jaegers and some raptors, etc.  However, they were also adept at snatching other seabird chicks right out of their nests!  Looking at the long and hooked bill on the above males, you can imagine how efficient they were at raiding nests!

Secondly, the skeleton of a frigatebird actually weighs LESS than the summed weight of their feathers!  In fact, they have the largest wingspan to body-weight ratio of any bird on earth (males can have wingspans of over 6 ft but only weigh 2-4 lbs).

They're strictly aerial and can stay flying for over a week!  They're oceanic birds but they can't even perch on the water.  Kinda cool, huh?  It was an every-day scene to have dozens swirling around the island in the wind.  Here is a typical view of a flying youngster:

Here is another youngster, complete with some down poofing out:

One of the more uncommon residents of Tern Island (at least while I was there) were the GRAY-BACKED TERNS.  I honestly thought they looked quite similar to the Bridled Terns that nest near Florida.  Alas, these terns are definitely distinctive from Bridled's.  Here is an adult Gray-backed:

Here is a picture of a young Gray-backed that was still rather fond of land when I arrived on the island:

Maybe not as exciting, here is another (calm) BROWN NODDY:

While talking about "brown" birds, I snapped a shot of this BROWN BOOBY, the rarest of our nesting boobies.  In fact, these don't actually breed on Tern Island proper, but La Perouse Pinnacle instead (more on La Perouse later):

Here is another look at an adult RED-FOOTED BOOBY, one of the abundant species:

It was a shame I wasn't on Tern during the peak of shearwater breeding because I absolutely was fascinated by the CHRISTMAS SHEARWATERS.  I don't know much about them but by the time I arrived on the island, there were just a handful left from the breeding season.  Here are a couple pictures of one:

One of the special inhabitants of French Frigate Shoals are the Hawaiian Monk Seals.  Besides these guys being endangered, they were almost constantly loafing outside our building!  Here's a picture I took of a resting seal from the living room window:

We ventured out on the sand spit at the end of the island for some snorkeling.  Here's a typical view: sand, birds, and lots of sky and water:

While standing out on the sand spit, this RED-TAILED TROPICBIRD decided to zoom by:

I experimented with my underwater camera housing again.  Playing around in the surf, I took a couple pictures of the beach/water:


Once underwater, you can see us checking out some of the coral formations near the island:

Maybe the scariest thing in the water that day was this creature: