Sunday, May 31, 2009

More Birds!!

Well, we've been accomplishing a lot of work since the weather's been better - bivalve surveys outside and inside the lagoon and repeating recruitment studies, since we've been here three weeks now. However, I've already talked about both these projects, so let's talk more birds! Before I do though, I've already asked my field assistant (and essentially partner) Kate to write a blog entry on sediment collection or algae and Laysan duck biologist Jimmy Breeden to write a blog entry on his work with the Laysan ducks - so that's what's coming!

I took three Air Force visitors (flying a C-12 from Kansas to Japan and making several stops along the way) on a tour of Midway today and was able to take lots of great photos of birds that I don't normally get to take, so it's a good day to talk birds.

I've already mentioned the Laysan ducks and Jimmy Breeden will talk more about them, but I had to share this photo of one of the first ducklings I've seen this year. One duck (banded White-7) has been wandering around the boathouse for at least three days with her darling ducklings. Friday, we saw her for the first time with 5 ducklings; yesterday and today, we saw her with only 2 ducklings - apparently they only have a 30% chance of surviving, according to Jimmy. :(

I've also seen several chicks lately of red-tailed tropic birds (Phaethon rubricauda rothschildi - at left). These birds are known for their long red tails and for their loud squawk at any disturbance. They lay one egg each year and nest in the shade against a tree or structure. I'm told they have fabulous displays of aerial courtship, including flying backwards, but I've never seen it. They are solitary feeders who dive, far from land, to retrieve fish and squid. Like the albatrosses, they'll regurgitate food for their chicks for about 11 to 13 weeks. Midway hosts nearly 5000 pairs, according to the refuge website.

Just before dinner today, we found a bonin petrel (Pterodroma hypoleuca) fledgling near the hydroponics greenhouse and the Chugach office. These birds feed at night on small fish and squid and spend the days in their underground burrows, which can be as long as three meters and one meter deep. We have to be very careful walking off paths and roads on Sand Island because we can easily crash their burrows by stepping on them. If we do, then we have to dig out the birds. They arrive in August, raise one chick, and depart by the end of June. When they're here, the skies come alive at sunset with thousands of petrels departing to feed for the night. We have to be careful with lights at night because the petrels aren't used to them and frequently crash into lighted windows and bikers wearing headlamps! Sand Islands hosts over 32,000 pairs!!!

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