Thursday, April 30, 2009


One of the best reasons to head back to Midway in April was for the opportunities to photograph babies! The Albatross chicks are heading into their awkward toddler stage. They reminded me of my nephew as he launched himself across a room... feet pumping as if the sheer push forward could keep him on his feet... followed quickly by the pause and uncertain swaying... concluding in the drop down onto his diapered behind. The albatross chicks had the exact same process to their movements and they became more and more mobile every day. All the fuzz of their down coats reminded me of a big, thick diaper and I had to giggle every single time I saw one sit down suddenly after the sway.

Many of the the chicks end up sitting in the middle of the roadways. The traffic is very light and is limited to a few gold carts and some bicycles. For the most part you slalom back and forth across the road between chicks but on occasion, the chicks are too closely paced together and a bird has to be moved out of the way. They don't appreciate it and they let you know in no uncertain terms of this fact by raking the inside of your arm with the hooked end of their beak. Not everyone can point to a small scar on their arms and say "Albatross". I hope my little mark stays with me! ;)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Monk Seals

The nice warm, sunny days brought out lots of Monk Seals to the beaches of Midway. The majority of the beaches are closed to human activity because the Monk Seals are so easily disturbed. Too bad they don't seem to know which beaches belong to them and which belong to the people! Seriously though, they can have whatever beach they want. I managed to find one seal sound asleep on the beach. By positioning myself behind my cart and some shrubbery... and of course the camera... I managed to look entirely NOT human. I watched her for a little while, firing off shots now and again. At one point she rolled over, looked right at the camera, scratched and rolled the other way and went back to sleep. That split second was all I needed to grab my portrait with my long lens and teleconverter. When I was certain she was asleep again I crept away. I always love being able to get within photography range of an animal, getting the shot and getting away without effecting the animals behavior in the slightest. A great feeling.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Marine Debris

I was sitting in the airport in San Francisco eagerly awaiting my plane to begin my journey back to Midway Atoll when I overheard a conversation. A woman was running back to her family waving a package in the air... "Look what I just found! Aren't they cool? It's a whole package of disposable toothbrushes! You use them once and throw them away!" I could feel my gut twinge as I listened to them 'oooo' and 'ahhhh' over the brightly colored plastic brushes... 6 to a pack.

All I could think of were the bodies of the albatross chicks I saw in November from last season and how every single one I looked at had a bolus of plastic in it's stomach when I looked. Mono filament fishing line, lighters, toothbrushes, combs, hairbrushes, fishing floats, children's toys, bits of undistinguished plastic, bottle caps, lipstick tubes.... the list goes on and on. It's estimated that Albatross bring FIVE TONS of plastic marine debris to Midway Atoll EVERY year.

In November our group took to collecting lighters whenever we found them... We picked up 150 lighters even after a bag malfunction lost several on Eastern Island. This April we made a more conserted effort from the very begining of the trip. Every single person in the group participated, some passing me lighters as if they were covert secret messages. We collected 304.5 lighters in 6 days.

So why is it that we need to manufacture a toothbrush that you use only once, that goes on to last 100 years???? Where do people think these items end up? Many of us concientiously recycle every bit of plastic we can find and yet... some of this is still ending up in the oceans. 80% of the plastic in the ocean arrived there from stream and sewer run off. And not just from the coasts! A plastic bottle dropped in a storm sewer in South Dakota will make it's way along to a stream, then a river and eventually into the ocean where they float along, eventually becoming trapped in a current and grouping with other plastics.

Naturalist, Wayne Sentman, speaks to a group of visitors to Midway Atoll on the hazards of Marine Debris.

There are so many reasons this is a bad thing. Albatross ingest the plastic as they are feeding and return to feed this plastics to chicks in the nest. The chicks can't regurgitate and so they end us starving to death because the plastic makes then feel full. Turtles eat the plastic bags and die from stomach blockages. Larger bottles become brittle in the sun and break into smaller pieces. Many of these pieces have sharp edges which can perforate the stomach wall of any sea bird which eats it leading to massive infection and death. PCP and DDT is attracted to plastic bits. These toxins build up on the edges of the plastic... The bits break down into even smaller bits and are ingested by plankton and jellyfish... the toxins and plastic are condensed in the bottom of the food chain and has no where to go but up.... guess who is at the top...

So the next time you think, "Hey it isn't MY problem." Think again. This issue is touching us all.

A few things beyond just recycling that you can do to help:
1. Take tops off of plastic bottles. If they DO end up in the ocean they are more apt to fill with water and sink to the bottom, hopefully to be buried.
2. Participate in Beach and Roadway clean ups. Every bottle or piece of debris that is picked up from the road or beach and put in it's proper place to be disposed of is a piece of plastic that will not become marine debris.
3. Buy fewer plastics. Tracy Ammerman,Visitor Services Manager - Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, related how her purchasing decisions changed after experiencing the marine debris at Midway. She elected to spend $.50-cents more to buy a ceramic soap dish rather than a plastic one. Such a simple, every day item but a small price to pay to reduce the demand for plastics.
4. If you go on a cruise ship, encourage them to bring their garbage back to the US where it is more likely to be handled properly. Many cruise lines leave their garbage in foreign countries like Belize simply because it is less expensive. These countries are often ill equipped to handle the waste and it end up in run off and eventually in the oceans.
5. Encourage the manufacturers of your favorite products, by letters or email, to switch to shorter lived packaging. 100 years is too long for a bottle of laundry soap to stick around.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Hawaiian Green Turtle

The weather was so nice out on Midway... very different than in November. Warm summer days with a night light breeze, just enough to take the edge off without keeping you out of the water... unless you are an endangered Hawaiian Green Turtle. I had a good feeling when we found three turtles hauled out on a beach in Kona. The beach was pretty busy but there were signs asking people not to harass the turtles as they were "resting". Most people obeyed much to my delight.

Once we got to Sand Island on Midway Atoll (the only island of the three that is populated by humans) I checked out Turtle Beach. On one day I counted 15 turtles hauled out and saw several more cruising the shallow waters near the beach. The turtles are not actively nesting on Sand Island so he popular theory is that they are hauling out because of the high predator load in the waters surrounding the Atoll. Tiger sharks and Reef sharks are found in the waters in great abundance. In the late summer they feed on the unfortunate albatross chicks that don't learn to fly quickly enough. We spotted four different Reef sharks by the pier on a day we were returning from a snorkel trip. The good thing about the shallow water is that dark shapes like turtles, sharks and seals stand out from a great distance. It would be very difficult for one of these critters to sneak up on you if you were in the water.

There are other hazards out there for the turtles, man-made hazards.

Plastic bags floating in the ocean look a lot like jelly fish, a turtles favorite food. Once the bag is ingested it blocks the turtles stomach opening so it can't take in any real food. The turtle then starves to death. What you can do to help: Use a cloth bag for your groceries and keep using it. If you forget to bring your bag to the store, ask for paper which can then be recycled. Participate in a Beach Clean up day. Pick up any errant plastic bags you see in the street and place them in a proper waste receptacle.

Ghost nets: Turtles don't have very good eyesight. They can easily become entangled in netting that is adrift in the ocean and will drown. They don't have gills, they need to surface to breath! In 2003, NOAA and the Coast Guard removed 100,000 kilograms of derelict netting from the reefs in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands... in 2004 there was another 100,000 kilograms to be removed. The collected debris is transported to Honolulu where it is cut into managable pieces and then incinerated to create electrical energy which is then used by the residents of Oahu. In 2003 that was 111 metric tons which was enough to power 42 homes for a full year, the equivalent of 120 barrels of oil. This debris is worth far more out of the ocean!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

and Home Again

Just home from Midway and all I can say is that the 'Photo Gods' were extremely kind! I can't express what an amazing place Midway is and how significant the three tiny islands are historically, environmentally and conservationally. I am sunburned, have bite marks from aggressive Albatross chicks, an allergic reaction to an invasive species, bumps and bruises galore and all the photos to show a glimpse of just how many 5 million sea birds really are... I'll start sharing those photos after I get some sleep!

-- Post From My iPhone

Monday, April 13, 2009

Return to Midway

I'm so excited! Today I return to Midway Atoll to check on the progress of the Albatross chicks. I'm sitting in the Kona airport waiting for the flight to Honolulu and I can hear the clatter and chatter of the albatross in my memory. I picked a few nests to revisit while I was there in November. I'm hopeful that the eggs will have hatched and I will be greeted with fuzzy chicks. I'll let you know as soon as I get back on the 22nd! I hope you all have a wonderful week!!

-- Post From My iPhone

Friday, April 10, 2009

Rainy Day in Paradise

What else can one do on a rainy day in paradise but photograph birds??? With the techniques I learned in Texas with Alan I was able to get great photos of the birds here without running all over the property chasing them. I sat with a cup of coffee beside me in a very comfy chair and waited for them to come to me. I just hope the garden staff doesn't get too upset about the perches I "liberated"... I made certain they weren't from obvious spots on the trees.... :)

Three Days in Roma

I just spent three amazing days in Roma, Texas with acclaimed bird photographer, Alan Murphy. What an incredible experience! I can tell you unequivocally that three days is not enough time. I was able to photograph twenty-six different species and I learned to identify several by their calls... Alan has been a birder his entire life and has avidly studied avian behavior. Add to this a propensity for perfect planning, a wonderfully artistic eye and the patience of a saint and you've got yourself an amazing photographer AND TEACHER.

The workshop was about more than getting pretty images to take home. Alan taught us techniques to use right in our own backyards. Every step of the way he explained what he was doing and why... from perch selection to placement... every call, every wing flap... Alan knew what birds were out there, when they would appear and what perch they would choose.

I can't wait to start playing in my own backyard... which I always assumed was too small to get anything good... Alan has changed my mind!

Check out my Flickr page for more Roma, Texas birds.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Saguaro NP

We finally made our destination only to realize that Saguaro is not a location where one can record good images without a lot of planning. The density of desert plant life is incredible. There are so many cactus that it's hard to isolate anything at all. I can only imagine how lovely it is there when all the cactus begin to bloom.

For our part, we stayed through sunset and took a few snapshots. After a good nights sleep we headed to the Sonoran Desert Museum. An incredible place to be certain. Hummingbirds, bobcat, mexican wolves and so many more species are available for close-up photography. Highly recommend a visit if you are in the area.