Last night’s arrival was a blessing. 5 hours spent in a Gulfstream that was not in the best of conditions to begin with, waiting to get to our destination. We had to arrive at night in order to avoid albatross strikes (very common in daylight hours since they believe the runway is theirs), so we touched down in darkness (EXCELLENT landing), and walked down the ladder to our waiting golf carts. The air was redolent with the aroma of bird poop - I had forgotten what a bird sanctuary smelled like! Our naturalist, Wayne Sentman, lived on Midway for several years, before the island was pretty much shut down except for the Fish and Wildlife services in 2001.
We were met by Ranger Mark Stewart, who took us to Charlie Barracks, went through his initial spiel, and then gave us our room assignments. We fell asleep to the chatter of birds.
Today was nice, we spent the day in our limo golf carts (ha!) touring some historical areas, securing our bicycle rentals, and getting used to the day’s schedule. We saw tons of Laysan albatross, a Laysan duck (on the extremely endangered species list), and a monk seal (also extremely endangered species) on the beach. They strictly observe the distance rules here, so it looks like I’ll learn about my new zoom lens quickly.
Our lecture was about the albatross and its history here in Midway. Albatross, believe it or not, are mated for life. Their initial pairing happens on the island where they were born, and to which they return annually. The mating process involves a detailed courtship with unique dances, mating calls, and posturing. When accepted, the two mate, and the female produces one egg. After that, she disappears for over a month while the male tends the egg. Upon her return, the male disappears (they are feeding, not cheating!) until a few weeks prior to birth. When the male returns, he finishes out the gestation sitting. The chick is born, and a parent stays with it at all times. The male and female take turns going out, feeding, and returning, usually within a four day timespan. When either gets back, they call for their mate and child, find them, and feed the chick. The chick needs nutrition at least every four days both for food and for fluids.
Albatross used to nest here in great amounts up until the Navy had its installation (to include its former top secret sub base). As the number of people swelled to 3000, the albatross (Laysan and Black Footed) mating pairs dwindled drastically. Once the Navy began to leave, clean up, and turn over the island to the Department of Interior, the numbers climbed drastically, and there are now approximately 1.9 million on the island during mating, birthing and maturing season. Approximately 30% of the albatross chicks are lost over the course of the season due to starvation (think of them as big, empty stomachs with heads), ingestion of awful plastic from the Pacific Ocean, dehydration, abuse, or abandonment. But, despite that, the numbers continue to grow.
Tomorrow more exploring, snorkeling, and a lecture on monk seals.