Midway (Mon. 1/25/10) – Banding albatrosses, pulling Verbesina, and planting bunch grass: a busy day on Midway
by Amy Smith -- January 26th, 2010
We all started this morning off a little sluggish, a combination of the windy, cool morning and yesterday’s basketball, Tae Bo, and bowling. After breakfast and coffee, we met with Midway volunteers, Chris and Brette, to help with their albatross monitoring.
In addition to the annual bird count that takes place on Midway every year, the Fish and Wildlife Service also monitors a total of seventeen plots in various locations on Midway. These plots provide information on the fledgling success and reproductive rates of the Laysan and Black-footed Albatross, as well as which birds are returning year to year. Our job today was to monitor the reproductive plots. This involves gently nudging the nesting birds with a stick so that we can see the band number on the bird’s foot and to see whether they are sitting on an egg or a chick.
The most interesting plot of the morning was the last. Called the “Oil Bird” plot, this plot of roughly thirty nests was created in mid-December as a result of an oil seep in the area. Waste oil left over from the military days on Midway spilled over the cap during heavy rain and flooded a small area of the island. The spill has since been cleaned up, but the affects that it will have on this year’s nests in the area have yet to be seen. We did see one chick already hatched from this plot so we are hopeful that the effects will be minimal. Because this is a new plot, we came across three birds that still needed to be banded! Each albatross has two bands on it. One is a silver, metal Fish and Wildlife band that will last roughly 30 years. A bird with a metal band on its right leg means that it was banded as a chick, while a metal band on the left indicates it was banded as an adult. Additionally, each bird is banded with a red plastic band. These bands are shorter lived, but their bright color makes them easier to see in the field. Chris and Brette banded each bird with a metal band, a more intricate maneuver than banding with the plastic band. With three birds and three of us, Lindsey Peavey, Kaitlin Kelly, and I each took turns banding an albatross with a plastic band. Be on the lookout for P052, P053, and P054!
In the afternoon we had a chance to work with Greg Schubert, a biological technician for the Fish and Wildlife Service. As the license plate on his bike here says, he is the “verb killer.” Verbesina encelioides (common name: golden crown beard) is one the 252 non-native plants on Midway. It was introduced during WWII, when heavy construction equipment most likely brought it over. Since then it has continued to spread across the island and threaten the nesting habitat of albatross. Albatross will not build their nests in stands of Verbesina, and chicks can become trapped in the weed as it grows around their nest. Unfortunately, Midway does not have the manpower necessary to rid the island of the invasive, but Greg and his team have done a tremendous job at controlling Verbesina to smaller manageable patches. His two main controls are to pull the plant out at its root or use herbicide. Once the Verbesina is reduced, Greg plants native Bunch grass in its place, creating habitat for nesting birds and limiting the space that Verbesina has to grow. Neither rain nor wind could keep us down today! Though a small contribution to a much larger task, we successfully cleared most of Radar Hill ofVerbesina and planted 300 Bunch grass plants along the roadside. Hopefully when Andy and Dave return with next year’s class, they will find our Bunch grass thriving and the Verbesina reduced.