Midway (Mon., 1/26/09): Battles, Birds and Fire Trucks – w/video
by Michelle Fabie -- January 27th, 2009
We got a history lesson and awesome birdwatching opportunities on Midway Atoll’s other island before helping Fish & Wildlife in the field. The day ended with sirens and lights…
This morning we expanded our view of Midway by visiting Eastern Island, the other significant land mass within the Atoll. A 10-minute boat ride landed us on a shoreline much similar to Sand Island, with albatross as far as the eye could see. However, Eastern Island is populated with birds and only birds — not even a mouse resides among the vegetation. There are remnants of human existence though. The albatross build their nests on old pavement that once made up an entire airfield. Plants creep up through the cracks and the birds congregate along areas where the vegetation is thickest. Rusty tops of World War I tanks speckle the landscape. During the Battle of Midway in World War II, these “instant pill boxes” housed officers and men of the Sixth Defense Battalion for three days straight as the Japanese launched an air attack against the U.S. Naval Air Station. Unbeknownst to our men, there was help on the way and the Japanese fleet was ambushed, changing the course of the War in the Pacific. Eastern Island is now a place of historical significance. The sacrifice they made for our lives is etched onto a plaque, the only true testament on the island to what took place 67 years ago.
Today, Eastern Island is again ruled by the wildlife. We all joke that we’ve become birders for our nine days in Midway, but we’ll go into retirement when we leave because we’ve seen so many unique species! Like Sand Island, Laysan and black-footed albatross cover the landscape of Eastern Island. Since there is no regular human presence, the birds seemed a bit more wary of our wanderings. Beaks grazed our ankles as we created a winding path through the vegetation and some of us even suffered the bite of an albatross (not so much painful as surprising). The island is also home to red-footed boobies, great frigate birds, and Laysan ducks. The Laysan ducks are a celebrated success story for the area. In 2004, their last remaining habitat was Laysan Island (also in the Hawaiian Archipelago). Forty-two Laysan ducks were brought to Midway in hopes of saving the species from extinction. In just four years the Midway population grew to 200! We saw many in the fresh water ponds on Eastern Island today, but they are still the rarest duck in the northern hemisphere. The one seabird we all hoped to see today was the elusive short-tailed albatross, also known as the “Golden Gooney.” Only about 2,000 remain in the entire world — although there used to be about seven million! Recently, a few short-tailed albatross made their way to Eastern Island and it is hoped that they will establish a new colony in the years to come. Unfortunately, all we saw of the Golden Gooney today were decoys. These decoys, along with bird calls and solar panels, were placed on the island by Fish & Wildlife to attract more short-tailed albatross.
In the afternoon, we were back in the field helping Greg Schubert with invasive species removal. Some of us tackled the infamous Verbesina encelioides (Golden Crownbeard), finding its weak spot and pulling it from the ground, while others sawed down Ironwood trees. Ridding the land of these species gives more room for native plants to grow and provides a better habitat for the albatross. The most rewarding part of helping Greg is the obvious appreciation he has for our work. Our group of 13 people helps Fish & Wildlife complete tasks that normally would take weeks. We consider it our way of giving back to Midway. Some of us have suggested that all visitors to the Atoll should have to “give back” by either volunteering their time or donating money. What do you think? How can future visitors help lessen their impact on this special environment?
Midway Fire Department
Some of us returned to childhood this evening and got a thrill out of a big red truck. I’ll let the video speak for itself…