Birder's Guide

MAR 2017

Birder's Guide is the American Birding Association's newest publication. Each issue focuses on a key subject, providing tips from experienced birders on a wide variety of topics like Travel, Listing & Taxonomy, Gear, and Conservation & Community.

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Page 39 of 95

38 Birder's Guide to Travel | March 2017 Birds of Midway Atoll records of birds such as Garganey, Black Kite, Steller's Sea-Eagle, Fork-tailed Swift, and Oriental Cuckoo. The birder who gets to spend much time on Midway has the potential for some incredible finds. Eastern Island is a short boat ride from Sand Island and offers a much different ex- perience. Almost all non-native trees have been cut down from Eastern, and the only building there is a tiny equipment shack. As you wander around the runways from WWII, you really do get the feeling you are in a surreal place in the middle of the Pacific. Eastern Island has a variety of seabirds that are not present on Sand. Here you will find large groups of nesting Red-footed Boobies and a few nesting Masked and Brown boobies. Christmas Shearwaters nest under clumps of naupaka and helio- trope trees. Sooty Tern nesting colonies can cover large areas, with smaller Gray-backed Tern colonies dotting the island. Great Frigate- birds nest side by side with the Red-footed Boobies; their ostensible harmony gives no hint of their famously adversarial relation- ship in the air. A few gulls may be found on the beaches during winter (Glaucous, Glaucous-winged, Herring, and Slaty- backed are the most expected species), and, as on Sand Island, the small freshwa- ter seeps may provide refuge for migrant waterfowl. Also nesting on Eastern are the avian ce- lebrities of Midway Atoll, the pair of Short- tailed Albatrosses that successfully fledged their first chick in June 2011. Despite the dazzling array of birds that call Midway their home, this is one species that is es - pecially sought-after by practically every birder. Aside from hopping on a boat and trawling the seas along Alaska's Aleutian Is- lands, Midway is one of the only places in U.S. waters to find one. For the past several years, several individual Short-tails have made Midway their home. The breeding pair reside on Eastern Island in the middle of a small "flock" of Short-tailed Albatross decoys (they seem to have worked!). For years, the pair could be seen danc- ing together and preening one another, but the female was too young to breed. In 2011, the pair finally lived up to enor- mous expectations and produced a chick, which was raised with not a small amount of drama. High storm waters washed over the island twice, washing away most of the other albatross nests in the area. It is esti- mated that the second storm surge (actu- ally part of a tsunami) killed 2,000 adult and 110,000 Laysan and Black-footed albatross chicks, a grim reminder of how vulnerable Midway's nesting birds are to foul-weather events and rising seas. After both surges, the Short-tailed chick was found alive but washed away from its nest bowl, and had to be returned. Despite all the island drama, the dutiful parents continued coming to feed it, and the chick went on to fledge. Sadly, the future of Midway's wildlife depends largely on human activity, both on and off the islands. The atoll presents a paradox—at once a conservation suc- cess story and an environmental catas- trophe. Many thousands of Laysan Alba- tross chicks are thought to have died from ingesting lead paint chips that flake off many of the aging structures. Non-native plants, notably ironwood trees and flow- ering Verbesina, can grow in such a way as to eliminate large swaths of habitat for ground- and burrow-nesting seabirds. Ris- ing sea levels threaten to swallow the is- lands whole. Albatrosses, famously clumsy on land, have not evolved with much tall vegetation and regularly have deadly en- Top: n Red-footed Booby. Photo © Steve Tucker Middle: n Pacific Golden-Plover. Photo © Steve Tucker Bottom: n Brown Noddy. Photo © Steve Tucker

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