December 16, 2014
A one day lay-over in Honolulu’s Waikiki district isn’t a bad hand to be dealt. Flights to the Marshall Islands are only scheduled every other day, so when one gets handed a lemon, make lemonade, right?
Two weeks earlier I had just returned from a four-month construction safety supervision assignment in Africa and a vacation finale with my wife in Victoria Falls and Cape Town. Now I am on my way to perform construction safety management on a one-month project in the Marshall Islands, on Kwajalein Atoll. This opportunity came out of the blue, and I had never been there, so my wife and I agreed I should take the assignment and miss a month of dark, cold, wet Portland winter, promising to return with a tan and a good attitude.
During my layover in Wakakie I managed to slip out of the hotel a few times to see which birds I might encounter and photograph. Attached are a few examples, plus some fine scenery photos.
The park’s lawn attracts many species of birds – primarily exotics.
I did not observe any shorebirds, terns, or gulls on the beach.
I noticed a few distant White Tern fly overs and failed to get a good photograph of a Red-whiskered Bulbul. During my two-hour stroll I observed eleven species, of which only two were native – White Tern and Pacific Golden Plover. I have three nights planned on Oahu on the return trip, so I hope to document several additional island species in about four weeks…Please stay tuned!
December 17, 2014
Up at 5:00 am and off to Honolulu Airport. The flight south was uneventful. Meals were not served. I had eight mini-bags of peanuts though. Here are a few photos as I was flying into Majuro for a brief layover.
By noon we started our descent into Kwajalein Atoll. Here is a photo of the distant atoll and airstrip.
Here is my room and a view from my room in an old WWII Officersâ€™ Quarters.
After a brief, work-related orientation to the island, I made it out to photograph birds and scenery. Here are a few things I saw.
These terns were sitting in the tree right in front of the apartment lobby! I noticed the fledgling from a window on the second floor.
December 19, 2014
We skipped a calendar day by passing across the International Date Line. It poured last night and I froze because of the intensity of the air conditioning in my apartment. If you open a window, you will be sorry, like the poor chap next door was yesterday â€“ everything in his room got soaked as the warm humid air quickly condensed on the cold finishes and furnishings inside his suite. If you take your cold camera and cell phone outdoors in the morning, without giving them time to equilibrate to ambient conditions, they will short out and fry!
By 9:00 am the sun already felt intimidating, and the humid wind continued to rip. While in Honolulu I happened to notice and hear a contemporary version of Bing Crosbyâ€™s Mele Kalikimaka and now it is my tripâ€™s theme song in the back of my head.
I am prohibited to discuss any details about the military installation I am staying on, but I will say the WWII barracks I am staying in were not doubt Officersâ€™ Quarters â€“ very comfortable and relatively spacious. Same with work â€“ all I can say is we are doing some construction.
Here are a few photos from Saturday.
I scored a loner fat-tired bike today and took it for a spin. I discovered a seawall embedded with tons of old WWII relicts including huge boilers, cylinders, gears, and engines â€“ fascinating. And where there are shorelines there often are shorebirds.
Do you see the differences between the Whimbrel and the Bristle-thighed Curlew?
Eurasian Tree Sparrows were very common.
December 21, 2014
Today was Sunday, our day off. The atoll is about three miles long and less than a half mile wide. I set off on my loaner bike to explore the island. Within an hour I ran into the only other person with binoculars â€“ Richard Clearman â€“ the birder who has been posting on eBird for the past several months. I tagged along behind him as he did his weekly count.
Richard showed me a great place to snorkel, so before lunch I rented the equipment and went out for two hours, lathered up with sun block 50 and was partially protected in a white T-shirt. I did not get burned a bit! I saw dozens of spectacular species of fish, so colorful and bizarre, some very odd-shaped. Nice living coral reefs, a foot-wide anemone, and an even larger clam.
Richard pointed out a sunken LCM (Landing Craft Marine). See the vessel in back? That is one. They were used to land marines on Normandy back in WWII. See the antenna with the ball on top at the right â€“ that is all that is poking up from the sunken LCM which I explored.
My next place to snorkel (above). It is windy (below).
One final shot of a White Tern for the day. They are so photogenic I couldn’t resist.
December 22, 2014
The forecast for the next few days calls for high winds, rough seas, and rain. Indeed the storm cells continued to come and go all day, but towards the end of the day it was mostly clear.
The beach in front of my apartment. Which species of birds might the storms bring in? I noticed a distant shearwater of some type through my binoculars, but it was too far off to identify.
On my way to lunch I stopped by my apartment and photographed this bird.
My best view ever of a Pacific Reef Heron.
This Pacific Golden Plover had some alternate plumage, including a black belly.
It was fun to observe this Sharp-tailed Sandpiper at close range! It is much different than the Pectoral Sandpipers back in Oregon. I haven’t seen any pectorals on the island yet, which would be nice to photograph for comparison.
I relocated the rare Bristle-thighed Curlew today. I had to try to get some better photographs!
The fluffy thighs are very apparent as it trotted away.
December 23, 2014
The storms and winds were worse today, with only brief cloud breaks and sun. Bike riding was challenging, but good exercise.
After dinner I biked down to the small marina where the fishermen clean their fish. About a dozen of these 200+ pound Nurse Sharks were right at the water’s edge, disappointed no fishing today because of high winds. These sharks have mouths like a catfish. I have been told that an 18-foot Black-tipped Shark usually visits for chum, so I will be back after fishing resumes.
December 24, 2014
There are a few signs of Christmas here and there, so I will capture a few photos and send out an updated blog text tomorrow. Next, a morning swim. It is 5:10 am and I am about to walk over to the saltwater swimming pool for an hour’s swim in the dark. There are a few lights around the pool, but that is it. It is windy and rainy, in the 70s.
Not much else happened today on or off the job site. I went for a two-hour sunset swim at Emon’s Beach, definitely the highlight of the day!
December 25, 2015
Merry Christmas! I am a day ahead of folks on the mainland. Here is how things went down today. First some Christmas decor in the lobby of my hotel and in the dining hall.
I worked on my birding website this morning, and I am getting very close to posting 360 captioned photographs from my vacation with Rebecca in Zambia (Victoria Falls), Botswana (Chobe National Park), and South Africa (Cape Town, Wilderness, and Robben Island). Please stay tuned.
I hopped on my bike for exercise, but a major storm cell was heading our way from the east.
It dumped a lot of rain from the east, typical.
Here’s the storm on the other side of the atoll, after it had passed.
An hour or so later it was all over!
This Black Noddy was tuckered out! I was very happy to finally get a shot of one at rest. They are usually on the wing.
A Black Noddy, winging it, typical.
This little 5-inch crab had a great deal of spirit!
Same crab as viewed from the side.
A tattler, Probably a Gray-tailed Tattler based upon its feeble call.
Another nice crab at the small marina.
An 8-foot Nurse Shark
Several 200+ pound Nurse Sharks. The sign clearly states No Swimming. Can’t they read?
Here is where I am at Kwajalein Atoll about 2,100 miles southwest of Hawaii. I plan to be back on January 13th. See you later!
December 28, 2014
I met Richard Clearman and accompanied him on his routine Kwajalein bird count route which he regularly submits to eBird. The best birds were seven Sharp-tailed Sandpipers on the gold course – easily appreciated close in through binoculars. We saw hundreds of Spinner Dolphins. Today 20 large Nurse Sharks performed a feeding frenzy five feet offshore, after a fisherman tossed in a large, hard Marlin head (no photos though). Here are a few photos from the day.
December 29, 2014
I managed to check out the point where the sea turtles are regularly seen, and was not disappointed. I hope to snorkel out to them, and the Manta Rays, IF the winds EVER die down below 20 mph (so the water at the point would be less choppy). I went biking and then swimming after work. I noticed the constellation Orion, positioned horizontally on its left side – things are different at 8 or 9 degrees north lattitude.
January 4, 2015
Today was my day off so I planned a short ferry ride over to Ebeye Atoll and back. Ebeye has 13,500 or so people living on 80 acres under third world conditions. Everyone gets a regular check from the US goverment and does not have to pay any rent. A king rules Ebeye and splits $350,000,000 a year (US Bases) rental with four other Marshallese kings. I prearranged a driver for the day and made it up to the fourth atoll in a chain of six…The road petered out into tire tracks, so that is as far as we travelled north, perhaps four miles north.
Run good, needs work. Tires are good,engine is fair.
I asked the driver to stop here, so I could look for a Lesser Sand Plover, which would be a life bird for me. This seemed like appropriate foraging habitat, and I could see distant Ruddy Turnstones and a few Pacific Goldnen Plovers.
What luck! As I describe the bird I am looking for to the driver, I spot one within 30 seconds of our stop. It will be the only one we will see today.
Not a large bird…About the size of a turnstone…Large than Snowy and Piping Plovers though.
Satisfying views and photographs on the bird!
These terns appear superficially similar to White Terns, but are difficult to approach and photograph.
Another excellent day of birding and adventure!