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The MAC Project 2014: Tinian Fieldwork Complete!

Catch up here and here

It was touch and go… netting birds in the rain is risky and challenging, but with a finite number of days to complete the mission we persevered. Herb and the Saipan team are long gone, working nets to capture Mariana fruit doves and golden white-eyes for AZA zoo captive programs – the AZA populations are in need of genetic and gender ratio replenishment for those species after some years of slow but steady breeding success. Here on Tinian, our last few days were wet and weary, a bird here and there, closing the nets down in downpours, moving nets, all to reach the minimum 48 birds. In a grand finale Shirley and Ken set up one last new net between showers and captured the last 3 birds to bring us to 51 – 3 extras in case we have any birds we need to release because of weight gain issues, but if all fare well, all will be moved to Sarigan. Then it was field site breakdown – never as exciting as setup, but a time to reflect on the successes to date. 

Sunrise, The MAC Project, Tinian
Image 1
. Sunrise over the airstrip near the bird netting site.

Kim Kessler, Honolulu Zoo, The MAC Project,
Image 2
. Kim Kessler, Zookeeper, Honolulu Zoo, raises the nets for the last morning of trapping.

bridled white-eye, The MAC Project
Image 3
. Young local – a just-fledged bridled white-eye on the trail to one of our nets. We re-routed for the remainder of netting to give him wide berth and undisturbed time with mom and dad.

Eric Jeltes, St. Louis Zoo, Ellen Gorrell, Toledo Zoo, The MAC Project
Image 4
. Eric Jeltes, Zookeeper, St. Louis Zoo, and Ellen Gorrell, Zookeeper, Toledo Zoo, wait with quiet patience for the birds to hit the nets.

Tinian monarch, The MAC Project
Image 5
. A Tinian monarch caught and held for a fecal sample, then immediately released. Tinian monarchs will be the target translocation species for 2015.

The MAC Project
Image 6
. Shirley breaking down field camp. 

We are hoping for a Monday morning translocation. It’s Sunday morning here (Happy Easter everyone!), and we won’t know if the copter pilots will deem the route safe weather-wise until late afternoon. As soon as we get word we will go into hyper-drive, coordinating an all-hands efficient system to color-band all the birds, and move them to 6-box transport crates rather than the individual holding boxes so they can all fit on the plane. The next move they will make will be flying out of the boxes to their new island! 

While we AZA folks don’t do the monitoring of the moved populations, the CNMI biologists will be back out on Sarigan to do extensive surveys for a 10-day period later this year. They will be able to check on all populations – the bridled white-eyes, golden white-eyes, Mariana fruit doves, and rufous fantails that have been moved in in 7 separate events since 2009. 

Before the Saipan crew left, we took a quick tour of sites worthy of much longer pondering. The atomic bomb pits, where both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs were held before being launched off this island, just a short drive down the abandoned airstrips from our field camp. The pocked bluffs of the east side of Tinian, where US Forces still hold mortar fire and response drills. A Japanese shrine, where fruit doves coo and the jungle slowly reclaims a pocket of tranquility during peace and war. 

Enola Gay, Tinian, The MAC Project
Image 7
. The pit that held the atomic bomb before it was loaded onto the Enola Gay and launched over Hiroshima, Japan.

Tinian Island, The MAC Project
Image 8
. The cratered US mortar practice range on the northeast bluffs of Tinian Island.

Tinian, The MAC Project
Image 9
. Japanese Shinto shrine from the 40s, built by a sugar company. Most of Tinian was converted to sugar cane fields and occupied by the Japanese starting in the 20s.

Mariana Fruit Dove, flame tree photo, Tinian Island, The MAC Project
Image 10
. Mariana fruit dove in a leafless flame tree. While not native to the CNMI, flame trees seasonally leaf out and bloom with outrageous color, inspiring festivals and local pride.

sunset, beautiful sunset photo, Tinian Island, The MAC Project
Image 11
. Sunset through a skeletal flame tree. Blooms will abound by summer. 

Now the process of feeding and cleaning takes most of the day and all hands on deck – 6am, 10am, 1pm, and 4pm duties all have begun to bleed into one another, and with our small Tinian crew of 7 we fit in human meals when we can. These fantails are flycatchers in their ecosystem – they prefer flying prey, which means we need to offer them such. The other species we work with are fine with a plate of mealworms, perhaps some fresh fruit, or in the case of the doves, 3x daily hand-feedings. The fantails bring a whole new factor into the mix – how to cultivate live flying prey, get said prey into the holding boxes, and have enough food for 4 feedings x 51 birds a day! Luckily, they transition to eating some mealworms as well, so they get a buffet at mealtimes. Peter has fashioned ingenious methods for attracting and trapping flies– rotting fish in sequence, and building trap buckets that sit over the fish to capture the bugs. He keeps a rotation of about 10 buckets buzzing. At mealtime we fill these small petri dishes with a hole in the bottom which can be slid into the holding boxes and the lids removed at the last minute. Truly husbandry genius. But I wish I could take a picture of the smell… Peter has books to write on these techniques – one-of-a-kind methods developed over a long career with AZA and other organizations moving all sizes and species of birds to safe habitats. 

Tinian Island, The MAC Project, Lori Lynn Hotel, rufous fantail, bird room
Image 12
. The epicenter for the 2014 Tinian MAC Program: the Bird Room at the Lori Lynn Hotel. Each rufous fantail has its own box, constructed specifically to minimize stress and maximize air circulation. The backs have open screens, out of sight of passing caretakers to lessen disturbance. Front doors slide up and bottom trays slide out for ease of feeding and cleaning. These boxes work for holding smaller species; larger boxes are used for doves. Each breaks down into a dozen pieces and a small package the size of a flattened shoebox.

Dr. Sandy, The MAC Project
Image 13
. Dr. Sandy gets her hands dirty loading flies for the 1pm feeding.

rufous fantails, The MAC Project
Image 14
. Dr. Joe serves up one portion of the dinner menu for the fantails.

Lori Lynn Hotel, rufous fantails, Tinian Island, The MAC Project
Image 15
. Dusk at the Lori Lynn Hotel. Fantails are settling in, a cat fight in the distance, and a final rooster crows. 

And now we wait for word on Monday. Band them, crate them, load them, and off they will go!

Posted by Zoo Info at 11:23 AM

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