In the trenches
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In the trenches

By Fields Falcone, China Keeper 

Netting the birds is complete! With a target number of 50 birds each, we ended with 47 Tinian monarchs and 51 bridled white-eyes. The monarchs posed a challenge… They live deep in the forest and required over 45 net sites to reach our goal, practically a net apiece. The white-eyes, on the other hand, loved to fly out across the WWII runway cross-roads we use as access to the habitat and needed only a few high nets and a little patience. After birds were caught they were brought to a field station and crated for transport back to the bird holding room at the motel. 

Image 1: Chris Johnson, St. Louis Zoo, and Rob Mortensen, Aquarium of the Pacific, set up mist nets for the monarchs deep in the tropical jungle.

Image 2: Rufous fantail caught in the net – this bird will be extracted and immediately released as a “non-target” species.

Image 3: Reba Ourun, MAC Intern, junior at University of Guam and native of Yap, extracts a rufous fantail. Because we are not moving fantails this year this bird will be released at the netting site.

Image 4: Target birds (monarchs and white-eyes) are transported from net to field station in soft cloth bags to minimize stress. At the station they are crated with food (mealworms for the monarchs and papaya for the white-eyes) and water until they are transported back to the bird holding room within two hours.

Image 5: A Tinian monarch reminding us who is boss before being crated.

Image 6: Mist-netting (a low impact method of forest bird capture) makes all of us beam with wonder for this natural world. Kami Fox, DVM, Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, holds a Micronesian honeyeater before it is released at the net site.

Image 7: Forest jewels: a small songbird nest from a past breeding season near a net lane. 

Once the birds are in holding, Hannah Bailey (Houston Zoo), Peter Luscomb (Pacific Bird Conservation [PBC]), and Herb Roberts (PBC) mastermind the complex feeding and accommodations of 2 species with different requirements and temperaments. White-eyes are kept two to a box because they are naturally more social; monarchs are kept separately because they are more territorial. The boxes are constructed by Peter with the birds’ well-being in mind – isolation to offer competitive-free feeding, but with allowances for air circulation and auditory contact with “conspecifics”, or birds of a feather.  Resources can be limited on a remote island in the Pacific, so MAC team members bring food from the States such as mealworms (common sedentary insect prey for birds in zoo collections), but other foods must be procured locally such as fresh fruit. The MAC team also garners flies for the monarchs with ingenious traps devised by Peter and placed over local fish catch we let rot in the equatorial sun. Next on the agenda is to color-band all the birds with unique identification combinations. This will enable the CNMI government to survey for the birds on the remote sanctuary islands long after we have returned to the States to take care of our hornbills, pandas, flamingos, payrolls, and spreadsheets. In just a few days these birds will take the 13 hour overnight journey via boat to their safe new home on the uninhabited island of Guguan, some 160 miles away.  

Image 8: The bird holding room at the LoriLynn Hotel in Tinian. Note: we have hot water most of the time after 5pm this year!

Image 9: Hannah Bailey, Houston Zoo, and Ellen Gorrell, Toledo Zoo, procure wild papaya (non-native to the island but certainly appreciated by the locals, avian and hominid) to feed the bridled white-eyes in the days prior to their translocation to Guguan from Tinian.

Image 10: Searching for papaya we found other foodstuffs… no giant pandas here, but there’s some killer fodder!

Image 11: The tiny colored bands that will adorn and field-identify the Tinian monarchs (inner diameter 2.8mm).  On the search for papaya we crossed paths with history again, from the skeleton of a Japanese internment camp to remains of US Marine vessels that came ashore to secure Tinian from Imperial Japan. While we come together as a team to help this region secure the future of their forest birds, we cannot help but attempt to fathom the depth of impact our nation and others have had on this tiny oasis of dry land in the vast world of Oceania. 

Image 12: Defiant remnants of Camp Chulu, the Japanese internment camp in Tinian.

Image 13: An eerie Japanese munitions depot carved into the topography of Tinian. Rotting oil drums still pepper the floor of the cavern.

Image 14: A Micronesian starling takes off from its post on top of a decomposing US Marine amphibious landing craft near Tinian’s north shores.

Image 15: Chulu Beach (aka “White 2”), one of the sites where the US Marines landed to take Tinian from the Japanese.

Image 16: A small crab chooses its final resting place on a rusting WWII transmission on Chulu Beach, Tinian.

Image 17: The 2015 MAC closing crew summarizes the day’s accomplishments at the evening meeting at the LoriLynn Hotel on Tinian.

Posted by Zoo Info at 1:37 PM