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MAN-O'-WAR BIRDS OF LAYSAN
The frigate or man-o'-war bird (Frigata aquila) has a bright red gular pouch, an inflated air sac only indirectly connected with the lungs, so that it can be filled or emptied but slowly. When the bird is on the wing the red pouch bobs from side to side, giving a most bizarre appearance. These birds are adroit fliers. It is while on the wing that they gather twigs for the nest, catch surface-swimming fish, and even drink water, catching it up as they dart downward in long parabolic curves. The frigate birds are numerous on Laysan, and maintain a piratical warfare on their neighbors, the blue-faced boobies, who are skillful and industrious fishermen. The boobies are set upon when coming in from the sea laden with flying fish, and are rudely overturned in mid-air, a procedure which invariably causes them to drop the fish-which the man-o'-war birds scoop up as they fall. Afterward, the members of the expedition turned the tables and collected good specimens of flying fish for scientific study from the mano'-war birds by rapping them lightly on the head with a cane, thus causing the birds to disgorge the fish. Laysan is the largest of the chain of islets running to the northwest of the main Hawaiian group, set aside by President Roosevelt in 1909 as a bird reservation. The islands are formed by the summits of a great submarine volcanic mountain range. Like most of these islands Laysan is probably an old atoll with a surrounding reef and central lagoon. Nowhere does it rise more than fifty feet above sea level. Tall, bushy grass and shrubs cover its inner slopes, supported by a soil formed through the disintegration of coral and phosphate rock. At one time it was reported that there were several palm trees on the island but our expedition found only dead stumps of palm trees
Laysan's fringing reef over which the long Pacific rollers break.-The reef is open only on the western shore, where landing can be easily effected in favorable weather
UT in the mid-Pacific, extending from the main Hawaiian group in a northwesterly direction for fifteen hundred miles, are a series of small islands famed the world over for their vast number of longwinged sea birds. These islands are reached by boat from Honolulu and as one proceeds on the way to the famous bird paradises and sails past the green slopes of Kauai and Maui without seeing a feathered creature except possibly a man-o'-war bird dark against the sky, one wonders why these other favorable places in the beautiful Hawaiians are not occupied by a greater bird population.
We left Honolulu December 16, steaming close to verdure-covered
Kauai as we circled off toward Bird Island. This we reached the morning of the second day out. It is a precipitous little mountain, a mass of rock towering sheer for nine hundred feet, one portion crumbling to the water's edge, and the gentle interior slope like the bowl of a timeworn volcano. Thousands of birds, flashes of white against the dark blue of the Pacific and dark against the light of the sky, drifted out to meet the on-coming boat. A few albatrosses were seen skimming the waves, and wide-stretching man-o'-war birds drifted lazily above the mast tops, circling rings about the boat with no apparent wing movement. We found that landing on Bird Island was impossible, owing to the tremendous surf
1 The Hawaiian Islands Reservation was established in 1909 by Executive Order as a sanctuary for the millions of sea birds and waders which return there annually to raise their young or to rest while migrating.
An earlier article by Mr. Bailey, describing the discovery on Pearl and Hermes reefs of the main rookery of the rare monk seal, was published in the May, 1918, AMERICAN MUSEUM JOURNAL.
Illustrations from Photographs by the Author
The Hawaiian terns (Micranous hawaiiensis) are confiding birds and dart about the head of the visitor to their island in a fearless manner. They nest in large colonies among the matted bushes, making long excursions offshore for the fish on which they almost entirely subsist. These terns do not dive for their prey but snap up, with a quick jerk of the head, the minnows that come near the surface
Sharks glide stealthily from one cut to another in the outer coral reef, seeking such finny residents as they may devour. As we rowed in to the island, they nipped at our oar blades, noseing curiously the strange disturber of their unfrequented waters
During the winter months Laysan suffers from violent storms. The waves pile across the reefs with thunderous roars, rushing in and breaking over the south sea wall in clouds of spray, often sixty feet high. The greens and dark blues of the deep water meet sharply the light blue of the water over the reefs, and these, together with the prismatic colors of the spray, contrast with the dark and forbidding shadows of the broken bowlders of the reef
The sea wall is cut up with innumerable potholes in which live queer goby fish which leap from one hole to another to make their escape from pursuing enemies. Spined sea urchins line the most exposed places where they receive the full force of the breaking waves. The reefs have, however, other stories to tell for on them may be found many a bolt and hasp from wrecked ships, reminders of tragedies of days long past
which crashed against the bowlderstrewn wall, so we turned westward.
At sun-up next morning we sighted Necker Island, a distant, ghostly mass showing vaguely against the sky line. This wall of igneous rock, picturesque and forbidding with its red veins showing against the dark, is a little more than half a mile in length and three hundred feet in height. The walls are precipitous and only in the calmest weather is it possible to land a boat among the broken pinnacles. We pulled close to the island in a skiff, with sailors and a lieutenant to man the boat, but, although we rounded the northernmost point searching for a landing, the crashing waves kept us from a near approach. Sharks nipped at the oar blades and as we entered the deep shadow of the high wall, a great skate rose off our bow-an indistinct mass of glowing phosphorescence, and then sank slowly from view.
is 850 miles from Honolulu, and so far off the general line of boat travel that during our entire stay we saw not even the smoke of a distant vessel. The island is oval in shape, two miles in length by one in width, a dazzling strip of sand lost in the sparkling Pacificjust a dot of white upon the broad expanse. It is supposed to be a raised atoll, and the interior area slopes gently to a little salt lagoon, bordered with a thick carpet of Portulaca.
This island is the largest of the Leeward reservation and the best known to bird lovers the world over. Here on this little place are found five species of indigenous birds, one the Laysan teal so restricted in numbers that only seven individuals existed at the time of our visit; a wingless rail skulks among the grasses, the red honey-eaters, quietcolored miller birds, and joyous-voiced finches dart among the Chenopodium. But to the casual observer the vast throngs of sea birds that crowd this. sanctuary make it a delight. A great colony of Laysan albatrosses occupies the flat surrounding the lagoon, where they assemble each year to raise their young. A great flock of these large white birds of immaculate plumage resembles the whitest of cotton fields, and hundreds of these darting albatrosses in the sunlight give a picture beyond the power of camera or artist to portray. On the exposed beaches, where the winds sweep viciously, are reared the young of the black-footed albatrosses. These old pirates have a rugged disposition and are inclined to make a stand for their rights, fighting off intruders with beak and wing.
Five species of agile terns make Laysan their nesting ground, and when large numbers of graybacks and sooties are assembled, it is necessary for a man to shout if he cares to be heard above the calls of the birds. The large noddy and its smaller brother, the Hawaiian tern, choose the matted bushes as nest
Laysan is apart from the world. It ing sites, and often ten nests may be
It is majestic in the lee of that island. Thousands of birds shriek above one's head, and the sight and sound of the waves, with their high-thrown spray, are bewildering. One of our party landed by swimming-a hazardous feat -and obtained a footing on the slippery rocks only after he had three times disappeared under water, sucked down by the undertow. This rocky islet, far from the main Hawaiian group, is noted for the old stone monuments built upon its crest. Numerous little idols have been found and it is supposed that the ancient Hawaiians. used Necker as a place of worship-a long voyage for their small outrigger canoes, with no compass to guide them!
Pearl and Hermes reefs with the rare warm-water seal, Midway Island, the farthermost of the chain, and Lisiansky were visited, all of interest for their wealth of birds. But it was on Laysan that we spent three months, studying the conditions of this Pacific reservation.