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Live Expedition - Daily Journal
May 16th, 2001


Illustrations and text by Susan Zwinger

To comprehend how essential Palmyra Atoll is to the survival of seabirds, imagine this tiny Pacific refuge from their point of view.

A five-week-old bristle-thighed curlew sits on a treeless bog on the Seward Peninsula, Alaska. His parents have already departed for distant islands and Southeast Asia. Diminishing daylight finally triggers something within, and with no one to guide him, he leaps into the air on pure faith (or instinct) and flies, with a thousand of his closest friends, in a south-southwesterly direction.

The technology for this 6190 kilometer flight to first landfall includes: the sun's angle by day; the changing star positions by night; the pull of Earth's pole on a tiny piece of magnetite in his body; the polarization of crepuscular light; and even the boom of low sound waves from ocean surf or prevailing winds.

A curlew could not say, but deep down he knows that he needs a winter feeding ground close to the equator that offers plenty of food, few predators, and little human intrusion.

Palmyra answers his wildest dreams (if he dreams), and two hundred curlews will winter on Palmyra; this is a significant number in a world population of only ten thousand.

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