Posts Tagged ‘World War II’

A New Albatross for Midway

January 28, 2011


Short-tailed Albatross -Photo coutrtesy of Jlfutari at en.wikipedia

The New York Times reported a bit of good news this month. A Short-tailed Albatross was born on Midway Atoll. Midway, the atoll about half-way between San Francisco and Tokyo – and near where the Battle of Midway was fought during WWII – is now a wildlife refuge protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Midway is the home base for millions of Laysan Albatrosses, but very few Short-tailed Albatrosses.


That’s because Short-tailed Albatrosses were almost extirpated from the earth in the late 19th century. People liked their feathers, you see, and hunters killed them in vast numbers to supply the market.


Midway Atoll in 1941 (U.S. Navy Photo)

They were not the famed “Gooney Birds” of Midway that caused so much trouble to airmen stationed on the Atoll during WWII. By the early 1930’s short-tails were known to breed on only one Japanese island and, by the end of the War, were thought to be extinct. However, a few hardy birds wisely spent WWII at sea, survived, and returned to the Japanese Island in 1949. Until this month, not one pair was known to have bred on Midway, despite the fact that millions of its cousins Laysan and Black-footed Albatrosses do breed there.


Around the same time humans were mindlessly hunting the short-tail version into extinction, we also began laying the first undersea cable between North America and Asia. Some of that work was done by an American cable-laying consortium which set up an outpost on Midway. Its workers promptly brought many non-native species to the Island to “improve” it. They improved it with canaries, cats, dogs, deciduous trees of all kinds, and – best of all – cockroaches, termites, and centipedes. When we humans set about improving a place, we do the whole job, not just a part of it.

When this “improvement” of Midway was brought to President Theodore Roosevelt’s attention, he promptly sent twenty-one marines to Midway with orders to hold the atoll for the United States and stop the “improvement” before it killed all the birds. After almost a century of use as a Naval air station, the atoll became a national wildlife refuge in 1988 and is now safe for the albatrosses.


Improving Enewetak Atoll


It is fitting that the United States protects Midway and has now hosted a new short-tailed baby. Short-tails used to breed on another Pacific atoll, Enewetak. We touched off forty some odd nuclear bombs on that 2.5 square mile atoll where the Short-tailed albatross once bred. We took care to remove all the people, but I imagine a great many birds were turned into elementary particles during the time we used the atoll to conduct nuclear tests. We’ve improved it too. We scraped off as much radioactive soil as we could, buried in a big hole on the atoll, and covered with a huge concrete mound. People have returned but, if I were a bird, I’d be hesitant to believe that we’re through with our improvements. Besides, as you can see, the concrete bunker doesn’t leave many good nesting sites.

Enewetak Today ( DOE Photo)

So, welcome to a new citizen and may he or she have a long life soaring over northern Pacific waters, knowing it will have a home on Midway to come home to in a few years when it’s time to breed.


Parisian Pigeons

October 20, 2008
Rue de Rivoli, Paris sometime between 1940-44 by Andre Zucca

Rue de Rivoli, Paris sometime between 1940-44 by Andre Zucca

During the German occupation of Paris in World War II the food supply steadily dwindled.  As the war dragged on and Germany began to run out of food, the occupiers thought nothing of stealing French food and sending it home to Germany.  Rationing in Paris was severe.

A.J. Liebling, the New Yorker’s war correspondent, was a Francophile.  He loved France, he loved french food — which, eventually killed him because he ate so much of it — and he loved Paris.  He was in Paris in 1940 and stayed as long as could, leaving only a matter of hours before the German Army arrived.  He returned to Paris with the Daydaybay (the French 2nd Armored Division) only a matter of hours after the Germans left in 1944.

Liebling had been living in the Hotel Louvois in Paris prior to his hurried 1940 departure and he returned there the day after the Liberation.  The Hotel looked out on the Square Louvois, a small park which before the war contained 14 trees and innumerable pigeons.   Liebling was delighted to find the hotel still in business after the Occupation.  When he got there one of the first things he did was count the trees; fourteen still stood.  Writing years later he remembered, “The pigeons, of course, were gone but I can’t say at that moment I really missed them.”

The pigeons were gone because, during the rationing, Parisians ate pretty much whatever they could get their hands on.  That included the city’s large population of pigeons. By August, 1944, none were left.

Hotel Louvois

Hotel Louvois

Liebling was again at the Hotel Louvois in the mid-1950s, writing Normandy Revisited, his memoir of the war years.  Here is what he had to say about the pigeons then,

Pigeons roost in the trees of the Square Louvois; even when the temperature is near zero, they seem none the worse for it, and no less amorous.  The pigeons are collateral descendants of those I used to see there in 1940, the latter having been eaten during the Occupation.  (The same people who treacherously devoured those birds now try to make it up to their successors by feeding them crumbs of croissants left over from breakfast.)  “My God, those pigeons were tough!” says Fernand, the old night porter. “Real Athletes! And with the rationing, we were hardly strong enough to chew them.”

But times change and what was once yesterday’s necessity becomes today’s luxury; we learn from Maureen Dowd that the discredited, disgraced executives of AIG — after we taxpayers bailed them out — traveled, in a private jet costing $17,500, to a partridge hunt at a British country manor where they paid another $17,500 on the food and rooms.  The food included pigeon breast.


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