Published: October 2005
Susan Middleton

What was your best experience in the field covering this story?

I feel so privileged to have worked in the vibrant marine and terrestrial environments of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. It has reinvigorated my soul. I really hope that some of what we were able to capture will communicate to the public what a unique and valuable place this is.

What was your worst experience in the field covering this story?

David Liittschwager and I decided to camp out on Eastern Island so we could photograph in evening and morning light. The pier looked like a good place for us to pitch our tents because nesting albatrosses already occupied most of the island's real estate. Well, lo and behold, that night there was a storm with probably 50-mile-an-hour (80-kilometer-an-hour) winds blowing laterally across the pier. It completely destroyed my tent, so I spent most of the night just walking around the island, watching ghost crabs feed on albatross carcasses.

We could have radioed for help, but we were far too embarrassed to tell anyone where we had camped. We never should have pitched our tents on the pier because we couldn't stake them down. I guess we were lucky that the winds didn't completely blow us away.

What was your quirkiest experience in the field covering this story?

I was on Eastern Island on another excursion, photographing the sooty tern colony that nests on an old, crumbling military runway. I would quietly stand among hundreds of thousands of these terns until they took off in an incredible cacophonous frenzy. Then I would start running down the runaway with them, shooting. It was exhilarating and made me feel like a bird—until I tripped over a crack. My camera flew out of my hands, and I was airborne before crashing down onto my knees. It was a little surreal, but I immediately got up because I wanted to keep shooting. I couldn't, though. The mirror in my camera had completely shattered, and my knees were in pretty bad shape. They were covered with blood and I felt like a kid.

In the end, it wasn't that bad. The pictures I took right before I fell really captured the birds' energy and exemplified the abundance of life in northwestern Hawaii. One of them also made it into the magazine (See pages 76-77 of the October issue.).