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Golfers and Kolea share a love of fine landscaping

Arnold Palmer Course, Turtle Bay, Oahu

October 23, 2019

Pacific Golden-Plovers love what we humans have done with the Hawaiian Islands, particularly our creation of golf courses. Hawaii has 74 statewide.

Knowing that golf courses were prime Kolea wintering grounds, plover expert, Wally Johnson, in 1992, counted all the Kolea he found on Oahu’s 28 (today 38) golf courses. Wally conducted the counts between January 22nd and March 26th in fair weather, meaning no high winds or heavy rain, sometimes from a cart, and sometimes on foot.

Kolea stand tall and have a distinct run-stop-run gait. They are easy to distinguish from mynahs, doves and cardinals.

Typical winter colors of Kolea. ©Susan Scott

The count totaled 1,902 birds, and contained some surprises. For Kolea density, it didn’t seem to matter if the courses were new or old, whether they were large or small (some high counts were on 9-hole courses), or where they were located. Both the highest and the lowest counts were all in the same general area, and all on 18-hole courses.

  • Least: 2 Kolea each in Honolulu Country Club (Salt Lake) and Ted Makalena Golf Course (Waipio Peninsula)
  • Most: 168 Kolea at Pearl Country Club (Aiea) and 161 at Mamala Bay Golf Course (formerly Hickam AFB Golf Course.)

Now, 28 years later, the Hawaii Audubon Society, with Wally as advisor, are trialing a statewide Kolea count, including all of Hawaii’s golf courses. Most clubs don’t allow nongolfers to wander about counting birds, but we might not need to. Golfers can count Kolea while golfing.

Mauna Kea Golf Course, Big Island.

Here’s how nature-loving golfers can help:

  1. Choose your golf course at bit.ly/2BFwVXG We recently gave golf courses their own section on the far right.
  2. Open the CONTACT tab on this site, and email me, Susan, your name and the golf course you can count. I’ll sign you up on my private list, and mark the course as TAKEN.
  3. To count and report Kolea, see Guidelines and FAQs. Also email me with any questions or comments.
  4. Spread the word among fellow golfers.
  5. Large areas are easier to count with tally clickers, sold with Kolea Count T-shirts on the Audubon website’s store tab: www.hawaiiaudubon.org All sales help further Kolea research. If you want a clicker and no T-shirt or book, email me, and I’ll get you one.

Humans and wildlife aren’t always compatible, but in this case, people and plovers are well-suited. The birds get to eat bugs and worms on lush, manicured fairways, while residents and visitors get to play a sport surrounded by native birds in some of the most lovely landscapes on the planet. Kolea and golfers are a match made in heaven.

Read about our still-arriving Kolea at www.susanscott.net/ow/incoming-kole-kids-arrive-from-alaska/

Kapalua Resort, Lahaina, Maui

By |2020-10-26T10:42:41-10:00October 26, 2020|Recent News|0 Comments

Frequently Asked Questions

September 21, 2020

Q: What happened to the map and database on this site?
A: Deleted for now. The map got too crowded (a good thing – so many Kolea!), and names and email addresses in the database needed to be confidential. We’re working on ways to share information with counters.

Q: How often can I count and report Kolea in my area?
A: For Little Counts, report your bird’s arrival, and any change throughout the winter, such as its disappearance, or another bird’s appearance in the same space. Share your bird’s eating, behavior, and/or personality traits in the SHARE tab.
For Big Counts, count and report three times between December 1 and March 31 if possible. If you can count only once or twice, report that. If you can count more than three times, please do. All data enhances knowledge.

Q: How do I sign up for a Big Count?
A: Go to bit.ly/2BFwVXG Use the CONTACT tab to send me your chosen location by its name and/or Site Code. The sites are numbered only to help me find locations in long lists. If your location isn’t listed, let me know, and I’ll add it.

Q: How do I know I’m not counting the same bird twice, or missing some birds?
A: Absolute precision isn’t possible, but you can get pretty close. A territorial Kolea stays in its chosen site throughout the day, and there, the birds become accustomed to the presence of people, traffic, and sometimes even mellow dogs. If an unusual noise, animal, or person startles a Kolea and it flies off, it will return to its territory after the disturbance. Counting an area at least three times helps arrive at a more accurate number. Watch for patterns, and do the best you can.

This Kolea, named Gracie, learned that the family dog, Lucy, was no threat. A screen separates the dog and the bird. ©Susan Scott

Q: Do I count single birds in flight?
A: No. Only count Kolea on the ground.

Q: What about Kolea in flocks?
A: Flocks are of two types:
1)Territorial Kolea gathering to roost for the night. At night, the birds sleep together in places safe from predators, such as rooftops and rocky outcrops. Don’t count flocks that are gathering for sleepovers.

Bedtime for birdies. A dusk gathering of Kolea on a rooftop at Midway Atoll. ©Susan Scott

2) Social Kolea that live in groups.

By |2020-10-23T10:23:14-10:00September 29, 2020|Recent News|0 Comments

Kolea Count Guidelines, A Community Project

Thank you, plover lovers, for helping add to the world’s knowledge of Hawaii’s Pacific Golden-Plovers. This website has two goals. One is to give Kolea fans a place to record facts, and share stories, about our revered native birds. The other is to enlist community members throughout the state to collect dates and numbers. We are asking these questions:

  • When do Kolea arrive in the Islands?
  • When do the birds leave for Alaska?
  • How many individuals spend the winter here?
  • How many spend Kolea over-summer in Hawaii?

Because this summer’s chicks, called first-year birds, can arrive in Hawaii as late as November, and then must secure a foraging site to survive the winter, the official count starts December 1st.  We’ve divided the census into Little Counts and Big Counts:


This Kolea enjoys live mealworms offered by the yard’s owner.

People who only want to count a small area, such their backyard, a small schoolyard or church lawn, go to www.koleacount.org/report/and report your bird(s). You can report your “home bird” anytime. If it made it back, it’s likely here for the winter. If the number of Kolea in that area changes over the winter, report it again using the same address so we don’t count the same bird(s) twice.


People who can count Kolea three times this winter in large areas such as campuses, parks, cemeteries, or golf courses go to this read-only link, bit.ly/2BFwVXG  to see the sites I’ve listed.

  1. Select your island and region, find your count location, and send Site Code and/or location name to me at koleacount.org/contact. I’ll keep track of who is counting where on a private master list. This keeps names and emails confidential.
  2. Count all Kolea in your site 3 times between December 1 and March 31. If you can only count once or twice, that’s OK.  All data helps. If you can count more than 3 times, great.
  3. Go to koleacount.org/report and report each of your counts separately. Enter your Site Code and/or location name, the number of birds you counted, and any comments you have about that count. You need not re-enter your personal information each time.

Updates come as News at the bottom of the HOME page, and in the NEWS tab at top.

You can help improve this first, all-volunteer Kolea Count in Hawaii by letting me know what’s working, and what isn’t. Contact me for Big Count locations I’ve missed, and I’ll add them. This is my first attempt at compiling Kolea foraging sites throughout the Islands, and I need plovers fans’ local knowledge.



P.S. Some people record their Kolea sightings on ebird.org/species/pagplo. If you only record your counts there, please let me know and I’ll get the 2020-2021 winter numbers from that public Cornell Lab of Ornithology site.

By |2020-09-29T06:00:23-10:00August 21, 2020|Recent News|0 Comments

My Kolea is back!

On July 25, 2020, my Julie/Jake arrived on the MidPacific Golf Course.  

July 30, 2020.  Last week, a day after I wrote that I would soon hear from plover lovers that their Kolea are back, one of my two Kolea came back. Our dear Jake, or Julie, who forage all winter on opposite sides of a giant monkey pod tree off our lanai, showed up last Saturday, July 25th.

Because Kolea begin shedding their bright breeding-colored feathers while sitting on their eggs in June on the Alaska tundra, by the end of July most of those brilliant feathers are gone. We can’t, therefore, be sure whether a returned bird is male or female.

Like most animals, though, wide variations occur among individuals. Our returned bird still carries some spring colors, but whether its Jake with his winter outfit peeking through, or Julie still wearing much of her spring attire, I can’t say.

According to my neighbor, Joanne, I am the Head Honcho Queen Bee Leader of Kolea Kounters. That lofty title got me looking through my Kolea email file, saved since 2012, for first return dates:

— July 30, 2012: “I live in Mililani Mauka and came home to see my favorite Kolea in my backyard this afternoon!”
— August 3, 2013: “Saw a lone Kolea today @ Wailua Golf Course, on Kauai, on the 17th fairway.”
— August 2, 2014: “Jane said that your plover returned on Thursday–mine, too!”
— July 1, 2015: “I saw a Kolea at Hunakai Park in Kahala.”
— July 26, 2016: “Just saw two female plovers foraging together in my neighbor’s yard [Keeamoku.]”
— July 25, 2017: Plover at BYUH yesterday [with photo] reported to Wally Johnson who forwarded to me.
— July 3, 2018: “…on my noontime walk at work yesterday, I spotted the first Kolea to show up in the area where I work near Whitmore Village.”
— July 16, 2019: “On our walk this morning we saw 3 plovers at Mililani Mauka Community Park.”
— July 25, 2020: “…I may have seen our first sighting(s) of a (pair?) of newly returned koleas.” Several of us saw our birds return last weekend, arriving just before Hurricane Douglas passed near Hawaii.

Most of the plover watchers above remarked that this seemed an early return for the birds, but a glance shows that late July/early August is normal. After these initial sightings, emails poured in about plover returns.

It’s possible that the July 1st and 3rd dates above were birds whose eggs or hatchlings were eaten by foxes, gulls, falcons, or jaegers, causing the parents to give up the season and come home. Migrating caribou also sometimes trample nests.

There’s also the chance that the July 1st and 3rd birds had been here all summer, a group we just this year began to count. Birds that aren’t in good enough shape to make the 3-day, nonstop, 3,000-mile migration in April and May know it, and stay in Hawaii. Plover expert, Wally Johnson, thinks most of those are first-year birds, but …

By |2020-07-31T20:58:33-10:00July 31, 2020|Recent News|0 Comments
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