Farewell and fair winds

A patriotic plover, April 8, 2022 at the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park. ©David Hyrenbach

May 1, 2022

This is a bittersweet time of year for us plover lovers, since most of Hawai’i’s Kolea (and our other shorebirds) have left the Islands for the Arctic. We wish the birds were still here perking up our lawns and shorelines, and at the same time, admire them for their remarkable, and mandatory, migrations.

Our bird, Jake, had molted almost completely into his spring tuxedo by April 1st, and then proceeded to bulk up day by day. (Craig joked that Jake was going to get too fat to fly.) The last day we saw him, all plump and pretty, was April 17th. Whether he joined his fellow plovers somewhere in Hawai’i or headed directly north, we’ll never know.

Our Jake on April 1st. ©Susan Scott

On April 20th, Kolea fan, Roger Kobayashi, kindly escorted me to Ford Island where he has been counting Kolea all winter. The field fronting the NOAA building is a staging area where Kolea gather before departing. I wondered if our Jake was there, a fact we cannot know unless the bird has ID bands on its legs.

Roger counted about 80 Kolea here at the height of the gathering, April 17th, with the number gradually decreasing day by day. Whether the birds took off for their 3,000 mile journey a few at a time, or gathered with others somewhere else in Hawai’i, is unknown.

During my visit to the Ford Island field, Roger and I counted about 50 birds in the field.  Because they tended to line up lengthwise, less than half are visible in this picture. ©Susan Scott

I visited Punchbowl Cemetery throughout April to check on Wally’s study birds (read here) and found several. Like at Ford Island the number of birds there decreased daily, from the peak of 70, until April 27th. And then there were none.

As of April 27th, Wally reported that 5 of the satellite-tagged birds had already reached Alaska, a 3-day, nonstop flight. He emailed: “Once again, peak departure 24-26 April. Amazing — this has been the exact pattern ever since ’79-80 the first year of our studies in Hawaii!”

Punchbowl study female, April 20, 2022.©Susan Scott

Another Punchbowl study male, April 26, 2022 ©Susan Scott

Wally and other researchers involved in this year’s Kolea study will keep me informed of what’s happening, and I’ll keep you informed here. Analysis of the data we collected for the 2021-2022 Kolea Count is in progress.

In the meantime, please report, and photograph if possible, …

By |2022-05-01T10:04:28-10:00May 1, 2022|Recent News|0 Comments

Punchbowl’s Kolea get backpacks and bracelets

Dr. Wally Johnson with feathered friend, National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. ©Susan Scott

March 30, 2022

 Our Kolea’s long-term advocate and life-long researcher, Dr. Wally Johnson of Montana State University, has been on Oahu these last few weeks helping the world learn more about one of Hawai’i’s (and Wally’s) favorite birds. In a study supported by Brigham Young University-Hawaii, the Hawaii Audubon Society, the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, and enthusiastic volunteers, Wally is placing leg bands on nearly half of the 60-to-70 Kolea that forage in the cemetery each winter.

Above: These ID bands are visible on foraging birds (binoculars or enlarging photos help.)  To report a banded bird, note which bands are on which leg. This bird has blue on left leg, yellow and aluminum on right. ©Susan Scott

Each of 30 birds gets three leg bands, two plastic in various colors, and a numbered aluminum one, recorded by the North American Bird Banding Program. The colors allow observers to identify an individual without disturbing it.

This is how we know that Mr. X, a Punchbowl plover, is at least 19 years old. Wally gave the bird two red plastic leg bands (one went missing last year), and one aluminum, in section X in April, 2004. He says “at least 19” because the bird’s age was unknown when banded and, therefore, may be older.

Of the 30 plovers in Wally’s current study, 10 are fitted with tiny backpack tags that send GPS signals via satellite twice a day for about six months. Another 10 will carry identical tags sending no signal. The last 10 have only leg bands. This fall, Wally will be back to monitor the birds’ survival.

The plover carries its lightweight satellite tag on its back with soft, stretchable straps around the upper part of each leg. This allows the birds to walk and fly unhindered. ©Susan Scott

The 10 with signals will hopefully show the birds’ movements here in Hawaii, their tracks to Alaska, their nesting sites, and tracks back to Hawaii. The 10 with no signals will test the possibility that electronic tags interfere with natural navigation cues. Survival of the 10 with bands only will test whether simply carrying a backpack tag negatively affects the bird’s natural navigation system.

Volunteer, Marcy Katz, enjoys holding a satellite-tagged bird (antenna below its tail) before releasing it. Because Pacific Golden-Plovers defend their foraging areas, Wally makes sure each bird is returned to its home patch to avoid squabbles. ©Susan Scott

I’m smiling as I write the above paragraphs, because it sounds simple. It is not. Studies like this require years of experience. Nor do scientists just go to a store and buy satellite tags. At $1,600 each, these devices must be specially ordered and used in a timely manner, given limited shelf life of the batteries. Lastly, you have to catch birds that are …

By |2022-03-30T16:03:32-10:00March 30, 2022|Recent News|0 Comments

Kona storm brings Kolea feast

This Maui Kolea enjoyed bathing in a driveway rain puddle. © Photo courtesy Calvin M. Kaya, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Biology, Montana State University

January 9, 2022

Kona storm? Bring it on, say the Kolea who relish the worms and bugs the rain brings to the surface. Our Kolea are a hardy species, as are the plover lovers who went out to count and observe during the blustery weather.

Craig is showing off the Pacific Golden-Plover patch on my Alaska Audubon hat, a special gift. Friend and neighbor Lani Twomey braved the storm to count Kolea with us. (Selfie)

On Christmas Day, four of us took advantage of Mid-Pacific Golf Course’s holiday closure, and counted 85 Kolea, our plan being to count again on the second closure of the year, New Year’s Day. When the day came, though, a Kona storm had turned the golf course into a giant lake fed by drainage-ditch rivers so large they had standing waves.

The Christmas Day Kolea team from right, David Johnson. Beth Flint, Craig Thomas and me, Susan Scott. Photo by Michelle Hester

We set out anyway, counting 132 Kolea, and a surprising number of endemic stilts, gallinules and coots, all gorging on drowning invertebrates. Ducks too loved the sodden landscape.

During the storm, stilts, ducks and people enjoyed the temporary lake on this fairway. © Susan Scott

So far, for the 2021-2022 Kolea Count project, 79 people have counted 1,440 Kolea. Most are on Oahu but several are counting on the Big Island and a few on Maui. (I heard from a counter on Kauai who will soon enter her numbers.) I have friends currently working at Midway who lost track of the Kolea count at 500.

For reasons known only to the Kolea, the birds sometimes line up on the runway at Midway Atoll. © Courtesy Jonathan Plissner, USFWS

To answer a common question, it’s OK if you didn’t start counting in December. That isn’t a start date, but rather the earliest date to start a Big Count. We are asking for three counts anytime between December 1 and March 31. They can be 3 days in a row or 3 months apart. Three gives us the average number of birds in each area, but if you can only count once or twice, that’s still better than none. Please report whatever you have, wherever you did it. All data is useful.

It’s also OK if more than one person counts the same area, or if your area is not listed in my sign-up locations. The possible sites at http://bit.ly/2BFwVXG are my attempt to spread us out a bit, but they’re not written in stone. Let me know …

By |2022-01-09T06:22:55-10:00January 9, 2022|Recent News|0 Comments

Kolea Count starts today

Puuiki Cemetery, Waialua, September 11, 2021. ©Susan Scott

November 29, 2021

Although today, December 1st, is the official start of the Hawaii Audubon Society’s Kolea Count, plover lovers have already been giving our marvelous shorebirds the attention they deserve. In the 2021 ARRIVAL report, we had 492 entries noting the arrival of 1,180 birds.

In July, Kolea watchers recorded 120 plovers. A few were on Kauai and Hawaii Island, but most reports were on Oahu, with the Waipio Peninsula Soccer Park being a hot spot. The plover-reporter wrote, “I have been checking the Waipio Soccer Fields and watching the numbers go up from 7 to 12 in mid-July (not sure if they were early returnees or birds that didn’t make the commute) and today, July 31, I counted 65 to 70.”

(That observer is not interested in doing a winter count so the park is still available.)

Professional naturalist, Lance Tanino, reported the first Kolea return of the season on July 14th at Kalaoa (west Hawaii Island, north of Kailua-Kona.) Lance reported that the bird was in partial breeding plumage. Nesting Kolea begin to molt their breeding-colored feathers while sitting on their eggs in Alaska.

Plover expert, Wally Johnson, says that early returns usually mean one of two things. Either the parent had a super-successful nesting season, raising chicks that matured early, or the parent had an unsuccessful season, and didn’t raise chicks at all.

Nest failures can be due to predation, bad weather, or accidents. Arctic fox, jaegers, and ravens routinely prey on eggs and chicks. Storms sometimes overwhelm parents and offspring, and occasionally eggs and chicks get trampled when herds of caribou migrate across the tundra.

This Jaeger (pronounced YAY-gur, German for hunt) is a fast-flying gull relative that, like Kolea, nests on the ground in the Arctic tundra. Jaegers are predators that eat other birds and their eggs. This post on the tundra outside Nome was a good perch for scouting prey. ©Susan Scott

On October 2nd, Craig and I counted 15 Kolea standing together, all facing the same way and looking a bit stunned. I wondered if these were newly arrived youngsters that hatched last summer, but no. Wally said that my photo showed partial breeding colors, meaning they were all adults, likely startled off the Dillingham Airport runway by sky-dive planes.

Although usually spread out on the sides of the Dillingham Airfield, these Kolea gathered on on the roadside during sky-diving activities. ©Susan Scott

Lesson learned: If your newly arrived plover shows patches or patterns of their bright spring feathers, they are adults rather than summer offspring.

Speaking of Wally, local plover enthusiast Roger Kobayashi named his yard’s bird Wally after Wally Johnson, who emailed that he is honored. When Roger puts out scrambled egg snacks for Wally, the bird appears out of nowhere. Roger wondered if Kolea have an acute sense of smell.

We don’t know. Wally Johnson writes …

By |2021-12-02T05:52:10-10:00December 1, 2021|Recent News|0 Comments

Plovers bring us together: Autumn update

Wally the Kolea, October 27, 2021. ©Photo courtesy Roger Kobayashi,

November 2, 2021

Last week, I received an email from a long-ago friend of plover expert, Wally Johnson, who found him through the Kolea Count website where Wally and I are pictured together. I forwarded the message to Wally and a thread followed, containing news of former students, colleagues and friends.

Wally wrote a note of thanks for the communication, ending with the statement, “Plovers bring people together.”

They do, sometimes in surprising ways.

During my morning walk with Craig and our little dog, Pixel, I keep an eye out for four Kolea that have each returned to their specific areas for several years. Because these birds feel like old friends, I’ve named them according to their locations:

  • Cookie (near three towering Cook pine trees.)
  • Bilbo (behind a charming little hobbit-type house)
  • Bougie (in front of an enormous red bougainvillea bush)
  • Ms. Ed (a pasture bird I called Mr. Ed until she showed her colors last April.)

Ms. Ed. ©Susan Scott

I’d been worried about one of the birds because I hadn’t seen him during my last few passes. Saturday, he appeared. “Craig, look,” I said, pointing.

At that, a visitor sitting in a nearby rental car called out, “That’s a Kalola,”

“What?” I said.

“That bird,” the man said, smiling, and also pointing. “It’s a Pacific ploover.”

The man may not have had the names down pat, but sharing his knowledge of Hawaii’s special birds left the three of us smiling.

“Thank you,” I said.

The visitor drove off before I could tell him that the bird’s other name was Bilbo.

Bilbo taking a shower. ©Susan Scott

Kolea fans feel like friends too even though we haven’t yet met. In July, retired Department of Defense accountant, Roger Kobayashi, volunteered to do weekly counts at all three fields at Ala Pu’umalu Park. (We ask for three counts per site, but more data is always good.) When Roger learned I was looking for a counter on Ford Island, he stepped up for that too.

Roger Kobayashi sent a Google map of Ford Island, marking  X, Y, and Z as to his first Kolea sightings, August 1, 2021.

Since then, besides sending a wealth of information about the many plovers he’s watching, Roger now has a resident Kolea who comes close when Roger offers it bits of scrambled egg. He named the bird Wally, giving me (and I’m sure Wally Johnson when he reads this) another smile.

Wally, the bird, enjoying a scrambled egg offering. Please feed your bird only healthy food, such as scrambled egg or mealworms. ©Roger Kobayashi

Years ago, I gave a Kolea talk for a senior citizen club, and during the subsequent question-and-answer period, a woman raised her hand, and asked, “But what good are they?”

I repeated the usual phrases about appreciating …

By |2021-11-18T09:36:21-10:00November 2, 2021|Recent News|0 Comments

Punchbowl’s eminent Mr. X

Mr. X lost his upper red leg band since last spring. The bird is active, foraging in his usual territory in Punchbowl.  No other birds in the area are banded. August 27, 2021 © Sigrid Southworth

September 9, 2021

We could all use something to cheer about these days. Here’s a good one: Mr. X has returned.

Mr. X is a Kolea banded in Honolulu’s Punchbowl Cemetery on April 12, 2004, making the bird nearing a longevity record for Pacific Golden-Plovers. Longtime plover fan and volunteer counter, Sigrid Southworth, spotted the bird foraging in his long-held territory on August 27th. (Sig named the grand old bird Mr. X, because his territory is in section X of the alphabetically-organized cemetery.) That makes the bird at least 19 years, 4 months old.

The current age record is Mr. Bellows, another male Kolea banded at Bellows Air Force station. That bird lived at least 21 years, 3 months.

For years, plover expert, Wally Johnson has monitored Kolea in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, often called Punchbowl because it’s located inside Punchbowl Crater, an extinct Oahu volcano. With 116 acres of meticulously mowed grass, and light human traffic, Punchbowl is plover paradise.

When we started Hawaii’s Kolea Count in 2020, Sig joined in, reporting between 70 and 100 Kolea in the cemetery, the count varying with weather conditions and number of people paying their respects. Sig had a joyful moment in March when she spotted, and photographed, a bird with bands on its leg. (See https://www.koleacount.org/hawaiis-birds-hold-their-own-easter-parade/) Wally identified the bird by the three bands of red-aluminum-red that he placed on the bird in Punchbowl when it was at least 1 year and 10 months old.

It’s possible the bird was older. Plover experts can only determine a first-year bird during its first fall and winter in Hawaii, because its wing feathers are then distinct. Come spring, after the birds molt into breeding colors, all wing feathers look alike, making it impossible to know an individual’s age.

Unless, of course, the Kolea is one of the few wearing ID bands.

Mr. X in his territory in March, 2021 with all three leg bands. ©Sigrid Southworth.

You might have heard the hooting and hollering from Maine (where Wally is visiting), me (in Kailua), and Sig (in Honolulu) last week, when Sig informed us that she spotted Mr. X in his usual territory on August 27th.

No one knows how many of our Kolea are this long-lived. Only by placing bands on their legs, do we know their age for sure, and even then, there’s guessing involved in any bird other than a first-year hatchling.

Researchers can place adult-sized leg bands, shown here, on newly hatched Kolea chicks.  The youngsters begin foraging for insects and berries soon after hatching. Parents warm and protect their offspring, but do not feed them. Near Nome, Alaska © Oscar Johnson.

By |2021-09-09T15:57:15-10:00September 9, 2021|Recent News|0 Comments

Incoming! Kolea return update

The picture of perfection. Photo taken last week by Sigrid Southworth in Punchbowl Cemetery.

August 26, 2021

Thank you for helping us help our Kolea by participating in this citizen science project of monitoring Hawaii’s Pacific Golden Plovers. For the latest news on July and August Kolea returns, as well as other happy bird news, see today’s post at susanscott.net/beacons-of-light-during-dark-times-kolea-manu-o-ku-and-8-million-seabirds-saved/

Please record your Kolea’s return date, and anything else you would like to share about your bird, in the REPORT tab here at koleacount.org

Counting Kolea is a good reason during these challenging times to walk through one of Hawaii’s many parks, cemeteries, campuses, or other open areas. Get out to see and celebrate these marvelous native birds that have learned to live with us.  Sign up for a winter count at bit.ly/2BFwVXG  It’s OK to sign up for an area already marked as taken (the more data the better) but we’re looking for counters in as many places as possible.

Try branching out from home territory and explore your island. I did that last season and even after living on Oahu for four decades, I discovered parks and golf courses new to me.  It’s fun, easy, and for a good cause.  See the GUIDELINES tab for details about the count.

The Kolea and I thank you for your continued support.

TooWEET,

Susan Scott, Kolea Count project manager

By |2021-08-26T10:11:40-10:00August 26, 2021|Recent News|0 Comments

Plover lovers make Kolea Count an annual affair

The Kolea are coming home.  Plover fans have reported a total of 14 birds so far in July.  I say home because these migratory shorebirds spend only three or so months of the year in their Alaska breeding grounds, and the other nine in Hawaii.

Lucky us.  Nowhere else in the world do migratory shorebirds live in harmony with humans the way our Kolea have learned to do here in our islands.  And now, thanks to hundreds of Hawaii’s devoted plover lovers, our 2020 idea of asking residents and visitors to count and monitor Kolea was so successful that we’re continuing the count long-term.

You can help these remarkable shorebirds by participating in the now-annual Hawaii Audubon Society project here at www.koleacount.org

Check out the new REPORT choices. Record arrival, departure, a backyard bird (Little Count), or any other plover doings you would like to share.  Sign up for Big Counts at the read-only site: http://bit.ly/2BFwVXG and see Guidelines tab for count particulars.  Let me, Susan Scott, know in the CONTACT tab the area you can count.  I will mark it as TAKEN, and keep my master list of names and emails private.

Thank you for helping fine tune the Big Count list by letting me know places where Kolea hang out that are not on the list, or places on the list that never have Kolea.

2020 pilot study results, in brief:

  • 611: number of people who entered reports
  • 4,196: number of bird observations reported
  • 167: Number of Kolea with given names (Sir Lancelot, Bob, etc.)
  • Oahu: Island with most entries
  • 40: number of Kolea reported in June, or birds that did not migrate (summered-over)

2020 pilot study results in detail:

Below are graphs of counts by months, islands, zip codes and more. * Special thanks to volunteer, Dr. Brad Schultz, for organizing the spreadsheet into such a comprehensive and attractive analysis, and for counting hundreds of Kolea while visiting Oahu.

Total number of birds reported:

End

 

 

 

By |2021-07-27T08:57:28-10:00July 27, 2021|Recent News|0 Comments

June plovers, 2021

Our Portland-based niece and her husband, Kali and Brad Schultz, searched for plovers with me in Alaska. The Russian River, behind, isn’t plover territory, but thrilled us with leaping salmon. (Brad’s long-arm selfie with my phone.)

July 2, 202

Last week I went to Alaska where I didn’t see a single Kolea. That’s because instead of going to remote tundra areas where our plovers spend most of May, June, and July, this visit was a road trip from Anchorage to Homer. And although I enjoyed seeing moose, bears, sandhill cranes, and countless other animals in these human-populated areas, I yearned to see at least one plover.

Signs on Anchorage’s Tony Knowles Coastal Trail explain how to behave when confronted by a moose. I thought such an encounter unlikely. I was wrong. ©Susan Scott

A moose on the trail brought me, on my rented bike, to a screeching halt. ©Susan Scott

I waited until the moose lost interest in me and ambled off into the woods that border urban Anchorage. ©Susan Scott

Near the end of my vacation, a pair of plovers granted my wish. Not Pacific Goldens, but cousins close enough to satisfy my shorebird longing. While walking the beach along the Homer Spit, I had a close encounter with two semipalmated plovers.

Semipalmated means what it sounds like: half a palm. The name comes from the bird’s species name semipalmatus, a Latin term referring to the bird’s partially webbed feet. The bird’s first scientific name, Charadrius, means yellowish bird, (although I don’t see it.)

A clear picture of a semipalmated plover.  D. Gordon E. Robertson photo, Creative Commons, Wikipedia.

Compared to Kolea, these plovers are pipsqueaks, even smaller than our Sanderlings, or Hunakai, that run like wind-up toys up and down the beaches with the waves. Semipalmated plovers weigh from 1-to-2-ounces (a CD is about an ounce), are about six inches long, and so well camouflaged that even after Kali pointed the bird out, I still didn’t see it. The plovers’ striking feathers practically disappear against the blacks, browns and whites of the rocky beaches, where they forage for insects, worms, shrimp, and crabs.

My first sighting of a semipalmated plover. This is just feet off the Homer Spit road (sign top left.)  ©Susan Scott

Amazingly, these tiny plovers, like most other shorebirds, migrate thousands of miles each year, nesting in summer throughout Canada and Alaska, and wintering in the southern U.S., the Caribbean, and South America. Rarely, a semipalmated plover makes it to Hawaii. One was recorded on eBird this year in March at Puuhonua O Honaunau on the Big Island.

As we continued walking, we apparently got close to the nest, because both parents began flailing about …

By |2021-07-02T12:43:38-10:00July 2, 2021|Recent News|0 Comments
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