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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 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

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

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  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.


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

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: 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:





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

Hawaii’s birds hold their own Easter parade

Mr. X, banded 18 years, 6 months ago at Punchbowl cemetery. Sigrid Southworth photo

March 24, 2021

Earlier this year, Kolea fan, Sigrid Southworth, spotted a plover at Punchbowl Cemetery with colored leg bands. The bird was too far away for a picture, and during subsequent visits, Sig, a retired Kamehameha Schools teacher and longtime helper of plover expert Wally Johnson, did not see it again.

Because the bird hangs out in the X section of the cemetery, Sig nick-named it, Mr. X. (That may change to Ms. X after the bird’s new spring feathers have all grown in.)

Last week, during one of her many plover monitoring visits to this cemetery, Sig sat in her car near section X to watch the four plovers that have been foraging there this winter. Since she was too far away to see which, if any, wore leg bands, after about 20 minutes, Sig walked slowly toward them.

And there, standing about 50 feet away, was bird-with-bands, Mr. X. Sig shot several photos, keeping her distance so as not to startle the bird into flying.

Sig’s discovery is excioting news. The last time Wally Johnson banded Kolea in Punchbowl was over 18 years ago, making this individual a minimum of 18 years, 6 months old.  The bird might be older. Wally didn’t know the bird’s age when he placed the bands on its leg. Sigrid Southworth photo

The current age record for Pacific Golden-Plovers is a Bellows bird that disappeared 21 years and 3 months after banding. I know all Kolea fans join me in wishing Mr. X continued good luck in his 3,000-mile migrations. We hope he/she will reach, or even break, Mr. Bellow’s age record.

Heads-up: If you go to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl), an excellent place to watch plovers, rules of respect are enforced. I have been warned twice by security guards that neither walking (meaning strolling about) nor bird watching not allowed. Visiting graves or memorials, however, is fine. Now when I’m there, and they ask, I am “visiting.”  Susan Scott photo. 

In other Kolea news, we launched this first-ever, statewide Kolea count just as Covid-19 changed the world as we knew it. Even though I didn’t get to advertise the count by giving talks in person on Oahu and neighbor islands, word got out and plover lovers responded.

To learn what worked, what did not, and what the future holds for monitoring our much-loved Kolea, tune in to my PowerPoint talk this Thursday, April 1st, at 6:30 PM via the Hanauma Bay Education Program’s live Webinar. Register at (You must resister to get an invitation.)

My update on the Kolea Count is Thursday, April 1st at 6:30 via live Zoom. Register to join me.

All of April’s Thursday talks at Hanauma Bay are being given by …

By |2021-03-28T16:32:54-10:00March 28, 2021|Recent News|0 Comments

Kolea Count Update for February 11, 2021

Thank you, plover lovers, for helping with the Hawaii Audubon Society’s first state-wide, all-volunteer Kolea count, and for submitting photos and videos, several shared in this update.

At the project’s start, I intended to travel to each of the Main Hawaiian Islands to advertise the count in person, scout Kolea foraging areas, and count birds myself. Given travel restrictions this year, however, I’ve been limited to my home island of Oahu. (Read my Kolea counting adventures at

Even so, happily, Kolea fans are spreading the word, as well as helping me improve the site and the system.

This plover, named “Newbie,” arrived in Debbie and Alan’s Enchanted Lake yard January 2, 2021, as if a gift for the new year.

I can’t share the report worksheet due to privacy issues, but here are some details to date:

  • Total number of entries in the REPORT tab as of today: 1,268
  • Kauai reports: 31
  • Oahu reports: 945 (including cute, short video by Michelle Kerklo:
  • Maui reports: 72
  • Molokai reports: 8
  • Lanai reports: 0
  • Big Island reports: 183

Waikoloa Beach Drive, February 2. Photo courtesy Toni McDaniel.

  • No island entered: 29 (Entering your island and zip codes in the form saves me time from having to search them by location address. These fields will help us organize the information into future tables, graphs, and maps.)
  • Wildlife managers on Oahu’s military bases have been super supportive. The highest count, conducted by four civilian volunteers on bicycles at Marine Corps Base Hawaii (MCBH) was 279; Scofield Barracks and Wheeler Army Airfield combined: 257; Bellows Air Force Station: 118 (that’s including 69 plovers in one flock at the Marine Corps Training airstrip)
  • The lowest count at Kahalu’u Beach Park, and several other areas: 0 (Zero is noteworthy. It tells us where birds are not present.)
  • Only 7 of the state’s 86 golf courses have been counted. After visiting each of Oahu’s 38 golf clubs, I learned that liability is the main reason for not lending carts to bird counters. In addition, some clubs aren’t allowing non-golfers to ride in a cart with a golfer due to Covid restrictions. I’m not a golfer, and wonder if it’s possible to play a round of golf and count Kolea at the same time? Golf course counting ideas welcome.

From Michael Feeley, February 6: “Grass field at Sandy Beach. Rare to see 5 together. Occasionally one would get irritated, but they mostly were peaceful for about 5 minutes. They flew off together when a kite flyer came by.”

We will never count every plover in Hawaii, of course, or even find all the areas that host them, but this pilot program is helping us learn how to go about a statewide count. It’s …

By |2021-02-11T09:14:04-10:00February 11, 2021|Recent News, Uncategorized|0 Comments

Kolea counting is about more than just numbers

A Kolea in Oahu Cemetery.  Photo courtesy Rick Bernico

December 1, 2020

Today is the first day of Big Counts, meaning we plover lovers are starting to count Kolea in Hawaii’s parks, cemeteries, golf courses, and other grassy areas that host our wintering Pacific Golden-Plovers.

We waited until December 1st to begin Big Counts because last summer’s chicks arrive in Hawaii through November, depending on the Alaska weather, and we wanted to include the youngsters in the counts. Big Counts end March 31st because soon after, the birds start gathering for their end-of-April migration north.

I’ve heard from several Kolea watchers about fights between birds. Fights in fall are normal, and are likely between an old-timer defending its area, and a newcomer looking for food. Fighting over territory is understandable for these site-faithful birds. Securing a food source is a matter of life and death.

Some Kolea tolerate another individual nearby. These two forage near one another, with no fighting, at Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery, Windward Oahu. ©Susan Scott

Because plovers are site-faithful, we know we aren’t counting the same bird over and over. As we walk around, a startled bird may fly away, but sooner or later, it will return to its home place. Some birds are shyer than others, and stay away longer than we’re willing to wait. That’s why we would like three counts (or more if you can) of the same areas. One count, however, is fine if that’s all you can do. It’s still more than we’ve had in the past.

This bird, unperturbed by vehicles or people, forages in the parking lot of the Ala Wai Golf Course. ©Susan Scott

Try different times of day if possible. In 1992, Wally Johnson counted Kolea on all Oahu golf courses with count times ranging between 7:45 AM to 5:45 PM. Use your judgment for the area. For instance, Craig’s and my trial counts of Dillingham Air Field varied greatly – from a low of 14 birds to a high of 38 – depending on skydiving activity. I don’t know where the birds went during airplane commotion, but when skydiving operations were closed, the birds returned.

Besides getting a head count, an equally important goal of the Kolea Count is to increase community awareness and appreciation of these magnificent shorebirds. I invented this project intending the counts to be fun, an activity to enjoy while walking around our lovely islands. Please don’t worry about doing it wrong. Any numbers you get …

By |2020-12-01T13:36:12-10:00December 1, 2020|Recent News|0 Comments

Golfers and Kolea share a love of fine landscaping

Pacific Golden-Plovers love what we humans have done with the Hawaiian Islands, particularly our creation of golf courses. Hawaii has 74 statewide. (Above photo, Arnold Palmer Golf Course, Turtle Bay, Oahu.)

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 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: 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

Kapalua Resort, Lahaina, Maui

By |2020-10-27T08:20:46-10:00October 26, 2020|Recent News|0 Comments
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