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 are useful. We’ll compile the reports, analyze the data, and decide how to improve the count for next year.

This front-yard Kolea, named Becky, routinely drinks water from the dish under a potted plant. ©Susan Scott

There are still lots of places to count. See them at http://bit.ly/2BFwVXG and let me know on the Contact tab which places you would like to do. I’ll sign you up on my master list.

I (Susan) created this website before Covid-19 with the intention of visiting neighbor islands myself to advertise the project, and to count in various places. Because I can’t do that until the pandemic passes, I thank you, Kolea fans, for helping spread the word. And nature-loving golfers, thank you too for counting during your games.

Happy counting.

Becky, unafraid, watches me take her picture from my car. ©Susan Scott