Tag Archives: kola

Peace, hope graced city on wings of white, gold

Published December 31, 2016 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2016 Susan Scott

White terns have a ring of black feathers around their eyes, giving them a wide-eyed appearance. About 2,000 of them live in the Honolulu area. ©2016 Susan Scott

Most of my email this year was for the birds, specifically Pacific golden plovers (kolea) and white terns (manu-o-Ku), the native species that choose to grace our city.

The birds are doing what it takes in this era to survive on planet Earth: adapting to the presence of humans. And these animals aren’t just tolerating us. They’re using our stuff.

Plovers stand on our roofs, forage in our streets, and some even eat from our hands. (If you decide to feed your kolea, offer it healthy food such as mealworms or bits of scrambled egg.) Kolea prance around our yards helpfully gobbling up the roaches, beetles, worms, millipedes, spiders and slugs we’ve been introducing to Oahu for decades.

There’s a possibility that Hawaii’s kolea are here in greater numbers than before humans arrived. Since historical records are sketchy, there’s no way of knowing for sure, but we do know that plovers share our fondness for expanses of grass. And we mow it for them, too.

One of my favorite emails this year came from a reader who saw a kolea watch TV for days on end. The reader’s neighbor had placed a broken TV on the curb for pickup, and when a kolea saw its reflection in the glass, it stuck around, peering into the set for days.

White terns also landed in my inbox. For reasons known only to them, about 2,000 (and counting) white terns have decided to call Honolulu home, picking the most human-altered parts to raise their chicks. Their current range goes from Bishop Street to the Waikiki Aquarium, with a few of the brilliant ones going to the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Although nearly any tree will do, white terns’ favorites to balance their egg and raise their chick are kukui, monkeypod, mahogany, banyan and shower trees, all introduced species. As a result, urban dwellers can watch adorable chicks teeter on a bare branch while its parent stuffs an astonishing number of fish down its throat.

This year several readers emailed me pictures and tern stories. One woman described a “maternity branch” outside her condo window, and a worker at UH Manoa wrote that his favorite break-time activity was white tern gazing. “Just watching them,” he wrote, “made me relax.”

This year Pacific golden plovers and white terns gave us some priceless gifts: treasured moments of peace and glimmers of hope for the future.

You can give back to our special city terns by joining Hui Manu-o-Ku at whiteterns.org, and if you want to learn more about kolea, you can help Oahu’s plovers by buying their new book from the Hawai‘i Audubon Society at hawaii audubon.org.

Various shorebirds join plovers in winter migration

Published January 27, 2014 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2014 Susan Scott

Sanderling at Laniakea. Courtesy Scott R. Davis

Hawaii’s Pacific golden plovers, or kolea, get a lot of attention because they graze on lawns, have adapted to the presence of people and return to the same spot year after year. These wonderful birds give us Hawaii residents memorable native wildlife experiences right in our own backyards.

But kolea are just one of the common migratory shorebirds that visit the islands in winter. The others might not dance on our doorsteps, but we don’t have to go far to find them, either.

A morning beach walk on a winter’s day often reveals little sanderlings either alone or in small groups. At 8 inches long, head to tail, the sanderling is so small it’s easy to overlook. This cutest of Hawaii’s shorebirds is also easy to miss because its colors match its favorite hangout, the edge of breaking waves.

The mottled gray and white shorebird’s Hawaiian name, huna­kai, means sea foam. The birds are experts at following receding waves while snatching exposed invertebrates and then running up the beach ahead of the next breaking wave.

Hunakai often race ahead of the incoming water so fast that their short, black legs are a blur, and if a wave outruns them, they use their wings for a vertical escape. It’s at this time we might hear the call of the huna­kai, a short sharp whistle that sounds like “Quit!”

Another common shorebird that I usually hear before I see is the well-named wandering tattler. The Hawaiian name of this bird, ulili, sounds like its call. These 11-inch-long, mostly gray birds usually forage alone on rocky beaches, and like the other shorebirds leave Hawaii in spring to nest in the Arctic tundra.

Ruddy turnstones, the fourth common shorebird wintering in Hawaii, are the easiest to spot. At 9 inches long, ruddy turnstones aren’t much bigger than sanderlings, but these visitors tend to forage in flocks, and their lovely orange, brown, black and white feathers are the colors of calico cats.

And, yes, in their search for food, ruddy turnstones turn stones.

It’s easy to tell sanderlings from Hawaii’s other common shorebirds because sanderlings are the only wave-chasers. But look closely.

“Would you like me to take your picture with the surf?” a nice man on the beach said last week when he saw me aiming my camera toward the big, beautiful waves breaking on the beach.

“No, thanks,” I said. “What I’m trying to shoot is a picture of this bird.”

“Bird?” he said. “What bird?”


Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com

©2014 Susan Scott