Tag Archives: wedgies

Cyclones present obstacles to the Pacific golden plover

Published September 7, 2015 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2015 Susan Scott

An adult wedge-tailed shearwater. Courtesy Alex Wegmann

An adult wedge-tailed shearwater. Courtesy Alex Wegmann

We humans feel the effects of these storms in sweat, mosquito bites and high electrical bills. But what effect do cyclonic winds and torrents of rain have on migrating kolea? Some readers have been wondering via email how, and if, the birds flying from Alaska to Hawaii manage.

According to plover researcher Wally Johnson, the year-to-year differences in the survival rates of Hawaii’s Pacific golden plovers are probably due to weather. Severe winds during migration probably cause some mortality.

But never underestimate these extraordinary birds. In spite of storms, Arctic predators and enormous expanses to navigate, the survival rate of kolea is high.

“We know the birds have the capacity to fly for very long distances,” Johnson said in email. If blown off course, he continued, “they likely can re-orient and get back on target. We see lots of zigs and zags in our geolocator tracks and these must be wind-related.”

So for those still waiting for their feathered friend to return, there’s hope. And if an adult bird doesn’t make it back, natural selection might fill the vacancy. An empty territory is a bonanza for summer offspring that survived the flight to Hawaii and are now searching for food.

Another reader emailed that he recently hiked to Kaena Point to see wedge-tailed shearwaters (nickname: wedgies) but saw only some downy feathers and an unhatched egg. Because he saw rat traps, and concrete poured along the base of the fencing, he wondered whether predators were getting in.

Wedgie researcher Michelle Hester replied to my question, “The predator fence is working. Low trapping efforts will always be necessary inside the fence, as the ocean edges are open to critters..

The best time to see wedgies is July to November at dusk, when adults fly to the colony. Chicks begin fledging around Thanksgiving. Chicks aren’t usually visible because they wait deep inside their burrows for their parents to deliver food. But there are so many wedgies at Kaena that some parents nest under bushes or in burrows with skylights. You might see these chicks at any time..

After Thanksgiving the chicks wander around, giving admirers a good look at these native treasures. People from the mainland often say that Hawaii has no seasons. Tell that to the birds.


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

©2015 Susan Scott

 

Kaena Point is hard to beat for watching nature’s glory

Published November 25, 2013 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2013 Susan Scott

A Hawaiian monk seal basked at Kaena Point last week. ©2013 Susan Scott

Last week I hikedto Kaena Point, a daylong excursion (about a one-hour drive from Honolulu, and a 5-mile round-trip hike). A few days later I got a text from a friend: “Hiking to Kaena Point. Wanna come?”

Leaving Oahu’s mass of buildings and lines of vehicles and walking into that world-class wildlife sanctuary had been like stepping through a magic wardrobe. Could I turn down another such journey? Of course not. I accepted instantly.

In the 1980s the state banned motorized vehicles from the 59-acre space to allow the plants and animals of this rare dune ecosystem (one of the last in the main Hawaiian Islands) to recover. And that they did, especially after the 2011 installation of a cat/rat/mongoose-resistant fence.

During my visits, Laysan albatrosses worked the wind, soaring as only albatrosses can. Other albatross parents had already hunkered down on newly laid eggs, and a few were singing and dancing in their search for mates. About 400 of these native seabirds spend the nesting season at Kaena Point, and the numbers continue to grow.

laysanchick

Wedge-Tailed Shearwater chick. ©2013 Susan Scott

Layman Albatross. ©2013 Scott R. Davis

Layman Albatross. ©2013 Scott R. Davis

 Wedge-tailed shearwaters (the “wedgies” I wrote about two weeks ago) also nest here. Full grown but still downy, chicks are emerging from their underground burrows, blinking in the bright sun. The youngsters are gearing up for the big leap, their first flight to the sea.

Kaena Point is also an ideal place to watch humpback whales and winter waves. Besides the beauty of big surf, the 20-foot-tall waves pounding the shore during my first visit caused four Hawaiian monk seals to choose a sleeping place exceptionally high on the beach. Several residents and visitors, a monk seal expert and 91 Punahou students admired the seals from a respectful distance. (To read about Kaena Point’s seals, and others spotted around the islands, see monksealmania.blogspot.com.)

Kaena Point

©2013 Susan Scott

This westernmost corner of Oahu gets our youngsters out hiking and, at the same time, teaches in the best way: by showing rather than telling. A troop of Kame­ha­meha students arrived as we left.

A sparkling diamond on the pinkie finger of Oahu, Kaena Point proves that given protection from vehicles and introduced predators, wildlife and humans can, even on a crowded island, coexist.

This special state preserve is a good place to visit any time, but especially so this week of Thanksgiving. If anything on this island makes me feel thankful to be alive, healthy and living on Oahu, it’s the precious point we call Kaena.

I’m already planning my next trip.

monk seal

Juvenile Monk Seal, Kaena Point. ©2013 Scott R. Davis


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

©2013 Susan Scott