The 115 Christmas Bird Count in Hawaii & the Pacific Islands

This year again saw all count circles active on the main Hawaiian Islands with comparable coverage to the last couple of years. In the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, the circles on remote Laysan Island and French Frigate Shoals were missed owing to absence of field crews, but the nearby Midway circle with its spectacular albatross colony was started up again thanks to Dan Clark and enthusiastic participants. Far to the south, Johnston Atoll was also counted, yielding a snapshot of the huge tropicbird and booby colonies seen by few. Weather-wise, with an El Niño brewing, conditions in Hawaii were relatively dry this past winter, and participants on most circles enjoyed fine weather.

For anyone used to small colonies of tropicbirds, the record high count of 6609 Red-tailed Tropicbirds on Johnston Atoll this year must seem mindboggling (and imagine such a din of barking tropicbirds!).  Counts of other seabirds on Johnston came within the usual range or low this year, and again no White Terns were reported. A high count of 24 Cattle Egrets on Johnston could be worrisome if they establish a breeding colony. Two Short-eared Owls and a Peregrine Falcon were also counted there.

On Midway, despite albatross mortality from a tsunami a few years back and sea level relentlessly inching upward, nest counts for both species were the highest ever reported in the 18 years of CBCs.  Numbers of Laysan Albatross stood at 1,332,088 and Black-footed Albatross at 56,891. Fortunately, the count of Cattle Egrets was down to three birds from a high of 85 in 2012; this species depredates the chicks of smaller seabirds and is not a member of the historical avifauna of the Hawaiian Islands.

For the resident water birds in the Region, records continue to be set for Nene or Hawaiian Goose on Kauai Island, with 21 counted on the Waimea count circle and 398 on the Kapaa circle! The latter circle also yielded near-record high counts of Common Gallinule, Hawaiian Coot, and Hawaiian Stilt. 

Noteworthy records of migratory waterfowl this year included: three Eurasian Wigeon on the Honolulu circle and four on the North Kona, Hawaii Island circle; four Eurasian Green-winged Teal (Midway); three Tufted Duck (Honolulu); one Bufflehead each for Molokai, Lanai, and Iao Valley circle, Maui; and a record high count of 28 Lesser Scaup on the North Kona circle. Vagrant gulls included a count-week Herring Gull (Midway), a Laughing Gull (Waimea, Kauai), and a count-week Mew Gull (Waipio, Oahu). There was also a Black Tern seen at the North Kona waste water treatment plant.

The population of Bristle-thighed Curlews in the main Hawaiian Islands is expanding, so it was a thrill to find three on the Honolulu count for the first time. Vagrant shorebirds reported were: a Black-bellied Plover, the first for a Molokai CBC; a Killdeer, also on Molokai; single Wilson’s Snipes, on the Waipio, Oahu and Molokai count circles; a recurring Whimbrel on Molokai; a Lesser Yellowlegs (Waipio, Oahu); and on the Iao Valley, Maui circle a record count of four Semipalmated Plovers, a Least Sandpiper, and a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper.  But the showstopper of them all was this mega-rarity: a Spotted Redshank at the Kealakehe Waste Water Treatment Plant on the North Kona circle, discovered earlier in the season and sought after by many birders.

The highlight for native forest birds on CBC 115 was a count of three Iiwi on Molokai, where the species is exceedingly rare. An Akikiki and three Akekee were found on the Waimea, Kauai circle. Endangered forest birds included two Maui Parrotbills and two Akohekohe on the Haleakala, Maui circle and 28 Akiapolaau and a Hawaii Creeper on the Volcano, Hawaii circle.

For non-native birds, this year's CBC documented expanding or newly introduced species. The big news was a stunning bird added to the national CBC: two Golden Pheasants from Waikamoi Preserve, on Mt. Haleakala, Maui. This species has established a small population high on the slopes of Haleakala in planted conifer forest and native cloud forest. Four Mourning Doves were a first record for the Kahoolawe circle. From central Oahu (Waipio), record high counts included 23 Rose-ring Parakeets, 151 Red-crowned Parrots, 869 Chestnut Mannikins, 15 Yellow-fronted Canaries, and 256 Saffron Finches. A Great-tailed Grackle on the Honolulu circle was perhaps a ship-assisted arrival. Common Waxbills are now indeed common on Oahu (Waipio circle, 1266 birds; Honolulu circle,1319), vying with the Zebra Dove as the most-counted non-native bird. Recently introduced to the Kona side of Hawaii Island, these waxbills are now spreading to the east side and this year were reported for the first time on the Volcano circle, near the former Keauhou Ranch house.

For CBC 115, there was a change of the guard at the Pacific Region, with two new compilers: Ken Orcutt for the Guam count circles and Jill Liske-Clark for the Northern Marianas circles. Four of the five count circles were completed, missing only the Rota circle. Migrants in the Marianas continue to amaze, with some exceptional reports this year. Three species unheard of on Saipan in decades past amassed record high numbers this year: Common Pochard (13 birds), Little Egret (18), and Whiskered Tern (24). A tropical species fairly new to the Marianas, Black-naped Tern, was again reported on Saipan (5 birds), and this year was found on Tinian Island for the first time, with five more birds. There was also a Black Kite reported from Tinian. Three Marsh Sandpipers turned up on the Dededo, Guam count. There will be more unusual Palaearctic migrants on these CBCs in the years ahead!

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