This year I had the rare opportunity of joining the Midway Circle CBC. Access to Midway is limited to personnel working there and to volunteers, and I went as volunteer on the annual nesting albatross census, a multi-week tally of all nests, which was no small feat as there are approximately half a million nests! On the day of the CBC, many of the nest-counting team joined the Midway staff to direct our eyes skyward, away from incubating albatrosses nesting on the ground. What we saw and counted were many hundreds of other seabirds, particularly noddies, boobies, frigatebirds, commuting to and from the island, and shorebirds—curlews, turnstones, and plovers lost from sight among crowds of albatross. Daffodil-yellow canaries bucked the trade-winds with surprisingly strong, bounding flight, or fed strewn across the lawns like so many flowers, while huddled knots of mynas sought shelter from the wind. Occasionally, a flurry of silvery White Terns would take wing into the blindingly bright blue sky, like the shaking of a Christmas snow globe, with the aim of mobbing a Peregrine Falcon. Ultimately over the days that followed, the albatross nest-count yielded 593,664 Laysan Albatross nests and 26,108 Black-footed Albatross nests, the second-highest annual count for both species. A pair of Short-tailed Albatross also nested and successfully fledged a chick. Both the albatross nest count and CBC were well-organized and a lot of fun!
Other noteworthy seabirds this year for the Hawaii Region included high counts on Midway for Brown and Masked boobies (61 and 6 birds, respectively), including an errant Brewster’s Brown Booby on Eastern Island. High counts of 30 Red-footed and 36 Brown Boobies were reported from the Waimea, Kauai Circle. The Johnston Island count tallied an impressive 8582 Red-foots. A good year for the boobybirds.
Counts of waterfowl for Hawaii were impeded this year because federal refuges were closed owing to the government shutdown. Nevertheless, the burgeoning Nene population on Kauai was represented by high counts of 47 geese on the Waimea Circle and 559 on the Kapa’a Circle; the former circle also reported a lone Snow Goose. Three Mallards were unusual for Midway. A very high count of 580 Laysan Duck on Midway would normally be cause to rejoice, but this year was a worry in light of the need to manage the ducks during the upcoming effort to eradicate the island’s house mouse population. The mice in recent years attacked nesting albatross, eating them alive while they sat on their nests—a grizzly situation the Refuge hopes to eliminate.
An Osprey turned up on the Kapa’a Circle this year. White-face Ibis excelled with a high count of 12 on Waipio, Oahu and smaller showings on other circles. Shorebird rarities included: a Black-bellied Plover on the Lanai Circle and another on the North Kona Circle; a Spotted Sandpiper on the Hilo Circle; a Greater Yellowlegs in Kona; a Semipalmated Sandpiper for Molokai; and a high count of eight Bristle-thighed Curlew on the Honolulu Circle, where numbers have been increasing. The only gull of note was a Bonaparte’s in North Kona.
Counts of native forest birds were low this year, in part because a rainstorm washed out hope for reaching the Kokee/Alakai region. During the Honolulu count, a Pueo (Hawaiian Short-eared Owl) was accidentally flushed off a nest of six eggs—a very rare find indeed. An Iiwi was seen at the low elevation of 3700 feet near the Ali’i Lavender Farm, on the Haleakala Circle. And they’re back: two Hawaiian Crows or Alala from the reintroduced population at Kulani turned up for the first time on the Volcano Circle.
Expansion of non-native birds in Hawaii included: a high count of 22 Gray Francolin on the Honolulu Circle; a Mourning Dove in Hilo; two Tanimbar Corellas (Goffin’s Cockatoo) new to North Kona Circle (a tiny population persists in the forests high on Hualalai); a high count of 83 Red-masked Parakeets for Honolulu; the first Yellow-fronted Canary for a Lanai CBC, down at Manele; very high counts of 163 Yellow-billed Cardinals and 150 Common Waxbills for Hilo; and a staggering 1080 Chestnut Munias at Waimea.
Highlights for the Mariana Islands included: five Mallards on Rota; two Black-naped Terns from Southern Guam; and a Common Redshank and a Long-toed Stint, both very unusual for Saipan. Also on Saipan was a wonderfully high count of the ethereal White Tern, at 1296 birds. Interestingly, Red-tailed Tropicbirds, once rare on the main islands of the Marianas, now seem to be overtaking the more commonplace White-tailed Tropicbirds, with 24 vs. 16 birds counted, respectively.