In this first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, public health in Hawai`i and the Pacific Islands fared much better than on the U.S. mainland, with mercifully lower numbers of cases and deaths, owing to the islands’ isolation and the response by government and citizens. Quarantine precautions, however, cost a temporary absence of tourists and much harm to the economy. In the midst of the upheaval, the Christmas Bird Count went ahead nevertheless, albeit with minimal participation, and then mainly by route leaders only. Amazingly, nearly all circles were counted, with only Lana`i and Kahoolawe missed. And one new circle, the Lihue Circle on Kaua`i, was revived after a several-decades hiatus
Despite reduced participation in CBC 121, the results yielded many exciting finds; let’s begin with seabirds. The two Black-footed Albatrosses on the Lihue Circle may reflect the recent trend of more wintertime albatrosses seen around the main Hawaiian Islands. The massive colony of Red-footed Boobies on Johnston Atoll this year tallied 10,700, a high count.
Hawaii’s State Bird, the Nene (Hawaiian Goose), continues to increase, with high counts this CBC on two circles: 16 on the `Iao Circle, Maui and 39 on the Hilo Circle, Big Island. Noteworthy among the migratory waterfowl were a flock of five Greater White-fronted Geese on the Midway Circle and a singleton on the Waipi`o Circle, O`ahu. Snow Geese, now regular visitors in small numbers to the Hawaiian Islands, were represented by a single bird on the Kapa`a Circle, Kaua`i and 4 on the Waipi`o Circle. Midway Atoll, far to the west, often receives Asian migrants, this year being no exception with a high count of five Common Green-winged Teal (vs. the American form). Frequent to the Hilo Circle, the American Wigeon this year delivered an extraordinarily high total of 27 birds. Ninety-six Lesser Scaup was another eye-popping total, for the `Iao Circle. The next two ducks are rarities in the Islands: two female Hooded Mergansers for the Kapa`a Circle and a female Red-breasted Merganser at the North Kona Circle, Big Island waste-water-treatment facility, where she was admired by numerous birders over her long stay.
This past winter, a handsome male Sora was the celebrity guest at a tiny marsh on the grounds of the Four Seasons Resort, Hualalai, attracting listers and the counters of the North Kona Circle—the Sora’s presence is a reminder that it is possible for rails to reach the Hawaiian Islands! Less certain was a hypothetical American Coot (or was it a Hawaiian Coot?), at Ha`ena (Hilo Circle), the subject of some follow up and unresolved debate. A Common Tern was the first of its species ever reported on a Moloka`i count. The Osprey seen during the count week in Hilo may have been the same bird first reported on last year’s CBC. But the star raptor this year was Northern Harrier, with one on Midway and another on the Kapa`a Circle.
Non-native birds continue to consolidate their populations. Parrots led the list, with a mind-blowing 1227 Rose-ring Parakeets counted on the Lihue Circle, and while the Kapa`a Circle reported this species for the first time (2 birds) and the Honolulu Circle contributed a further high count of 15. More high counts, this time for noisy Red-masked Parakeets, were 82 for Honolulu and 41 for N Kona. White-rumped Shama turned up a second time on the `Iao Circle (2 birds), evidence of its eastward progression. Eighteen Northern Mockingbirds amounted to a high count in North Kona for this solitary and fiercely territorial species. Red Avadavats (14) and Common Waxbills (52) were both reported from the Lihue Circle. The rapidly expanding waxbills also appeared for the first time on the Kapa`a Circle (5) and scored a high count of 425 on the Hilo Circle. Yellow-fronted Canary seem more prevalent in Volcano these past years, measured by a high count of 121 on the Volcano Circle this year.
Highlights for the Mariana Islands included these firsts for their respective circles: a Gray Heron for Tinian, a Lesser Sand-Plover for Saipan, two Sooty Terns for Rota, and a Whiskered Tern for Rota. In addition, there were high counts for two more-frequent species: five Black-bellied Plover and 101 Collared Kingfisher.
Fingers crossed that the pandemic will abate and the upcoming CBC122 will host more participants and report even more birds!