The 122nd Christmas Bird Count in Hawai’i/Pacific Region

CBC 122 landed right in the middle of the worst ever Covid-19 spike experienced in Hawai`i and the Tropical Pacific.  Nevertheless, by now all CBC participants were vaccinated, as best we know, and in any case they were well-practiced in quarantine precautions.  Participation returned to near pre-pandemic levels, and counts were instead more hampered by the usual rainy winter weather, especially for the Honolulu and Moloka`i circles.  Unfortunately, one count circle has been dropped for the foreseeable future:  Johnston Atoll, owing to closure of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service field camp there.  We’ll miss the cacophonous throng of Red-tailed Tropicbirds, the World’s largest colony of these archaic seabirds.

Overall, this was a rather quiet CBC year for Hawai`i.  As seabird numbers came in around expected levels without noteworthy highlights, we’ll move straightaway to waterbirds.  Record numbers of Nene (Hawaiian Goose) were reported for Waimea (Kaua`i) with 95 birds; Lihue (Kaua`i) with 148; and Hilo (Big Island) with 47.  Singleton migrant Brants showed up at Honolulu and Lana`i.  While it may be hard to get excited about Mallards, the high tally of 13 on Midway was the most ever, these all migrants.  A total of 11 Green-winged Teal at the Kapa`a circle (Kaua`i) was a high count.  Among the more-numerous Lesser Scaup, there was a single Greater Scaup on Moloka`i and another at Ha`ena pond, Hilo.  The Pied-billed Grebe resident at Waiakea Ponds, Hilo, was counted, as was a new second one at Ha`ena, another Hilo location.  A Great Egret, rare vagrant and emblem of the National Audubon Society that sponsors the CBC, wintered on Hanalei Natl Wildlife Refuge and was picked up in the Kapa`a circle.   Pacific Golden-Plover, a common winter visitor, gathered in unprecedented numbers on Midway, represented by a count of 1855 birds, perhaps in response to the absence of any Peregrine Falcon this year. Single Semipalmated Plovers turned up on Midway and the `Iao circle (Maui).  Lastly, an overwintering Red Phalarope graced Kealia Pond, Maui on the `Iao circle.

I`iwi, the iconic scarlet Hawaiian honeycreeper, has suffered widespread declines, so it was thrilling to count seven on the North Kona circle (Big Is.), where normally the species is missed.

Introduced birds comprise the largest and most controversial element of the Hawaiian avifauna—loved by some, regretted by others.  While in recent years few new species have arrived, it’s the already-present species that are spreading to new habitats and islands.  These expansions can be seen in CBC reports, this year’s being no exception.  Oddly, chickens, a domestic species in the islands for centuries, seem to be moving out from settled areas on several islands (mongoose-free Kaua`i has always had feral chicken in abundance).  A bill before the Hawai`i State legislature aims to tackle the feral chicken nuisance.  Reflecting this trend, the Honolulu CBC circle this year reported a high count of 168 moa (feral chickens).  Yellow-billed Cardinals inhabit the coastal zones of the Big Island but are increasingly seen at higher elevation, where one was encountered this year on the Volcano circle (Big Island) for the first time.  Saffron Finch numbers continue to build, with high counts of 44 at Waimea and 354 in Hilo. The Common Waxbill population has exploded on the Big Island, with a high count of 656 for Hilo.  This species has gained a new foothold on Kaua`i and was found for the first time on the Waimea circle and only the second time on the Lihue circle, with four and 50 birds respectively. Red Avadavats have also recently taken off on Kaua`i, with eight reported from the Waimea circle, one from the Kapa`a circle, and 18 from the Lihue circle.

Highlights for the Mariana Islands included no “firsts” for their respective circles, but there were three notable “seconds.”  Two Eurasian Coots turned up in Southern Guam (the question of how often migrant coots appear on remote islands is key for Hawai`i, home of the confusingly similar resident Hawaiian Coot); also, a Gadwall on the Dededo, Guam circle and a Bristle-thighed Curlew on the Rota circle were notable for their rarity.  The record of 5 Common Terns, not at all common for the Mariana Islands, was a first for Rota, but verifying details are lacking at this time.  Lastly, an indeterminate Short-billed or Long-billed Dowitcher appeared on Saipan this year, interestingly the fourth record for this circle.