17 – 30 January 2012
Cameron Rutt and Robby Kohley
Just one work period after reveling in the accomplishment that was 20 birds in 21 days, we somehow managed to drastically increase the efficacy of our efforts this past work period. How about 20 different millerbirds in only five work days!? This formerly far-fetched dream miraculously became our reality, where two days in particular found us resighting millerbirds with virtual ease. We posted our best single-day resighting output of the season on 1/19, with nine different individuals, followed by an eight-resight day nipping closely at its heels (1/23), reminiscent of those September glory days. Not too shabby considering our quarry is a 12 centimeter, 18 gram bird that could be anywhere on an island of approximately 1.4 square miles. Despite these successes, however, we’re acutely aware of the work that remains to be done, particularly homing in on those last few missing millerbirds. On that note, our “resight of the week” plugged one of those gaps, the one that O/W, O/S [orange over white left leg; orange over silver right leg] left when she all but disappeared following our last resight (11/28), 56 days before we managed to catch up with her once again (1/23).
We’re not sure whether we or the parents had more anticipation, but, at long last, the albatross chicks have arrived! After more than two months of incubation, the first members of the 2012 cohort finally appeared, with a Black-footed chick 1/17 and a baby Laysan Albatross the next day (1/18). The chicks don’t get to see a whole lot of the sun, as the smothering parents keep them on a strict schedule of brooding, preening, and intermittent feeding. But the majority of each day passes with the chicks quite literally sandwiched beneath the secure warmth of the parents’ brood patch. Every day, new hordes of recently-hatched, peeping, grayish-white fluff-balls populate the island, adding a cute factor to the island which had otherwise been lacking (no offense to the other crew). Our first impressions, however, are that their cuteness might be tempered by their unwieldy beak, which may take a bit of growing into. Or perhaps it adds to their charm. In any case, we and the chicks have months to figure that out. The constant supervision of the parents will soon come to an end (Figure 1), with the chicks left to fend for themselves, and their growing hunger, while they patiently wait for that coveted next meal.
Signs of spring are already in the air: Great Frigatebirds with an excess of hormones on display; grounded Red-tailed Tropicbirds, Red-footed Boobies awkwardly navigating the sand in search of sticks; Gray-backed Terns on eggs, and Laysan Finches building nests. A Bristle-thighed Curlew with a green leg flag – evidently from a recent banding program in Alaska’s Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta – was seen 1/27, our first and only of the season. We’ll call him EJ for short (Figure 2). Finally: the whimsical Lesser Frigatebird reappeared (1/26-1/27); the wary flock of 18 Northern Pintails (through 1/21) made a showing with the single American Wigeon (through 1/21) in tow; the Peregrine Falcon (through 1/30) continues to crash the shorebird’s utopic winter resort (the pile of leftover wings now amounts to 45 birds, 44 of which are shorebirds); despite 24 Peregrine-consumed Ruddy Turnstones, our high count for that species was surpassed (2,746 on 1/21); and the Gray-tailed Tattler (through 1/25), as many as three Sharp-tailed Sandpipers (through 1/23), Dunlin (through 1/23), and Ruff (through 1/21) all continue.