Feast or Famine


31 January – 13 February 2012
Cameron Rutt and Robby Kohley

Figure 2. Laysan albatross chick. Photo: R. Kohley

If our previous work period was a “feast,” then this most recent one, unfortunately, would fall under “famine.” It seems that our fickle Millerbird friends are trying (and succeeding, we might add) to do everything in their power to defy categorization. Without obvious rhyme or reason, some days are full of activity, interspersed among days where their discreet foraging, all but invisible to us, literally tests the limits of concentration. We hope that, like us, they’re taking notes of their songbird brethren – the Laysan Finches – who have begun laying eggs and incubating clutches.

With no long-lost birds resurfacing, our “resight of the week” again goes to B/S, B/W, who continues to endure the Millerbird version of a serious “time out,” holed up at the south end of the island, now going on 50 days. To the best of our knowledge, there isn’t a single Millerbird within a mile of this guy, not that he seems overly worried about it. We often hear his blithe mumblings, apparently unconcerned by the lack of a listening audience.

Figure 1. The yellow pin marks the breeding ground where EJ, the Bristle-thighed Curlew, was captured and banded.

In the latest blog, we highlighted a certain Bristle-thighed Curlew – EJ – that wore a green leg flag, from a then unknown banding operation in western Alaska. Well, thanks to Kristine Sowl, a Wildlife Biologist at the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge, we now know a little bit more about him. EJ was banded alongside his mate on 2 July 2011 in Alaska’s Andreafsky Wilderness (Figure 1). In the first two years of this three-year study, Sowl and company have captured and flagged 69 curlews, with birds already turning up in Oahu, Midway, and now Laysan. Bristle-thighed Curlews are unique among migratory shorebirds for exclusively wintering on oceanic islands, not such a bad idea if you ask us. But first, they have to get here. For those birds embarking from the “southern” portion of their breeding range, like EJ, they must endure a 2,400 mile (4000 km) nonstop flight to reach the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands – no small task. But for others, breeding in the more northerly Seward Peninsula, a single leg of their biannual journey may exceed 3,600 miles (6000 km), ultimately depositing the worldly traveler in, say, Fiji! For more information on Sowl’s study, particularly if you’ve seen a similarly marked curlew, please visit:
Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge

The overwhelming avian highlight was the surprise appearance of a wayward Glaucous Gull (2/8), completely out of the blue! Far from its expected winter haunts along the coastal Pacific Northwest, this immature didn’t appear particularly desperate for land. Less than a minute after being spotted, it took off, only to make one last pass before disappearing, allowing only marginal photographic documentation (and that’s being generous) – our 43rd species for the island this winter. Second only to the gull on the highlight reel, many of the albatross chicks have now reached peak cuteness – if such a thing is measurable – fluffy, spunky, and alert, but not yet ballooning in size (Figure 2). Finally: a single “Brewster’s” Brown Booby was again detected (2/5 and 2/9); the once flock of 18 Northern Pintails found themselves stuck in a division equation, with a denominator of three (now 6 birds only; 2/8-2/9); the Peregrine Falcon (through 2/12) continues to stockpile an impressive array of discarded wings (the totaled prey items now comprise 21 Pacific Golden-Plovers, 27 Ruddy Turnstones, 1 Sanderling, and 2 Laysan Finches); and one Sharp-tailed Sandpiper was noted (through 2/8).

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