The Nest that Eclipsed the Rest

The Nest That Eclipsed the Rest

6 – 19 December 2011
Cameron Rutt and Robby Kohley

It is not without disappointment that we tentatively wrap up the 2011 fall/winter breeding season. Despite our best wishes and increasingly hopeful expectations, it was simply not to be. Regretfully, the final nest that we had been monitoring stalled midway through the nestling period, with two dead nestlings the only thing to show for all of the parental hard work. Moments like this call for some reflection, in order to gain proper perspective. After all, this last nest ushered eggs, followed by nestlings, successfully through 3.5 weeks – our best nest yet. It is important to note, too, that Millerbirds are not known to breed at this time of year, with no prior breeding evidence during the entire months of October, November, and December. Furthermore, nobody anticipated a full-fledged breeding season this soon after the translocation, with nest-building from more than half of all pairs and eggs laid by more than a third. So it is with renewed eagerness that we look towards February and March, a season with increased insect abundance, wintry weather fading out-of-style, and with the birds’ normal annual rhythms restored. If the Millerbirds build upon this promising start, we see only smooth waters in store for 2012.

With resights becoming more infrequent, it is not uncommon nowadays for birds to escape our notice for a few consecutive weeks. This installment’s “resight of the week” goes to four such birds that we happily crossed paths with during the past work period. The following is a list of each bird’s color combination, followed by the number of days since we had last bumped into them: R/Y, G/S (28 days), B/G, G/S (31 days), B/S, O/O (36 days), and O/O, O/S (40 days). Hopefully this much time will not pass before we next get a sneak peek into their lives. In some ways, it is hard to believe that for these Millerbirds – and for that matter, us – today marks their 100th day on-island (in other ways, this is not so unbelievable!). We’ve now surpassed the halfway point of our “human” winter tour; on the other hand, when it comes to the Millerbirds, Laysan is playing for keeps.

At a place where the term “light pollution” is meaningless, Laysan provided us backstage passes to the lunar eclipse on 12/10 (Figure 1), as most of the crew nearly pulled all-nighters to watch the show develop (total eclipse began here shortly after 4:00 AM local time). The other rare sight was a surprise Black Tern (Figure 2; on the late dates of 12/12 – 12/13) which, according to the Pyle and Pyle monograph, has only wound up in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands three times prior and is just Laysan’s second! For the first time since we discovered it, we did not see the male Lesser Frigatebird during the past two weeks (last seen 11/30) – apparently it has found another vantage point, one that nicely excludes us. Finally: the 18 Northern Pintails remain (through 12/15), with more males “turning” up; the single American Wigeon persists (through 12/12); the lingering Peregrine Falcon continues to exhibit a refined taste for shorebirds (so far, wings from 8 Pacific Golden-Plovers and 10 Ruddy Turnstones (through 12/19)); and the Gray-tailed Tattler (through 12/11), Wood Sandpiper (through 12/6), Sharp-tailed Sandpipers (through 12/6; dwindling to only two birds), Dunlin (through 12/6), and Ruff (through 12/6) all continue.

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