Changing Seasons

October 15- October 28 2012
Michelle Wilcox

The Millerbirds and I bid bon voyage to Robby Kohley on October 16th. While he was here, he talked a lot about wanting to come full circle with Millerbirds by capturing an unbanded juvenile that was born of parents he helped move from Nihoa Island to Laysan last year. Robby has been a key part of this project since 2009. He performed pre-translocation feeding trials on Nihoa to make sure that we could keep Millerbirds in captivity for the length of time needed to move them between islands, and then lived on Laysan for six months after the first translocation last year to monitor the birds’ survival and productivity . Sure enough, just before he left, we were able to capture a young, unbanded Millerbird that was born on Laysan earlier this year, and Robby was able to band it with his “signature” color.

Robby Kohley with a newly-banded fledgling Millerbird. Photo: M. Wilcox

Meanwhile, the Millerbirds have been busily engaged in making more Millerbirds. For this wave of breeding, we now have five fledglings and three nests with nestlings still being fed. A number of the birds that just came from Nihoa are going through a molting period, which means there are Millerbirds hopping around without tails. They look a little bit like they forgot to put their pants on. I have noticed that the resident birds that have been here since 2011 have been more successful at breeding in this wave than the newly moved birds. We have had a number of failures so far, but all by new birds.

The charter vessel Kahana that took away Robby and the summer crew dropped off the winter crew, who will be staying with me on Laysan through April. We experienced our first tsunami warning on the night of October 27 from the earthquake near the Queen Charlotte Islands, off the central coast of British Columbia. We did not see much wave action, but we did have a smooth test of our emergency procedures.

A pair of Black-footed Albatross recently arrived on Laysan. Photo: M. Wilcox

My ‘Nature Sight of the Week’ is the arrival of Black-footed Albatrosses to Laysan to begin their breeding season. These birds have been summering in the far north Pacific Ocean from Japan up to the Bering Sea and over to the North American coast, where they have been feeding on flying-fish, squid, and crustaceans. The first two were sighted on Sunday October 21 and more are arriving each day. The island will host up to 25,000 pairs, second only to Midway, which harbors the largest breeding colony of this species in the world. They will do an elaborate courtship dance that includes a simultaneous series of postures and calls by the male and female featuring moves such as a bow with wings extended, a ‘Sky Call’ performed on tip-toe, and ‘Head Up Clacker,’ in which the bill is rapidly clapped together.

Along with the 28 Black-footed Albatrosses, there is one Laysan Albatross on the lake edge and one Short-tailed Albatross in the North Desert. There are at least six Northern Pintails on the lake. Three juvenile Red Phalarope were seen swimming and foraging in the lake, and a Dunlin was also sighted. We continue to see Sharp-tailed Sandpipers (40+), a few Pectoral Sandpipers, and two Bar-tailed Godwits. The expected Ruddy Turnstones, Wandering Tattlers, and Pacific Golden Plovers are all along the lake edges.

[1] Editor’s note: see the blog posts below from Robby and Cameron Rutt describing their September 2011- March 2012 monitoring work on Laysan.

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