'Anianiau-Photo by Mitch Walters

The Battle for Nest Material-‘Anianiau vs. ‘Akeke’e

The Battle for Nest Material-‘Anianiau vs. ‘Akeke’e

(from the notebook of seasonal volunteer Laura Southcott)

This morning, I was checking one of our ‘Akikiki nests and some nearby ‘Elepaio nests close to Halehaha Stream. As I finished up and prepared to go look for new nests, I saw a solitary ‘Akeke’e fly by heading back towards camp. I tried to follow it but I really didn’t have a chance – it was gone. So I turned back up the trail and continued looking for nests. Much to my surprise, within half an hour I had spotted what looked like a nest about nine metres off the ground in an ‘ohia tree. It was large, especially compared to the little ‘Elepaio nests we’ve been finding so often, and shaped a little bit like a waffle cone. I lifted my binoculars just in time to see an ‘Akeke’e jumping into it! ‘Akeke’e nests are supposed to be difficult to find because the birds can be secretive and hard to follow, but this nest was easily visible from the trail. When the bird flew away I decided to stay and wait for the bird to come back to make sure that I had identified it correctly and to determine whether it was still building the nest.

After about ten minutes, a bird arrived. It perched below the nest for a while, and to my dismay it was clearly a male ‘Anianiau. Worse, it had nothing in its beak, so I began to think it might be dismantling an old nest to build its new one. After the bird left I decided to wait for another visit to confirm my suspicions. Then perhaps I could follow the ‘Anianiau to its new nest.

In another twenty minutes, the male ‘Anianiau came back, hopped into the nest, grabbed a beakful of nesting material, and flew away again. A minute later a female ‘Anianiau arrived and did the same. I was disappointed that it wasn’t really an ‘Akeke’e nest (and a little upset at my own lack of birding skills!), but I crossed the nest information out of my field notebook, deleted the GPS point, and tried to follow the ‘Anianiau pair. I wasn’t having much luck, though, so I came back to the first nest to see if I could get a better idea of which way they were flying.

When I got there, I could see a bird perched next to the nest out of the corner of my eye, and I thought I saw a deeply forked tail—one of the field marks of the ‘Akeke’e—but I wasn’t holding my breath. I lifted my binoculars again. I was shocked to see that it was, indeed, an ‘Akeke’e, and its beak was full of grass and small twigs! As I watched it hopped into the nest to add this material to it. It seemed that the ‘Anianiaus had been stealing material from this nest even as the ‘Akeke’e was adding it!

I spent the afternoon looking for the ‘Anianiau nest, which turned out to be less than fifty metres away just over a ridge. I quickly dubbed it the Pirate Nest. We will see which birds—the pirate ‘Anianiaus or the ninja-masked ‘Akeke’es—prevail!

'Akikiki 44-Photo by Lucas Behnke

First ‘Akikiki Nest of 2012 Season

(from the notebook of seasonal volunteer Laura Southcott)

The AK team (as we call the people who search for ‘Akikiki and ‘Akeke’e birds and nests) had a successful start to the season last week as they discovered the first ‘Akikiki nest of the year, and the first ‘Akikiki nest of Ruby’s M.S. Thesis. The nest was discovered near one of our access trails when we noticed the female delivering twigs to the almost complete, mossy structure high in an ohia tree while her mate watched nearby.

While we’ve heard and seen ‘Akeke’e singing and foraging in pairs, we’re still on the hunt for any of their nests. The breeding season seems to be starting up for other Kaua’i forest birds as well. We’ve found five ‘Elepaio nests so far (in fact, one is less than 50m from the ‘Akikiki nest), as well as one each for the ‘Anianiau and Japanese white-eye. All are still under construction, but we expect eggs to be laid soon!”

Pueo vs. Peregrine: Round 1 goes to the Peregrine!

(From the notebook of seasonal technician Alex Wang)

Anyone who has found themselves too close to a nest of a Peregrine Falcon will never forget the cantankerous Kack-Kack-Kack-Kack scream they can utter. But this species is not found on Kaua’i. Thus I was quite surprised to hear this unmistakable call while hiking along the Wainiha Pali on March 20, 2012. Iwas conducting an “AK” survey as part of the graduate work of Lucas Behnke, a student at Colorado State University and employee of KFBRP. Just “listed”as endangered in 2010 the “AKs,” or ‘Akeke’e and ‘Akikiki, have disappeared from their traditional haunts in the last few years, so part of our work is to attempt and document this rapid range contraction and determine where these birds still survive.

While scrambling over the wet and rotten obstacle course known as the Alaka’i Swamp, I rarely look far above the canopy: only as high as the ‘Akeke’e – a Hawaiian version of a crossbill – will forage, which is often still quite high, prying open Ohi’a Lehua buds for insects and larvae. Thus the Peregrine would have most likely slipped by unbeknownst to me if it were not for its harsh and piercing call. I quickly scurried to a gap in the trees and much to my excitement was able to see not only a Peregrine but also a Pueo, the endemic subspecies of Short-eared Owl as well! What was going on?

By the time I got a good look through the trees, it appeared to me that the Pueo was in full retreat, flying hurriedly off to the west while the Peregrine was calmly circling the area. Well, as calm as one of the world’s fastest, most tenacious, and terribly awesome flying hunters can be. While I was unsure whether this was just a territorial dispute or if the Peregrine actually was considering the Pueo a potential meal, based on the battle cry I surmise that there was an altercation of some sort. The naïve Pueo was probably the lucky one, and while I watched the skies throughout the rest of that day and saw the Peregrine at least three more times, I never saw the Pueo again.

Oh, great: there’s another predator for ‘Akeke’e to watch out for!

The highs and lows of studying endangered species

(From the notebook of seasonal volunteer Aaron Hulsey)

Earlier this season I had the privilege to observe the development of nesting behavior in a young ‘Akikiki.The bird in question was MV/RE:BL/AL, a second-year ‘Akikiki that had been banded earlier in the season and is one of three banded ‘Akikiki in existence. This bird had also been fitted with a radio transmitter and followed as well. It was found to wander over a large area of the study plot, ranging many hundreds of meters both upstream and downstream from where it was originally banded. When I found the bird,it seemed to be beginning to build a nest. It would gather moss and lichen from the branches of a large ohia and then place the nesting material in a fork of the ohia. Though it seemed to be building a nest,it didn’t do so very well. Much of the material it placed in the ohia fork just fell and dropped to the ground. Eventually a nest began to form but was found destroyed later in the season. It was extremely cool to witness an ‘Akikiki learning to build a nest and developing skills that it will use to hopefully further the existence of an endangered Hawaiian endemic.

The nesting season in the Alaka’i is beginning to progress quite nicely. Many of our nests are fledging and fledgling ‘Apapane and ‘Anianiau can be heard calling and begging almost anywhere in the forest.The Kaua’i ‘Elepaio fledglings tend to be much quieter and retiring, sitting like small, fluffy, gray statues perched in the trees while their parents constantly feed them. We have had one ‘Akikiki and two ‘Akeke’e nests fledge so far this season and have found fledglings for both species in addition to the nests that we have monitored.