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.