Read the entire blog series from the millerbird team at: http://www.fws.gov/pacificislands/nihoamillerbird.html
Millerbird carrying nesting material. Photo: Robby Kohley
By Michelle Wilcox
After being closed since November 2012, the camp on the 1,016-acre coral atoll known as Laysan Island was reopened in late March 2013 and is now staffed with five USFWS personnel and two millerbird biologists. I was lucky enough to return to Laysan Island along with Megan Dalton, the newest biologist. Together we will continue monitoring the newly translocated millerbirds to try to determine how many survived the winter and then monitor them throughout the summer. We hope to discover how many new chicks have fledged, and where on the island they are living. In the first couple of weeks we have already seen more than 38 individual millerbirds and are expecting to find even more in time.
The birds began nesting on Valentine’s Day last year, so we predicted they would be nesting when we arrived this year. The birds are indeed busy and Megan and I have found six pairs nesting so far - three pairs have nests with chicks in them and three pairs are building nests. Additionally, we have found males defending new territories adjacent to the area they favored last year. The naupaka shrubland on the north end of the island appears to be the millerbirds’ favorite area.
Although millerbirds are our focus here on Laysan, our ‘Nature Sight of the Week’ has to go to the tens of thousands of Laysan Albatross chicks sitting all over the island. Their parents had just started arriving in the fall when we left and the island is now a very different place, so much more full of life and activity. There is a grey, downy chick the size of an overweight bowling pin under my clothesline. During the heat of the day he waddles unsteadily into the shade of my weatherport platform, but he must return to the patch of ground where he hatched or his parents will not feed him with regurgitated fish, fish eggs and squid when they return from foraging flights, which can cover 1,000s of miles. The Laysan Albatross do not begin breeding until around their eighth year of life, but starting at age three they begin to return yearly to Laysan during the breeding season to practice their courtship dance, to find and defend a territory (males), and to find a life-long mate. This means that in addition to the chicks and their itinerant parents there are tens of thousands of young adults on the island who spend most of their days calling, clacking, and dancing. What a life.
Laysan albatross chick. Photo: Robby Kohley
In addition to the Laysan and Black-footed Albatross, there is one lone Short-tailed Albatross who returned again this breeding season to what we call the “northeastern desert”. Along the brine lake edge we have seen two Ruff, four Long-billed Dowitchers, two Red Phalaropes, 12 Sanderlings, in addition to the large numbers of Wandering Tattlers, Pacific Golden-Plovers, and Ruddy Turnstones. We have seen one Cattle Egret near the grove of coconut tree snags and we have seen a good number of Bristle-thighed Curlews around the island.
Our plan is to post these blogs every two weeks. We will include updates on the status of the millerbird population, stories about specific individuals and information on all the other natural and unnatural wonders on Laysan.
Laysan Island population and monitoring team. Photo: M. Dalton