Monday, December 29, 2008

Day-old nene babies

Now there are two baby nene. The second egg hatched overnight.

Mother interacting with the babies while she's still incubating the third egg.

The last few weeks have been full of the loud cheeping of newly fledged manikins - a small brown bird that has a sweet voice much louder than you would expect. There are three overhead, gleaning the underside of the hau leaves that are a lacework of small insect bites. In the patches of sunlight between showers, orange monarch butterflies drift past just above the grass, a pair of Brazilian cardinals with bright red crests turn over fallen leaves, and a male Indian shama, his black feathers gleaming blue in the sunlight, searches the bark of an old Java plum tree. In the distance is the ever-present sound of cockerels crowing, dogs barking and crickets.

It was first light and she sat sleepily. It was a long time before the young bird appeared, wobbling on shaky legs, investigating the sides of the nest, his mother, the sunlight, and then tumbling over the edge. She wanted the gosling to come back, and tugged his gray down, his wing tip, moving obstacles from the slope of the nest, but the baby settled down for a few minutes among the leaves, looking around. They are so vulnerable just now. The male is at the edge of the hau with the second female. Eventually the young bird scrambled back and she raised her wing in welcome, revealing the second baby for the first time. As the two young staggered down the nest again in opposite directions, she leaned as far as she could but remained on the egg, coaxing each one in turn.

By late morning, the second female, Nahe, was giving the loud demanding trumpeting that calls a mate from a distance. Today, for the first time, the male did not respond or even call back. He was walking across the field, in the heavy swaying gait they use at speed, and was going towards the nest. Nahe continued to call off and on for an hour. This kind of trumpeting can seem like an alarm, but there are subtle differences that have fooled me when it was a cat alarm, but was unmistakably different when the pigs were attacking an earlier nest. The situation is sad for Nahe, they have mated at least twice during the incubation, and she may be swelling with eggs. But there are single males in the area that have tried to escort her. The nesting bird is helpless, and it is good to see her mate staying close and defending her at last.

By early afternoon, the male stands alert, a few feet from the nest. The two young ones staggered several feet from the nest on their first adventure, tasting twigs and fallen leaves. Even a root or branch a few inches across is a hurdle for them. The mother left the nest to follow them and lead them back, and the father nudged them from behind with his beak. The nest was in a patch of warm sunlight. The mother settled over the last egg and the two goslings climbed up and under her lifted wing.

It’s hard to believe that by the afternoon the newly-hatched gosling, only hours old, and its day-old sibling, had tumbled to the edge of the river and back - twice! They were family outings, and the young were full of energy and ready to explore. They stood at the edge of the water, while their thirsty mother walked a few feet in, to drink and bathe her underside for a few minutes. This is the first time she has left the nest since the young began to chip their way out of the egg. Nahe watched them from twenty feet away, calling hopefully, but he stayed focused on the young. He seems fascinated by them. Just before the light began to fade the parents led the goslings to the edge of the green field to feed. Nahe went out of sight a little earlier. There are other nene in the valley wetlands, and among the taro-fields.

First Outing: These two nene goslings emerged from their eggs yesterday and today. They're following their mother back to the nest area after she took them down to the river so she could have her first drink for at least three days. It's a real challenge when you have to climb over a branch that's shoulder-high - and you only started walking a few hours ago. At this stage, walking is largely a case of tumbling in the desired direction...

First Outing: On their way back from the water - they're tasting everything as they go.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Nene eggs begin to hatch

8.00 am. Loud deep purrings and songlike murmurings were coming from inside the hau, even before the nest was visible. Something was inspiring these new vocalizations from the female nene. She was sat as usual over the eggs, fussing a little with the sides of the nest, a feather here, a piece of grass there, then for a moment she stood up to look at them and two of the eggs had small holes in them, - one was about the size of a dime, but in a cracked, uneven way - and there were little cheeping sounds coming from within. A beak appeared momentarily outside, and then back inside again. The other hole was a little smaller, and had softer cheeps coming from inside, and a glimpse of soft downy gray movement within. These were the sounds that inspired the mother's response. She lowered herself over the eggs again, her feet either side, and continued her contented purring. It can take up to two days for a Canada goose gosling to open the egg and free itself, chipping away from inside. For some reason, there are only three eggs now. On Christmas Eve she was behaving very similarly, and I noticed an egg missing, but did not see or hear a gosling.
The male arrived about an hour ago with the second female. They were focused on each other and were mating yesterday for at least the second time. He demonstrated in front of her by stretching his head and tail, erect in the air, and then sidestepping towards her with head and neck lowered. In a short while, after feeding on grass, he walked towards the nest and she continued to graze.
It was on the 27th November that the original pair spent the first night apart. The female was constructing her nest in the hau, the male on guard by the river. Nene incubation is said to take between 29 and 31 days. She probably spent a few days preparing the nest and laying before beginning incubation.

11.00 am. The male is aware of the hatching and has begun to change his behavior. For the last two weeks he has been almost inseparable from the unbanded female we call Nahe nahe. In Hawaiian it means small and gentle, and she is a small bird, one of two sisters that were born up river last year. A lot of the time they grazed in the field or flew upriver, occasionally absent for half of the day, giving no response to his first mate’s call, to watch the nest as she fed. This morning he has been standing alone at the edge of the hau, and did not followed Nahe as usual, even when she called to him, he remained in sight of the nest. He does not chase her away, though the nesting female hisses at her if she gets too close, but he does chase the occasional rooster.
The nesting bird has adopted a different position, with wings spread more to her sides. Her whole body moves as if nudged from underneath. At one point she stood up and there was the first clear silhouette of a gray gosling, with a long thin neck swaying from side to side as it tried to stand for the first time. This video was taken about an hour later.

The nesting bird lowers herself very tentatively, probably feeling where the tiny gosling is with her feet and legs. At one point the gosling was beside the large leg band and she would not have been able to feel its movements. There were still two eggs remaining, and she has turned the other one with the hole in it. The rain is loud but the sound of the gosling's voice is just audible beneath that of the mother. There are bouts of activity between periods of rest and each time she raises herself she rotates a little more in the nest.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Four eggs!

Underneath the hau was mud and sodden cow poop, which oozed between my toes and flip-flops, and clouds of large biting flies seemed to rise out of the slime wherever I stepped and gathered around me. There was a scattering of fresh fallen yellow flowers. Overhead, a large family of mejiros , a small, green, nectar-eating bird introduced from Japan, chirped in unison as they followed each other from blossom to blossom.
I was trying to get a photograph, feeling the incubation may be nearly complete. There was hardly any light, and I was just about to leave, - very quickly, as the flies were feasting on me - when she stood up beside the nest, revealing four perfect white eggs. She began to cover them with a light covering of loose feathers from the side of the nest and finished with a big fresh fallen leaf. At the edge of the hau she ate a little, but there was no sign of the male. After only two or three minutes she headed back, stretching and flapping her wings in the last open space before she entered. She watched a procession of roosters climbing over fallen branches beside a patch of rushes at the edge of the river 30feet away, then she returned to the nest. Without removing the thin coverings, she lowered herself over the eggs, with her feet on the edge of the bowl. The outside of the bowl appeared to be newly covered with fallen leaves, after yesterday’s soaking.

Hanalei, Dec 14 2008: Nesting female nene leaves her nest, revealing four eggs, which she carefully covers before leaving for a short feed.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Saving the nest from flooding

The hau at the edge of the swollen river

It’s been raining for two days and nights now, and red dirt is snaking into Hanalei bay from the swollen rivers. Overhead, the clouds drift in from the Pacific in thick layers and settle over the mountains. Thin, wispy, animalistic shapes are carried across the dark bases, slowly merging into solid masses. Thunder rumbles overhead and a young female nene looks up with her head on one side, and decides to move from beneath the coconut tree in the middle of the valley, where she had settled. She calls to her mate, a contact call with some urgency to it, and he follows her deeper into the valley, on foot. Normally they would have flown but all the geese prefer not to fly when it is wet or windy. The dominant male, from the nesting pair, has a new position on a silver-gray trunk of a fallen wili wili tree, where he has a view of the places on which the two other nene pairs have been focusing. He is about 100 feet from the nest, in “penguin form”. It’s a name I made up to describe the elongated stance a nene takes in heavy rain. The rain runs down their necks and bodies in rivulets, and they all seem to enjoy it. I never see them seek shelter like most other birds.
Underneath the hau it was sheltered and dark, but great quantities of the yellow blossom had been washed off the upper branches by the rain and scattered across the carpet of blackened leaves. The nest has been growing in size every day, getting wider, and taller as she has continued tucking more leaves around herself. She lay relaxed on top of it, wings merging into the down-and-leaf blanket, and on the edge, beside her wing, a perfect yellow hau flower rested, lotus like.

The following day……Saturday
The storm has continued overnight, the bridge into Hanalei is closed by water over the road, and the fields where people normally park for the two farmers' markets are lakes, with endangered koloa ducks splashing in them.
Lightning flashes, followed by thunder crashes a couple of seconds later, continued through the night into a very dark dawn. We didn’t get to see the full moon at all, the largest of the year, which was set to rise on the horizon at sunset last night.
By about 8.00am there was enough light to check on the nest. We could see from the window that the pasture was a network of lakes, and one of them disappeared beneath the hau beside the nest. It was bad. Standing water was everywhere, by instinctive choice her nest was one of the few patches still visible, but water was all around the edges and looked as if it was touching the eggs. She looked up at us, with no fear, no hiss, I don’t want to put my thoughts into what she was thinking, but she looked dejected and soggy. The ground around her, which had been solid last night, had changed within hours to a lake. It seemed hopeless, with hundreds of feet of standing water around, and rain still falling like a tropical monsoon. The best chance was to make it drain faster. Luckily Bill was back from the mainland, and while thunder continued overhead he began to dig a narrow trench from the river towards the main area where the water was gathering. At one point he had to saw through hau roots, four inches thick, only three feet away from the nest. Talking to her as he did it, he succeeded without spooking her. At last the water started to drain, an ooze that became a bubbling stream, draining just enough - as long as the river doesn’t rise. It took two and a half hours, partly because of the restricted spaces in which he was working; little cavities in a tangle of ancient hau. When we left her the nest now seemed to be about three inches above the water, and she began to preen, a good sign - she hadn’t been moving, she had been too still, a bundle of wet feathers.
The rain is forecast to continue until Thursday, we should get some sand bags ready.

Part of the drainage channel after it began to flow. One of the roots that had to be cut is near the center.

This whole area was under water, right up the walls of the nest, and in places even touching the nene - which you can see just above the center of this picture. The area clear of leaves shows how close to the nest the main drainage channel had to be dug.

After Storms, Cleanup In Kauai
Assessments Under Way As Area Seeks Federal Help

WAIMEA, Hawaii - Cleanup has begun in several counties after a severe storm pounded Kauai. The Civil Air Patrol conducted an aerial assessment of the island on Sunday to determine if Kauai will qualify for federal assistance.
A bulldozer worked alongside residents to clear the muddy mess in Waimea Town, one of the hardest hit areas on Kauai.
Raging flood waters washed away cars and disturbed piles of abandoned vehicles, which ended up on top of each other, in the mud, and in the river.
"The thing was 1 foot into my kitchen," said Kauai resident Glenn Kapahu. "It lifted up my deck. This is about the worst I've seen in this valley. And I've been here for over 20 years – 30 years."
From KITV, Hawaii Dec. 14 2008

Friday, December 5, 2008

Hanalei nene nest

I thought the nest was lost this morning, the herd of cattle that run free range in the valley were sleeping under the hau, the vigorous wild hibiscus where the nest is hidden. Carefully I urged them away, stepping within feet of the nest. The goose was nowhere to be seen. It was important they did not stampede. As they left, branches broke around them. The last one refused to move and had to be coaxed out with fruit. They had entered from the back where the hau is less dense, and laid down to rest on the dry ground.
The geese are nervous of the cattle. To a goose they must appear like a double-decker bus on four legs. The bark of a dog in the distance can make them stampede, making their behavior unpredictable. The ranchers herd them with dogs and have rodeo shows on the ranch land, but have permission to graze in the valley, which belongs mostly to the Bishop Estate.
These animals stepping so close in the dark, would have driven her off the nest.
She was by the river and did not return at first, but the male seemed concerned, standing at the edge of the bushes and gazing towards the nest. At last she made her way in, I glimpsed her lifting the leaves off, uncovering large perfect eggs, two or three, and then settling on the nest.
Nene are described as being monogamous. The other birds that lost their nests to pigs earlier in the season were devoted to one another. When the female left the nest to feed, the male guarded it until she returned. He remained close by, 24 hours a day. This male has spent very little time near the nest. He seems loosely connected to it and when she leaves to feed he follows her if he is around. Tonight he flew off with the young female that was born here last year, after being away most of the day with her. His nesing female appears unconcerned about him, but very focused on the nest. He always stands beside the nesting bird when the three are together, and she sometimes chases the other female, but is mostly too busy with feeding and nesting. This pair were inseparable prior to nesting, and he seems to be behaving now as if he has been abandoned. Their number bands suggest they are both about six years old.
At the start of the nesting season, the young female was chased away by her parents. Her big sister formed a pair bond straight away, but this smaller bird, the little sister, rejected four suitors, and continued tagging along with her parents, at a greater distance, even as they nested. Eventually they became more aggressive towards her and she returned to her home base here, and began to tag along with this male, the only male she has tolerated.
Here are some of the new series of drawings I've been working on. The native wetland birds of this ahupua'a (land division, from mountain to reef). Very different from the Washington work, and using a new technique which I will share in another post. To have the river beside me as I work, and several species of endangered water birds interacting around it, is a great gift.
Today was warm and sunny, the waves in the bay are reaching 25' on the face and forecast to get bigger by morning, with an extra high tide expected, there are coastal flood warnings, and some serious surfers around.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Aholehole & Nene by Hanalei stream

It's dark this morning, no moon or stars, but the roar of big surf in Hanalei bay, and the singing of crickets, so many of them, the sound merges and is constant. Every so often a different sound is amongst them, louder like a small bell being tinkled , it must be another species. They say every miniature eco system in Hawaii evolved a different species of cricket, sometimes only yards apart. The surf is louder, there'll be some happy surfers today. The sound of a cock crowing, but no responses yet.
Yesterday was sunny and the river water clear above the rocks, all the details of the aholehole were revealed, big eyes, that respond rapidly to any movement and sparkling silver sides. Their Hawaiian name means "sparkling" and the fish was used in ceremonies to keep evil away. These are half grown young ones, swimming near the river mouth, moving easily between salt water and fresh. They will spend their later years along the edge of the reef and grow up to 10 inches. Most days I throw some breadcrumbs for them, it is a joy to see every fish come and follow the one that catches it.
Two nene geese came over, one for a drink and the other preened as he guarded the nest. Nene are still on the endangered list, at one time they were down to only 30 birds left in the wild. With captive breeding programmes they have been reintroduced to islands where they had become extinct, but only on, hopefully, mongoose free Kauai have they been able to breed successfully. outside sanctuaries. they still face challenges, last month I witnessed two nests being destroyed by free range pigs, in one instance the pig had the male nene pinned to the ground, luckily only by its tail, and was mouthing his back, whilst another was eating the eggs from the nest as the female stood beside. I was moments too late. The nene drinking is their daughter from last year and she has been using the garden as a place of safety since. A fenced acre with no dogs, only the occasional feral cat. She is the only bird tolerated by the preening male on the other side.
He and his mate have already lost one nest this season, October, November, December, and this is a second and probably last attempt for the year. The eggs are very large and the female is the only one I've seen incubating, she spends so little time feeding, she must be in need of nourishment, two attempts are more than enough.
She sits under the hau bushes, her nest is a bowl shaped mound of dry leaves which she carefully covers when she leaves. Her mate has been a poor guard, often leaving for hours at a time, and even mating with the other young female. Unlike the pair before, whose mate never let his guard down.There is a picture of her on the nest but she is so well camouflaged in the exact centre.

Female nene on her nest. She's well camouflaged. Can you spot her - right in the center of this photo?