Yesterday, I received yet another text from yet another friend about yet another bird. You may be getting the impression that I’m birdy. Thing is, I haven’t even shared all the texts I’ve received from all my friends about all the birds.
This particular text said, “I no see um,” followed by an emoji of a sad face and a photo of a Kōlea, also known as Pacific golden plover. I like to call them the “A” birds, because they migrate during “A” months. They arrive in Hawaii in August, and they depart in April.
On these pages, I’ll stick with calling them “Kōlea.”
During the past few weeks, I’ve seen Kōlea in all their finery as they fatten up for their pending travel—a 3,000-mile, nonstop flight to Alaska. Outfitted in new breeding plumage, they’re sleek and ready for flight. (They are unaffected by the COVID-19 flight restrictions. Lucky them.)
Kōlea are not big birds. When they arrive in August, they weigh about four ounces. Their wings stretch a foot-and-a-half. They have long spindly legs. However, their oceanic feats are a marvel, especially because they are not seabirds. They’re classified as shorebirds; however, they frequent open grassy fields, and they’ve been recorded inside the crater of Haleakalā on Maui.
But here’s what I find fascinating: Kōlea gain altitudes of up to 20,000 feet at average speeds of 50 miles per hour during their migration to and from Hawaii. Unlike albatross, which can glide for hundreds of miles without a single flap of their wings, Kōlea flap the whole way—all 3,000 miles of their migration. And Kōlea don’t stop. They don’t land on the water for a rest—because they can’t swim. So, they flap for the entirety of the three days and four nights it takes to reach their Arctic destination, at an average of two wing beats per second.
In Hawaii, Kōlea are solitary, even quite territorial; however, when it comes time to migrate north, they flock up.
On Saturday, as I was conducting my weekly wildlife survey, I was surveilling a yearling monk seal asleep on a stretch of lava flats, photographing her with my long 400 mm telephoto lens. I was particularly interested to see whether an ugly wound on her back from a cookie cutter shark wound had healed—and it had. The scar was hardly noticeable. At some point in my concentration, I heard the distinct call of a Kōlea overhead. Their flight calls sound like “chu-eeet.”
When I looked up, I saw six Kōlea flying along the coastline, calling. As I watched, they circled back and landed on a bluff. It were as if they were calling up the troops, saying, “We can do this. We’ll do it together.”
It reminds me a little of what we’re going through right now—alone together. We can do this.
This Thursday, April 30, 2020, is the last day of Governor Ige’s first shelter-in-place, work-from-home mandate. He has since extended it through the end of May. However, I’m considering departing with the Kōlea and calling an end to these daily blog posts. But I won’t desert you altogether. I just won’t be posting as often. But I haven’t decided yet. We’ll see.
Hawaii’s death toll now rests at 16, and the state case load at 607. Kauai remains at 21.