Every year about March the Wedge-tail Shearwater (Puffinus pacificus chlorohynchus) returns to the coast of Maui to propagate the race. The birds dig a tunnel into the sandy hillside and lay a solitary egg. After the requisite number of days, fifty, the egg hatches to yield the solitary chick.
In the narrative and videos to follow we will look at the life cycle of the Wedge-tailed Shearwater as revealed at Kamaole Beach Park III located in Kihei, Maui. At Kamaole III a couple of colonies are well established. One to the North at Kamaole Point and one to the South of Kamaole Beach to the Kihei Boat Ramp. The material to follow represents a compilation of observations based roughly on the time period of September 2008 to December 2009. Material is presented by month with no effort made to differentiate between years to create a composite picture of the nesting cycle. Think of the presentation as a loop of an annually reoccurring event the nesting cycle where you can go to any point in the timeline and see what happened on that date in the past and know in all likelyhood that something quite similar is happening in the present.
The entry to the path that borders the ocean and heads south from Kamaole beach park to the Kihei boat ramp. The area on both sides of the trail is the home to hundreds of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters. Many burrow entrances can be seen from the trail being just a few inches from it. Some are situated such that you can actually see the bird on the nest if it is there. Some of the videos presented here will support that statement.
A sign describing the fragile nature of the nesting site. The reason why it is important to stay on the trail. If off the trail one must watch very carefully where one steps. It is not a good feeling to feel you foot sink and know that you may have just squashed a Shearwater chick.
The entrance to a burrow of a Wedge-tailed Shearwater at Kamaole Beach
Park III. Basically it is a burrow into the sand that may be a few inches
or it may be a few feet.
Photograph of a night landing approach for a Wedge Tailed Shearwater.
That is about 38 inches in wingspan. Photo by Bob Richardson.
March 30, 2009 A pair of Wedge Tailed Shearwaters return to Kamaole Beach Park III and take the point burrow at the trail head to the South colony. The previous year I watched the chick develop and then one day there was just a few feathers. This would be the case for a number of birds in 2008.
In this video you can hear their call. The egg will be incubated for fifty days. After hatching it will take approximately 113 days to the departure of the fledgeling.
The end of this video is priceless. One of the birds comes out and makes what some could construe as a symbolic gesture to the cameraman. Others, including the camera man would suggest the bird does not want to foul its own nest.
April 7, 2010 Jay Penniman introduces Dr. Fern P Duvall and explains
some background on the Wedge-tailed Shearwater banding project. The
Hawaiian name for the bird is Uau Kani. In this video you will see a bird
or two actually caught and banded. In all eighty new bands were placed
on adult birds. Forty were recaptures probably from Molokini.
April 9, 2009 This is thirty minutes of a pair of Wedge Tailed Shearwaters compressed to about seven minutes. The compression was done by dropping out segments where the birds were inactive or made relatively small maneuvers.
As I note in the video the white spot on the head of one bird was put there by a bird bander the previous night.
Captured with infrared the night of May 29, 2009. Just after sunset I catch a Wedge Tailed Shearwater come in and land. Not an easy shot to capture. Later that same evening I come across a gather of three birds that appear to be courting and then mating. This is of course what this nesting thing is all about. In a few weeks I will come across the fertilized egg that resulted from this union. The next generation is begun.
June 20, 2009 This is the first of a number of eggs I found outside
of a burrow. Presumably this is not where they want them but was dropped
in the wrong place. Possibly the egg could be laid outside the burrow and
then rolled into the burrow. For whatever reason some of these did not
get there. If left alone I would often find them smashed or the contents
removed through a small (1/2 inch or bigger) hole in the shell.
Based on my observation I no longer expect the bird to be on the nest 24/7. In some locations the bird did seem to be there constantly. On others I found the egg appeared to be unattended for a number of days. At least that is what I presumed since I only checked the nest daily and if the bird was not there when I looked I assumed it had not been back.
June 23, 2009 Watching a Shearwater adult sitting on the edge of the
hillside I see a creature run up the hill and run right into the sitting
bird. The bird is off in a wing beat or two and the creature continues
into a burrow. What was that? I think the current best guess is a mongoose.
Some say they are not out at night.
One point this video shows is that a Shearwater does not need to be running or off a cliff to get airborne. This bird went right into the air with no apparent difficulty.
July 2, 2009 I find my fifth egg outside of a nest. About one minute into this video you can see the egg under the bird in the nest. This particular burrow is the one to the left of the trail heading down toward the boat ramp at the south end of Kamaole beach park. It is a great location for observing the development of the chick. Unfortunately it is also obvious to those that wish to harm the birds. In two years of watching the end result has been loss of this nest. Perhaps the first year the loss was to a predator. Clearly the loss in 2009 was due to humans blocking the nest with coral fragments.
July 3, 2009 the entry was full of rocks. I removed the rocks to find the egg and bird intact. Note the amount of rocks involved. Whoever did this took some time and most deliberate in the placement. The bird could not have gotten out of the nest without help.
July 21, 2009 I found this bird dead. I believe it was taken by a dog
based on what looked like dog tracks in the area. I observed that the egg
I associated with this bird was exposed and appeared unattended for
six days. Then another Shearwater, presumably the mate appeared and took
over sitting on the egg. At the end of the incubation period I found what
I thought was this egg in an adjacent nest. This was particularly strange
since the adjacent nest contained a developing chick. In fact it was the
nest of the chick I had been watching daily that was killed at four weeks.
I took the egg out of the nest a few days later. Still later I examined
the egg and found a fully developed chick in the egg. This says to
me that the eggs can be unattended for a period of time and not be detrimental
to the development of the chick. I watched a number of nest where the egg
may or may not have someone sitting on it. When time permits I will put
together a series on a few of the various nest that I had observed.
July 24, 2009 This would not be the last time this nest was blocked. This nest was one of about three or four nest at the threshold of the trail to the boat harbor that were repeatedly blocked. This time the bird and egg survived the assault. In the course of the season this particular group of nests did not survive the assault and the eggs did not hatch even though in some cases the bird continued to sit on the egg.
This nest turns out to be the home of chick #3. In the videos to follow we will see this bird grow up. In fact this is the bird that took the photograph of Dr Leisure with his own camera!
Delightful views taken August 6, 2009. Presumably the chick was hatched in the previous twenty-four hours. The previous day I saw an egg shell outside the nest. The shell is very pliable unlike what we associate with a chicken egg shell. It has such a plastic quality to it that I have thought I found the remains of a Styrofoam cup rather than an egg shell.
The mother will only stay with the chick continually for the first few
days. This has to do with thermo regulation. When the chick can handle
this the parents tend to leave it unattended and go out gathering food.
The parents return at night and feed the chick. Leaving usually before
dawn to gather more food.
This is another interpretation of the events from August 5 to
August 8, 2009. Basically it shows the egg shell, the newly hatched chick,
an empty nest (chick and mom were further back behind an overhanging ledge
out of site) then chick next to its mother.
This segment August 11, 2009 shows the chick at six days old.
Mom is still with it. The chick is sitting next to mom (our right as we
face the nest). In a moment we will see it move under mom to the other
August 22, 2009 This is chick #2 with its mom at 17 days old. This nest is located at the south end of Kamaole Beach Park III. Usually mom is not with the chick but on this particular day she was. I thought I might catch mom feeding the chick but it didn't happen while I was there and I never did see or capture it happening. This burrow was not very deep and didn't have the obstructions that some of the others had. It was behind a vegetation shield that kept it safe through the duration from nest blockers.
August 25, 2009 This is chick # 1 at 20 days old. Here it is busy taking a snooze. What you often see with a chick most anytime.
August 26, 2009 We are back with chick #1 who is 21 days old and
home alone. Tending to its nest.
September 4, 2009 We look in on chick #2 at approximately 30 days old.
This is the chick we saw hatched with his mother on August 6, 2009.
Since hatching I had been watching him/her very closely, taking video every
day. When time permits I will be posting that video for it is fascinating
to watch him/her grow. Some days I would look in the burrow and not see
the chick. Later I would find that it was just out of sight to my left
and I had looked past him/her. On this particular day I sensed something
was wrong and looked particularly hard in the resident burrow and the one
immediately adjacent. I did not see anything. At home I scanned the videos
that I had taken. In the second burrow I thought I saw something. This
prompted me to return to the sight and I had indeed found the chick. Wedged
in the grass bounding the second burrow. On pulling him/her out I found
the top of the head had been munched. Based on nothing but the nature of
this wound I believe it was a rat that took my number one favorite Shearwater
This chick is five weeks old. While the video was taken in September
8, 2008 he/she still fits in the time line of the colony. There is a lot
of variability in the chicks and whether they come out of their burrow.
Some are exposed right from the beginning while others may only venture
out at night. This particular chick was the very first that I saw and photographed
in my study of the Wedge-tailed Shearwater. When fall banding time came
around this chick could not be found.
September 14, 2009 Chick is forty days of age. Chick is attentive and watching the world go by.
September 24, 2009 Chick is 50 days old.
I speculate that this chick appears to be aggressive over food. Sixteen
bird had been killed by two dogs that had gone through the area in the
early morning. The question of course was whether one or two of a chicks
parents had been killed. Presumably with the death of one parent the other
would have been able to carry on. I was following close to twenty chick
in the area of the attack which was the south colony. In the months that
followed I can say that I never observed any behavior that suggested a
chick was particularly hungry or suffering from a deficiency in food. I
found no dead chicks during the rest of the year at this location. I did
find a dead chick at the northern end of the beach. While I attributed
the aggressive behavior of the chick to food deprivation I no longer feel
that is true. The reality is that very few chicks moved on the camera.
This chick was one of those select few that came over to the camera on
more than one occasion.
To explain how so many birds could be killed so easily by just two dogs one has to understand how the adult Shearwaters work. During the day they are usually out of the nest. Returning after sunset they drop in and may proceed to a burrow or just hand out and commiserate with the other birds. There will be birds all over the place. They might be sitting about or strolling about. While they can leap into the air from a sitting position they appear to rather run than fly. The dog would be on one before it knew what hit it. A good bite and on to the next. In short order the damage is done. Apparently at this stage of development most of the chicks were remaining in the nest.
October 2, 2009 Our chick is 60 days old.
October 12, 2009. This particular chick is the only one I can remember approaching and actually grabbing the camera. It did this in the previous video. It is seen here actually grabbing the holding strap. I just love the close up one gets when the little guy comes up and looks right in the camera. What a treat. It didn't take much thought to realize that the bird might get the upper hand and be able to photograph the photographer. Taking some artistic liberties one can believe that is what happened here.
October 12, 2009 Back with chick #2 at approximately 70 days old.
October 18, 2009 Chick #2 at 76 days old. Note the down cover seems different and the chick is definitely bigger and shaped more like an adult bird.
October 19, 2009
October 22, 2009 Chick # 2 is about 80 days old.
October 31, 2008 and this chick heads for its burrow. This particular
chick had its nest just under the board walk and would come out daily to
sit in the sun under the vegetation. I watched this individual grow up
and fly away. I actually did not see the leaving but did see the lead up.
As time permits I will post some infrared shots of this chick shedding
down and developing it wing flapping coordination.
November 9, 2009 Chick #2 greets us with its plaintive call. Something I had not heard from a young Shearwater before. But that is the point, this chick is rapidly developing into an adult and will be leaving the nest in just a few days. Chick is approximately 98 days old.
November 11, 2009 Chick #2 at 100 days.
November 14, 2008 Chick 105 days old comes out of its burrow.
November 18, 2008 Chick approximately 109 days old ventures out
of burrow during the daytime. Not an uncommon practice during this time
November 19, 2008 Chick approximately 110 days old test its wings.
November 24, 2009 and we find chick #2 at home alone at 113 days old.
Very little down is seen on this bird. It looks very much like its mother
seen in earlier videos. I believe this is the last time I would see this
bird. I was surprised that the bird moved in the direction of the camera.
My understanding is that the parents stop feeding the bird a week or so
in advance of the young birds departure. The empty stomach becomes part
of the forces driving the bird to leave the nest and begin the next phase
of its life as a sea bird.
Historically the Wedge Tailed Shearwater has nested on the Puu Olai, a cinder cone that sets off the park. The nests that I was aware of were on the North West facing slopes of the hill.
Unlike the birds in Kihei the birds of the Puu Olai will get no protection. In all likelihood they will be feasted on by the Feral cats that prowl Makena State Park.
The park supports at least four separate colonies of cats. With ten to twenty-five cats each the number of wild cats in Makena is close to a hundred.
State park regulations prohibit the cats but state park administrators don't seem to care. Reports of dogs eating Shearwater's on Oahu results in the timely dispatchment of the dogs. On Maui the incident would probably go unreported.
View of North face of Puu Olai a hillside with numerous burrows of the nesting Shearwater.
A picture of the remains of adult. Photo taken June 3, 2008.
June 3, 2008 Makena State Park. This segment documents the losing battle between the Feral cats of Makena State Park and the Wedge Tailed Shearwater. Years ago the Shearwater was successfully established on the slopes of the Puu Olai. Today it is loosing the battle.
September 22, 2008 Checking back in the early fall I find the remains of four birds. Probably two nesting pairs of Shearwaters that had attempted to repopulate this colony. The Department of Land and Natural Resources claims to have an interested in protecting such wildlife. Clearly at Makena State Park no real effort is being made to do anything about the problem. The solution is known and has been successfully implemented in 2009 at Kamaole Beach Park III in Kihei. That solution is a trapping and removal program of cats, mongoose and rats.
April 3, 2009 Checking to see if the Wedge Tailed Shearwater has returned we find that it has never left. There is a certain irony in observing the death of the colony of birds on the hillside. From this vantage point we can see the death of the Maui coast. The natural grandeur of the Maluaka area has been ground up and leveled by a developer with the support of the Maui County Council. A unique natural environment is totally obliterated and replaced with gentle gravel hills covered with grass and artificial sand patches.
The work of the Feral cats that inhabit the park. Although contrary
to park regulations a half dozen or so feeding stations are maintained
by various individuals keeping the growing population ready and able to
take out the ground nesting birds they may come across.
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