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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, August 24, 2003


Readers contribute to research on kolea

By Bob Krauss
Advertiser Columnist

Let me announce with modest pride that Advertiser readers are contributing to science. One of the scientists, Lenny Penn, is a security guard at the Punchbowl national cemetery. The other, Tosh Hara, is an 'Aiea resident.

Between them they have documented a landmark sequence of cause and effect in the behavior of Hawai'i's mysterious bird, the kolea, or golden plover.

Every year this skinny, little autocrat flies down from Alaska to spend the winter. That much we all know. So did the ancient Hawaiians because the kolea is an indigenous bird that has been migrating to Hawai'i for tens of thousands of years.

But kolea hide more secrets than they reveal. How long does it take to fly from Alaska? How do they decide when to start? Do they fly alone or in a group? How fast do they fly and at what altitude? Nobody really knows, although wildlife experts and college professors have studied the kolea phenomenon for years.

So Advertiser readers have taken action. What happens is that somebody in Manoa wakes up in the morning and there's the family kolea in the front yard, or on the garage roof, back from Alaska. Delighted, the Advertiser reader picks up the phone and calls the Advertiser Kolea Bureau, which happens to be my office.

In this way, a kolea time table is taking shape and several kolea myths have been shattered. One myth is that kolea come back in September. Wrong. They start coming back in July and keep coming through August. They aren't early this year. They're on time, according the records of our far-flung scientific staff.

Their sharp eyes are everywhere.

On Wednesday, kolea scientist Hara of 'Aiea called with breathtaking news. He was driving past Kualoa Park on the Windward side and saw about 150 kolea in a grassy field near the fishpond.

Hara said the kolea looked lean and scrawny. He speculated that they had just flown in from Alaska. The time was 10:30 a.m. Other single kolea spaced around the park looked fat and well fed.

The very next day, kolea scientist Penn at National Cemetery of the Pacific called to report that he had counted between 30 and 36 kolea there on Wednesday. The count jumped to between 45 and 50 on Thursday.

Penn said the new arrivals were skinny and undernourished. A lot of fighting was going on. He speculated that new arrivals were disputing territory with old-timers.

Meanwhile, my first kolea count at Ala Wai Park after Hara's sighting jumped from 14 to 17. Some were fighting.

Consider what this means. This evidence suggests that kolea fly in a group from Alaska, land at a staging area, like humans at an airport, then scatter to go house-hunting. However, later arrivals find that many of the best places to live are taken.