Nene spread wings and take flight

KAPA‘IA — “This is a warm and fuzzy day,” Al Silva, wildlife technician for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, said yesterday as 11 endangered state birds took their first flight.

About six weeks ago, 11 nene goslings were introduced to their new habitat deep in the valleys of Kapa‘ia.

Yesterday, the goslings, originally from four different clutches of eggs, were given their wings as Grove Farm Land Co. employees lifted the wire door and let the birds fly free.

“It’s very heartwarming to see them get out into the wild,” Grove Farm vice president Michael Tresler said.

Despite the two-year project’s six-figure price tag, he said the effort “confirms Grove Farm’s commitment to the island and to the geese.”

At first the goslings needed encouragement from Silva, as they were content to stay within the confines of the pen, their home for the past month and a half.

Amidst chirping and honking, the birds meekly poked through the opening one by one — pausing to check out the grass that was definitely greener outside the fence.

“It takes one to start things off,” Silva said. “The rest will follow.”

Soon, the flock was outside the cages and sampling the grass — a good sign, Silva said, as the birds are grazers.

Grove Farm President Warren Haruki kept an eye on the progress of the released goslings, four male and seven female.

Marissa Sanblom, a Grove Farm Co. vice president, said the objective was to create a safe habitat where nene geese can “feed, nest and flourish.

“The goslings were moved to their current location and kept safe until they ‘fledged,’” she said. “As nene have been known to ‘imprint’ on an area and return to use such areas as nesting sites, it is our hope that the goslings will return to our habitat site to breed.”

Sanblom said Grove Farm has been working closely with the Division of Fish and Wildlife and consulted with a number of experts for two years to get to the point of the release.

The birds have been gathering at the Kaua‘i Marriott, the Kaua‘i Lagoons and the Puakea Golf Course — places where the grass is manicured and there is proximity to water — but the sites were getting crowded.

“The goal of our Nene Goose Habitat Initiative was to provide additional nene feeding and nesting areas for the endangered nene goose through habitat enhancement,” San-blom said.

Three areas totaling 8 acres surrounding the 75-acre Kapa‘ia Reservoir have been identified as appropriate for habitat enhancement.”

With further encouragement, it didn’t take long for the 11 goslings to discover the lapping waters of the reservoir that Sanblom described as being at a low level.

Soon the flock, in a flurry of droplets and flapping, lifted off.

Instead of flying in the a familiar “V,” some geese headed east, circled the reservoir and turned back for a landing, lacking the grace of more experienced birds.

One tumbled into the underbrush. Another group made a beeline for the water processing facility nearby.

A few were swallowed by the tree growth below the treatment facility, and five made it safely back to land and amidst the grazing, stopped to honk.

“They’ll all come back,” Silva said. “They just follow the honking.”

The birds proved they could make it outside the pen, and Silva said he’ll be doing periodic monitoring on the birds, concentrating his efforts during November when they start nesting.

• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@kauaipubco.com.

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