Shearwater season to start

  • Contributed by Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project

    Andre Raine of the Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project removes a Newell’s shearwater from its mountain burrow for translocation to Nihoku.

  • Andre Raine / Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project via The Garden Island

    This is one of the 2019 cohorts of Newell’s shearwater chicks translocated to Nihoku on Sept. 11 and 12.

LIHUE — Sunday is the official start to the Newell’s shearwater fledging season, when chicks take their first flights from their burrows in the mountains and out to sea.

They encounter some roadblocks along the way — powerlines and lights that can distract them or knock them out of the sky, predators like cats and dogs that will attack when they’re grounded and the potential of getting run over if they land on the road.

The endangered seabirds aren’t the only species of seabird that fly from their mountain burrows to the ocean and can get disoriented on the way.

To prevent them from becoming prey, multiple projects are underway, directed at eliminating or modifying the threats to the birds and at moving the birds themselves to a place where they can safely fledge.

An agreement signed Friday, for instance, allows for Friday night high school football games — the lights at which have been a point of concern in the past.

For the past few years, the Kauai Mayor’s office has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the county to allow some Friday night football games.

It’s part of the Kauai Seabird Habitat Conservation Plan, a coordinated framework that defines a set of actions to minimize and mitigate the effects of light attraction on the protected seabirds and defines conservation goals, is currently being finalized by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources – Division of Forestry and Wildlife and the USFWS.

“We are committed to bringing back a long-standing national tradition of Friday Night Lights to our keiki and families here on Kauai, while ensuring the protection of our environment,” said Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami in a news release. “While the Kauai Seabird Habitat Conservation Plan is currently being finalized, we are grateful that this MOU will address the conservation of our endangered or threatened seabird species.”

The MOU allows stadium lights to be used at night on Sept. 20, Sept. 27, and Oct. 4. The endangered seabird fledgling season runs every year from Sept. 15 through Dec. 15. Peak fallout is usually mid-October.

Days before Kawakami signed that MOU, members of the Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project were combing thorough Kauai’s interior, checking burrows they’ve been monitoring in the mountains.

They removed 20 Newell’s shearwater chicks from their burrows on September 11 and 12, and flew them via helicopter to manmade burrows at Nihoku Crater within the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. That’s where they are raised until they fledge under the care of Robby Kohley, with Pacific Rim Conservation.

“I just got a text from Robby and the chicks were just fed. They’re happy and in their burrows,” Raine said Friday, a day after the two-day excursion to relocate the birds.

The birds will grow under Kohley’s care with a specially formulated diet to ensure they reach optimal weight by the time they’re ready to fledge. The seabirds imprint on their burrows when they emerge and return to that spot when they come back to Kauai after fledging.

Moving them to Nihoku ensures they’ll have a safe, predator-free place to nest and raise the next generation when they return.

In October, the birds will be joined by the 2019 cohort of Hawaiian petrels, which will be raised in their own burrows alongside the shearwaters.

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Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or jelse@thegardenisland.com.

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