Birder's Guide

AUG 2018

Birder's Guide is the American Birding Association's newest publication. Each issue focuses on a key subject, providing tips from experienced birders on a wide variety of topics like Travel, Listing & Taxonomy, Gear, and Conservation & Community.

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Page 15 of 35

Conservation in Hawaii 14 Birder's Guide to Conservation & Community | August 2018 species," said Chris Farmer, director of American Bird Conservancy's Hawaii Program. "There's a very strong down - ward trend over time, but it is starting to look as though their decline has leveled out." This year's Palila count, just com - pleted in February, will give conservation- ists more data on how the population is faring, though the data will take some time to analyze. Data are among the best weapons con- servationists bring to the fight to save the birds. "Palila is one of the best-studied birds in the world," said Farmer, who par- ticipates regularly in the Palila counts. The surveys wouldn't happen with - out the help of volunteers who brave the rough, often rocky terrain of the dormant volcano's upper reaches. The slopes there are made of 'a'a, which is sharp, jagged lava broken into pieces that can be as big as a basketball or as small as a golf ball or smaller. Imagine "hiking uphill while trying to balance on a footing of marbles," Farmer said. P alila favor habitat found at higher el- evations on the mountain—above 6,000 feet (1,829 meters). So far, that has helped protect them from diseases like avian malaria and avian pox, spread by non-native mosquitoes that prefer lower, warmer areas. The birds are most active in the morn- ing, when the sun begins to warm things up. Over the course of a week, the sur- veyors are dropped off near the high-el- evation sites (7,000–10,000 feet or about 2,100–3,000 meters) and then hike down several thousand feet, a trek that usually takes 4–6 hours. For the count, the mountain is divided into a series of transects, almost like a pie cut into wedges. Each transect contains a series of listening stations spaced about 490 feet (150 meters) apart. The coun - ters pause at each station for six minutes, and record everything they see and hear. "Then you hike as quietly as you can to the next station and do it again," Farmer said. If there are enough volunteers, the core areas of Palila habitat—on the west - ern slope of Mauna Kea—are surveyed twice to get the most precise count. Volunteers must be both sure-footed and knowledgeable, able to identify Palila by ear as well as by eye. "You have to be able to hear a Palila at 150 meters and know that it's at 150 meters," Farmer said. More birders as well as surveyors are likely to be venturing out to the slopes of Mauna Kea in search of Palila soon. In 2016, the ABA's membership voted to include Hawaii in the official ABA Area. That's likely to encourage more birders to visit the islands in search of native birds to add to their life lists, and to head to the Big Island in search of Palila. There is an easier way to see these birds than scrambling down the rough slopes of the mountain. Opened in 2016, the Palila Forest Discovery Trail takes visitors on a one-mile loop through the high-eleva - tion dry forest where the birds live. The state's Department of Land and Natural Resources constructed the trail, with sup - port from American Bird Conservancy. The trail lies at 7,000 feet, and you'll need a four-wheel-drive vehicle to get to it. Many long-time residents of Hawaii live at lower elevations and never get a chance to see the forest species that live higher up. But Palila are among the more easily seen of Hawaii's endangered forest birds, according to Paul Banko, if you know where to look—or have someone knowl - edgeable to take you into the protected areas that shelter the birds. A research wildlife biologist with the U. S. Geological Survey, Banko has spent much of his long career studying Palila and its habitat. Banko explains that Palila have evolved in tandem with the dry, high-elevation for- ests dominated by the indigenous ma - mane tree. Specialist feeders, Palila rely on ma - - mane seeds, which they're able to crack with their thick bills. The seeds "are high - ly nutritious, but they're also loaded with secondary compounds that make them n Volunteers working with Mauna Kea Forest Restoration Project on the northern slope of Mauna Kea. Photo © Rob Stephens/MKFRP

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