By Kim Welch, Oahu Army Natural Resources Program, Directorate of Public Works-Environmental, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii August 25, 2014
WHEELER ARMY AIRFIELD, Hawaii -- Several nene geese (Branta sandvicensis) landed at a construction site east of the runway, here, Aug. 14.
"I was contacted by DPW Engineering branch regarding an observation of geese at a construction site east of the Wheeler airfield," said Kapua Kawelo, biologist, Oahu Army Natural Resources Program, Directorate of Public Works-Environmental Division, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii.
Kawelo was surprised at the notification, noting the geese appeared to be Hawaii's endangered state bird.
"The DPW observer reported that the birds were banded," said Kawelo. "I dropped everything,
grabbed some binoculars and drove over to Wheeler by 8:45 a.m. They were, in fact, nene -- four in total -- happily munching on newly planted and well-watered grass."
Given their endangered status and close proximity to the WAAF runway, careful considerations had to be made about the safety of the nene and how the presence of these large birds might affect airfield operations -- just 300 meters from where the nene grazed is a hot refueling station on the runway.
The geese were fitted with leg bands, and one had a radio-tracking device. The bands contain individual identification numbers that can usually be read at a distance, without disturbing the birds.
Tyler Miyamoto, project engineer, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, assisted Kawelo with the nene observations.
A few phone calls later, Honolulu biologists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), one of the lead agencies for implementing the Endangered Species Act, quickly mobilized at WAAF to assess the situation.
One of the USFWS biologists was Annie Marshall, who had placed the bands on two of the nene earlier this year. The leg band information gathered upon last week's sighting was quickly shared with many of the state's leading biologists, including staff at the Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife, and Pacific Rim Conservation.
The combined knowledge revealed some fascinating facts about this feathered foursome.
Of the 2,500 nene statewide, 1,400-1,500 are on Kauai, 416 on Maui, 77 on Molokai and 543 on Hawaii Island. The four that showed up at WAAF are the only known nene geese on Oahu.
Coming from Hawaii Island, two nene touched down on Oahu for the first time in years this past January at the James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge, located in Kahuku on the North Shore. The couple nested in February and hatched three eggs in March. Two of the goslings survived and were banded by Marshall May 15 and shortly afterwards were observed flying around the refuge.
Until recently, this nene family seemed content to stay on the refuge. However, this time of year is flocking season, when nene typically fly greater distances in search of other food and other nene. Two weeks prior to their arrival at WAAF, sightings of this same nene family were reported by a Mililani golf course.
Nene are critically endangered and threatened by the presence of introduced predators and loss of habitat.
(Note: Welch is an environmental outreach contractor with OANRP.)
-- Nene sightings
If you think you've spotted Hawaii's state bird on post, take the following actions:
•Call Oahu Army Natural Resources Program at (808) 655-919 and the USFWS office at (808) 792-9400.
•Take a photo, if possible.
•Note the time of sighting.
•Give the location of sighting (address, landmarks).
•Provide the number of nene.
•Describe their behavior.
•Keep pets indoors, as required by Army Hawaii Family Housing.
•Keep our nene wild; do not approach them or feed them!