Climate change threatens Hawaiian honeycreepers

From the United States Geological Survey:

Jeepers creepers: Climate change threatens endangered honeycreepers

Deadly diseases may move up Hawaiian mountains to birds’ refuges

As climate change causes temperatures to increase in Hawaii’s mountains, deadly non-native bird diseases will likely also creep up the mountains, invading most of the last disease-free refuges for honeycreepers – a group of endangered and remarkable birds.

A just-published U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) review discusses the likelihood of a forthcoming “disease invasion” by examining the present altitudinal range of avian malaria and pox, honeycreeper distribution, and the future projected range of diseases and honeycreeper habitat with climate change.

At one time, the Hawaiian Islands had no mosquitoes – and no mosquito-borne diseases. But, by the late 1800s, mosquitoes had set up permanent housekeeping, setting the stage for epidemic transmission of avian malaria and pox. Honeycreepers – just like people faced with novel viruses such as swine flu – had no natural resistance against these diseases.

Before long, Hawaii’s native honeycreepers significantly declined in numbers and geographic range. It was likely that malaria swept rapidly across all of the lower Hawaiian Islands after the disease was introduced, leaving few survivors. Today, native Hawaiian birds face one of the highest rates of extinction in the world. Of 41 honeycreeper species and subspecies known since historic times, 17 are probably extinct, 14 are endangered, and only 3 are in decent shape.

Pox and malaria transmission in Hawaii depends on climatic conditions, especially seasonal changes in temperature and rainfall that increase or decrease mosquito populations. “Without question, the one factor that prevented widespread and rapid extinction of virtually all of Hawaii’s native honeycreepers after the introduction of avian pox and avian malaria was the presence of high-altitude disease refuges on Kauai, Maui and Hawaii,” said lead study author Dr. Carter Atkinson, a USGS microbiologist based at the USGS Pacific Islands Ecosystems Research Center in Hawaii.

These cool, high-elevation – above 4,000 feet (1,200 meters) — mountains not only provided habitats that mosquitoes didn’t thrive in, but they also had habitat that honeycreepers liked, wrote the authors. While birds in those areas find refuge from the diseases – dispersing juvenile birds and adults that follow seasonal flowering of native plants to lower elevations are exposed to disease.

“Unfortunately,” said study co-author, USGS scientist Dr. Dennis LaPointe, “this seasonal movement happens at the same time that mosquito populations soar at mid-elevations, which fuels high disease-transmission rates there. There’s a continuous source of disease-susceptible birds each fall.”

Although most disease transmission now occurs in these mid-elevation forests, this will change if the projected 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Centigrade) raise in temperature occurs.

“With this kind of temperature change, about 60 to 96 percent of the high-elevation disease refuges would disappear,” said Atkinson. For example, available high-elevation forest habitat in the low-risk disease zone would likely decline by nearly 60 percent at Hanawi Natural Area Reserve on Maui to as much as 96 percent at Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge on Hawaii Island. On other islands, such as Kauai, with lower elevations and no low-risk zones even now, predicted temperature changes would likely be catastrophic for remaining honeycreeper species.

“Right now, disease transmission in the mountains of Kaui is highly seasonal, but with temperature increases, disease would be able to be transmitted throughout most of the year,” said Atkinson. …

Honeycreepers rival Darwin’s finches in the Galapagos Islands in terms of their bill types and number of species that descended from a common founder. The birds specialize on food that includes nectar, fruits and insects. Before people came to the islands, as many as 56 kinds of honeycreepers probably occurred.

Avian malaria is caused by a protozoan parasite, and avian pox is a viral infection that typically causes tumor-like swellings on exposed skin of the feet, legs, beak and eyelids of infected birds. Malaria often results in appetite and weight loss, anemia, and massive enlargement of birds’ liver and spleen.


The article, Introduced avian diseases, climate change, and the future of Hawaiian honeycreepers, was published in the Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery.

The Kaua`i Creeper or `Akikiki has been named one of America’s top ten threatened species impacted by global warming in a new report released today: here.


Georgian opposition demonstration

In this video, ‘people have gathered in Georgia’s capital Tbilisi for a mass opposition rally against President Mikhail Saakashvili.’

From Trend News in Azerbaijan:

26.05.09 17:38

Georgia, Tbilisi, May 26 /N. Kirtskhalia/

The radical opposition had completed their rally at the Central Stadium “Dinamo” named after Boris Paichadze in Tbilisi. According to organizers, there were gathered at the stadium 60,000 people and then go to the Parliament of Georgia.

The procession will be held on the central streets of Tbilisi.

The rally was scheduled for 12.00-16.00. However, the demonstration began with a half late.

Opposition leaders stated that they would continue their “peaceful rally demanding Saakashvili‘s resignation and necessarily compel the president to resign.”

Saakashvili brought the country to a standstill, brought it before the crisis, and the only way out of this situation is president’s resignation and early elections” they said.

Poland, bye bye

Goniadz, Poland, 23 May.

After the beautiful things which we have seen yesterday, this morning is our last chance to walk along Biebrza national park.

On the other river bank, a red deer is visible in the telescope.


Willow warbler sound. Its relative, the greenish warbler, is one the last migratory birds to come back in spring. It might have arrived here from India by now; but we did not see it.

Great reed warbler and Savi’s warbler singing in the reeed beds.

Roe deer on the other side.

A male marsh harrier, pursued by a lapwing.

A sedge warbler, flying upwards, singing.

A jay flies to a tree.

A white stork stands on a rooftop.

House martins fly to their nests under the bridge. At least one sand martin flies among them.

A tree sparrow is nesting in a hole in the top of a lamppost near the bridge.

A redshank sitting on a pole.

A swift, drinking river water while flying.

On the sandy road back: a greenfinch, and goldfinches.

A collared dove on a wire.

At 11 o’clock, our bus to Warsaw departs.

11:05: many white storks as we cross the bridge over the Biebrza river.

A lapwing on a field.

12:05: just before Sambory village, a hare crosses the road.

At 12:10, we cross the Narew river bridge.

White-winged Black Tern

White-winged black terns flew there. They were the last ones of many “special” birds which we saw in Poland.

Biebrza, third day

This video, in English, is about nature in Biebrza in Poland.

22 May.

Like yesterday, we are in Goniadz, Poland.

A linnet on a shrub.

Cuckoo and golden oriole sounds.


A male and a female Montagu’s harrier, circling around each other, not far away. When a female marsh harrier arrives, they drive it away.

In the reed beds, a blue tit (visible), and a Savi’s warbler (invisible, singing).

The bus takes us to a sedge peat bog.

We hear the aquatic warbler singing. Later, we see this exciting rare species at close distance.

This is a video of a singing aquatic warbler at Nagyivan, Hortobagyi National Park, Hungary.

A woodlark in one of the few trees in the bog. A common snipe, flying.

Skylark, singing.

Two moose.

A kestrel.

Then, a female hen harrier. This species stopped nesting in Poland years ago. Here was their last stand. That this bird now is here as late as 22 May, may mean that hen harriers will start nesting again. Recently, this species has declined in the Netherlands.

This video is about hen harriers in Scotland.

We continue, to a few small lakes. There, two hoopoes sit in a tree.

Sounds of corncrake. Corncrakes in the Netherlands: here.

And a skylark, singing.

Black terns, white-winged black terns, and whiskered terns flying over the lakes, diving sometimes.

Some white-winged black terns try to drive away a fox.

Black-tailed godwit and redshank at the next stop.

At the stop after that, a common tern sitting on a log in the middle of the river.

At the next stop, “our” Polish biologist sees a carrion crow, which is rare in Poland.

And someone else sees a golden oriole, singing. Which is also rare: not hearing the singing, but seeing this species, which usually is hidden near leafy tree tops.

This is a golden oriole video.

Our last stop turns out to be the best stop of today. From a watchtower, where barn swallows nest, we have an excellent view over mudflats, meadows, and water.

A black stork flying among many white storks. Great egrets.

Near the bank: wood sandpiper. A greenshank, catching a small fish. Little ringed plover.

A female ruff. Grey lag geese.

Then, both a male and a female citrine wagtail.

This is a citrine wagtail video.

As we arrive back in Goniadz, a lapwing tries to drive away a male Montagu’s harrier.

Greenfinch. Whitethroat.

Fox, cranes, and lapwing in Poland

Poland, 21 May.

As I mentioned, we arrived in Goniadz village, on the edge of Biebrza national park, late in the afternoon.

Sounds of golden oriole, chiffchaff, serin, greenfinch.

Barn swallows drinking from the river while flying just above it.

On a coniferous shrub, a male and a female linnet.

This video is from Stibbe in the Netherlands.

Many fieldfares flying to treetops.

There is a greenfinch nest with chicks in a small coniferous shrub in the garden.

As we walk along the river, we see four adult elks and one calf through the telescope.

Swifts flying. An icterine warbler (see also here) singing.

Then, we hear a wryneck sound in a distant tree. When the Polish biologist in our group plays a recorded wryneck sound, the bird immediately flies to the big tree above our heads.

This is a video of a wryneck; recorded in Breskens, the Netherlands.

The wryneck keeps calling, while making the neck movements from which its name is derived.

Meanwhile, under the wryneck tree, a common frog jumps through the grass.

A Savi’s warbler‘s song from a river reedbed.

A white stork arrives back on its nest, where its sitting partner welcomes its with a clattering sound. Hear stork clattering sound here (especially the lowest of the two sound files on that page).

We reach the bridge, where we put up the telescope.

Across the river, we see two cranes. They are asleep already, though it is not really dark yet.

Then, not far from the cranes, we see a fox. Probably, the fox is eating something quite big, as it keeps eating for a long time. However, the long vegetation hides what exactly the fox is eating.

A lapwing tries to drive the fox away, by flying closely to it and calling loudly. This wakes up the cranes, who stand up and start calling.

A black-tailed godwit tries to drive the fox away. It has as little success as the lapwing: the fox keeps eating.

Then, a redshank tries. The fox is still unimpressed.

The lapwing tries again, with the same result.

Meanwhile, the cranes have started dancing. These big birds are apparently the only ones which might impress the fox enough to leave its meal. However, will they do it? Sometimes, one crane walks to within a few meter of the fox. The fox then lifts it head to watch. As soon as the crane walks away, it starts eating again. Sometimes, both cranes walk to within a few meter of the fox. Again, it lifts it head. And goes back to its food, as soon as the cranes walk away again.

Then, the night falls, making it impossible to see how this story ends.

A bat detector detects a commun noctule bat flying near the river. Tree frog sounds.