Friday, December 16, 2016

Paradise Revisted

Oahu, Maui, and Hawaii December 11-15, 2016

The legendary Pueo, the Hawaiian owl, a subspecies of short-eared owl.  The protector in many Hawaiian legends.  In general, after my sad report from Kaua'i and Maui, things are maybe a little better on the big island.  Myabe the pueo is protecting what remains, but I don't think so.  Not unlike this owl that appears to be just about everywhere in the world even in places it boggles my mind how they ever got here, so is Olaf everywhere and like a bad penny, I have returned to the 50th state---Hawaii.  I had work to finish up and well, I was mentally ready for more depression.  Coming here and thinking of what was and might have been takes a mental toll on a birder.  Besides, I told you I had two tickets to paradise....

I sped over here from Seattle.  I was coincidentally closer but that was lucky and unplanned.  I landed in Honululu and basically went to bed at 6:30.  It was going to be another three island swing.  I planned on spending a day on Oahu, then Maui, before finally going to Hawaii. I had avoided the big island due to a disease called Rapid Ohi'a Death, what a name, and a disease so feared and scary just going to the big island keeps you from visiting certain preserves on the other islands. This nasty fungus just appeared out of nowhere and no one is sure from where although there is a similar variety that attacks sweet potatoes.  Everything, it seems, is conspiring to kill off the last remaining Hawaiian forest birds.

The Wakamoi Preserve on Maui pretty much has closed down to visitors because of the risks of this fungus which could destroy the few endangered birds that were left.  It took me 3 months, and basically a miracle to get a trip with local docent Chuck Probst, I went through the media department as well as direct and I'm not sure what worked but I got the rare permission.  Chuck is a cool guy but it is clear that the boardwalk in this preserve will be visited by few from no one, and if the fungus spreads in the big island, all the rare birds on preserve lands will be off limits.  It is a bad deal, but so is the fungus.  Poeple can't be trusted to clean their shoes and the state....the state worries about fruit and plants being brought in but actually don't even inspect your stuff.  Exotic insects have ruined agriculture here to a large degree.  

I never ate at a restaurant on this trip, no beach, no sun, and I just birded and slept.  On Oahu, I needed the Oahu elepaio and on a tip, I went up a new trail, muddy with a rope to pull up and after slipping in the mud and hurting my ankle, I saw one.  I wasn't worried I didn't get a photo as I would see another....wrong.....I missed my flight to Maui in a traffic jam at the Hertz rental return lot of all places but I got to Maui.  That was my first missed flight of the year.  I was NOT going to miss my trip into the preserve.   I had worked so hard and was thinking, I'd rent a helicopter if needed.

I got to Maui and went up to the volcano to look for Hawaiian petrel but I found 40 mph winds, cold, fog, and loud foreign tourists who were improperly dressed.  No petrel.  sigh.  I went to my hotel 30 miles away.  The Hawaiian petrel was not to be.

The morning brought the first of 48 hours of wonderful weather.  We met and went to the Wakamoi Preserve.  I had spent months trying to gain access and the day I arrived the birds were out singing.

I met Chuck again.  Chuck is the uncle I needed.  War veteran, paratrooper, orthopedic surgeon, all around cool guy, and has a life list over 7400.  He has two artificial knees and goes like a goat in the woods.  His house is a dream house on the base of the volcano in Maui.  I do not know how to repay the help I had getting two heard only birds but the Akohekohe was tough.  The trip into the preserve was one of high hopes dashed by the reality that is birding.  We dipped on the Maui parrotbill, a bird sadly I will never get to see in my life but well, I hope it hangs in there.  I would like to thank the Nature Conservancy for letting me in.  I will work on my next newspaper story and it is good they saved this forest, a bird sanctuary that was actually found accidentally by Jack Jeffrey (next).  I drove down and grabbed a plane to Kona.  I was done on Maui and finally could now visit the big island.  This was not what I expected.  I expected something like Grenada, forests, trees, green but what I got was western South Dakota, dry treeless hills.

I started to chase exotics and then on the 14th, I birded with the same Jack Jeffrey, the Hawaiian legend and Hawaii biologist who has witnessed 7 extinctions.  But he states generally things are looking better on the Big Island, well in the area we were at.  It took us until exactly 10:02 to get all the Hakalau forest birds including a couple that are beyond endangered,

The Akiapola'au, so specialized to eat the larvae of one beetle off one tree, and have a bill that is unlike any other passerine bill, it is a evolutionary relic.  Super specialized animals do not survive change.  Even Mauna Kea erupting could have killed off this bird but yet, 800 survive and we got one!

Dig that crazy bill, he can move each one independently.

I also birded with a Ball State Wildlife Professor and we learned about all the rare plants found, the evils of over-grazing. It was a good time.  Jack showed what could be done if overgrazing is stopped and the right trees are planted.  The local Hawaiian homeland owned land has this fascination with Japanese cedars which help nothing out, so maybe as they have land around this forest overgrown with Scottish Gorse, maybe someday someone will plan for the future of all Hawaiians, even the flying ones.

Also, by the way, don't smoke the pokeweed!

an old pathology toxicology lesson from medical school, and here is a native variety.  THIS STUFF KILLS YOU IF IT IS SMOKED BUT YOU GET A GOOD HIGH BEFORE DEATH.  It was a botany lesson as well all day in the forest.  Best day birding in a long time.  I was so overwhelmed by it all.  I learned more in decades walking through that largely reforested tract.  It gave me hope.

My final day in Hawaii, I spent the early morning looking in vain for a chestnut-bellied sandgrouse.  I think I heard them but I wasn't sure.  I gave up and then spent three hours in the mamane forest looking for another ultra-rare bird, the Palila.  Crud.  That was work.  I could not walk when I finally found one, and in the tree next to my rental SUV.  At a backup spot I had been told.  I great look at a great bird.

 The mamane this bird needs doesn't look so impressive.

Numbers on this bird..1000.  Down from 4000 in 2003, up from 200 in 1950, down from 40,000 mid 1800s.  I guess better than 1950....
But what a cool cool bird!  Wow.  My busted ankle almost didn't, it hurt like hell.  I just forgot.  I'm glad I only got 2 weeks left of this madness.

In the final summary.  I got 28 of the possible 31 endemic Hawaiian birds, missing the Maui parrotbill, puaiohi (the small Kaua'i thrush), and the Hawaiian petrel.  I got most of the exotics, missing a couple but some of those are very scarce and I doubt will be added to the ABA list, but IDK, that isn't my call. 54 species on my 2 trips here in total.

endemic birds

H20  Oahu elepaio

Seen in darkest part of trail below me and could not get anything on camera.  White seen on tail and it is pretty hard to miss ID an elepaio.  I figured I would see another one.  I figured wrong.  This was the only one.

H21  Akohekohe

Heard only and about as well as you can hear this bird with call and song.  Saw it head out the back door of a tree and despite efforts by Dr Probst we could not see

H22  Hawaiian Hawk

Endangered native buteo.  This is a dark phase juvie bird.  The female I saw was a light morph.  They are small act like red-shouldered hawks and have a rather odd soaring pattern reminding me more of hook-billed kites than buteos.  Harder to find than I thought they would be.

H23   Hawaii elepaio

here is a juvenile bird note the orange on this young flycatcher's bill.  They have a lot less color

there are three subspecies on the island representing 3 isolated populations on three mountains

H24   Akakane (Hawaiian Akepa)

Although I saw two brilliant orange males, this endangered bird is difficult to photo as they are so small.  I was lucky to get photo ops of these two female types.  The two related species (were subspecies went extinct on Oahu and Maui in the mid 1990s.

H25   Akiapola'au

What a crazy looking bird.  Sadly maybe 800 are left but as I noted, they eat a single larvae from a specific bug on ohi'a trees.  This is a younger bird.  They act a little like woodpeckers.  A very tough bird to find.  They have home ranges in the hundreds of acres so need a large territory.

H26  Hawaii Creeper

BIRD #800!!!  well with the new ABA, without exotics!
cool!  This endangered bird has maybe 12,000 birds in number.  They poke around like nuthatches.

H27  Oma'o

One of two of Hawaiian thrushes not extinct, but the Kaua'i thrush is on the verge like the other two birds that died out in the last century.  These guys appear to be doing well and are instrumental in spreading tree seeds.  They have a really cool song.

H28  Palila

They eat only the toxic bitter seeds of the mamane seeds AND a caterpillar that feeds on the trees that concentrate the bitterness but are edible to humans but reportedly one of the most foul tasting things ever in nature, but the palila thrives on them.  under a thousand in existence, down from 4000 ten years ago which was an improvement from 200 in 1950 but there were 40,000 150 years ago.

Winner of the lawsuit in the 1970s "Palila versus the State of Hawaii," which forced the state to comply with eradication of goats and game that were eating the trees.  The state was trying to make hunters happy.  This is the only lawsuit that an animal was the plaintiff.

I was so happy to see this bird.  Did I say this?

Exotics seen:

HP 22  Japanese bush-warbler

heard only, with Dr Probst, skulky bird

HP 23  Kalij Pheasant

HP 24 Saffron Finch

HP 25  Yellow billed cardinal

HP 26  Red-masked parakeet

I saw the Hawaii Amakihi (Hawaii) subspecies for a bank bird for some year if they split the Maui and Hawaii Island birds.  Here is a pretty male.  The numbers of these birds seem adequate.  I assume thousands lost but not critical yet.

At least the sign doesn't ban birding, it seems they ban everything else.

Well Hawaii is now done.  I can do no more so time to bug out.   The missing endemics I do not have access to 2 of them and the petrel is largely at sea, way at sea.

the numbers fwiw

So ABA is still #774 (+2, +2)

but with the 9 new edemic ones and 6 exotics
New ABA 802 (+28, +2)*
*will always be unofficial, to them,

USA, The American Big Year, 824 (+1, +2)

Second number in provisional is awaiting correct ID, first number waiting checklist addition

Thanks Jack and Chuck!
Thank you Hawaii!  Well, somewhat, get your act together and save these birds!
I'm heading east.....

Some thoughts on Hawaii.  The big island can be saved, but it needs help.  Time, I fear is short.  It needs people on the ground to convince some intrangent thinking of land owners and governmental agencies that this is important.  People need to buy land and preserve it.  Ranchs need to be bought out and that isn't cheap but it has been done.  Get the cows off the land.  I told Jack Jeffreys that we should write letters to Warren Buffet, I guess his sister is a birder.  The carbon people should come here and promote trees, trap carbon in new forests.

The island also needs money to replant and root out all of the exotic trees and shrubs.  They need money to eradicate pigs and put up fences.  The USFW is trying in Hawaii, BUT they get ignored nationally, I think.  Everyone in the lower 48 has pet projects and they get the money, but none of the lower 48 problems compare to the problems here.  Hawaii is bit one of 50 states.  In Maui, the Maui Forest Bird recovery project is trying, but short of funds, as is the Nature Conservancy but everyone seems to be holding their breath with R.O.D.  If the ohi'a die off, this fight is over.  In the end of the day....I think I'd recommend going to Hawaii and see what you can now, get a feeling of things and plan accordingly.



  1. Gorgeous birds but a sad environmental story. I like the idea of buying land and converting it back to native species. Good luck in your last two weeks!

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