Oahu Part 5- Marathon Birding

The alarm went off at 3:30am the morning of Tomas’s marathon. The earliest of birds. I dropped him off near the start line, found a parking spot by the finish line and weighed my options in the dark. Waikiki parking and driving is too complicated to move the car. So I decided to stay and bird in Kapiolani Park, close to the beginning/end of the Honolulu Marathon.

This gave me over 7 hours to bird the 300 acre beachfront greenspace. As soon as the sun rose it was on!

Ready, set, go!

The first birds came to me first.

Clearly no one feeds these Red-crested Cardinals.

Clearly not.

Why feed the wildlife when they can feed themselves?

Spotted Dumpster Doves

Feral foragers

Some birds were foraging on more natural foods, many flocked to the large fruiting Indian Banyan trees in the park.

Including Yellow-fronted Canaries.

Common Myna.

And Party Parrots!

I’d been trying to catch up with this raucous bunch of Rose-ringed Parakeets for a while, and I finally had the chance to mingle with them.

From the Banyan trees, they flew to the Palm trees. These birds became established in the 70s after escaping captivity. They are tropical, loud, and colorful, but they are native to India and cause problems for Hawaiian crops and native birds.

It doesn’t get more tropical than that.

After playing peekaboo with the parakeets I noticed some other birds in the trees.

Japanese White-eye

Common Waxbill

Then they hopped to the ground. So I did too.

Common Waxbill

Yellow-fronted Canary

And there was no shortage of Pacific Golden-Plovers on the lawns.

It’s like looking in the mirror

Or as I’d call them: Pacific Golden-Worm-Killers! Dangly-dirt-eaters beware.

There was no escape.

Gotcha.

Then a fight broke out between the Common Mynas. It was brutal and I may have stepped in to break it up.

Just play nice guys.

In contrast, a pair of Zebra Doves were all about the love. They made me melt.

They cooed, cuddled, and alternated preening each other. I don’t think I’ve seen anything more romantic.

It was about this time Tomas was nearing the finish line, so I gave the doves some privacy and left to cheer him on.

Go, Tomas, go!

But my birding marathon wasn’t quite over yet. Near the finish line, large terns fluttered and flew overhead high up in the trees. Yes! — White Terns!

Once called Fairy Terns (a name I think I prefer), these birds are indigenous, established and thought to have arrived on the island unassisted by man. Of the Hawaiian Islands, they are only found on Oahu and this population is listed as “threatened.”

One of the most intriguing things about this species is they don’t make a nest, instead they lay a single egg directly on a ledge or tree branch. And some northwest birds lay their eggs on the ground. I was in awe of their clean white lines. So pretty!

And perfect timing. I met Tomas at the finish line just in time.

Congratulations, Tomas!

Mahalo,

Audrey

Oahu Part 4 – James Campbell NWR

The James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge is located in Oahu’s northernmost point of North Shore. Named after a Scots-Irish industrialist and wealthy landowner and once the site of a major sugar mill factory, the former sugar cane settling ponds are now comprised of 1100 acres of critical coastal wetlands, managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to preserve habitat for endangered Hawaiian waterbirds.

It’s what Waikiki would look like had it not been drained for development in the turn of the 20th century (the name Waikiki even means “sprouting fresh waters” in Hawaiian).

The refuge has limited public access. It is closed during breeding and fledging season (Mar-Sept)  and only open on off seasons for (free) guided tours on Saturday mornings. Thankfully, this narrow window of opportunity fit our schedule and we made it to the tour. The place was covered with birds.

Guard birds- Pacific Golden-Plover, Zebra Dove

Guided by longtime volunteer Dick May and local birder Kurt Pohlman, we learned more about endangered Hawaiian waterbirds: Hawaiian Duck (koloa maoli), Hawaiian Coot (‘alae ke’oke’o), Hawaiian Gallinule (Moorhen) (‘alae ‘ula), Hawaiian Stilt (ae’o), and Hawaiian Goose (nēnē). All are endangered endemic Hawaiian waterbirds that are “conservation reliant” so this area is extremely important for their future preservation.

The Hawaiian Duck (both males and females) are mottled brown and resemble the mallard. Hybridization with feral mallards is a major problem for the species.

In fact, there is an unknown number of pure birds within the 300 “Hawaiian duck-like birds” on Oahu. Most are believed to be hybridized, and pure birds are suspected declining, while hybridization increases. Population estimates are unreliable due to the birds being located in remote montane streams and hybridized birds so closely resembling pure birds.

Our guides implied the birds we saw on the refuge were more pure than not, so for what it’s worth, here are photos of “Hawaiian Duck-like birds.”

There was no mistaking the Hawaiian Coot as anything other than a coot. It is slightly smaller than the American Coot, and it has a larger bulbous frontal shield above the bill that is usually all white. Oahu populations range between 500-1000 birds.

The refuge is also favorable to Hawaiian Gallinules. The birds we saw here were more secretive than those in the Waimea Valley Ponds, probably due to fewer interactions with people. Once common on all Hawaiian islands, Hawaiian Gallinules are now only found on Oahu and Kauai. We felt lucky to see them again.

Another unmistakable bird seen throughout the refuge was the Hawaiian Stilt or Ae‘o in Hawaiian, meaning “one standing tall.” A subspecies of the Black-necked Stilt, the endangered Ae’o differs by having more black on its face and neck, and longer bill, tarsus, and tail.

These are some of my favorites.

A week prior to our visit a pair of Nēnē’s had been sighted at the refuge, but we weren’t as privileged this day. The endangered Hawaiian Goose or Nēnē (Hawaii’s state bird) is more commonly found on all other islands besides Oahu. However, in 2014 a pair of Nēnē nested at James Campbell NWR, and hatched two goslings. This was the first pair to nest on the island since the 1700s!

No Nēnēs for us, our consolation was a pair of Cackling Geese on the refuge that was pretty exciting for local folks. I was more excited about a different winter visitor, the Bristle-Thighed Curlew!

Yessss. Bristle-thighed goodness. We watched one hunt along the water’s edge looking for tasty crawfish.

It was obvious by the piles of shellfish remains on the trail where one had been feeding. The birds were a bit skittish and if the group got too close, they would quickly fly away scolding, “Chi-u-eet!” Here’s one flying between two Cattle Egrets (also common).

Another easily spooked winter migrant was the Wandering Tattler; so it was a treat to find one perched cooperatively (if only for the moment) on a fence post.

Then someone pointed out two Ruddy Turnstones in the grass at the bottom of the fence.

Birds everywhere. We also saw Sanderlings, Common Waxbill, Common Myna, Black-crowned Night Heron, sometimes all at once. Pretty sweet combos:

Cattle Egret, Bristle-thighed Curlew, Hawaiian Gallinule

Hawaiian Stilt, Black-cowned Night Heron, Pacific Golden-Plover

I was sad when the tour ended, but Dick told us about the hopeful future of the refuge; there are plans in the works to bring a road closer to keep the public more involved. In his words: “If you have a refuge that has public support, then the refuge stays,” he says.

We saw four endemic bird species this day. Or three and a half if the ducks are hybrid. Likely so. Either way that’s a pretty special day. And on the way out, Kurt told us a way to access Pearl Harbor National Wildlife Ponds back in Honolulu where we could keep the party going. Birding after-party!

These are the birds that showed up:

Cattle Egret smoking grasshoppers in the corner

Hawaii Gallinule had too much to drink

The life of the party was the Hawaiian Coot, there were dozens, and the Hawaiian Stilt, I counted at least 30.

So many rockin stilts. Other birds included a Blue-winged Teal, Northern Pintail, both Mallard and “Hawaiian Duck-like birds,” Red-vented Bulbul, Japanese White-eye, Northern Cardinal, and I wish I could have gotten a better photo of the White-faced Ibis but I wasn’t on the V.I.P. list.

We hung out with the stilts until the wee hours of the afternoon. There are so many obstacles for these birds to overcome; introduced predators, rats, dogs, cats, mongoose, bullfrogs, degradation of  wetland habitat, alien plants, fish, disease, environmental contaminants. I’m grateful for people like Dick and Kurt who care and to those working to preserve the beautiful wetland spaces.

It was a good day with these birds on the brink!

Mahalo,

Audrey

Bohemian Birdiversary

I’m interrupting Hawaii to celebrate my Birdiversary!

Back when I thought it was a good idea to point binoculars into the sun

Exactly two years ago, on a camping trip to Stub Stewart State Park, I started birding in earnest. I’ve come a long way since that first Northern Pygmy Owl.

In some ways I miss the naiveté of starting a new project; everything is foreign, lots of mistakes are made, and much is learned from them. It’s a good thing this is birding because so much is still new, I make plenty of mistakes, and I continue to learn from them. There are always new birds to find, and old birds to misidentify. And if all else fails, there’s always gull identification.

In 2016 I had hoped to see owls (all of them), but especially the Great Grey Owl. And thanks to Scott Carpenter and the Put an Owl on it Birdathon team, mission accomplished.

I had a total of 48 owl encounters in 2016 (21 of those were Great Horned), and I even managed to meet a Northern Spotted Owl in California. And I had the pleasure of birding with David Sibley. Good times.

Another highlight of this year was finally making it to Malheur. And I was lucky enough to go with a great group of people from Audubon. I can’t wait to visit again because Malheur is for everyone! Much love for our public lands.

On that trip I accomplished another year goal of seeing Rock Wrens.

You rock!

And bluebirds like this Mountain Bluebird.

Because happiness.

Did you know September 24th is National Bluebird of Happiness Day? I didn’t either. Marking the calendar to celebrate happiness next year.

One goal I dipped out on this year was seeing a Yellow-breasted Chat! Dang, I miss those birds. I’ll have to make a better effort to find them in 2017.

All in all it has been a pretty good bird year. And it’s not quite over yet! In honor of my birdiversary, Tomas and I drove 2-hours east to Arlington, Oregon, in search of a new bird.

We sifted through dozens of Cedar Waxwings.

Nope.

Nope.

Nope. Until we finally spotted them.

Yes! Bohemian Waxwings!

Bohemians usually stick to the far North in Alaska and Western Canada. But some years, if food supply is low, they’ll follow the fruit and berries where they can get them. Reports of Bohemians in Washington and Oregon have spread this winter and I’m happy we caught up with them.

They’re slightly larger than Cedar Waxwings, grayer overall without the yellow-ish belly, and they have rufous undertails. A closer look:

Bohemian in the middle

So fun! We waited until we thought they’d perch nicely on the juniper below the wires, but a Sharp-shinned Hawk zoomed in and spooked the whole flock. Things are always exciting in the bird world.

Tweets, chirps, and cheers to the next year of birding!

Audrey