Oahu Part 6 – Kaʻena Point

We got a tip from a guide on the James Campbell NWR trip to get to Ka‘ena Point early and arrive from the south side. There is a 2.7 mile trail that follows an old road bed along the rocky coast to Ka‘ena Point Natural Area Reserve, a rare protected area of natural coastal sand dunes and home to nesting seabirds, especially Laysan Albatross. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I sure hoped to see an albatross.

We followed Kurt’s advice and got to the trailhead parking lot before sunrise. But not early enough to avoid a truck commercial shoot. Luckily, the crew let us park close to the trail. Tomas was too sore from marathoning to go on the hike so he stayed behind to rest and enjoy the view.

I hiked along, sort of not believing this place was real.

Until eventually I reached a long fence.

Oh, I thought, this must be as far as visitors can go. I also thought I spotted a bird flying in the distance so I walked closer.

Wait, what? “Slide Gate”? I can go in there? No way. Turns out the fence is intended for rodent control not to keep people out.

I walked in and could not believe my eyes.

Albatross, albatross, albatross! I’d died and gone to albatross heaven.

Oh look, a Grey Francolin!

No, don’t look at the francolins. Albatross, albatross, albatross!

Holy shit. They were everywhere. And they were 5 ft from my face. I almost walked right into this one along the trail.

So close! I can’t believe they let people in here. And the reason Kurt said to arrive early is because the birds are more active in the morning. Indeed they are. And since it was December, the birds were also doing their mating dance!

They squeak, nuzzle, and clack beaks together, shake their heads, look under their wings, waddle back and forth a bit, then raise their heads and call, “hoooooongk.” My videos didn’t turn out, but here’s a great one of the Dancing Layson Albatross.

Meanwhile, other albatrosses flew right over my head.

Their wingspan is incredible.

I was already near tears of joy when, what’s that breaching out in the ocean?

Of course, Humpback Whales. Surreal!

This was one of those moments I think that birders dream about. I was alone on this corner of the island, just me and the whales and the albatross. It doesn’t get much better than that.

I snapped out of it long enough to register a couple of other birds present.

A Red-crested Cardinal and a Northern Mockingbird – what are you doing here?

There were also Common Myna and Zebra Doves, but mostly I couldn’t take my eyes off the sultry albatross.

This species, the Laysan Albatross, is the same as the famous albatross named Wisdom – the oldest banded bird in the wild, at least 65, and she’s still laying eggs! She’s considered a symbol of hope for ocean birds.

And this is the site where in December of 2015 a group of teenagers killed a dozen albatross and destroyed many nests. It’s deplorable. And complicated because two of the boys were minors, and a third who was 18 at the time and has plead not guilty. The case is ongoing. I can only hope there are serious consequences. It’s news like this that makes me wonder if the general public should even have access to this vulnerable area.

It’s heartbreaking but I want to believe most people are good. And that things are getting better. For the most part at this site, they are.

Plagued by feather and egg collectors early on, the birds were then accosted by 4×4 vehicles, dogs, cats, rats, and mongoose until the breeding population was all but decimated. Once Ka‘ena Point was designated as a reserve and off-road vehicles were banned, restorations efforts were rewarded with a glimmer of hope when the first chick fledged in 1992. Since then the breeding population has increased 27% annually. Susan Scott wrote a lovely article about their comeback.

So that’s the good news.

At this point the birds settled down to sleep as the sun warmed up the skies. Ka‘ena means ‘the heat’ after all. I started the return hike back to the trailhead forgetting to check for nesting Wedge-tailed Shearwaters that are also there but less obvious than albatross.

As I hiked back, I finally saw people coming in from the opposite direction, the commercial crew must have finished filming. It was perfect timing. And perfect timing for more occasional Humpback Whale sightings as well as my first Brown Booby!

Another unbelievable day in paradise.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

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