Oahu Part 8 – Final Chapter

On our last morning on Oahu, just hours before our plane was to take off, we dared to squeeze in one more hike. Tomas’s legs had healed enough to walk normally and I couldn’t resist another chance for seabirds.

Makapu`u Point Hike on the southeastern point of the island is rumored to have amazing sunrises and good odds of birds from nearby nesting sites. We’d bailed twice before due to large crowds and traffic from another commercial film shoot.

But this morning we arrived so early I thought we might have trouble getting in. It was two hours before the park officially opened and the parking lot is gated. I had read controversy about people parking on roadsides as well as car break-ins and possible police citations. There is (legit) high demand for early entry since often the sun rises well before 7am.

We noticed a police car parked up the road so we figured either the rental car would be well protected or we’d get ticketed. We got out and entered the park under the moonlight and no one approached us. Step 1. complete. Feeling like we got away with something we continued along the path. Not long after, more rebellious souls casually joined along the trail in the dark. Hiking is totally normal.

The views were beautiful and the sunrise lovely.

Even prettier was the view on the opposite side of the lookout.

That’s Moku Manu, or “Bird Islandacross the water. We looked down below and were graced with views of Red-footed and Brown Boobies flying along the water surface.

Friends

They flew in mesmerizing formations over the water, a truly beautiful show.

I wasn’t entirely thrilled with my photos; leave it to Tomas to take the best booby picture.

Yesss. A ranger had mentioned if you get to the point early and are patient enough you might pick out a Masked Booby, but we didn’t on this morning. We were lucky to see more Humpback Whales breaching in the distance though. A nice consolation.

Then droves of tourists approached on the trail, and (to my horror) blasted music on small crappy speakers. The magic was over. We were running out of time and I was coming to terms with the fact I wasn’t going to see every bird species on the island hard as I tried. Shocker.

I missed out on White-tailed Tropicbirds and Shearwaters, and I even missed the mascot of Hawaii Audubon Society, the cute little forest dwelling ‘Elepaio.

Doesn’t count

I ended the trip with a total of 44 bird total species (+1 for the “Hawaiian Duck“). 9 migrants including 2 uncommon – Cackling Goose and White-faced Ibis, 6 indigenous species, 24 introduced species, and 5 endemics: Hawaiian Gallinule, Hawaiian Coot, Hawaiian Stilt, and the ‘Apapane, and ‘Amakihi.

Minor unfinished business and a great excuse to return to paradise. This trip was so fun. I’ll never forget the first foggy steps off the plane, the Great Frigatebird at Kona Brewery, my first Pacific Golden-Plover

Watching flying crabs at sunset (A’ama or Lightfoot Crabs!)

That crazy-eyed Mongoose at Diamond Head

Cattle Egrets chasing lawn mowers for insects

The unreal scenery

And of course the albatross that completely stole my heart

I have much to be grateful for. It was all worth it and the Makapu’u Hike was no different. We made it back to the car and on our way without incident.

And we enjoyed the last birds along the way.

Red-vented Bulbul

Red-crested Cardinal (for once I was okay with a backlit bird)

Spotted Dove

It was still early, but much brighter and we soaked up the sun’s warmth enjoying our last views before making the long journey home. And I’m glad we savored those moments because as it turns out we flew home to a major snowstorm in Portland…but more about that later.

Cheers to many more tropical adventures! And thanks for reading.

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

Oahu Part 3 – Waimea Valley

I had an endemic reason to visit Waimea Valley. A “species and subspecies that evolved in Hawaii and are found nowhere else in the world.” The prize lay conveniently just beyond the ticket booth.

The Hawaiian Gallinule (also called Hawaiian Moorhen, Common Hawaiian Gallinule, Common Hawaiian Moorhen) is a subspecies of the Common Gallinule. A rail of many names, the best I’ve seen is the Hawaiian `Alae `ula which means “burnt forehead.”

I tried but couldn’t get a peek of any burnt foreheads in the pond without paying the $16/each entrance fee. Determined to see my first endemic subspecies, I ponied up and in we went.

Achievement unlocked! Endemic birds!

That is a big foot. We watched them preen, bathe, and walk along the lily pads while they clucked and cackled. Worth every penny and more. And we’d only stepped five feet into the park. We figured we might as well continue along the paved trail toward the waterfall. Bonus birds along the way:

Red-Crested Bulbul

Red-vented Bulbul

Common Waxbill

White-rumped Shama (!)

Scaly-breasted Munia

Zebra Dove

Northern Cardinal (female)

I saw one Common Waxbill that I thought either had strange parasites on its bill or some bad-ass piercings.

After a bit of research, I learned this is the normal fleshy gape of the juvenile Common Waxbill. Most young birds have gape flange, and this is one of the odder-looking examples. I was relieved to know it’s normal and not a sick bird.

Then, about halfway through the hike something flew down in front of me on the path and I froze.

It looked at me. I looked back. It was Pacific Golden-Plover love at first sight. Not caring about anything else, I plopped down on the ground and watched.

The Pacific Golden-Plover runs in short bursts, run, run, run, stop. Run, run, run, stop. Look for a worm.

Run, run, run, stop. Ignore White-rumped Shama.

Run, run, run, stop. Find and attack worm.

Run, run, run, stop. Repeat. They breed in arctic tundras of Alaska and Siberia and regularly winter in the Hawaiian Islands. This was one of those priceless birding moments and a lovely first encounter.

The waterfall was nice, though packed with tourists, and not as beautiful as the Indian Peafowl’s feathers.

I’m a spoiled Oregonian when it comes to waterfalls.

Before returning to Honolulu, we made a quick stop at Waimea Bay Beach Park where I noticed a pretty little yellow bird in a not so pretty place. Native to South America and introduced to Hawaii in the 1960s, here was a Saffron Finch introduced to his reflection in the parking lot.

Here’s one in a more natural setting.

Tomas and I stuck our toes in the sand and called it a day.

It was a birdy good day indeed.

Mahalo,

Audrey