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

Eastward to Walla Walla

Last year, every bird was a life bird. By mid-February 2015 I had seen 77 new-to-me bird species. 77 lifers! I didn’t even know what a “lifer” was then. Over my first year birding, I saw 253 life birds. Not that I’m counting. But, yeah, I’m counting. So far this year I’ve seen 98 species (year birds), but only two lifers (more about one of those below). I now understand the significance. Perhaps I should have paced myself?

SeeAllTheBirds!

Nah. I’m okay with the bar set high. It’s made me a busy birder. In fact, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t chasing red dots on Birdseye like a cat chasing laser lights since the first of the year. Last weekend, I drove four hours to southeastern Washington to catch some red dots along the Snake River.

Snake River

I caught a few at Hollebeke Habitat Management Unit. Like what I would call my first “obvious” Sharp-shinned Hawk (small head, skinny legs, square tail).

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk

And (less obvious) Cooper’s Hawk below. I think.

Cooper's Hawk

Maybe that’s the same bird? There were at least a couple of each. I swear.

I also saw Dark-eyed Junco, Cedar Waxwing, Bald Eagles, American Coot, Northern Harrier, White-Crowned Sparrows, American Robin, Varied Thrush, and many Northern Flicker.

Northern Flicker

An American Kestrel with a snack.

American Kestrel

And Black-billed Magpie, both living and loud and tattered in pieces.

Black-billed Magpie

Wonder who the culprit was? At one point along the trail, I practically tripped over piles of pellets.

Pellets

Pellet

Yum

And whitewash? There was a little.

Whitewash

Then I looked up. Great Horned Owl!

Great Horned Owl

Hello handsome.

Great Horned Owl

I slunk away quietly to disturb as little as possible.

Continuing on I found a Northern Shrike!

Northern Shrike

And I saw one notable bird I recognized from my Florida trip, a Northern Mockingbird!
Apparently, a pretty good sighting for this location. Birder score.

Northern Mockingbird Northern Mockingbird

It was great birding all the birds on Hollebeke, but I still had found no life birds. I was kind of surprised. So, armed with knowledge from Scott Carpenter’s Nature Night series on owling, and hoping for new owls, I moved on to stare at willow thickets.

Willow thicket

I drove back and forth super slowly about 8-10 times for over an hour. I saw nothing. Eventually, nature called, and there are no restrooms in the middle of nowhere. I got out, went behind the thickets, and spooked four owls. Dang it! While falling over, I tried to take pictures of the blurry owl rockets.

Long-eared Owl Long-eared Owl

Judging by the barred tail in the first awful photo, these are indeed Long-eared Owls. Technically, a life bird! My first of 2016. But so bummed to spook them, I almost don’t want to count it. Almost. Hopefully I’ll get more opportunities to stare at willow thickets. Or next time I’ll wait until after sunset.

I wanted to check out Bennington Lake the next day, so I proceeded to nearby Walla Walla to stay for the night. If you have not heard comedian, Mike Birbiglia’s story of sleep walking while staying at La Quinta Inn (La Keen-TA Inn in Wahya Wahya Washginton), do yourself a favor and spend the next 7 minutes laughing at his story. I stayed in the room!!

Sleepwalk with me

Living the birder rock-n-roll lifestyle.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Florida neighborhood birds

Florida was bound to happen. It was only a matter of time. My family lives there, umpteen birds winter in the tropical region, and it’s freezing in Portland.

I spent a week warming up, visiting family, and getting to know Florida birds. Growing up in the Tampa Bay area I would occasionally notice Blue Jays and Northern Cardinals, but it has taken a decade of dark, rainy, Pacific NW winters combined with a new love of birds to truly appreciate my hometown.

Sunshine, palm trees, and birds in November? Yes, please!

Sunshine, palm trees, and birds in November? Yes, please!

My mom and I went for a walk around the neighborhood, and spotted numerous birds, like the elegant White Ibis. 

White Ibis

This species has acclimated to suburban life pretty well. They nest and feed near humans, and they greeted us each morning on the lawn. In aquatic habitats, they eat fish and arthropods like crayfish, and on greenspaces they forage for large insects…and lizards! No kidding. I caught this juvenile with a brown anole gripped in its bill.

White Ibis

White Ibis

Good for the ibis, sad for the lizard. I miss living around those cutie-pie little reptiles. They liven up sidewalks, fences, shrubs, pretty much all surfaces in Florida. As a child, they provided hours of entertainment; I’d catch and play with the mini-dinosaurs by the handfuls.

Brown Anole

But I digress. Back to birds, like the Palm Warbler! They were everywhere. Sporting their winter plumage, they flittered around on driveways, lawns, shrubs, and even roofs, as they showed off their yellow undertail while making their signature tail wag.

Palm Warbler

And I saw grackles, phoebes, and mockingbirds – oh my!

So fun. On our walk we also saw three woodpecker species, a Downy Woodpecker, and two new woodpeckers! A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (juvenile) and a Red-bellied Woodpecker. 

Rain was in the forecast, but we continued along to the University of South Florida Botanical Gardens. Along the way, we spotted a Brown Thrasher!

Brown Thrasher

Lucky sighting. At the gardens we saw more Palm Warblers, a Bald Eagle mobbed by grackles, and a quick two-second glimpse of a Gray Catbird!

Gray Catbird

No way! I once drove a great distance to Eastern Washington in search of a Gray Catbird to no avail. It’s that easy, Florida? Okay, then.

Returning to the house, we got a big surprise.

Red-Shouldered Hawk

Make that two surprises!

Red-Shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawks! These birds were on my I-hope-to-see-these-in-Florida list and here were two perched on the light post just outside the house. How cool. They flew to the top of a parking garage, then returned later to a nearby pine tree. What a gorgeous pair of birds.

Not bad for a quick walk around the neighborhood. But that’s not all! I couldn’t get enough, so I returned to the USF campus to wander around, thwart campus security, and chase flocks of birds. Because that’s what you do when you’re in Florida.

I followed this flock to get a better look of the Eastern Bluebird. (and Palm Warblers in background). Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Nice! I also noticed a small black and white bird that was totally a nuthatch but not a nuthatch.

Black-and-white Warbler

Once I read the description in Cornell’s Merlin Bird ID App, “creeps along branches like a nuthatch, searching for insects,” I knew this was a Black-and-white Warbler. (I’m curious why it’s not called a Black-and-white Nuthatch; something to do with genetics?) The genus Mniotilta (nee-o-TIL-ta) is Greek origin from mnion, moss, and tiltos, plucked. The Black-and White Warbler (Mniotilta varia) uses moss to construct its nest.

I saw a female Summer Tanager (wish I’d seen a male too!). They use their large bills to catch wasps and bees on the fly. I wonder if that’s what she’s munching on.

Summer Tanager

I saw another insect-lover, the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

And if that weren’t enough, I returned to the house to find a Carolina Wren in the yard (looks like the eastern version of the Bewick’s Wren). 

Carolina Wren

AND a Black-throated Green Warbler!

Black-throated Green Warbler

So pretty! It was icing at this point. I watched the attractive little warbler catch insects around the ferns before flying far away to the treetops.

I lived in Florida for eighteen years, but I’d never seen its beauty in this way. I was always too focused on the heat, traffic, bugs, tourists, and moving as far away as I could. The change in perspective was refreshing. Satisfied with my first day acclimating to New Florida, I looked forward to seeking out the beauty of the next day!

Sunny tweets and chirps,

Audrey