Sunday, December 6, 2015

Hawaiian Birds and Wildlife Mega Photo Post

I just got back from my honeymoon on Hawaii (the Big Island and Kauai). It was fantastic. Here are photos of as many birds as I could get, starting with exotics and introduced birds, then seabirds and shorebirds, then some of the islands beautiful endemics. Then, what the hell, some photos of other creatures. Enjoy.


A Northern Cardinal! This one at Kilauea NWR. Looked large-billed to me. 

Japanese White-eye. These little guys were absolutely everywhere, from high-elevation forests to seaside bushes. I got fairly used to recognizing their wren-ish chatterings, but they seemed to have a variety of vocalizations. Pretty birds, but frustrating when looking for endemics at high elevations because these birds are the same greenish color as many of the honeycreepers.

Red Junglefowl. We saw a few on the Big Island but these guys were EVERYWHERE on Kauai. Literally the most common bird. Friendly enough, but woke us the hell up every morning.

House Sparrow. Stupid.

Common Myna are probably the most visibly common birds on the Big Island and Kauai. I like 'em.

I wish I got better photos of these Red-crested Cardinals, which were fairly common on Kauai. They're lovely, but I could never get one in frame. 

There are three species of francolin on the islands, Erckel's, Gray, and Black. Jokesters will tell you that there's a fourth species that hangs around ATMs on the island: the Benjamin Francolin. This is a Gray Francolin, taken at Pu'ukoholā Heiau NHS on the Big Island.

And here's an Erckel's Francolin, which were common at higher elevations. This bird was on the road to Hakalau NWR.

Here's a female Kalij Pheasant in Hakalau NWR. 

A number of species of estrildid finches and other little finches have established themselves on the islands. We didn't spend much time looking for them, but did encounter some birds at dusk at the Big Island Country Club. Getting photos was hard because the birds were skittish and it was getting dark, but African Silverbill and Scaly-breasted Munia are in this photo. We saw Chestnut Munia on Kauai, but didn't get a photo. 

Java Sparrows eating refuse in a park, but dang they're pretty.

A Saffron Finch was the first bird I saw from my hotel balcony on the first morning on Hilo. Not actually a lifer, as I had seen some in Ecuador a few years back, but a welcome bit of loveliness.

Red-crested Cardinals live on Kauai, but the Big Island is populated with Yellow-billed Cardinals. I was surprised to see them feeding on the rocks like this.

Zebra Doves are super common, attractive little fellas.

Sky Larks were everywhere on Mauna Kea.

Exotic birds I did not get photos of: Spotted Doves (everywhere); Mourning Dove (actually the last common dove on the island, but I saw and heard a couple); Northern Mockingbird (hey, buddy!); California Quail (scattered one on the way into Hakalau NWR); Wild Turkey (also on the way into Hakalau); Cattle Egret (plentiful); Rock Pigeon (lame, but not nearly as numerous as the mainland); Barn Owl (a beauty, only the second one I've ever seen, on the road into Kokee SP at night); Chinese Hwamei (had a few in Kokee SP); Red-billed Leiothrix (saw a couple in Hakalau NWR); White-rumped Shama (beautiful little birds common in the forested areas of Kauai); Western Meadowlark (near the airport at Port Allen on Kauai); House Finch (a few males appeared super bright in the face, almost like a grassquit).

Seabirds and Shorebirds

Hundreds of Red-footed Boobies nest at Kilauea Point NWR on Kauai, and man was it a cool place to visit. Tons of cool birds cruising right over our heads. There were Brown Boobies, as well, but I didn't get any good pics. Didn't see any Masked Boobies. 

And there were Laysan Albatross!! Like, a bunch of them! We first saw them nesting on a golf course at the resorts on Hanalei Bay, just a couple giant seabirds hanging out in the trees between holes. It was unreal, but not as cool as seeing them flying in off the ocean at Kilauea Point.

There were Great Frigatebirds there, too, being awesome. 

And, if you looked closely, there were Wedge-tailed Shearwater fledglings still in their burrows. Most of the birds there have already flown, but staff pointed out a few lingerers - looking for the life of me like adults - hidden just inches off busy trails. I didn't see any flying, and the few I saw were all asleep, but cool to get close.

Hey, a Sanderling! I only saw two the whole time.

Hawaiian Stilt! An endangered subspecies of Black-necked Stilt! Seen easily at Hanalei NWR and Salt Ponds SP.

White-tailed Tropicbirds. Oh man. Maybe my favorite birds of the trip? It seemed like the most amazing views on the islands - the crater at Hawaii Volcanoes NP, the spiny ridges of the Na Pali coast on Kauai - were enchanted by these beauties slowly wheeling and circling. I was amazed at Hawaii Volcanoes to see how closely these birds flew to the active, smoking crater. In the middle photo above, look dead center and just a bit down from the top, to make out a tropicbird flying through the smoke. Very cool. 

Hawaiian Gallinule. Another endangered subspecies, common at Hanalei NWR. 

Hawaiian Duck! Endangered! An anas duck, slightly darker overall than a Mallard with a dark head, actually quite lovely. I saw many of them at Hanalei NWR but nowhere else, sadly, despite a few spots that looked OK for ducks. Apparently only Kauai and parts of the Big Island still have pure populations. 

Pacific Golden-plovers were everywhere. It was awesome. Beaches, lawns, forest clearings, etc. I saw my first bird a year ago on the Alaskan tundra, and so it was nice to see these guys with much less effort. 

A Wandering Tattler hanging out with a PAGO, one of many I saw.

Last, but not least, Nene! Hawaii's state bird. Thankfully, I saw these guys frequently on both the Big Island and Kauai, the species having recovered from a low of about 800 wild birds in the 90s to a fairly stable population now. 

Species I didn't get photos of: Brown Boobies were fairly common at Kilauea Point NWR, and I saw a bunch more on the final day on a boat trip to the Na Pali coast; Ruddy Turnstones were fairly common on beaches; I saw a few Black-crowned Night-Herons cruising around; last, but not least, on our first night we stopped at the sea arch on the coast of Hawaii Volcanoes NP and, to my great delight, saw tons of Black Noddies flying in off the water to roost under the arch. These are the Hawaiian subspecies, Anous minutus melanogenys. It was a beautiful scene.

Forest Endemics

Native Hawaiian birds have been ravaged by introduced species and habitat loss. The problem was more easily seen than I expected: on my first day on the Big Island I saw several of the major introduced creatures that feed on ground-nesting birds, including rats, feral cats, Small Indian Mongoose, and wild pigs. I was also bitten by mosquitos, which have made their way to the islands and are slowing carrying diseases up the slopes to the remaining populations of endemic honeycreepers. It's a fairly sad state of affairs, and more than half the state's native honeycreepers are already extinct. I felt lucky to see the ones I did, and wished I had tried harder (i.e. hired a guide) to see the ones I missed on Kauai. I hope they'll be there whenever I can return.

Apapane (ah-pa-PAW-nay) were the most commonly seen honeycreepers, both on the Big Island and Kauai. Beautiful red birds with white under tail coverts. They were tough to photograph, though, as they stayed pretty high in trees and moved around a lot.

Hawaii Creeper. The first bird we saw up in the Hakalau NWR was this cute little endangered species. It did what creepers do: crept. And ate bugs.

I'iwi (e-E-vee). This beautiful species with a curved beak was actually the most common bird in Hakalau NWR, with over 100 seen or heard. 

Hawaii Amakihi (ahm-uh-KEY-hee). Little green honeycreeper, fairly common in the forests up on Mauna Kea.

Palila (Pah-LEE-luh). A beautiful endangered thick-billed honeycreeper found only on high, dry slopes of Mauna Kea. I convinced Liz to give me an hour to dash up after this bird, whipping our little Nissan Rogue around muddy corners, and we found one just moments before we had to go. I snapped a million photos and this was the only one that showed the bird's face. So great. It's in the middle of using it's big beak to rip open a tough mamane seed, its only food source.

Hawaii Elepaio (Elly-PIE-oh). Adorable, curious little fluffballs, actively bopping through the forests. They were fairly common in Hakalau NWR. There are two identifiable populations on the Big Island, these heavily-marked "volcano" subspecies and the much paler, almost white-headed "Mauna Kea" subspecies, which I saw for a moment at the Palila spot but wasn't able to photograph.

Kauai Elepaio. And here's the somewhat drabber Elepaio species found on Kauai, here in Kokee State Park. I was able to find these guys on the Pihea Trail and the Kokee-Halemanu Trail.

Akepa. Lovely bright orange (the male, anyway) found only on the Big Island, here in Hakalau NWR. They're endangered, sadly. 

Oma'o (Oh-MAO). I was very excited to see these big endemic thrushes, and we had some great looks in Hakalau. Big flashy, but an very cool bird.

Here's our guide, Jack Jeffrey, walking through Hakalau NWR. Jack was an outstanding guide, I really can't say enough about what a great experience it was going with him. You need a guide to get into Hakalau NWR, and he's the one to get. If you're ever thinking of going, hire him here. Hakalau NWR was absolutely incredible. Lush and green and bug-free and just everything I could ask in my first trip birding in a tropical-type forest. More pictures below.

Seen but not photographed: We heard the calls of the endangered Akiapola'au (referred to as the Aki) in Hakalau but weren't able to see one. I also saw a couple of Hawaiian Hawks up there, but one was a drive-by and the other was soaring far away, so no photos.  No luck on the native Short-eared Owl, though, on the Big Island or Kauai, despite their being fairly common by all accounts. Next time. 

On Kauai, I finally managed to connect with a Kauai Amakihi, which looks a lot like Amakihi on other islands but has a much more curved bill. I did not see the other four very threatened birds on Kauai -- the Puaiohi (Small Kauai Thrush), Akeke'eAnianiau, and Akikiki (Kauai Creeper) -- and I am sort of kicking myself for not hiring a guide (David Kuhn was the recommended guy), because by all accounts these birds won't be here for much longer. We drove a very muddy Mohihi Road up to the Pihea Trail boardwalk, which 10 years ago was a good spot for a lot of these birds, but was quiet except for Elepaio and Apapane when I was there. Mosquitos. Sad.

Other wildlife

The Hawaiian Blue is one of only two butterflies native to Hawaii. I felt very luck to stumble onto a group of them in a sunny spot at Kokee State Park. My photos were pretty washed out because it was bright as hell and I'm a bad photographer, but take a look at the lovely underside of these bugs here

Another tough bug to photograph, the Giant Hawaiian Dragonfly is the largest dragonfly in the USA. They were fairly common around puddles and streams in Hakalau NWR in the Big Island and Kokee State Park on Kauai.

Was surprised to see these little lizards skittering around the boardwalk at Kokee State Park. Don't know what they are.

A Hammerhead Slug, the world's largest flatworm! Who knew that was even a damn thing! We saw this invasive Bipalium while hiking along the Na Pali coast.

Fish! Tropical fish! We didn't do much ocean stuff until the last few days, and I immediately regretted not snorkeling every day. Have you guys snorkeled on a tropical reef before? It's fucking incredible! Tons of crazy looking fish swimming around just below you! I was hooked, and, being the lister that I am, immediately bought a field guide and keeping track of what I'd seen. These pictures were actually taken very early in the trip, in a tide pool at the "Place of Refuge" National Historical Park on the Big Island. They show, from top to bottom, a Yellow Tang, Square-spot Goatfish, Hawaiian White-spotted Toby, and Moorish Idol. Right after these pictures were taken I slipped on the rocks and cut my arm all up, and almost broke my camera. Good times.

I saw all kinds of other beautiful fishies snorkeling on Kauai (Poipu and Beach House beaches), including Snowflake Moray eels, an octopus, a bunch of butterflyfish, cornetfish, parrotfish, scorpionfish, surgeonfishes, unicornfish, snappers, wrasse, and triggerfish, including the humuhumu-nukunuku-a-pua'a, the state fish of Hawaii.  If, nay, when! I return to Hawaii I'll plan on spending more time in the water.

Green Turtles! These fellas were common in all coastal waters. They're famous at this beach for hauling themselves out of the water to rest, uncommon behavior anywhere else. During a snorkel stop on our Na Pali boat cruise I was lucky enough to find one of these turtles swimming below me. Amazing. 

Hawaiian Monk Seal. We were lucky to have these very rare creatures - only about 1,100 left in the world - haul themselves out of the beach at Poipu Beach on Kauai, right in the midst of a couple hundred snorkeling tourists. There were three, actually, but this big sleeping female was the only one I was able to get a photo of. Within moments of her arrival, volunteers from NOAA's Monk Seal Response Team were on the scene to manage the crown and set up the rope barriers you see in the second photo. Great work. As I set off to snorkel a second time two other seals came in and were playing in the shallow water. I was able to view them underwater from a respectable distance, and amazing sight. These are big, beautiful creatures, and I hope they stick around. 
Back in Hakalau NWR now, with a massive 'Ohia tree. Our guide, Jack, told us a lot about 'Ohia, which can grow to take many different forms (in fact, the second part of its scientific name is polymorphia). They are pioneer species on cooled lava flows, where they grow into little shrubs. In other conditions they can grow into the tree above, a massive organism that is said to be more than 1,600 years old - alive before the Polynesians arrived to colonize Hawaii. Their bright red flowers provide critical food for lots of native honeycreepers. I can't even imagine the things this tree has seen.

Like birds, plants on Hawaii have been hit hard by disease, invasives, and habitat loss. This photo shows one of the two examples of Cyanea shipmanii still alive in the wild. USFWS staff have helped plant additional examples, but this is one of only two wild plants. Unreal.

Hawaii is amazing. 


Nate said...

As depressing as the invasives are, it would be fascinating to see what a few millions years of evolution could do with them. Shame no one will be around to see it.

Patch Davis said...

Cattle Egrets in Hawaii? I can understand how they might have made their way to Florida, but HAWAII?
Thank you for the wonderful pictures of birds I will probably never see, and future generations definitely will not. So sad. Once man travelled by boat, invasive species became the bane of all endemics. I believe the brightly -colored (and very forage-specific) honeycreepers and birds of paradise are the very epitomes of evolution. Nature's masterpieces!
Congratulations on your marriage, and best wishes for many happy years.

Unknown said...

Awesome pictures and entertaining commentary.

Cathrine W said...

This post really had the perfect combination of photos and info to help us on our trip to Kaua'i. Agree that the white-tailed tropicbirds are amazing to watch. Thanks!!

L. W Hall said...

Yours is a wonderfully informative and interesting site. Thank you so much for sharing.

Rose said...

Loved your photos. I was looking for a bird I saw on Maui back in 2000. It was feeding at a feeder along with finches. It was larger than the finches and had a short, thick beak. It's most striking feature was the black and white ladder pattern on its back. I have searched for his bird in numerous books and websites to no avail. I'm hoping you can help. Thanks.

NickL said...

Hi Rose - I checked through my field guide but I'm not sure I found what you're looking for. There's a finch called a Common Waxbill that's the best bet. It's got a fine ladder pattern on its back and a stout bill, but it's also got a lot of red on the face that's probably hard to miss. So, sorry I couldn't me more helpful!

Janice Longoria said...

I was searching for a site that shows photos and names of the birds on Oahu and ran across your post. I know it took a lot of work to compile the photos and post all the descriptions. Thank you because it was very helpful due to you great pics!

NickL said...

So kind of you Janice! It was my pleasure.

BirderMurderMama said...

Currently visiting Kauai and this post is so helpful with identifying what we see. Thanks for great photos!

Beekeeper707 said...

Nice photos and commentary! Thanks for putting this together.

JenM said...

Thanks! We are staying on the Kohala Coast north of Kona on the Big Island right now and I stumbled on your post while trying to identify a cute little quail like family (mama, papa, and three adorable little chicks) that were running across the road. After looking at your photos, I believe they were Gray Francolins. Very informative post.

NickL said...

Thanks for the support, everyone! Glad this post was helpful.

Carol said...

I stumbled on your blog while trying to identify a new bird in my backyard, Kaneohe, Oahu, Hawaii. I didn't find the one I was searching for but sure enjoyed your post.

NickL said...

Thanks, Carol. I'm happy to try to help you identify the bird in your backyard, try emailing

Anonymous said...

the finches are beautiful & mynah Birds are annoying.
Perhaps you need to spend more time on the Islands

Unknown said...

There is around 6-8 Ducks in Hanapepe I see them at Saltpond and sometime Hanapepe river
We also have a Hawk with a short neck and long straight Beak I haven't see photos of it but there is a couple of them in Poipu they eat the Koi fish at Hyatt
I saw one before Hanapepe river I SUP in the River

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this! I am eagerly anticipating our trip to the Big Island and your photos and commentary were very helpful. I noted the places you went and the contact info for your guide Jack!

NickL said...

Glad I could help, Anonymous! Have a great trip!

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