Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Birding on the Flanks of the Volcano Mauna Kea

We drove up a dirt road on the western flank of Mauna Kea to about 7,000 ft elevation. That is where the Mamane and Naio Trees live...and as a result so do the Palila. The Palila is a large finch-billed honeycreeper only found in Hawaii at this location.  These Mamane-Naio forests are found between 6,000 feet and 9,000 feet.  The Palila mostly feeds on Mamane seeds as well as their buds and flowers. They do take some insects and berries from Naio and Sandalwood trees. They have a very low reproductive rate and forgo nesting during droughts due to the reduced availability of food. The Palila is considered Critically Endangered; their estimated population is between 250 to 1,000 individuals. The population is in decline due to damage caused to their habitat by several introduced species such as pigs and sheep.

We were fortunate to have wonderful views of a group of Palila feeding in the Mamane Trees.

The Palila also feed on the Sandalwood Trees. The Sandalwood forests were logged in the mid 1800s under the reign of  Kamehameha the 1st to almost extinction. Only a few trees remain in a State Sandalwood Reserve on Mauna Kea. There is currently a Sandalwood Reforestation Program in place on the slopes of Mauna Kea.
Sandalwood Tree
The Hawaii Amakihi also love the Mamane blooms

The World is Full of Beauty & Wonder,

Turtle & Hawk

Sunday, January 3, 2016

A Magical Day in Hakalau National Wildlife Refuge on the Big Island of Hawaii

Nestled high along the eastern slope of Mauna Kea, Hakalua National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is home to some of the world's rarest plants and animals.  Hakalau NWR was the first refuge ever created specifically for endangered native birds. The refuge is open one day per year to the public and access can be gained with permitted guides.

We were hoping to see the endangered Akepa and Hawaii Creeper, two birds we were unable to find in any of our other birding locations on the island. In addition to the Creeper and Akepa, we also hoped to see the Akiapolaau, Iiwi, Elepaio, Amakihi and Apapane. We were blessed to see all of these special birds. This is the last place on all of the Hawaiian Island to see large concentrations of the stunning Iiwi. To put it into perspective, we typically see 10-15 Iiwi on our favorite birding trail, Pu'u O'o. In Hakalau NWR, we saw over 70 Iiwi in a mile and a half trail.

We had wonderful views of a few of the introduced game birds on our way up Mauna Kea.

 Erckel's Francolin in the early morning light.
Male Kalij Pheasant
Female Kalij Pheasant

This Hawaiian Goose or Nene was there to greet us when we arrived at the top of our destination to begin our hike into the rain forest. The Nene is the state bird of Hawaii.
Ohia blooms...a favorite food of nectarivores.
A rare lobelia : one of only two plants of this species left in the wild! It is difficult to see from the photo, but the bloom of the flowers are the exact shape of the Iiwi bill.
As we enter the rain forest the sounds of the birds singing are amazing. The Iiwi and the Apapane are the most dominate singers.

Some of the rarer birds are much quieter and harder to see...

Akepas are cavity nesters requiring old growth trees. As noted earlier, we never saw Akepas in any of our other birding locations. According to our Hakalau guide, the Akepa population in Hakalau has doubled in the past 10 years, a direct result of the refuge providing adequate habitat.
Male Akepa
Male Akepa gleaning insects from Ohia buds.
Female Akepa feeding in Koa blooms

Example of an Akepa cavity

Akiapolauu, a rare honeycreeper filling the niche of the woodpecker
Hawaii Creeper, like its mainland counterpart, feeds on insects & larvae  by probing the tree bark

Hawaii Elepaio (Mauna Kea subspecies)
Iiwi feeding on Ohia blossoms. Iiwi numbers are in steep decline on all of the islands due to avian malaria. A single bite from an infected mosquito kills the bird within two weeks.  With increasing temperatures due to global warming, mosquitos are making it to higher elevations and as a result taking their toll on the Iiwis. The Big Island just had their warmest summer on record.

Iiwi singing

The forest birds of Hawaii are facing a challenging future due to loss of habitat, disease and climate change. We have our fingers and toes crossed that future generations will be fortunate enough to see and hear these wonderful creatures in the wild.

The World is Full of Beauty & Wonder,

Turtle & Hawk

The Kona Christmas Bird Count

This was the first time we participated in the Kona Christmas Bird Count! The Christmas Bird Counts are a creation of the National Audubon Society and take place all over the country. They were created over 100 years ago as an alternative to the Christmas tradition of killing as many birds as possible.

Our leader was a local bird guide, Lance Tanino, who we have been looking forward to meeting. He is extremely knowledgeable about birding on all of the Hawaiian Islands. We had about 12 folks participating, some were locals and others were visitors from the mainland.

We ended up finding most of our birds at the local waste water treatment plant. Our total species count was just over 40.

Adult Black-crowned Night-Heron
African Silverbill
Two male Ring-necked Ducks and we "think" a female Ring-necked Duck. The reason we used the word "think" is because the experienced local birders felt it was a female Ring-necked Duck; however, it did not have the typical white on the face. Could it be a Tufted Duck??
We were lucky to catch this immature Laughing Gull feeding at the waste water ponds. Gulls do not live in the islands. Any gulls you happen to see are passing through for the most part and are usually immature birds. The immature birds that get blown off course and find the islands will typically spend the winter here.
Female and male Lesser Scaup
An endemic flowering shrub that is rare along the Kona coast.

The World is Full of Beauty & Wonder,

Turtle & Hawk