Aloha from the "Nui Mokupuni" Part Two

PART 2 - “It is your Destin-I’iwi”

Last year my friend Barbara Ayars returned from her annual vacation to the Big Island (or as I call it “Nui Mokupuni” - see Part One) with this gift, “Hawaii's Birds”, to inspire me to go to Hawaii, explore the avian life and experience the endemic foo foo drinks. It worked. Mrs S. and I arranged our vacation this year to overlap with the Ayars’ and we had an absolutely lovely time, hiking, swimming, snorkeling and emptying plates and glasses. (If anyone else is thinking of luring me somewhere with this plan, I would ask you to skip the book and just buy me a plane ticket. I’ll cover the book.)

Hawaii Bird book.jpg

Behold part 2 of my Big Island saga, centered on the endemic and endangered birds of The Big Island, Hawaii.

Hawaiian Goose banded Waikoloa Beach, Hawaii DSC_4576-1.jpg

Hawaiian Goose

The state bird. Called Nene by locals. This was the first endemic and endangered species I spotted on this trip. On the lawn at the Marriott. That was a surprise. Usually the only endangered species seen at a resort hotel are affordable prices.

Hawaiian Goose banded Waikoloa Beach, Hawaii DSC_4571-1.jpg

Band on the Bird

To rephrase Paul McCartney and Wings: “See the band, know the plan. It’s good for everyone. Band on the bird.” Report your sightings here: I did.

Hawaiian Goose family gosling chicks Hawaii DSC_5770-1.jpg

Smart parents teach their young basic survival skills like “Before crossing the fairway, look both ways, then run like hell.”

Apapane Big Island Hawaii DSC_6210-1.jpg


These birds nearly drove me insane, making the forest canopy at Volcano National Park into a hall of mirrors. These birds were everywhere and nowhere. They have several different calls and to the untrained and easily excitable ear (mine) it sounds as if you're surrounded by multiple species, all lifers. Nope. Just Apapanes. They’re still beautiful.

Hawaiian Stilt Kona, Hawaii DSC_5333-1.jpg

Hawaiian Stilt

As I mentioned in part 1, Aimakapa Fish Pond was closed, but I managed to get close enough to snap a few pics of the native stilts, by the dawn's early light.

Hawaiian Stilt Kona, Hawaii DSC_5228-1.jpg

Mrs. S. and I went on a guided group tour with Hawaii Forest and Trail which I can highly recommend. The trip is not for the faint of heart, as we hiked several miles over the course of an 11 hour day at two locations. Garry Dean was our guide and he was as good as it gets. His knowledge of the Big Island’s geology, geography and history as well as his familiarity with Hawaii’s flora and fauna was top notch. Better still, he was a gifted speaker full of fun facts, jokes (some were even funny) and personality. His passion for birding and conservation was infectious. This trip was made even more special by the nice people who were on the tour with us. We enjoyed spending the day with them.

Hawaiian Owl, Pueo Big Island Hawaii through window DSC_5815-1.jpg

Hawaiian Owl

Also called Pueo. Seen soaring over a field at dawn. This is the most expensive lens filter I’ve ever used and I don’t think I like it. A $90,000 tour van.

Due to the nature of a group tour, these photos are not as impressive as those taken earlier in my trip when I had time to patiently set up shots or wait for the birds to get into position. Nonetheless, I’m happy to share my pictures of these rare birds.

Hawaii Amakihi Big Island Hawaii DSC_5923-1.jpg

Hawaii Amakihi

I was like, “Hey, his bill is not as long as on the cover of the bird book.” And I was right, because this is the Hawaii Amakihi and the bird on the cover is the Kauai Amakihi. Several Hawaiian species have island specific adaptations which unequivocally PROVE that birds evolved. From other birds. It’s called science.

Hawaii Amakihi female Big Island Hawaii DSC_5828-1.jpg

Hawaii Amakihi, female

Hawaii Amakihi and juvenile Big Island Hawaii DSC_5991-1.jpg

Further Proof!

The bird on the left evolved from the bird on the right. Science.

Hawaiian Elepaio Big Island Hawaii DSC_6149-1.jpg

Hawaii Elepaio

The name reminds me of a grade school joke. What do you get when an elephant mates with a rhinoceros? Elephino.

Palila Big Island Hawaii DSC_5873-1.jpg


This is the rarest bird I saw on the trip. They reside in a 25 square mile area above 6000 ft elevation and their ranks have thinned to about 2000 or so. That’s not very many, although that’s still about 200 times as many people as are reading my blog. Let’s hope both of us make a rally.

Palila Big Island Hawaii DSC_5907-1.jpg


Palila are finicky eaters, feeding almost exclusively on mamane trees. They’re pickier eaters than a toddler with early onset affluenza.

O'mao Hawaiian Thrush Big Island Hawaii DSC_6107-1.jpg


His latin name is Myadestes Obscurus which sounds very much like the name of a James Bond villain. "I see you have found my secret lair, Mr. Bond. I'm impressed. Prepare to die." The name also illustrates their secretive nature, so I was delighted to get a clear picture through this dense forest. 

I'iwi Big Island Hawaii DSC_6038-1.jpg


There it is. The bird that inspired the trip to Hawaii and the last endemic species I witnessed. It was my destin-i’iwi.

Every trip needs a checklist

Every trip needs a checklist

Full list of birds I spotted. You can visit my Life List page to see pictures not included in this blog.

Hawaii Big Island Birds February 3 -10, 2018

41 seen 1 heard

*29 lifers

5 Endangered species (E)

11 endemic species (e)


House Sparrow

*Zebra Dove

*Common Myna

*Saffron Finch

*Japanese White-eye

*Yellow-billed Cardinal

*Yellow-fronted Canary

House Finch

*Hawaiian Goose (E)(e)

*Spotted Dove

*Common Waxbill

*Pacific Golden-plover

Black-crowned Night-heron


*Kalij Pheasant

Wild Turkey 

*Hawaiian Hawk (E)(e)

*Gray Francolin

Snow Goose

Northern Cardinal

*African Silverbill

*Wandering Tattler

*White-faced Ibis

*Hawaiian Stilt (E)(e)

*Hawaiian Coot (E)(e)

*Cattle Egret

Ruddy Turnstone

*Hawaiian Amakihi (e)

*Palila (E!)(e)

*Hawaii Elepaio (e)

*’Omao (e)

*Iiwi (e)

*Hawaiian Owl (e)

*Black Francolin

*Erckel’s Francolin

California Quail


Ring-necked Pheasant

*Red Jungle Fowl

Northern Mockingbird 

Rock Dove


Heard Only

*Red-billed Leiothrix

I have a hard time checking off “heard only” birds. Particularly when it is heard by your guide and you’re unfamiliar with the call yourself. Did I hear it? Yes. Was it there? Undoubtedly. Was it fulfilling? Not in the slightest.