In my search for new birds in Paradise, I was lucky to have two exceptional guides- one an old friend and another a new friend.
My “new guide”, Gerry Dean, is a friend of Karen’s and had my target list before I arrived. He recognizes all Hawaiian bird calls and can identify a species by its characteristic movements, talents that come in handy when a bird is backlit by the sun or partially blocked by foliage. Gerry not only knows the birds, he knows the plants, animals, and lots of great stories about the past!
Of the 19 birds on my target list he found me 12- I had found 4 myself the days before we met. Without him I am sure I would not have found many of these unusual birds- he not only knew the area, he knew which tree they would be in! At the top of the list is the PALILA, a bright endangered, endemic honeycreeper, found in only one forest on the dry slopes of Mauna Kea. We saw four, one a female cracking a seedpod of the mamane tree. This is no simple process as Gerry pointed out. While gripping the pod with her feet, she ripped open the tough hull to get to the seed inside. I could hardly do it with fingernails.
While in the same forest we saw the rather drab - for island birds- HAWAI'I ELEPAIO, another endemic bird.
Later we would find the OMA'O an endemic thrush, the APAPANE, Hawaii's most common forest bird, HAWAI'I CREEPER, HAWAI'I AMAKIHI (another yellow honeycreeper- yellow birds in the Tropics drive me nuts and without a good guide could be impossible to differentiate).
Later, we found the glorious red 'I'IWI (an endemic not new for me) which was once highly prized by the Hawaiian for their feathers. It is thought the feathers of 30,000 birds were used to make one cape for the ali'i (chiefs).
Another favorite bird was the alien CHESTNUT-BELLIED SANDGROUSE, a native of Asia, found only on the Big Island. It has a most amazing characteristic of collecting water for the chicks back in the nest. At the water, the adults soak up water in the breast feathers before returning to the nest to "water" the babies- a unique feature of the sandgrouse family. Adults can fly distances of up to 10 miles to find water, gathering in flocks to drink.
These birds bring my life list of USA birds to 655 and total of world birds to1486. So what is next on my birding ventures??? Only the Lord knows!