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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Birding Oahu

Oahu is covered with birds. That said, birding Oahu can be a challenge!

Upon arriving in Honolulu, one quickly sees Spotted Doves and White Terns (Fairy Terns) all over the city, as well as the ever present Common Mynahs and Red-vented Bulbuls. Birding any of the parks or open areas around the city quickly gets one several other non-native birds (including Zebra Doves, Japanese White-eye, Red-billed Leiothrix, Common Waxbill, and Red-crested Cardinal).

Last weekend I was on Oahu to present a paper at a conference, and spent four days exploring the island. Beyond the common birds mentioned above, most other birds, especially native birds, were few and far between.

To find native wetland birds, I had to journey to the Kahuka area at the far northern tip of the island. The James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge and adjacent sewage treatment facility are gated and closed to the public, but by standing on the sign pictured here, I was able to see some ponds as well as all four of the native birds pictured on the sign (from left to right Hawaiian Stilt, Hawaiian Gallinule, Hawaiian Duck, and Hawaiian Coot). I was also lucky enough to spot three Bristle-thighed Curlews that hadn't yet departed for their Alaskan breeding grounds.

Seabirds were easily found at many rocky headlands--though usually in small numbers. The most plentiful by far were Red-footed Boobies. I only saw one Brown Booby (a flyby at China Walls in Hawaii Kai), and a couple of Red-tailed Tropicbirds and one White-tailed Tropicbird near Makapu'u Point. The picture above is from La'ie Point, where within a few hundred yards of shore I was able to spot Wedge-tailed Shearwater, Christmas Shearwater, and a single Bulwer's Petrel. By keeping my eyes open, I was able to see a Great Frigatebird (while body surfing at Waimanalo Beach Park) and a small flock of Grey-backed Terns (again at China Walls), but around most of the tourist beaches seabirds were few and far between.

The forests above Waikiki (above) are mostly made up of non-native trees brought in to control erosion after the island was mostly deforested in the past century. The birds there are almost all introduced as well. The common birds listed above are also joined by the melodious White-rumped Shama and a small handful of other birds. One is almost continuously haunted by the specter of missing native plants and birds. To think about the dozens of native birds now missing is heartbreaking. It took two hikes up Mt. Tantalus to finally find a single native forest bird (another story completely, and coming soon!). A couple of hours looking for the Oahu Elepaio near Hawaii Kai were singularly unproductive.

A visit to the picturesque Byodo-In Temple (above), a replica of a 900 year old Buddhist temple in Japan, illustrates the sad state of Oahu's birdlife. The place is crawling with birds--but they consist of a dozens of individuals of only a handful of introduced birds, including Common Peafowl, Black Swan, Cockatiel, Red-crested Mynah, and Common Waxbill. Most of the birds are actually the abundant Zebra Dove (below), Spotted Doves, and Common Mynahs that are ubiquitous in the settled parts of the island.

So while Oahu is a fantastic vacation spot, and crawling with birds, it is a challenge to see more than just a couple dozen introduced land birds and the most common seabirds (boobies and fairy terns). To see native wetland birds requires a bit of a drive, and finding native forest birds is probably best accomplished on some of the other Hawaiian islands.

More photos from my trip on Facebook.


Patrick B. said...

Good stuff Rob. Does anyone know why there is no shade-grown coffee in Hawaii? From an ecology standpoint, is it as much an impact there as it is in central America?

Dawn Fine said...

Its a shame that their arent many native birds around! Nice post...I will go look at your facebook photos now..

Anonymous said...

Spelling visited Kahuku, not Kahuka

Catherine said...

Thanks so much for the helpful information! We will be visiting Oahu in May.

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