It was the final leg of our Hawaiian Islands adventure. We were off to Hawaii — and I thought we were already there. Well, we were and we weren’t.
There are many Hawaiian Islands; the main ones are Hawaii, Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai and Maui. Hawaii is known as the Big Island to avoid the confusion which many, including myself, have felt. We landed in Kona and proceeded to our new base in the village of Captain Cook. Flip Harrington and I had been advised by Luanne Johnson to contact Jack Jeffrey who could possibly get us into a gated area in the Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge. Luanne conducted research on the Big Island near the Hakalau Forest for five years before moving to the Vineyard. Luanne knew that Jack had worked as a biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Hakalau Forest for many years and knew it like the back of his hand.
A date was set up and we were to meet Jack Jeffrey at a weigh-in station along the new highway (previously known as the Saddle Road) between Kona and Hilo at 7:30 a.m. We had to wake up at 4:30 a.m. in order to allow enough time to make the drive. It was worth every minute! We climbed into Jack’s 4x4 and drove through old cattle pasture land and finally behind locked gates to the head of a trail that we walked up and down most of the day. We were in a wet forest that still had koa and ohi’a trees and tree ferns. These are the plants the native honeycreepers need to survive. We were told to expect rain as the area gets between 100 to 250 inches annually depending on the altitude. We were amazingly lucky because the sun shined all day long.
One of the first birds we saw was the rare akiapola’au, a honeycreeper whose bill is weird; the lower straight bill is shorter than the upper bill. The upper bill is long, slender and curves down. We watched this honeycreeper use its lower bill like a woodpecker to chisel into a branch. Then all of a sudden the bird changed gears and used its long, curved upper bill to probe into the hole and pull out a grub! Wow, what an amazing adaptation. We saw Hawaiian akepas, Hawaiian creepers, apapane, i’iwi, elepaio and the Hawaiian thrush called the oma’o. Jack also talked about some of the 29 rare and endangered plants of the area. As we left the forest we were greeted by a pair of nene geese and then a shout went up; someone had spotted a Hawaiian short-eared owl. What a great way to end a fantastic day.
Rob Bierregaard emailed to say that osprey migration should start soon, so we should keep our eyes open for Vineyard ospreys to return. If you are interested in the movements of all the ospreys Rob has equipped with a transmitter, go to his new website.
On Feb. 12 Steve Auerback counted 24 common grackles at his feeder which is near the Oak Bluffs town park.
Gus Ben David spent Valentine’s Day weekend in the Elizabeth Islands and reported that the highlights included three snowy owls, a huge flock of common grackles, three northern harriers and several eastern towhees.
Tim Baird and Sheila Baird reported that while others may not have had many house finches around, they have had several on a regular basis, although they haven't seen as many as in previous years.
A barn owl first photographed by Ken Magnuson on Feb. 11 at Katama has remained on the scene for several days. This species normally hunts at night, so it was surprising to see Ken’s daytime photograph of the owl with a tasty mouse in its beak. The Vineyard birding community is concerned when they see this behavior as it speaks of a stressed owl. Hunting during the day may invite predators that a barn owl would not encounter during nighttime food forays.
A barn owl, probably the same one, was seen again by Ken on Feb. 12. On Feb. 16 the owl was spotted early in the day by Jeff Bernier and later by Penny Uhlendorf and Scott Stephens. Penny and Scott also spotted the American bittern that has been at Crackatuxet Cove for most of the winter.
Lanny McDowell photographed a yellow-bellied sapsucker near his Tashmoo home on Feb. 12. He mentioned that the holes the sapsucker had drilled into the tree were oozing sap, which in this weather had frozen into what I call “sapsicles.” The sapsuckers could enjoy the sap from the melting sapsicles. Other avian visitors to this unusual food source included black-capped chickadees and tufted titmice. Amazing what a sweet tooth will do!
Bird sightings on Feb. 13 included a photograph by Jeff Bernier of a cold great blue heron at Herring Creek in Edgartown, six red-winged blackbirds at David Stanwood’s Lambert’s Cove feeder and a merlin that strafed a flock of European starlings next to Matt Pelikan’s home in Oak Bluffs. Jeff Bernier sent nice photos of greater scaup in the Oak Bluffs harbor that he took on Feb. 14. That same day, Sioux Eagle sent photos of both a downy woodpecker and tufted titmouse that are frequent visitors to her West Tisbury feeder.
Robert Culbert’s bird tour on Feb. 15 took place in West Tisbury. At Greene’s Field they found four eastern bluebirds and then at Priester’s Pond the group counted five hooded mergansers and 30 mallards. The same day Constance Alexander birded Menemsha harbor where she counted 12 common loons munching on crabs, and at Squibnocket, Constance spotted several horned grebes in various plumages.
Tim and Sheila Baird spotted a snowy goose and a merlin at the Farm Institute on Feb. 15. Vasha Brunelle found a deceased red-breasted merganser behind the Martha’s Vineyard shipyard the same day. Hard winters are devastating for young and old birds.
Lanny McDowell found a lone female pintail in with the mallards at the Head of the Lagoon on Feb. 16. David Damroth and Barbara Lee found and photographed two snow buntings at Squibnocket.
Tim and Sheila Baird saw a horned lark on Beach Road in Edgartown on Feb. 18, and Sue Carroll found a flock of over 25 American robins by the Harbor View Hotel on Feb. 17.
Flip Harrington and I returned home on Feb. 12 from our Hawaiian Islands adventure. Thanks to Robert Culbert for covering the bird news for me. We were greeted by a flock of American robins and four eastern bluebirds enjoying the holly trees at our Chilmark home. All three of the woodpeckers showed up on Feb. 14 — the downy, hairy and red-bellied, but we were particularly pleased to see our perky Carolina wren who has taken to not only eating suet, but also small seeds. On Feb. 15 during the snow storm we had a field sparrow arrive at a feeder as well as a white-throated sparrow. We have yet to see our barn owl and are afraid it may not have made it through last month’s weather. In Menemsha on Feb. 16 we also counted 12 common loons who were still feasting on crabs in the creek.
Please report your bird sightings here.
Susan B. Whiting is the co-author of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Visit her website here.