Thursday, May 24, 2012

Bulletin #155 - Native Birds of the Big Island - Hawaii

As some of you know, my wife developed lymphoma in late 2010 and died in August 2011. The story has a happy ending as I met Lisa, a nurse who had looked after Linda. Lisa and I were married in March and honeymooned in Hawaii in April. Lisa loves the outdoors, birding, and has taken to photgraphy with gusto. We had a fun vacation taking all sorts of photos of birds, scenery, flowers etc. In a couple of months, she has progressed to the proficiency that took me 3 years! I will be showing some of her photos on this blog in the future.

Many of you, who are birders, know that the Hawaiian Islands have been decimated of their endemic birds by the presence of humans and the rats, cats, pigs, cattle, sheep etc that were introduced, as well as agriculture. Additionally, mosquitoes were inadvertently put into the ecosystem in the mid 1800's by whaling ships. These mosquitoes spread avian pox and avian malaria to the highly susceptible native birds.
Hawaii has the highest percentage of extinction of their native birds of any place on earth. The remaining birds occur at elevations over 3500 feet on the remnant patches of native forest and are difficult to find. We used a guide service to bird for a day and found some of the endemics on the 'Big Island' as Hawaii is known by locally.

The bird most commonly associated with Hawaii is the Iiwi (Vestiaria coccinea). This red bird with black wings has a long curved bill. It is found in the rainforest consisting of koa and ohia trees. The ohia has red blossoms somewhat like a bottle brush tree. It is endangered, but still fairly common on all the main islands.
Here is another photo of an Iiwi probing for nectar in an ohia blossom.
Iiwi and ohia bloom
The other red bird with black wings is the Apapane (Himatione sanguinea). It differs form the Iiwi by having a white belly and a short black beak. We did not see an adult, but the juveniles are olive rather than red. This one is showing some molt to red on his breast. The Apapane is also endangered and occurs on all the main islands.
Apapane - juvenile
The Hawaii Amakihi (Hemignathus virens) is a fairly common olive bird found in various forest habitats. It was recently split into separate species on 3 different islands (Hawaii, Oahu and Kauai). It is olive with a short curved beak.
Hawaii Amakihi
The Palila (Loxioides bailleui) was a lifer for me. It inhabits dry forest of mamane and naio trees on Mauna Kea mountain. It eats the seed pods of the mamane tree. It is gray with a yellow head and wings and it has a heavy bill for tearing open the seed pods. It is criticallly endangered and was one of the first three birds listed in the Endangered Species Act of 1977. The government set aside its habitat to save it in 1977.
The above birds were formerly classified as their own family Drepanididae, the Hawaiian honeycreepers. Now DNA research shows they all descended from finches and have been placed in the finch family.
Songbirds of several other families are endemic to the Hawaiian Islands as well. The Omao (Myadestes obscurus) is also known as the Hawaiian Thrush. It is obvious from its plump shape that it is a thrush. The Myadestes genus is the same as our Townsend's Solitaire. The Omao is gray brown backed and gray below. This bird posed beautifully for an extended period of time. There are 3 other Myadestes thrushes in the Hawaiian Islands, one on Molokai and 2 on Kauai. 2 of these three may already be extinct.
The Hawaii Elepaio (Chasiempis sandwichensis) is a small songbird in the monarch flycatcher family. It has a long tail carried upright and its brownish coloration makes it resemble a wren. It is a small (5.5") forest bird. Here are 2 photos of this bird.

Hawaii Elepaio

Hawaii Elepaio
There are 2 other species of Elepaio - one each on Oahu and Kauai. These were formerly considered a single species, but recent DNA evidence showed enough variation, that they were split into 3 separate species. 2 color variations occur on the Big Island, but the DNA showed them to be identical.
For those interested, there was also a species of Crow, the Alala, on the Big Island. It went extinct in the wild in the last decade. Efforts, to breed it in captivity for restoration, are underway.

We saw some other birds that are native to Hawaii but not endemic. The first was the Pacific Golden-Plover (Pluvialis fulva). Locally it is known as the Kolea. This bird winters in Hawaii and breeds in western Alaska, making the 2500 mile trip over the north Pacific Ocean in about 60 hours. It was almost in full breeding plumage when we saw it in mid-April. It has a black breast and belly and speckled golden upperparts.
Pacific Golden-Plover
The only native owl in Hawaii is known locally as the Pueo. It is a subspecies of the Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus). It occurs on all the main islands.
Short-eared Owl
We also saw Ruddy Turnstones which are known as Akekeke, but didn't bother with photos as they are local here in Texas.

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2012 David McDonald

To have these trip reports sent to your email, please email me at the above address and ask for subscribe.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Bulletin #154 - Spring Migration #3

Well it is over for another year and what a strange spring it was. I never saw even one example of some fairly common species such as Yellow-throated, Canada, and Nashville Warblers.
Three other species I saw only Tuesday May 8th after a rain.
There were reports all last week of Black-throasted Blue and Cape May Warblers at LaFitte's Cove. These are both very uncommon, but I missed them again this year, the Black-throated Blue by only 5 minutes on Friday 4th:(
However, there are always birds to photograph and the Blackpoll Warbler (Setophaga striata)provided my best photos ever of this species. This black and white male has a solid black crown with white cheeks. However, the notable feature is the orange legs.

Blackpoll Warbler - male
The female is black and white with a yellowish wash below. However, notice that she has the same color legs and this is the ID mark. I think this is the first time I have ever seen a female of this species.
Blackpoll Warbler - female
The Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla) is a brown backed ground, dwelling warbler with a striped head and central orange stripe. It has a streaked breast and might be confused with a thrush, but it is much smaller. It is named for its nest that is built on the ground and resembles an oven. It is not named for its taste.

The male Bay-breasted Warbler (Setophaga castanea) has a brown cap, throat and flanks. The face is black as are the wings with 2 white bars. He has an insect in his mouth in this picture.

Bay-breasted Warbler - breeding male
The Gray-cheeked Thrush (Catharus minimus) is a brown-backed thrush with spotted breast and no eye-ring. The lack of eye-ring distinguishes this bird from the similar Swainson's Thrush. The sexes are similar.
Gray-cheeked Thrush
An unusual photo was this Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus). Shrikes, as you know, capture insects, small reptiles etc and impale them on thorns or barbed wire to store them until eaten later. Normally, they are skittish, but this one flew onto a dead snag 15 feet from me and allowed a single photo before leaving. An important field mark of all shrikes is the heavy hooked beak. Here is a photo of the business end of this bird.
Loggerhead Shrike - detail
On May 8th at LaFitte's Cove, another birder told me there was a Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) in the oak tree by the bench, above the drip. It was 8pm and had been raining a little. I found the owl, and as luck would have it, the flash was dead. I turned it off for a moment and luckily it recharged or dried out and I got a couple of flash shots. His ear tufts are in disarray due to the rain (looks like a punk haircut). Here is a frontal view.

Great Horned Owl
And here is the back of the bird.

Great Horned Owl
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2012 David McDonald

To have these trip reports sent to your email, please email me at the above address and ask for subscribe.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Bulletin #153 - Spring migration #2

We have not had a fallout this year so far and the weather suggests it will be unlikely in the next week or so. Birding has been rather slow everywhere on the coast from what I can read on Texbirds.

Still, a few birds can lead to some good photos. This weekend has seen an influx of the more sought after beauties, but few warbler species.

The perennial favorite of all is the Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris). The gaudy male is unmistakable with his red breast, blue head and yellow-green back. This bird came to the drip at LaFitte's Cove and perched on a snag by the pond for his photo to everyone's delight.

Painted Bunting - male
Of interest, I noted the green feathers between the eye and bill. I had not noticed this before, but when I checked my other photos of this bird, they all have it. It is amazing how we can miss a curiosity like this.

He got down into the drip and took a bath as we all clicked away. This photo has his feathers on his head standing up and his head in a reflection. What a great bird! These were my best photos ever of this species.

Painted Bunting - male

Another favorite of mine is the Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea). Last year I read and told you that the piranga genus of tanagers were going to be moved to the cardinal family. Apparently it hasn't happened yet. The male is red with black wings and tail. It has been a hard bird for me to get a good photo as usually when he is in the sun, the photos ar overexposed on the back and head in the sun. This bird was low down in some shrubs eating a berry. the time was 6:30pm, so no sun and a perfect exposure using flash. I like the photos with the bird doing something..eating, singing etc.

Scarlet Tanager - male breeding
Here is another photo a minute later in another pose with a half-eaten berry.

Scarlet Tanager - male breeding
The black, red, and white male Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus) is an easy ID.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak - male breeding
Baltimore Orioles (Icterus galbula) have always been a difficult bird for me to photograph as they tend to perch near the treetops. This one at least was in a bare tree. The breeding male with black head, black wings with white bars, black tail and orange body is stunning.

Baltimore Oriole - male breeding
The best warbler for the weekend was this Magnolia Warbler (Setophaga magnolia). Notice the genus change from dendroica as I mentioned in the last bulletin, all the warblers have been renamed and reordered. The yellow beast with black streaks, gray head and back, and black face ID this bird.

Magnolia Warbler - male breeding
The female American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla) is gray with yellow wing and tail patches.

American Redstart - female

The male Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia)is all yellow with red streaks on the breast. The female lacks the streaks.

Yellow Warbler - male
 Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2012 David McDonald

To have these trip reports sent to your email, please email me at the above address and ask for subscribe.