We were off to another adventure, this time to our 50th state, Hawaii. It is always nip and tuck getting off the Vineyard in the winter months and our departure was no different. Luckily Cape Air called at 6:30 p.m. to announce that their 6 a.m. flight the following day to Boston was cancelled. So, boat and bus or limo it was!

The first boat in the winter is a trip in itself as many of the truckers are onboard and so, in our case, we caught up with cousin Dan Whiting and were delighted to hear the latest foolishness from Trip Barnes. “No Trip, there is not any room in our suitcases for you!”

Green sea turtle on the beach in Hawaii. — Flip Harrington

Our Jet Blue flight was delayed by only an hour, which was a surprise after they had cancelled so many flights two days previously. Seattle here we come! After a nice overnight we boarded Hawaiian Air to Honolulu, Oahu. Having retrieved our rental car, we drove across Oahu to the North Shore, found a grocery store and were totally shocked to find the prices higher than on the Vineyard. Ah, but we are on vacation, we reminded ourselves. The home rental was perfect and right on the beach. We wandered out and immediately spotted the heads of several sea turtles within a few feet of shore. We figured they were probably green sea turtles. While eating dinner, we studied the map of the North Shore and The Birdwatcher’s Guide to Hawaii, deciding where to start looking for birds.

Before humans arrived on the Hawaiian Islands, the birds that inhabited the islands had evolved much like those of the Galapagos Islands. In total isolation, the Hawaiian birds evolved to use the indigenous plant and insect life of the areas. Then people from all over the world settled on Oahu and the other Hawaiian Islands and brought their pets and plants with them. This raised havoc with the native species and as a result, 40 percent of the endangered birds of the U.S. are from Hawaii. The mongoose that was introduced eats eggs and young birds, alien birds compete for food and nest sites with native bird species, introduced plants choke out natives and a mosquito that carries avian pox arrived on a non-native bird has spread and is killing many of the native bird species. Still, there are some fabulous birds to find and places to visit.

Our first objective was to walk out to Ka’ena Point, a state natural area, to hopefully see the Laysan albatross and black-footed albatross, and red-footed and brown boobies. The walk was two and a half miles and we figured after being on planes for a couple of days, we could use the exercise. Well, as we walked and were looking offshore hoping to see the boobies or albatrosses in flight, we were sidetracked by whales. We observed at least eight humpback whales, blowing, flippering, tail lobbing and breaching! What a treat. Other distractions on our walk included ruddy turnstones, Pacific golden plovers and sanderlings, which fly, without an airplane, around 2,500 miles to spend the winter on Oahu!

The Ka’ena State Natural Area is well set up. It is fenced and in order to enter you must clean your shoes. This is to insure no diseases or pests are carried onto the nesting grounds. We ventured in and had Laysan albatrosses sailing over our heads and watched pairs tending their nests on the ground. We spotted red and brown boobies but did not see the black-footed albatross. It was well worth the walk.

Our return walk was a mixed bag. We spotted and photographed what we are sure is a little egret, which is not known to be in the area. We found many introduced species including spotted (India) and zebra doves (Australia), red-vented bulbuls (Asia), northern mockingbird (mainland U.S.A.), common myna (India), red-crested cardinals (Brazil) and nutmeg mannikins (Southeast Asia). Halfway back to the car the heavens opened up and we got soaked. It was not really an issue as the temperature was in the high 70s.

Bird Sightings:

Don’t forget the Great Backyard Bird Count which is being conducted Feb. 14 to 17. Anyone anywhere in the world can count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count and enter their sightings at BirdCount.org. The information gathered by tens of thousands of volunteers helps track the health of birds worldwide.

Jeff Bernier sent a fabulous photograph of an American bittern that he took at Crackatuxet Cove on Jan. 15.

Rob Culbert’s monthly Saturday afternoon guided bird tour on Jan. 18 found the American bittern that Jeff Bernier found and photographed where the Herring Creek leaves Crackatuxet Cove, as well as a tree swallow overhead. They also found two snowy owls — one on Norton Point and a much closer one at the Farm Institute near all their compost piles. And in his own words, ”A northern harrier flew right over the latter snowy without a reaction from either. There were also 110 dunlin and 140 black-bellied plovers in the Farm Institute fields.”

Tim Johnson sent a nice photo of a merlin that he took at Felix Neck on Jan. 14.

Skip Bettencourt sent photos of a small flock of long-tailed ducks he took off Wasque on Jan. 17.

On the Vineyard, Constance Alexander also spotted long-tailed ducks off the West Chop Lighthouse. Constance also reported hundreds of crows at the channel into Lake Tashmoo. They were making quite a racket. The same day Nat Woodruff took a good shot of a great blue heron at the Bend in the Road at Sengekontacket Pond.

On Jan. 18, Constance Alexander spotted both a horned grebe on the Lagoon in Tisbury. The next day she had a snowy owl at the right fork of Katama Road and a northern harrier at State Beach.

Please report your bird sightings to birds@mvgazette.com.
Susan B. Whiting is the co-author of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her website is vineyardbirds2.com.