Home Away from Home on the Islands

May 8, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

If you were to think about birding in Hawaii, what would be the first thought that ran through your mind? For me it was, “I wonder what kind of crazy tropical birds I am going to find”. I don’t know why, but when thinking about birds in Hawaii that I immediately think of birds that you would expect to find in the rainforest’s of the Amazon, the flashy colors and the long ornate tail feathers. I think you will be surprised, as I was, with the familiar feathered friends that Hawaii has in store for birders.

A familiar call

It is always comforting to be somewhere new and hear a familiar voice calling out to you. For me that was when I woke up to a beautiful morning on Kauai, welcomed by the familiar call of the Western Meadowlark! I was surprised to hear the beautiful song of one of my favorite birds. Upon doing a little research on the matter I was shocked to find out that they were introduced to Kauai, undoubtedly for the beautiful song they sing. Finding the Meadowlark inspired me to go on a hunt for other birds that I didn’t expect to see on the islands.

Who’s laughing at me?

Imagine my surprise when I was doing some hiking and thinking I was alone when suddenly I was surprised to hear what sounded like someone was laughing at me. Having experienced living and hiking in Idaho, I suddenly realized that I was being mocked by a Chukar! Oh how illusive they are in the rocky hills in Idaho – it can be quite hard to get a good view of this beautiful bird. I was in complete shock when I had several run-ins with them along the trail I was hiking.

Before visiting Hawaii, I had never seen a Chukar pop out of a bush and stand in the trail in front of me, so it was truly a magical moment for me to share the trail so comfortably with the bird. Hawaiian Chukars are so comfortable around people, so I was able to get so close to them, seeing the beauty of all of their different colors for what seemed like the first time.

A friendly covey

While relaxing on a shady hillside on Maui, I heard another familiar call. This time it was more of a ka-kah-ko, ka-kah-ko. Could it be one of my frequent visitors to my feeders at home? It sounded like it was close so I didn’t want to move too fast and spook it away. Slowly looking and scanning for any movement I finally spotted a group of birds scurrying along the ground. Seeing a healthy covey of California Quail put a huge smile on my face.

There is something quite amiable about the quail. I think if I had to describe the ‘personality’ of them, the only word that comes to mind is ‘bubbly’. I have watched them at my own ground feeders for years and never get tired of the little chirps and squeaks that they make.

Could it be?!

In my final few days of my time on the beautiful islands of Hawaii I decided to try an experiment of sorts. I had been seeing flashes of a very bright bird, but I couldn’t get a good view of it. I had heard rumors that this bird was on the islands, but until I saw it with my own eyes I wouldn’t believe it. So I went to a local store and picked up a window birdfeeder and a small bag of seed, to see if I could lure one in. Now, even as an avid birder, I didn’t spend all of my time in my room waiting to see what would come eat from the feeder, I was in Maui after all!

The times that I was in my room I witnessed a lot of amazing activity feeding from the birdfeeder. Then it happened, a flash of bright red, and sitting there on my feeder was a Northern Cardinal! I had heard that they had accidentally been introduced on the islands, but I guess I didn’t expect to actually see one. I decided to get in touch with the local Audubon Society and see if I could get some information on how they ended up there. From the information I was able to gather it sounds like someone had a pair as a pet and one escaped. To try to ensure the bird’s survival, they also let the second one go right after. This happened back in 1929. Reportedly between the years of 1929-1931 there were several hundred more pairs that were brought over and introduced to the islands. Seeing the bird in person was an amazing experience and one I will never forget.

Eye Opener

You just never know what you are going to find when you take a trip. I had a blast not only seeing a bunch of the native birds but also so many familiar species of birds. It just goes to show that when you don’t spend all of your time on the beach and just open up your eyes you will see things that you never expected to see. You might see some familiar feathers among the branches when you are looking for the new ones. If you ever have the chance to get over to Hawaii don’t miss out on the opportunity to get out and enjoy some of the beautiful birds and see what other species you can find that you didn’t expect to see!

Article contributed by: Ernie Allison

(Picture courtesty of USFWS via Wikimedia Commons)

The Office Birder

April 30, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

As an avid birder the only thing worse than an office job is not having a window nearby to catch a glimpse of a passing bird. Luckily, technological advancements provide a solution to at least one of those problems. As many birders out there may know, there is a lot of live footage from bird cams put in place by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and a few other organizations that provide us access to the great outdoors and exclusive footage of birds nesting, hunting and feeding their young from anywhere.

It’s the perfect time of year to watch with wonder.

I have spent many an hour watching the Red Tailed hawks sit on the nest incubating, and rolling their eggs with patience. It is really fascinating to see the teamwork between the pair of hawks as they carry out their instincts as protective parents. My co-workers must think I’m crazy because of how excited I am to see the eggs hatch… Any day now!

A variety of viewing options.

The best part of Cornell’s site is that you can watch whatever birds you feel like watching – there are hawks, barn owls, albatross, ospreys and even a birdfeeder in Ithaca that attracts a variety of species. Don’t forget my favorite – the Heron Cam. I doubt there is a more regal bird than the Great Blue Heron. They should start nesting soon and I cannot wait to see it.

Opportunities for interaction.

One of the best things about these cams is the fact that they encourage you to interact with the moderators and other viewers. If you have some free time, or just need a break from office work, it is fun to read what people are saying on the live chat. A lot of times they pose some really great and educational questions. You might even get lucky enough to get on one where they have a prize for guessing the day the eggs hatch for a prize! This interaction makes you feel like you are more involved in the entire process, especially so in a nesting pair of birds.

It’s not only Cornell that offers great bird cams.

The advancements in technology and the corresponding drop in equipment prices have allowed more people to start recording the birds, and in effect bring the joy of bird watching to a larger audience. There are so many great web sites that offer nest cams, just doing a quick search for your favorite bird and ‘nest cam’ will provide hours of entertainment. I love hummingbirds, so naturally I went searching for some nest footage one day. I found out that a mother hummingbird deserted a nest along with her two chicks, and luckily the nest cam was in place so they could get some help. Watch the young hummingbirds go crazy with joy to be fed in the video below.

Video of Hummingbird Rescue

If you’re looking for something a little more majestic, look no further than the Decorah Eagles cam and watch our national bird raise its young. You could even go so far as getting yourself some new birdfeeders and a web cam and create your own page to watch.

As you can see this is one of the great ways I have found to cope with being surrounded by walls. The next time you find yourself staring at the wall of your cubicle, no need to get down. Just fire up a bird cam, and enjoy the sights and sounds of the great outdoors and see how many birds you can identify! It’s a great way to make the day go just a little bit better.

Article contributed by: Ernie Allison