Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Birds of the Fish Ponds at Ka'upulehu

The Kohala coast line of the Big Island of Hawaii is famous for its ancient Hawaiian fish ponds that dot the shoreline on the west side of the island. Like the rest of their Polynesian cousins, Hawaiians were expert aquaculturalists and adept at creating brackish ponds by taming the ocean tides and freshwater currents in order to harvest fish from these "farms".

In 1800 and 1801, the lava flow from the eruption of distant Hualalai volcano created this fish pond called Ka' upuleu by the old ones in reference to the singular flow of lava that both destroyed and created in its eruptive path from Hualalai.

In 1996, the Four Seasons Resort, my "office" this week, built a hotel around these fish ponds. Many locals consider this land sacred. The pond and accompanying shoreline has its own Kahuna or Hawaiian shaman to bless the land and keep it in good harmony with the ancestors.

While most residents and visitors glass the surf for signs of Humpback Whales, I prefer these magnificent ponds a mere fifteen feet away. I watch the sun rise and set from these ponds and in doing so -- I am privy to some very interesting birds. Today I wanted to share these beauties with my bird watching friends. I hope I don't fail you too much with my novice ID'ing. It's been tough, especially since I am really supposed to be working.

This little guy is called the Auku'u here in Hawaii -- you and I call it the black-crowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax hoactli) and its considered an endemic species in this island. The Auku'u figure into many stories of Hawaiian mythology.

I was certain I had a lifer with this interesting bird. But I believe he/she is an immature black-crowned night heron. The eye stripe is the give-away.

Meet Ae'o. Ae'o is the Hawaiian stilt (Himantopus mexicanus knudseni) and is a endangered subspecies of the black-necked stilt. This part of the Big Island has the largest concentration of these endemic breeding birds. The Auku'u above likes to eat Ae'o's chicks. He plucks them right out of the nest and dispatches them in one swallow. Poor Ae'o - life is hard enough without having to worry about your neighbor eating you.

This is the wandering tattler (Tringa incana) - what a great name - called 'Ulili around these parts. 'Ulili summers in Alaska and the Yukon and then gets real smart real quick and hightails it to Hawaii for the winter. I could watch this bird for hours.

Another migratory bird considered a "native" of the islands is the ruddy turnstone (Arenaria interpres). This bird migrates from the Arctic for the winter. Smart bird.

Most of the birds in Hawaii are exotic species. I was thrilled to discover these four birds above are considered endemic migratory birds.

The is a Grey Francolin (Francolinus pondicerianus) from India. It's hard to be more exotic than that. They are thick through these parts and have a very loud call that echoes through the afternoon air inviting you stop for a cup of tea on the veranda and savor all that is foreign and different and delightful.

Here is a South American friend - the yellow-billed cardinal (Paroaria capitata) a close relative of another exotic local here - the crested cardinal or Brazilian cardinal. This little guy is taking a bath in an infinity pool - and he seems to love the view of the ocean. Even though the yellow-billed cardinal is from Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia - it's extremely common in Hawaii. It's presence here is most likely the result of the pet trade industry in the 1800's. Both the francolin and the cardinal take advantage of the grasses that grow on the fringe of the ponds at Ka'upulehu.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this post so much. What a rich pageant of natural beauty you uncovered!

P. Ollig said...

That certainly does look like a Wandering Tattler! I've never seen them without their breeding plumage before, though. So I had to look it up. Nice post! I was bummed when I learned many of these fish ponds had been "comandeered" by the elite resorts. We didn't even try to go look at them, since we thought we'd get in trouble. Do they let non-guests hang out there?

Autumn said...

I am so envious, I want to see all of these wonderful birds in person right now. Thank you for sharing, I felt like I was there for a moment!

Lana Gramlich said...

Wonderful! Thank you for sharing your local birds. I'd never even heard of half of them. Love the first picture, too & the reflection in the second.

Patrick B. said...

Great photos! The # of introduced species in Hawaii is a real shame.

Natalie said...

Magical views... Thank you

Anonymous said...

Amazing photos of these birds from the Hawaiian Islands!


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