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from What Good is a Life List?

The Birdwatcher's Guide to Hawai'i

Apapane, Aiea Trail, Hawaii, June 15, 1979

Visiting my parents, who were living near Honolulu, I wanted to see some of the native Hawaiian birds. There are many birds in Hawaii, but casual visitors see only the ones that have been introduced since mankind first arrived in 400 A.D. To see the native birds, one has to make a special point of it and go to high elevations.

Oahu ApapaneThe Hawaiian Islands are surrounded by a lot of ocean, but somehow a finch arrived there several million years ago. Perhaps it was a little storm-blown flock that managed to stay together until they made landfall. Or possibly it was a single pregnant female.

The result of that event is science's favorite textbook example of "adaptive radiation." With no competition except from other birds of its own kind, the finch "radiated" into 28 species of Hawaiian honeycreepers. Now they are famous for the wild variation of their bills. Some still have ordinary little bills like finches, but others have thick bills like parrots, or hooked bills like hawks, or long curved bills like nothing else on earth.

The ancient Hawaiian birds have not fared well under human occupation. Many species are gone forever. The survivors hide in the remaining uncut forests above 3,800 feet. My father took me to the Aiea Trail, in a high tropical forest where he thought Hawaiian honeycreepers ought to live, and we walked the trail through lush vegetation. Every tree was different from the ones around it. Birds I couldn't see through the green leaves tantalized me with unfamiliar songs.

"Look, there," my father said. Where he pointed I saw an Apapane—one of the native Hawaiian honeycreepers. It was a gorgeous bird of crimson red, with black wings. (Apapane is pronounced like "Hop upon knee," but without the initial "H.") It clung to a vine draped loosely around a tree trunk. The vine swung and twisted as the bird clambered on it, showing us the bird from all sides. The sharp, pointed bill curved slightly, as if designed to follow the inner contour of a tubular blossom.

That was the first of many wonderful birding times with my father, for since then he has become a birder too. But none of them outshines the memory of seeing the Apapane on the Aiea Trail. Thanks, Dad.

— Diane Porter

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Photo of Oahu Apapane at top of page was taken by Michael Walther, who graciously granted us permission to use it here. We found it on the Oahu Nature Tours Website.

Birdwatcher's Guide to Hawaii

by Rick Soehren

Paperback. It's for the novice birder. It's got lots of pictures. It shows over 60 birding hotspots on Oahu, Kauai, the Big Island, Maui, Molokai, and Lanai.

It shows the birds you're most likely to find at each spot. Includes traveler's information.

Rick Soehren is an environmental specialist with the California Dept. of Water Resources.

Price info


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