The first morning of me not doing a big year (let's see how long that lasts), I casually birded the grounds of the hotel. The first bird I heard was a domestic chicken, so the first countable one I saw was a White-rumped Shama. I got all the same birds from previous rounds of the hotel, plus a flyover ʻAukuʻu (Black-crowned Night-Heron). Next, my mom and I birded by car on the Kauai Lagoons Golf Course, resighting all the birds from last year.
To save myself the trouble of having to track a Snow Goose down in New York (I am exaggerating a bit here, as they winter in large flocks at Jamaica Bay, but I have seen them elsewhere in the state, such as in Montauk where I got Snow and Pink-footed for the year at the same time), I decided the best use of the first day of the year was to go back to the golf course in Princeville where I had found one the day before. While en route to Princeville, I spotted a large bird on the side of the road crouched in the grass near a picturesque field. "Pheasant!" I shouted. As if on cue, two male Ring-necked Pheasant emerged.
When we got to the goldf course, the Nene were still there, but not the Snow Goose. We went back to Kilauea refuge and got all the birds from the day before again. The best bird of the day was one of the last, when I spotted a Pueo, the Hawaiian subspecies of Short-eared Owl, flying over the grassy fields along Cane Haul Road
Over the past week, I had seen almost every bird species present on the island except Northern Shoveler (Koloa moha), Black-footed Albatross (Ka’upu), Puaiohi, and ‘Akikiki. The shoveler would only be a state lifer like the pheasants. The best way to get the albatross, according to Mandy, was to go on a boat trip with Holo-Holo Charters to Lehua Crater, just off the island of Ni'ihau, the "forbidden island," just like Isla Sorna but without any Mesozoic reptiles. Ni'ihau, which is still part of Kauai County and looks , is the westernmost and third smallest of the main Hawaiian Islands, as well as the driest. When James Cook first landed on this island, he reported it was void of trees; but Aubrey Robinson planted thousands of trees during his ownership of the island. No honeycreepers live there, but intermittent playas on the island support 'Alae ke'oke'o, Ae'o, and Koloa maoli, plus critical habitat for the lobelioid Brighamia insignis, as well as healthy populations of monk seals. The island itself has a population between 35 and 50 people, and is mostly off limits to all but the Robinson family, U.S. Naval officials, and invited guests, hence the "forbidden" part. During the late 1980s, the island was opened to carefully regulated tourism and trophy hunting, as the island is stocked with herds of pigs, sheep, eland, oryxes, and Aoudad. Wow, this really is Isla Sorna, except the only dinosaurs here are birds (like the entire world after the K-Pg extinction). Back at the harbor we went on the first whale watch, my dad and I were up early again for the Lehua/Na Pali coast trip, only to find out that because of the rough seas, we wouldn't be going to Lehua. Disappointed, but not deterred, I decided to stay on the trip anyway in hopes that we could get lucky. I chose to lay low for the majority of the trip, keeping checklists as we went along. We had stopped to watch a pod of Spinner Dolphins (Nai‘a) alongside playing alongside the boat, one of my most wanted species of mammal from Hawaii along with the monk seals and Hoary Bat, the latter of which I missed (yes, I'm so desperate to list new organisms, I've turned to the biggest rabbithole of all). A Humpback Whale pec-slap the surface, and while we were watching the mammals, I spotted a large dark shape flying across the ocean. "Yup, that's it." I said as I deduced by coloration that it was definitely a Black-footed Albatross.
As we boated along the coast, I kept an eye out as noddies and boobies flew overhead and around the rocks. A False Killer Whale and Bottlenose Dolphins were seen alongside the boat. When we got to the snorkel site, we were treated to another marine mammal: two Hawaiian Monk Seals hunting on the reef! We dove with them for an hour before heading back to port.
I had around five hours in California until my flight back to New York. So what was I going to do? Go birding, of course. Southern California was one of the states I had considered birding in on my big year, but unfortunately, my limited time allotted for school breaks and travel restrictions over the summer forced me to prioritize Arizona for November. This layover would be my chance to make up for a missed opportunity, although I had only three hours to bird, so time was of the essence. The first spot I went to was Ballona Freshwater marsh, which is just 10 minutes from the airport. There were ducks and sparrows everywhere, including Golden-crowned Sparrow and California Towhee. Along the marsh, I had also added two more lifers: California Scrub-Jay and Allen’s Hummingbird.
Our last stop was Playa Del Rey, where I had hoped for Pacific Loon and Black Oystercatcher. In a large flock of California and Western Gulls, I found several Heermann’s and a 1st winter Glaucous-winged Gull, two additional species I did not have a chance to see in 2018.
As we were leaving to pick my mom up and head for the airport, I spotted a Lesser Scaup in a pond across from the parking lot and got to see a Peregrine Falcon chasing a flock of pigeons. By the time I left California, I had managed to see 98 species for the year, and heard a Great Horned Owl for #99 when I finally got home. What would 100 be?
The next morning, I filled the feeders and sank into my room to write trip reports and edit photos. I was ready to take a well deserved break from looking for new birds, at least until my next adventure...
On January 20th, the adventurous Great Black Hawk was found on the ground at Deering Oaks park and taken to Avian Haven, where it was placed into an intensive care unit. The next morning, he was alert and in good condition, although the main concern was that he had frostbite on both feet. Frostbite usually occurs when ice crystals form inside the cells of an infected area. When body cells freeze, they expand, burst, and then die, and cannot be brought back to life. The goal of frostbite treatment is to limit further tissue death, though the success or failure of those efforts may not be apparent for several weeks or even months. Deathless would most likely lose some of his toes, but how much he would lose was uncertain. If part or all of his damaged toe is lost, he could still be able to hunt and perch if returned to the wild. Many of us hoped he would be releasable, but reality is often disappointing. A week after he was taken in, the frostbite had spread to both of his legs. Underneath the bandages, both feet were discolored and began to decompose. The idea of amputating the hawk’s legs and replacing them with prosthetics, along with placement in captivity, but this was not realistic. Not only was the damage too extensive, but animals that adapt best to prosthetics are comfortable around people. Unlike with Winter, a Bottlenose Dolphin that is one of the most cited examples by advocates for prosthetics in animals with lost appendages, North American raptors are known to be high strung. The bird had been lying down during the day and was not eating as well as previously. At the end of January, professionals from Maine’s department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and staff at Avian Haven agreed to euthanize the Great Black Hawk, who would never adapt to captivity with only one foot. News of his death was met with overwhelming sadness by the birding community, who had all come to love this great hero among rare birds. More so than other birders, I felt an especially strong connection to him. Like my desire to go to new places to see new birds, the wanderlust of this hawk is a good example of the dynamic nature of birds. Even the most sedentary species cannot be expected to stay within the colored area of a range map assigned to them by a field guide or species account on Birdlife, individuals break free and wander; some succeed, others fail. Life finds a way. Just as my adventures had ended when I returned to school, so had those of the first Great Black Hawk in North America when it was taken into Avian Haven.
To this day, the streak is still going
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