I’m very grateful for being able to attempt a birding Big Year in our 50th state. It’s as difficult as you may think it is. Imagine being on the peaks of the largest volcanoes on the planet surrounded by at least 2,400 miles of ocean to the nearest continental land mass. We tolerate more than two seasons in the islands, wet and dry, and can’t forget about mango, lychee, avocado, persimmon, surf and hula competition seasons. Every soil and almost all climate types on the planet can be found in the islands as well. In just a few miles you can find yourself in an area where more than 100 inches of rain fall each year and an area where it rains less than 40 inches.
John Foster Dulles (former U.S. Secretary of State) said, “The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it is the same problem you had last year.” As many birders who have attempted a Big Year more than once understand the struggles, I mean, the fun challenges are not the same each year.
This is only my second attempt at a Big Year ever, and both in the Hawaiian Islands. Unlike the other 49 States, here in the islands there are no roads connecting each county (Kauai, Honolulu, Kalawao, Maui, and Hawaii). Inter-island flights, et cetera are required but I won’t go any further about finances other than to say ‘Go for Broke’ (famous Hawaiian-Creole English motto used for the U.S. Army’s 442nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team).
The first six months of my Big Year Hawaii 2013 is not surprisingly different from last year. Halfway though 2013, I moved from Oahu to Maui. Will it make a difference? Probably. We shall see. I’m not complaining but only one first state record was seen this year so far by local birders, an American Bittern (Oahu by Pete Donaldson) compared to at least three by this time in 2012: Surfbird (Oahu by Eric VanderWerf), White-winged Tern (Molokai by Arleone Dibben-Young), and Elegant Tern (Big Island by Darren Dowell). Those 2012 birds helped me go over the 140 species mark, I finished the calendar year with 142 species.
Despite fewer first records, the most exciting bird was seen during the first week of the year, an Iiwi, a very rare Hawaiian honeycreeper on Oahu. This is a species easily seen on certain islands and yet this sighting was satisfying since I was able to share it with a group of folks during the Waipio Christmas Bird Count on Oahu. I never thought I would be able to see an Iiwi on Oahu, I seriously thought I was too late since it’s so close to being another Oahu extinction. The morning hours started off with gusty tradewinds (over 30 mph) and passing showers, hardly a day to expect to see any birds, or hear them. This day served as another reminder that we can make interesting bird observations in uncomfortable weather.
Other highlights so far this year:
The Cattle Egret was the first highlight of the year and not only because it was the first species for 2013. This is also THE species responsible for my interest in birding way back in elementary school. Some conservationists may label them as invasive species but I can never hate them, they are too beautiful and they work so darn hard ridding the islands of pesky insects, even at night under the street lights’ glow.
A vagrant species, the Common Tern is always a treat to see in Hawaii. This adult in winter plumage was present on Oahu’s North Shore, James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge, Kii Unit since Fall 2012 through the winter months in early 2013.
Another vagrant species, Red-breasted Merganser was a brief one day wonder at Ka’elepulu Wetland, Kailua, Oahu.
The Spring 2012 Surfbird was a pleasant surprise in late February 2013. This is more than likely the same bird except in breeding plumage. Who knows if it attempted to fly up to Alaska for the summer, I hope it returns.
April 2013 was a great month for spring shorebirds (Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge) and pelagic seabirds (Kona Coast, Big Island). A breeding plumaged Western Sandpiper was an awesome treat, although it’s labeled as a winter resident, they seem to be vagrants by their infrequent appearances. Relatively large numbers of Band-rumped Storm-Petrels, a Leach’s Storm-Petrel, and an Arctic Tern were unexpected pelagic species off the Big Island. A very easy Wilson’s Phalarope stuck around at the end of April for at least a couple weeks at a mitigation pond behind a shopping center in Kihei, Maui.
In mid-June, I finally got to hear a beautiful song given by an adult male Maui Parrotbill (critically endangered Hawaiian Honeycreeper) at Waikamoi Preserve on the slopes of Mount Haleakala (House of the Sun). This species could be listed as a half-miss since I’d still like to actually see it at some point this year.
The misses so far this year included:
Tundra Swan – Molokai
Peregrine Falcon – Oahu
Curlew Sandpiper – Molokai
Belted Kingfisher – Hawaii
Yellow-faced Grassquit – Oahu
Red-masked Parakeet – Oahu
Needs that are still possible:
Snow Goose – Kauai
Gambel Quail – Kahoolawe
Black-footed Albatross – Oahu and Kauai
Newell’s Shearwater – Kauai
Mitred Parakeet – Maui
Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush – Kauai
My Big Year attempt is by no means a hard-core effort to break my personal record from last year. I was really lucky in 2012 and I’m very grateful. I’m just doing what I can, when I can. This year’s goals include answering a few questions such as – Was 2012 just an anomaly? Should I make this a yearly habit since the Hawaiian honeycreepers are declining too quickly? Will my Big Year Hawaii 2013 help bring attention to Hawaiian birding to my fellow birders across our country and beyond? I’m very grateful to my fellow American Birding Association members.