Looming up from the sea, Big Island dwarves all the other islands in Hawaii, a great behemoth capable of ingesting all the other islands combined. Being so big the islands is remote and wild, the last bastion for many of Hawaii's endemic wildlife found nowhere else in the world. Geologically speaking its the newest of the Hawaiian islands, formed from volcanoes, some of which are still active. No one knows how the islands formed, why these volcanoes arose from the sea in an area that is geologically stable, they just shouldn't be there, scientifically speaking. But they are and its just part of the mystery of this strange planet.
We would spend four full days on this island, a time we would love in this beautiful paradise. We would visit a few areas of the island, but with limed time we were able to only see a small amount of the whole, the island was so vast. To see a lot of the rare endemic birds you would need a local guide, or some luck and a 4x4 because most of them are found in mainly inaccessible places. Places I didn't go to include Saddle Road and the west side of the island but I think I saw a lot in the time I had here.
Kaumana Lava Tubes, Hilo
The population of Big Island is sparse, centred on Hilo in the East and Kona in the West, with the interior mainly unpopulated. We stayed at Hilo, a small quaint, colonial, sugar plantation town with little trappings of tourism, which made it nice and laid-back when compared to some of the places on O'ahu (the island which holds Honolulu). It is a bit run down, a little bit shabby and like all Hawaii towns sprawls along the roads. Most of the towns in Big Island were like this and were very charming.
The town has some beautiful surroundings, making it a real tropical paradise. There were several waterfalls in the area, and there were some good lava tubes, holes caused by lava flows, strange atmospheric caves that go deep in the ground.
In one bay near the town we encountered a HONU (GREEN TURTLE), swimming around in shallow water, a nice find that would prove to be the last of that species we would see on the holiday.
There were a few waders about, there were some TURNSTONES, the same as the ones found in the UK, and some ULILI (WANDERING TATTLER), a fairly drab species except it has yellow legs which is rare in waders. Waders are rare on the islands because they are not on any migration high ways, being too remote, and there aren't really any habitat, such as mudflats, for them to feed on.
Around the parks, or anywhere there was grass, really, some colour was provided by the SAFFRON FINCH (S. America), an introduced bird found only on Big Island, a bird which turned out to be very common.
SAFFRON FINCH (S. America)
The poster child of the conservation movement, one of the few examples captive breeding in zoos has really had any positive effect to conservation is the NENE. When this species became rare in the wild, birds were taken and penned in places like Slimbridge, where they bred and produced chicks which were eventually released back in the wild, which succeeded in bolstering the wild population. However this success occurs only occasionally, and a lot of animals are kept in zoos in the name of conservation, when its really about exploiting them for money.
So why does a section on NENES occur with one about Hilo? You would think this town would be the last place to see such an endangered bird. But one of the delights of birding is finding birds in strange locations. You can really get a sense that this bird has evolved from canada geese when you see a pair in a park in Hilo. One of the most endangered birds in the world inhabiting a duck pond. They were only there for a short time, but after searching fruitlessly in Volcanoe National Park (see next post), it was a strange, but rewarding sight.
Pair of NENE hanging round a pond in the Japanese Gardens in Hilo
This was one endemic I had to see. After seeing so many in captivity its great to finally see some in the wild where they belong. It really makes a difference, to see them truly wild.
From our base in Hilo we would make several visits to Volcano National Park and areas to the north. As I have a lot to write they will appear in another post, so please keep reading.