Tag Archives: Palila

Feed the birds

A black-crowned night heron tries to eat a tilapia
A house finch eats tree heliotrope fruit

This week’s Sunday Stills challenge theme is ‘Feed the Birds.’ See more responses here.

In the top photo, this ambitious juvenile black-crowned night heron snaffled a tilapia from a large backyard pond. However, that was the easy part. I watched it for quite a while, trying to swallow the fish. It flew from the pond into a tree, then on to another one, before returning to the ground beyond some rocks. The fish was still in its beak, but no closer to reaching its stomach.

In the middle photo, a house finch chows down on the fruit of a tree heliotrope (Tournefortia argentea).

In the bottom photo, a palila feeds on a mamane (Sophora chrysophylla) seed pod. Typically, a palila will grab a pod from one place and then take it to another branch to eat it. It pins the green, immature seed pod to the branch, as in this photo, and then bashes away at it with its powerful beak. The seeds are poisonous, but palilas have developed an immunity to the toxins. The brown pods in this photo won’t be eaten by palilas. They will remain on the tree for a long time before dropping and hopefully producing more trees, though mamane seeds have quite low propagation rates.

A palila eats a mamane seed pod

Palila feeding

palila

I’ve made a couple of recent visits to the Palila Forest Discovery Trail, on the slopes of Mauna Kea, in search of palilas, an endangered Hawaiian honeycreeper. On one of those visits I was lucky enough to see this bird.

I wrote here about the first time I saw palilas, in late 2017. Those birds were feeding on immature mamane seed pods, one of their main foods. But the bird in this photo has what I think is a naio flower in its grip. The fruits and flowers of naio, otherwise known as false sandalwood, are the other main foods of the palila.

For more information about palila and the Palila Forest Discovery Trail, go to dlnr.hawaii.gov/restoremaunakea/palila-forest-discovery-trail/.

Palila Forest Discovery Trail

Palila on a branch

Palila with mamane seedI haven’t ever been a real birder, but since moving to Hawaii I’ve been more drawn to them. Because of this interest, one of my favorite places to visit on the Big Island is the Palila Forest Discovery Trail. Opened in July, 2016, this one mile loop trail passes through Mauna Kea’s unique, high-elevation dry forest.

The endangered palila (top two photos, eating a mamane seed), which I posted about previously here, is the signature bird to be seen there, but there are many other kinds of birds, both native and introduced, in the area. In addition, the trail has a good variety of other wildlife from bugs to wild pigs. To top it off, the views towards Mauna Loa (below) and Maui are wonderful.

Finally, the drive to the trail goes along Old Saddle Road, which is a fun drive and a place where I often see pueos, the native Hawaiian owl, as well as wild turkeys and other birds and wildlife. All in all, a trip I never tire of making.

The Palila Forest Discovery Trail is featured on the Hawaii Island Coast to Coast Trail, a selection of sites that offer birding opportunities on the Big Island. For more information about Hawaii Island Coast to Coast Trail, go to hawaiibirdingtrails.hawaii.gov/.

For more information about Palila Forest Discovery Trail, go to dlnr.hawaii.gov/restoremaunakea/palila-forest-discovery-trail/.

Posted in response to the WordPress photo challenge, ‘Favorite place’.

View of Mauna Loa from Palila trail

Palila

 

This week’s posts are on the theme of the WordPress photo challenge, ‘Tour Guide.’

A myriad of unique species evolved on these isolated islands. Many have disappeared, victims of other species introduced willfully or accidentally, decimated by new-to-them diseases, or simply displaced by the relentless encroachment of humans.

Of those that still survive, many are under great threat. However, there are success stories. Nēnē, the state bird, have come back from almost nothing and are doing well. Some ‘amakihi appear to have developed resistance to avian malaria, and ‘alalā, the Hawaiian crow, have recently been reintroduced into the wild in small numbers in an attempt to reestablish a wild population.

The palila is another endemic species that is rebounding with a little help. It is the only one of 16 finch-billed honeycreepers still in existence. It used to live on the islands of O’ahu, Kaua’i and Hawai’i. Today it exists only on Hawai’i, the Big Island. Even here, it’s habitat, which once covered the māmane forests of Mauna Kea, Hualali and Mauna Loa, has been reduced to a small area on the southwestern slopes of Mauna Kea.

The palila is a specialist feeder and this is one of the reasons it’s in trouble. It feeds mostly on immature seeds of the māmane, but māmanes have been badly affected by agricultural expansion and by grazing by wild sheep and goats.

The Palila Forest Discovery Trail is an area that has been fenced off and is protected from these threats. I’d been up there several times (four-wheel drive required) but had never caught so much as a glimpse of a palila. One of the reasons for their elusiveness is that palilas follow their food. Māmane flowers at different times depending on the elevation, so palila move up and down the hillside as the flowers bloom and the seeds reach the state they prefer.

Last time I was up there, however, my luck changed. I was taking photos of a moth when something flashed by just above me. I looked round and sitting on a nearby branch was a palila (I’m not a birder, but they’re quite distinctive.).

I quickly snapped a few photos, desperate to get some kind of record of this elusive bird before it disappeared. I needn’t have worried. It seemed unconcerned by my presence and was soon joined by several others. What was most striking was their feeding habit. A palila would pluck a green seed pod and take it to another branch. Once it was settled, the reason for its it stocky bill became apparent. It absolutely hammered at the pod, pinning it to the branch and banging away with its beak to access the seeds. The image of a workman smashing concrete with a pneumatic drill popped into my mind.

For half an hour or so I got to watch them at work. They seemed much like other birds I see — lively, healthy, a thriving group. But looking around, it was a sobering thought to realize I could see all their habitat, containing all that is left of an entire species.

For more information about palila and the Palila Forest Discovery Trail, go to dlnr.hawaii.gov/restoremaunakea/palila-forest-discovery-trail/.

For more information about birding on the Big Island, go to http://hawaiibirdingtrails.hawaii.gov/.