Tag Archives: Upolu

Great frigatebirds on the wing

This week’s Sunday Stills challenge theme is ‘Freedom.’ See more offerings here.

When Terri posts the Sunday Stills challenge themes for the month ahead, I usually check out what’s coming up. That way I can see what photos I have that fit the themes, or come up with ideas for what I could shoot.

When June’s themes were posted, my first thought for this one was of flying. Since the earliest of times, people have looked to the skies, watched birds, and envied their freedom of flight. Of the various birds I see here, the great frigatebird most epitomizes that freedom. These large birds cover great distances, gliding effortlessly across the sky, rarely flapping their wings but using the wind to maximum advantage.

I picked a couple of photos from my archives, expecting to use them since I hand’t seen any frigatebirds for many weeks. But a couple of days later, I saw one, though I didn’t get any good photos. That’s the other thing about these birds: they seem to have a knack for sneaking up on me, so that I usually notice them disappearing into the distance.

Over the next week or two, I saw a few more birds in similar situations. Then, one day, as I neared the coast below Upolu Airport, I saw a frigatebird flying into a strong wind. By the time I had my camera ready, it was again getting smaller. Still, I took photos and as I did so I saw a second bird, then a third. They continued heading east and I carried on down to the coast.

I hadn’t been there more than a couple of minutes when one of the birds shot by in front of me. It was pointing east, but heading north of west riding the stiff northeast trades that were blowing. A second followed, then a third, and a fourth that I hadn’t seen before. I expected them to quickly disappear on the wind, but once over the water, they regrouped and held their position, circling and gliding up and down. Then I noticed them edging back into and across the wind, heading my way. Slowly they came closer, still appearing to make little effort.

Eventually, the four of them passed directly overhead, the lowest maybe 20 feet above me. Almost immediately they turned and slipped back they way they came, only this time they kept going, gliding sideways in the general direction of Maui. I watched until I couldn’t see them anymore. The whole episode probably lasted no more than 15 minutes, but it seemed to last much longer.

I’m not much of a poetry buff, but these birds made me think of the opening lines of a poem called High Flight, written in 1941 by John Gillespie Magee Jr. when he was 19 and a pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force, stationed in England. They read:
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings.

Abstracts: Dong Fang

There’s a skydiving business that operates out of Upolu Airport and they have a blue shipping container inside the airport fence where they store gear. One day when I went down there, I saw a second container had been installed next to the first, creating an L-shaped setup.

I liked the logo on the container and took a photo, which was just as well since the next day the container had been repainted to match the other one.

Monk seal resting

When I first saw this monk seal on the North Kohala coast a couple of days ago, I thought it was IO5. He’s the seal I see most often in this part of the island. But as I got closer, I saw this one was a female. I took photos, including some of the red ID tag. I wasn’t sure if, at that distance, I’d be able to read it, but luckily I could make out ‘A2’ in a couple of photos. There was space after the ‘2’ as if a number had rubbed off, so I wondered if this was RA20, the monk seal who raised pups on a Kona beach in 2018 (here and here) and 2019 (here and here).

I sent the photos to the Big Island Hawaiian monk seal response network, which tracks the movements and welfare of the monk seals. They confirmed this was RA20 and was the first sighting of her since she was released from Ke Kai Ola Hawaiian Monk Seal Hospital after suffering from a bacterial infection. The hospital’s veterinarians think RA20 recently lost a pregnancy and that the infection may have caused, or resulted from, the loss.

The good news is that she certainly appeared healthy and in good shape when I saw her.

For more information about Hawaiian monk seals and Ke Kai Ola Hawaiian Monk Seal Hospital, go to www.marinemammalcenter.org/hawaii.

Upolu

I call this spot Fran Point since that’s the name on the cross in this photo. Here, a rainbow arches over the coast and the surf rolling in.
An endangered Hawaiian monk seal rests in a tide pool along the rocky shoreline.
A monarch butterfly on a tasselflower.

This week’s Sunday Stills challenge theme is ‘Favorite Place.’ See more offerings here.

I could think of several places on the Big Island that would fall into the category of favorite place. Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Palila Forest Discovery Trail, the ocean – all these are places I return to. But the coast at Upolu is where I go for exercise and to enjoy the ever-changing scene there.

This stretch of coast features scenic high cliffs interspersed with lower areas where tide pools nestle among the rocks. Often, there’s a great view of Maui across the ʻAlenuihāhā Channel. In those waters I look for humpback whales, turtles, monk seals, and once, even a passing shark. Up in the air I might see anything from plovers to noddys to great frigatebirds. On land, there’s an assortment of birds, bugs and butterflies to be seen, as well as horses, cattle, and the occasional wild pig.

Sometimes, it’s hot and dry, but usually there’s a decent breeze, occasionally strong enough to make me lean into it while blown dirt sandblasts my legs. Sometimes, I get caught in the rain, but when I do, I’m usually dry again by the time I get back to my truck.

I’ve lived here seven years now and I never tire of going down there and looping around the fenced airstrip, wondering what I’ll see.

A bristle-thighed curlew strides along the edge of the airstrip at Upolu.
A humpback whale cruises no more than 50 feet offshore. This was one of a pair that I saw just this past week. I suspect they were a male and female, with the male interested in mating before heading north to Alaska. Not only was this as close as I’ve seen whales, but it was the first time, from land, that I’ve heard a whale do anything other than blowing. In this case, the pursuing whale made a deep, two-toned mooing sound as it went by.

Halo around the sun

I was about to set out on one of my regular walks at Upolu, when I looked up and saw this halo around the sun. It’s the first I’ve seen here (which doesn’t mean there haven’t been others).

In days of yore, halos were considered a sign of impending bad weather. In this case, there’s some evidence to back that up. The ice crystals that cause halos are found in clouds, high in the troposphere, and these clouds are often a sign of an approaching weather front. Sure enough, the next day was fairly wet though, ironically, not in the area where I saw the halo.

Nenes and gosling

I’ve lived on the Big Island for more than seven years now, and I’ve seen lots of nene in that time. But until recently, I’d never seen a nene gosling. Then, a few weeks ago, I was driving and saw a pair of nenes with a gosling alongside the road. Alas, I couldn’t stop and take a photo at that time. I went back to the area later, but didn’t see the family again.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I was out on one of my regular walks around Upolu and I saw this family at the airport. The two parent birds were very attentive and the chick was just a little ball of fuzz.

When I see nene at Upolu, I call the information in to the East Hawai’i Division of Forestry and Wildlife. Forestry and Wildlife keep track of the birds and how they’re doing. Many birds are banded and, when I can, I record that information and pass it on. The bands can be seen in the photos, but not the details. However, I was able to get other pictures that showed the parent birds were 8A7 and 8A6. The color of the bands helps identify them and which leg the bands are on depends on the bird’s sex.

I saw this family again the next day, but not after that. It turned out that the Forestry and Wildlife people relocated the family because they felt that the airport was a dangerous place for the gosling, particularly as it grows and learns to fly.

Still, it was fun to see the little one when I did. It reminded me of the baby goats that I see around the island. Like them, it would busily follow its parents in foraging for food, then suddenly drop to the ground to rest, only to bounce up again soon after and peck away again.

Uh oh

There are few more disturbing sights than a portable toilet lying on its side. This one was at Upolu Airport, a victim of the strong winds which often blow there. I’d always thought the toilet was fastened to the fence behind it, but apparently not.

Luckily, I didn’t see any suspicious looking puddles, nor smell any untoward aromas, so the unit might have been empty.