Postcards from Kaua'i

Newark Airport, Friday, July 17, 1998

We've been planning this trip for almost a year, ever since Lee's father Charles let slip that he regretted never having gotten to Hawai'i. At dinner on Christmas Eve, Lee, his youngest brother Lewis, and I told Charles that we would be taking him to Kaua'i in July to celebrate his ninetieth birthday. He was stunned and obviously very pleased, as Lee described the beach house we've rented for the week. We knew the surprise had begun to sink in when half an hour later Charles said, "I don't suppose I'll be allowed to dig up plants and bring them home?" (He is an inveterate collector of wildflowers, though he usually limits himself to collecting at sites that are about to be bulldozed.) We regretfully told him that the quarantine laws are very strict but that we hoped we would be able to purchase some plants for him that had been inspected and approved for taking to the mainland.

Since then, we've all had half a year to anticipate and to worry about such matters as getting a photo id for Charles, swim suits for everybody, etc.

Lee and I have had a week that has been unusually fraught, even for us (Lee has pulled two all-nighters), so we were a bit ragged by the time we arrived at the McCutchen this afternoon for the surprise 90th birthday party. (The McCutchen is the Quaker home for the elderly in which Charles lives and on whose board both Charles and Lee serve.)

By the time we arrived, there were cars everywhere, which gave us an idea of the turnout even before we walked into the building and found the big downstairs diningroom overflowing with people. Charles later told us that he'd been told that somebody wanted to see him downstairs and had gone down and found this enormous crowd and had hardly had the courage to walk in the door. (He really thought that he had convinced everybody not to give him a birthday party.) By the time we arrived, however, he was happily greeting his many friends. (With all the hugging and laughter, he never did get a piece of his own birthday cake.) A table was heaped with cards and presents, including lovely flowers and flowering plants.

It was really heart-warming to see so many people there. One of the first with whom I chatted was Charles' music appreciation teacher from Learning for Life, who described him as "one of the few remaining gentlemen". The nice man who had volunteered for the job of dishing out the ice cream was Charles' favorite bus driver from his weekly trips into New York to work in the Yearly Meeting office. When the mailman on the route stopped by to deliver the day's mail, he too came in to greet Charles and left with a plate of cake and ice cream.

I especially enjoyed talking with the Blatt's (she retired recently as the head nurse at the McCutchen). Mr. Blatt lived on Kaua'i for six months during World War II and told us about things to see and do there. His job then had been to build roads, and he described being horrified at having to bulldoze down enormous orchid plants.

There have actually been celebrations going on for days, as friends have taken Charles out to lunch and so on. He was especially delighted on Wednesday evening when Lee's middle brother Neil phoned from San Francisco to say that he will meet us all for dinner when we stop there on our trip home. Another friend phoned a few days ago and told Charles to get ready, as he was planning a surprise trip; it turned out to be a very pleasant day at the shore. And today for lunch one of the cooks prepared a very special meal just for Charles, wonton soup and a delicious Chinese noodle dish.

When the party was over, we carried all of the presents up to Charles' room (leaving them for him to open on his return), stuck the cards in a briefcase for reading in Hawai'i, and headed off for Newark Airport. (I realized after I'd gathered up many of the cards that I might be separating cards from gifts, which will be a problem for him on his return--oh, dear!)

The four of us were soon settled in adjoining rooms in one of the airport hotels. The hotel restaurant turned out to be surprisingly good (I had broiled red snapper with a tomato basil sauce on a bed of apple chutney).

At dinner Charles told us that a few days ago he had a very vivid dream (the sort that is so real that when you wake up you wonder at first whether it really happened). In the dream we were already on Kaua'i and each day he walked down the road a short way to visit some unusually small bantam chickens in a neighbor's yard. Before we left to fly home, the neighbor packed half a dozen of them into a box that Charles could carry on his lap in the airplane. (Charles was given his first bantam hens by his grandfather when he was 6 or 7 years old and had "banties" as pets all his life until he retired and moved to a lakeside cottage where there were weasels.)

That gave Lee the opportunity to tell his father something especially nice about Kaua'i, which is that wild Red Junglefowl live there. (These Junglefowl are the progenitors of domestic chickens. They were brought to Hawai'i by the Polynesians and once ran wild over all of the islands. Since Europeans introduced the mongoose, however, the wild Junglefowl no longer exist on any of the islands, except Kaua'i, which blessedly has never had mongooses.) Charles was delighted when we told him that we are hoping to be able to show him Junglefowl on Kaua'i. "I've seen them on a program on Channel 13, but I never expected to see them with my own eyes!"

We have just received a happy birthday phone message from Charles' grand-nephew Mark and his wife Amy and are off to bed in preparation for an early flight tomorrow.

Kaua'i, Saturday, July 18, 1998

We were all up and dressed and packed in time to take a van from the hotel to the terminal at 6:00 this morning. Charles has a policy of really talking to the people he encounters, rather than treating them like automata, so while we were waiting for the van we got into a friendly conversation with the Colombian bellman, who was soon wishing Charles a happy birthday and telling us about his long-lived relatives back home.

Today is Charles' actual birthday, so we tried to make the day festive despite spending most of it on airplanes. We had a light breakfast at the airport, and soon other people passing our table were also congratulating Charles on his birthday.

When I mentioned that I'm reading Mark Twain's Letters from Hawaii, Charles told us that his father had once taken the train to Philadelphia to hear Twain lecture (this was when Charles was a very small child) and after the lecture he had bought a photograph of Twain in a white suit with a kitten on his shoulder, which Twain had autographed for him. Charles remembers that his parents had the photograph framed and that it hung in the back parlor throughout his childhood. It disappeared at some point, alas, as neither Lee nor Lewis could remember having seen it. (They grew up in the house that Charles' parents moved into shortly after he was born.)

From Twain's description of his night-time visit to the Kilauea volcano on the "big island" of Hawai'i:

The greater part of the vast floor of the desert under us was as black as ink, and apparently smooth and level; but over a mile square of it was ringed and streaked and striped with a thousand branching streams of liquid and gorgeously brilliant fire! It looked like a colossal railroad map of the State of Massachusetts done in chain lightning on a midnight sky. Imagine it--imagine a coal-black sky shivered in a tangled network of angry fire!

Here and there were gleaming holes twenty feet in diameter, broken in the dark crust, and in them the melted lava--the color a dazzling white just tinged with yellow--was boiling and surging furiously; and from these holes branched numberless bright torrents in many directions, like the "spokes" of a lady's fan, and kept a tolerably straight course for a while and then swept round in huge rainbow curves, or made a long succession of sharp worm-fence angles, which looked precisely like the fiercest jagged lightning. These streams met other streams, and they mingled with and crossed and recrossed each other in every conceivable direction, like skate tracks on a popular skating ground. Sometimes streams twenty or thirty feet wide flowed from the holes to some distance without dividing--and through the opera glasses we could see that they ran down small, steep hills and were genuine cataracts of fire, white at their source, but soon cooling and turning to the richest red, grained with alternate lines of black and gold.

Every now and then masses of the dark crust broke away and floated slowly down these streams like rafts down a river. Occasionally the molten lava flowing under the superincumbent crust broke through--split a dazzling streak, from five hundred to a thousand feet long, like a sudden flash of lightning, and then acre after acre of the cold lava parted into fragments, turned up edgewise like cakes of ice when a great river breaks up, plunged downward and were swallowed in the crimson cauldron.

Kaua'i is the oldest of the major Hawaiian islands. It long ago passed over the "hot spot" in the earth's mantle that formed all of these islands (and the Emperor Seamounts stretching in an arc to the west) and has had no volcanic activity for at least a million years, so we won't be seeing sights like the ones Twain described, but Kaua'i is called "the Garden Isle", and it is flowers (and birds, of course) that we've mainly come to see.

Our flights from Newark to San Francisco and from San Francisco to Honolulu were comfortable and uneventful. On the leg to Honolulu, the flight attendants presented Charles with a large bottle of champagne in honor of his birthday. He thanked them so graciously that they never guessed that a 90-year-old Quaker hasn't much use for a bottle of champagne. He was worried about what we could do with it, however, so I suggested that there would surely be somebody during the week to whom we would want to give it as a gesture of our appreciation.

We were eager to show him the beautiful gardens in the Honolulu Airport, though it meant rather a lot of walking for him. When we stopped for cool drinks along the way, I dashed into a florist shop to get him an orchid lei to celebrate his birthday in Hawaiian style.

He was delighted with the garden, which is full of big tropical plants, many in bloom, and with its pond full of enormous goldfish. (As we had expected, the only birds in the garden were two extremely common introduced birds, the Red-vented Bulbul and the Common Myna (both from India).)

We had time to take a good many photographs and to smell a good many blossoms, and then we were off for a very short flight to Lihu'e, the largest town and county seat of Kaua'i. The plane didn't have assigned seating, so we decided to declare Charles to be "in need of extra time boarding the aircraft" and all went on during the "pre-board". (There should be some benefits to being 90.)

We had a quick view of jagged mountains on one side and of the sea on the other as the plane landed at Lihu'e. Charles and I sat on a bench by a pleasant garden with a view of wonderful mountains while Lee and Lewis collected the luggage and fetched the rental car.

We were barely in Lihu'e when we saw our first Junglefowl, some hens and their half-grown young in a small park. There were several more later as we drove along, including roosters with lavish curving tails of shiny black feathers.

We stopped in Lihu'e to buy groceries and then had dinner in a small diner with very good, amazingly cheap food. (I had a delicious spicy noodle dish and Charles, who is a seafood fan, had his first huge Hawaiian shrimp and his first mahi-mahi.) The diner is also a bakery, so we bought apple turnovers for our breakfast before leaving.

We had to drive much of the way around the island to get to the small town of Ha'ena, which is on the north shore, close to the end of the road. (There is one main road, which doesn't quite encircle the island. It doesn't go all the way around the island because the Na Pali coast is so rough and steep that building a road there would be very expensive, as well as being a desecration. The steep cliffs of the Na Pali coast were formed when part of the island broke off and slumped into the sea long ago.)

We had wonderful sunset views over the sea along the way, and there were always mountains in view, too, the steepest mountains I've ever seen. There were many more Junglefowl along the road and many, many Cattle Egrets, most of them in breeding plumage. (Although Cattle Egrets have spread from Africa to North America, South America, and Australia on their own, they were purposely introduced here in 1959. Some of them now have their own horses.)

By the time we reached the street where our house is, dusk had fallen so we had a bit of a struggle finding the house. We quickly unloaded the car, stored the groceries, and apportioned out the bedrooms. Charles was delighted with the big bamboo bed in his very comfortable room at the back of the house on the ground floor with a view of the sea. All of the bedrooms have ceiling fans above the beds and jalousie windows beside them, which should make for pleasant sleeping.

We have just taped strips of aluminum foil along the edges of the dark wooden steps that lead down into the sunken livingroom (so that Charles will be able to see them) and are now ready to fall into our bed with the roar of the surf in our ears.

Kaua'i, Sunday, July 19, 1998

I woke very early this morning (we moved west six time zones yesterday) and sat on the back deck watching the sunrise over the ocean. The clouds were dramatically streaked in peach and grey.

The deck looks over a beautifully landscaped back yard, about 30 feet deep. Beyond that is a rocky beach for another 30-40 feet, and then the ocean. The reef about 500 feet out always has a white froth of waves breaking over it.

Among the plants blooming in the garden are huge lacy white lillies that we first saw along the Daintree estuary in Australia. I'd never been close enough before to see the purple stamina. In the side yard, an oleander tree is in blossom.

Before long, I noticed a flock of Red Junglefowl in the garden next door, where somebody had thrown out bread scraps. So much for the English muffins we bought last evening! They were soon broken up in a heap on the lawn, and we soon had Junglefowl in our yard, too. At 7, I woke Charles so he could see them, and the others joined us on the deck in time to see a fat mother hen bring her six beautiful chicks to feed on the bits of muffin. The mother has lovely markings--she is speckled and splotched all in shades of beige. The chicks are quite unlike the all-yellow chicks of domestic chickens; they have brown stripes across their eyes and down their backs. (Lewis described them accurately as looking "like chipmunks".)

I finally roused myself to fix some breakfast and was astonished to glance out the kitchen window and see a mountain just a few hundred feet away, going straight up but covered with greenery, looking much like the mountains in Chinese paintings.

The kitchen has every possible appliance, but I managed to figure things out well enough to heat the turnovers. The dining room also looks out to the mountains and has a long table under a ceiling fan. With Charles' orchid lei in a shallow bowl on the table and glasses of guava-strawberry juice to drink, we had a very tropical breakfast.

We were all ready for a nice quiet day, spent mostly sitting on the back deck looking at the sea and the sky (many wonderful shades of blue and turquoise) and at the birds coming to feed in the yard. By late in the day, our "backyard list" was up to ten:

     Brown Booby     Great Frigatebird    Red Junglefowl
     Cattle Egret    Spotted Dove         Zebra Dove
     Common Myna     Northern Cardinal    Red-crested Cardinal
                     House Sparrow

The Boobies fished along the surf over the reef much of the afternoon, giving us nice views. They are relatively easy to identify because the dark brown of the head and neck is separated from the white of the belly by a very sharp line.

Charles was the first to spot the Egret, flying right through our yard ("so big I thought it was a condor"); later the Frigatebird passed low above us.

The Red-crested Cardinal is a really pretty bird (introduced from South America). It is shaped just like our Northern Cardinal, but it is a different red, more of a tomato color. It is red only on the head and a "V" of the neck; then there is a white collar and vest; the rest of the bird is a grey-pin-stripe grey. The juveniles are the same, except for being a mustard color where the adults are tomato.

The other cardinals also have young begging to be fed, as do the sparrows. Males of both species of dove keep fanning their tails and bowing and cooing to the females with high hopes but little success.

(None of these birds, except the Booby and the Frigatebird, occurs here naturally, of course. The native lowland birds are all extinct, except for some waterbirds. Most of the introduced birds were brought here to control pests or for their songs. Many of the songbirds came as cage birds; others were introduced by a ladies club whose purpose was to introduce songbirds.)

When we found time to read the newspapers we got in Honolulu yesterday, we saw that the tsunami in New Guinea is being given very detailed coverage in this land of tsunamis. (There is an extensive network of tsunami detectors, and one sees sirens on poles in every town, but those can help only if the wave starts fairly far away. The real disasters are the big waves caused by landslides nearby, an always present danger on islands that are being eroded and undercut by the sea.)

After preparing a simple lunch, I disappeared for a nap, while the guys went out to buy postcards and chicken feed. They couldn't find any cracked corn, so more English muffins will have to do for now.

After I woke, I finally explored the house, which is very handsomely decorated, with wonderful terracotta tiles and a lovely art collection, much of it Japanese.

Lee had bought some nice fresh pasta (flown in from Oregon), so I made dinner for us, ending with a selection of the local critically-acclaimed Lappert's ice cream (chocolate, macadamia nut, and caramel-cashew-turtle cluster), which Lee had read about and had been looking for.

At dinner, Lewis cleared up the mystery of Charles' having received a birthday card from President and Mrs. Clinton. He explained that he had written to the appropriate office in the White House months ago to arrange for it.

I've been reading Doris Lessing's London Observed: Stories and Sketches. From In Defence of the Underground:

I like travelling by Underground. This is a defiant admission....

A young black man sits dreaming, his ears wired to his Walkman, and his feet jig gently to some private rhythm. He wears clothes more expensive, more stylish, than anyone else in this travelling room. Next to him is an Indian woman with a girl of ten or so. They wear saris that show brown midriffs as glossy as toffee, but they have cardigans over them. Butterfly saris, workaday cardigans that make the statement, if you choose to live in a cold northern country, then this is the penalty. Never has there been a sadder sartorial marriage than saris with cardigans. They sit quietly conversing, in a way that makes the little girl seem a woman.

Kaua'i, Monday, July 20, 1998

We watched another beautiful sunrise over the sea this morning and then breakfasted on the last four English muffins, the only ones I had been able to resist feeding to the birds in our back yard.

We needed to go to Hanalei to check in with the real estate agent who rented us the house. (Yes, this is "the land of Hanelei" where Puff the Magic Dragon frolicked in the autumn mists.)

It was my first time to leave the house, so I was all eyes. I'd soon spotted several Hawaiian Coots in a nearby inlet. (They have a much larger frontal shield than the American Coot, and the shield is usually white rather than maroon.)

The most common tree here in the lowlands is the Hau, an hibiscus with yellow flowers. Typical of island species, it occupies a wide range of niches. It grows along ocean inlets with its feet in the water, looking just like a mangrove, but it also grows on the hillsides. We are told that the Hau wood is very light-weight and that the Polynesians used it for fishing floats and outriggers.

Some of the quieter inlets had yellow Hau flowers floating in them. The inlets look like Mangrove Kingfisher habitat to me and I couldn't help thinking that that ladies club might have introduced some kingfishers while they were at it. (There are kingfishers throughout Micronesia and Polynesia, a different form on every island, but none made it this far.)

We stopped on our way at the overlook for the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge. It was a stunningly beautiful sight, a very flat valley with precipitous mountains rising all around. The floor of the valley is divided into rectangular ponds for growing taro (the root of which is used to make poi). The whole scene glowed in shades of green and looked distinctly Japanese.

This refuge is a noted place for seeing waterbirds. The land has been taro farms for centuries. When the Government acquired it as a refuge (to prevent its being developed into a resort), the farmers were allowed to remain, as they were the ones who had created the waterbird habitat originally.

In the mist and rain, we could see no birds; we will return in better weather.

By the time we got to the town of Hanalei, the rain had ended. We were all fascinated by the tall pine trees we saw along the way, their branches in an open corkscrew pattern. We continued to see Junglefowl, Egrets, and many, many Mynas along the road. And the wonderful craggy green-carpeted mountains were never out of sight.

Our next goal was the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, well-known as the best place in Hawai'i to see seabirds (it's the nation's most visited refuge). A red-roofed white lighthouse stands near the end of a high rocky point projecting from the north shore of the island. The area was a de facto refuge when the lighthouse was manned; after the lighthouse was automated, the Coast Guard turned the land over to the Fish and Wildlife Service to become an official refuge.

In recent decades, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and Laysan Albatrosses have begun to nest here again. They were unsuccessful at first, because of dogs killing the chicks, but then fences were built to keep the dogs out and the colonies began to thrive.

This refuge suffered terribly in Hurricane 'Iniki (September 1992). All of the buildings were destroyed, as well as most of the new plantings of native plants (which had replaced the introduced plants that had been cleared with considerable effort). Damage to the fences allowed dogs to get into the refuge and kill more than 200 of the Shearwaters shortly after the storm.

We arrived in beautiful sunshine. As soon as we got out of the car, we caught sight of hundreds of white birds sitting in trees growing up the sides of the next point over. Our binoculars resolved them to Red-footed Boobies. There were white adults sitting near their primitive nests, and grey, fluffy babies still in the nests, some of them stretching their wings, and brown juveniles (which have brown feet) flying about and practicing landing. Below them, where the grey cliff entered the sea, were two large sea caves. As we walked further out the point, we could see that the nesting Boobies must number in the thousands.

Near the path, we began to encounter signs that said "Birds Only Beyond Here". The sandy hillside was peppered with burrows similar to the penguin burrows we saw along the south coast of Australia, but these were the burrows of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters. In some places a portion of the sidewalk was roped off to keep people from walking too near an occupied Shearwater burrow. We saw several of the Shearwaters sitting in their burrows incubating their eggs. They are a pretty grey bird with a long hooked bill. They didn't seem perturbed by the people passing so near (and pausing to stare), but they averted their gaze.

The air over the point was filled with birds, Shearwaters, Boobies (both adults and juveniles, who seem to like to practice flying in the thermals over the point), and both Red-tailed and White-tailed Tropicbirds. I was enchanted by the Tropicbirds; they are remarkably graceful and acrobatic. The Red-tailed ones seem to be nesting in the rocky cliff below the lighthouse (they nest only in seaward-facing cliffs). They are very streamlined birds, mostly white with red bills and two very long thin red streamers that are difficult to see unless the birds are fairly nearby. They were a joy to watch in their grace.

We had only a few of the White-tailed Tropicbirds, which are at least as graceful as the Red-tailed. And there were Great Frigatebirds, too (with white on their breasts, so they were either females or juveniles). They are said not to nest here, however.

The cliff on the other side had Laysan Albatrosses nesting, but we could not see any of the nesting birds. I know there were albatrosses flying about over the point, but I realized after we'd come away that I didn't have a good picture of one in my mind. (This was my first experience of seabirds en masse and I was somewhat dazzled.)

From the point, we had lovely views along the coast in both directions, and in the water far below us we could see a pod of thousands of Spinner Dolphins porpoising along across the bay.

There were so many birds flying about us that it was like being inside a snowglobe filled with birds rather than snowflakes. I could have stayed all day. We left soon, though, after a brief visit to the nice shop, where I got Lee a brochure about the Midway Atoll NWR, a place that even he had never thought of travelling to.

We stopped in Lihu'e for lunch and, more importantly, to buy cracked corn and bird seed for our yard birds.

On the drive home, the deep sea was an incredible rich blue and the shallows were an equally incredible turquoise. The surf was up and the beaches abounded with swimmers and surfers and kayakers.

We spent a quiet afternoon talking and reading and watching the birds. Big Mamma took to the cracked corn immediately and quickly taught her chicks to eat it too.

I spent some time again studying the native birds that Lee and I hope to see in the mountains tomorrow. The honeycreepers are still confusing me, as their names seem very similar to an eye unaccustomed to Hawaiian words. (Only 13 letters are used in the Hawaiian alphabet, plus the "glottal stop", usually printed as a reverse apostrophe, which is just a sign that the two adjacent letters are not part of the same syllable.)

From Hawaii's Beautiful Birds (H. Douglas Pratt, 1996):

Scientists believe that among the first birds to colonize the Hawaiian islands was a rather undistinguished species of finch related to such mainland birds as goldfinches, crossbills, and redpolls. This seed-eating finch founded a dynasty that became the dominant group among Hawaiian forest birds. We know them today as the Hawaiian honeycreepers, because many species feed on nectar, but in fact they exhibit a range of variations unequalled in any continental bird family. Unfortunately, many of the variants are now extinct, but enough survive to provide an exciting picture of the phenomenon scientists call adaptive radiation.
From the foreword to Enjoying Birds in Hawaii (also H. Douglas Pratt, 1993):
Island birds are special. Worldwide, island species are often the most unusual members of their families. The more isolated the island group, the more its birds stand apart from their continental ancestors. Hawaii's birds are special indeed because these islands are the world's most isolated archipelago. From any direction, birds have to cross at least 2,500 miles of open sea to reach the larger islands. Over the eons only a few small land birds have done so, and even fewer have come in large enough numbers to colonize. Scientists estimate that only one colonizer succeeded every 100,000 years! These few were the ancestors of all of Hawaii's native land birds.

Seabirds and waterfowl could make the sea crossing more easily, and some found these isolated, predator-free islands ideal nesting grounds. Likewise, shorebirds could easily reach the islands but few of them became residents. Instead, they became annual winter visitors to what is still regarded as an earthly paradise.

And what an avian paradise it must have been! With no ground-dwelling predators such as mammals and snakes (which could not make the ocean crossing), birds no longer had to fly to survive and many became flightless. Likewise bird diseases were left behind on the continents, along with vectors such as mosquitoes that might have spread diseases from migrants.

Because the successful colonizers left behind their competitors, they were free to change in ways that would not have been possible in their native homes. Many new species evolved as birds successfully colonized the different islands. Thus was built up a native avifauna. But the very factors that made the Hawaiian Islands such a brave new avian world for birds also left the birds vulnerable to subsequent changes.

About 10,000 years ago, mankind first discovered the Hawaiian Islands. These Polynesian explorers brought with them not only the seeds of their food plants, but the seeds of destruction as well. The Polynesians brought chickens, dogs, pigs, and, unintentionally, rats. The first Hawaiians made short work of the defenseless flightless birds and burned off the native forests to make way for agriculture. By the late 1700s, almost all of the lowlands of the main islands were under cultivation. Nearly half the species that evolved in the islands had by then perished. We know of their existence only from recently discovered subfossil remains.

But the Polynesian settlers were only the first part of a one-two human punch. The arrival of Captain James Cook in 1778 brought the islands to the attention of the outside world for the first time, and new changes were swift in coming. Habitat destruction continued apace, and extended further up the mountains. Alien plants and animals proved in all too many cases to be weeds and pests. European diseases decimated the native Hawaiian people and the introduction of mosquitoes by a spiteful ship captain in the 1820s provided a vector for avian diseases that would do the same to the birds. By the mid-19th Century, the lowlands of Oahu were so devoid of songbirds that appeals went out to travellers to bring back foreign birds for introduction.

Then, around the turn of the 20th Century, birds began to disappear mysteriously from seemingly untouched forests on the neighbor islands. Whole species were swept away in a sudden wave of extinction. Epizootic disease is thought to have been the culprit, partly because it would explain the rapidity of the catastrophe and partly because distributions of surviving species today seem to be determined by the presence or absence of disease-carrying mosquitoes. These insects are found mostly in the lowlands up to about 4,000 ft. and native birds are rarely found below that elevation, even in seemingly pristine native forests.

Following the turn-of-the-century declines, Hawaii's birds entered a period of relative tranquility. Rare species did not necessarily recover, but neither did any further species become extinct until about 1970. In fact, several species were "rediscovered" in the 1950s and 1960s. Now, as the 21st Century approaches, Hawaii's avifauna seems poised for a new wave of extinctions already begun with the loss of the Kauai Oo in the late 1980s. Over half of the birds on the Federal List of Endangered Species are Hawaiian. The cumulative burden of modern mankind's various offenses against the environment are proving intolerable for sensitive relict species such as the Poo-uli.

Our field guide (A Field Guide to the Birds of Hawaii and the Tropical Pacific, also by Pratt) describes the Kaua'i O'o as "one of the finest singers of Hawaii's native birds". But it is never to be heard again.

Lee and Lewis went out to get us pizzas for dinner. "What a treat!", said Charles, who never gets pizza at home.

For dessert, there was a fresh, ripe pineapple, the best any of us had ever had.

Kaua'i, Tuesday, July 21, 1998

From The Birdwatcher's Guide to Hawai'i (Rick Soehren, 1996):
Adjacent to Koke'e State Park is the Alaka'i Wilderness Preserve, whose principal feature is the Alaka'i Swamp. This area is famous for being the last stronghold of several critically endangered forest birds, including the Kaua'i O'o or O'o A'a, 'Akialoa, Nukupu'u, O'u, Kama'o, and Puaiohi. Most birders would love to get a glimpse of these rare creatures, but there are compelling reasons not to try. First, and sadly, several of them are probably already extinct. The 'Akialoa has not been sighted since the 1960s. Only a single O'o has been seen since Hurricane 'Iwa devastated the island in 1982, and even this lonely bird has not been detected since 1988, despite determined efforts. Before Hurricane 'Iniki the others were clinging tenuously to existence, with only the Puaiohi surviving in numbers that offered any real hope of avoiding extinction. A bird survey of the Alaka'i in 1994 turned up seventeen Puaiohi, but none of the other six endangered species. In 1995 a Nukupu'u was reported from Alaka'i Swamp Trail. Lack of sightings doesn't necessarily mean the O'u and Kama'o are extinct, but it suggests extremely low numbers.
In 1995, Pratt wrote, "Of the rarer birds, only the Puaiohi has definitely been seen since Hurricane Iniki, although a possible audio of Kamao has been reported." He added, "The Akikiki has been increasingly difficult to find".

Lee and I were up at 4 this morning and were off quickly to drive much of the way around the island to meet the noted bird guide David Kuhn just past milepost 13 on the Waimea Canyon Road. We knew we had no hope of the seven species Soehren listed above, but we were hoping for the remaining seven forest endemics, 'Elepaio, 'Akeke'e, 'Anianiau, Kaua'i 'Amakihi, 'Apapane, 'I'iwi, and (fingers crossed) 'Akikiki.

(Now you can understand why I've been having trouble getting my mind around the names; although I had clear images of each of these birds in my head, the names were very loosely attached to the images, except for 'Apapane, a lovely scarlet bird we saw in an air-conditioned aviary at the Honolulu Zoo years ago, and 'I'iwi, which is the canonical Hawaiian bird, a gorgeous bright vermilion bird with black wings and a long curved red bill.)

In the early morning darkness, we had a sliver of new moon and a bright morning star above us. We drove many miles before encountering another car.

Mark Twain called Waimea Canyon "the Grand Canyon of the Pacific" with some justification, but we rushed past it without pausing to savor the view, which we will save for another day. The road climbed steadily from sea level to 4,000 feet. Along the Canyon Road, we spotted several Erckel's Francolins, handsome chestnut-crowned game birds introduced from Somalia in 1964.

Although we had had heavy rain in Ha'ena overnight, the land on this side of the island was extremely dry, and many of the roadside bushes were dead or dying.

More startling was the fact that there were grey skeletons of large trees everywhere along the road. I was reminded of Mt. St. Helens. Later, we asked David Kuhn why so many trees had died and he explained that they were killed by Hurricane 'Iniki. Although the hurricane had not knocked the trees over, it had stripped them of such a high percentage of their leaves that they could no longer photosynthesize and had died. Pratt wrote in 1993:

In September 1992, unprecedentedly powerful Hurricane Iniki devastated Kauai. Destruction was island-wide, and many forests lost their entire canopy. Native forests of koa and ohia were severely damaged, but fared better than introduced ones of eucalypts, albizzia, and silk oak. Throughout the island, such exotic forests, as well as plantations of macadamia nut, guava, and papaya, were leveled. Birds of the high forest did what they have always done [i.e., go to the lowlands]. Apapane were seen in Kalaheo!
(Of course, 'Apapane coming down to sea level like that risked acquiring a mosquito-borne disease.)

David was waiting for us. He is a sturdy-looking man with a quiet smile and a touch of grey in his trim beard. He has lived on Kaua'i for ten years, long enough to have witnessed some of the extinctions, and clearly cares deeply about the native birds and plants.

We got into his four-wheel drive vehicle and rode with him several miles to the start of the Alaka'i Swamp Trail. He pointed out Nutmeg Mannikins and White-rumped Shamas (both introduced from Asia) along the way. I was surprised that there were Mynas up so high. When I mentioned that, David told us that he has a tame Myna that comes and goes through an opening in his cabin wall.

As we drove along, David told us that the drought on this part of the island is so bad that many of the birds have not bred this year. He has seen fledglings of almost all of the species, but in far fewer numbers than usual. He added that usually the birding is very easy this time of year because one can just wait for the food-begging calls of the young to lead one to family units, but that won't be as likely this year. He added that we should not be too hopeful of seeing an 'Akikiki, as he has seen them on only three of his 50-60 trips this year.

We were just parking the car at the trailhead when a State of Hawai'i car drove up and two uniformed men asked us to move the car to the very edge of the parking area because a helicopter would be landing there soon. (Though we've read that helicopters are not allowed to fly over the park, one would never have guessed that from the number of helicopters we saw and, worse, heard during the morning.)

The trail ran right along a ridge and had been built originally as a road for a cross-island telegraph system in World War II. (Maybe Ted Blatt was here then.) We blessed the folks who recently built the excellent boardwalk along the trail; the Alaka'i trails used to be famous for their thigh-deep (or even hip-deep) mud.

Early on, David pointed out Mt. Wae'ale'ale and said that this was the first time he'd seen it completely cloud-free in three months. (It is the highest remaining part of the old shield volcano (5170 feet above sea level) and is generally considered to be the wettest spot on earth, receiving almost 500 inches of rain each year. Later in the morning, it was socked in again.)

The forest we were walking through also gets lots of rain, but was unlike any other rainforest we've ever been in. The plants were mostly quite unfamiliar, and almost all were native plants, except for a large ginger (with quite gorgeous golden flowers) that has completely taken over in some places. David is among the volunteers who are trying to extirpate the ginger, but it's clearly a tough job. The forest has noticeably less diversity than the rainforests we're familiar with, as would be expected on an island. Much of the understory is ferns; Hawai'i has evolved a great number of endemic ferns, and we kept wishing Charles could see these.

The most common tree in the forest is the ohi'a, which has a lovely scarlet "bottlebrush" type blossom that is the primary food source for most of the remaining native birds. Remarkably, these trees start life as epiphytes high in other trees and put down air roots, similarly to strangler figs. One we passed had a small treefern growing from a high branch, and David speculated that that ohi'a had started life as an epiphyte high on the treefern's parent tree.

The Alaka'i Swamp isn't really a swamp, but rather a high boggy area. After a while we came to real bog; the ohi'a trees there were dwarfed and had leaves of a different color from those in the drier areas. Although the flowers were identical to those on the other ohi'a trees, David said that the ohi'as will probably be split into two species, with this one called the Bog Ohi'a. He also pointed out a very tiny carnivorous plant, a typical bog dweller.

We kept going for quite a while without doing much birding so that we could get to a better forest. We did stop for a good close look at two 'Elepaios, an adult and a juvenile. The 'Elepaio is a friendly little bird, rather like a chickadee in size, shape, and personality. It is inclined to follow people through the forest and was considered by the Polynesians to be a guardian spirit. The 'Elepaios on O'ahu and Hawai'i are different subspecies from the ones here, with rather different coloration. The adults here are grey-brown above and pale below, with a rufous band at the top of the breast, while the juveniles are more generally rufous. Their cocked-tail posture makes them easy to identify.

Once we were well into the forest, David led us off the trail and down the side of a ridge 50 feet or so to a place where we could sit on a log and look for birds in the beautiful narrow canyon before us. He pointed out that (except for a ginger in front of us and a blueberry on one side) all of the plants we could see were native. It was a glorious place, and we spent a couple of hours there, quietly waiting for the birds to come to us, which they did in a most gratifying manner.

As soon as we sat down, David told us that the 'I'iwi likes to perch briefly on dead snags (I really appreciate a bird that perches on dead snags where duffers like me can see it), and he pointed out their three favorite snags in our vicinity.

We were at canopy height for many of the ohi'a trees blooming around us and were soon familiar with 'Apapane, both the bright red adults (which are exactly the color of the flowers whose nectar they eat) and the brown juveniles.

We soon had a brief glimpse of a Hwa-mei (Melodius Laughing-Thrush), a babbler introduced from China as a cage bird. We didn't get a good look and David's prophecy that that would be our only time to see one proved correct.

But we had come for the natives and they began to show up, one by one. We had a constant stream of 'Elepaio and 'Apapane, with young, but by sitting patiently we also saw 'Akeke'e (yellow with a black mask, a blue bill, and a notched tail), 'Anianiau (smaller (4") and completely yellow), and Kaua'i 'Amakihi (yellow with a large down-curved bill). We had a few of each, both males and females, and got some good looks.

We also had a pair of Japanese White-Eyes flitting among ferns on the canyon wall opposite. These are an introduced bird that has become a bird of the native forest.

Twice David heard 'I'iwis, but none appeared and no 'Akikiki. We'd been there for about two hours and could have stayed all day but David said we'd have to go look for the 'I'iwis, since they weren't coming to us.

However, he decided to let us stay and enjoy that wonderful place "for another 10 minutes" and it was a good thing he did, because very soon after that he spotted two 'Akikikis! They were very distant, so far away that we would never have noticed them. We could make them out, however, once he found them, and they were clearly 'Akikikis. (The 'Akikiki is a Kaua'i endemic also known as the Kaua'i Creeper. It is 5" long and is described as "a fluffy ball of gray and white feathers, dark above, light below; tail very short; bill pale dull pink, short, slightly curved; legs and feet dull pink; adults with dark cheeks and lores; immatures with white 'spectacles'". The 'Akikiki is a "bark-picker", i.e., it makes its living rather like a nuthatch.)

We watched the birds flit around in a pair of trees very far away, and David asked us to try to see whether either of them had a mask (the "spectacles" of the immature). None of us could see them well enough to tell that, as they flitted. Then, wonderfully, they flew toward us and landed in a very nearby tree, giving us perfect views. One of them was an immature, to our delight. (The mask gives it the big-eyed look of a young mammal, so it was very appealing, and of course it was good to see for ourselves that at least one pair of 'Akikikis has bred successfully this year. David says they should have been on the endangered species list for 20 years now.)

Very happy, we climbed back up to the trail and set out to look for 'I'iwis. A bit further on, David took us a few feet off the trail to an overlook where we could see much of what is left of the vast caldera of the old volcano. Exposed as we were there, the tradewinds were very strong, but back on the trail, just a few feet away, we barely noticed them.

The trail continued to climb and I soon thought I had a glimpse of a bright red 'I'iwi flying from one tree to another in the sunshine. But it may have been an 'Apapane. We continued a bit further on the Alaka'i Swamp Trail before deciding to double back to the intersection with the Pihea Trail and go north on that. But we got into such heavy wind on the Pihea Trail that it was obvious the birding would not be good, so David led us south down the Pihea trail toward the Kawaikoi Stream Trail. This part of the Pihea Trail has no boardwalk, but there was only a tiny bit of mud and the views were beautiful. (It was steep enough, however, that we were glad to be going down it rather than up.)

We'd gone only a short way when David pointed to a bright red bird sitting on a snag. Our smiles turned to sighs as we each realized that it was "only an 'Apapane" and then we had to laugh at ourselves for thinking that of a bird as wonderful as an 'Apapane.

We soon came to an overlook for another beautiful canyon and stood there listening for 'I'iwis. As David was trying to locate the one he had heard, another flew by in the sunshine about 100 feet below us and gave us a good view. (I was touched to notice Lee's arm reaching out protectively in front of me, as he feared I might just step off the unprotected edge in my eagerness to see the bird.) The bird didn't perch, however, so we waited some more and soon saw the other 'I'iwi take flight. David was calling to it to land for us, but it too flew out of sight, so we continued down the trail.

We stopped after a while to eat lunch sitting on a mossy bank overlooking beautiful forest. David sometimes guides birding trips to Guatemala, so we compared notes on birding in Guatemala, Belize, and Costa Rica. Lunch and conversation kept getting interrupted, however, because we were being tantalized by an immature 'I'iwi (they are mottled green and red), who hid in the tree above us allowing himself to be heard but only barely seen.

Further down, we came to an area of forest that had great streamers of passionfruit vines in blossom. The flowers are a rosy pink and shaped much like a clematis. David said that the 'I'iwis are so fond of this introduced flower that they often come down to this lower elevation to drink the nectar. So, we decided to "stake out" three clumps of the vines in the hope that one of us would spot an 'I'iwi in time to call the other two. I could just imagine vermillion birds on these pink flowers, but it was not to be. Nevertheless, we were content, having earlier seen two of them flying in the sunshine not far below us.

When the trail got down to the stream bed, David gave us instructions to hike to the Kawaikoi Camp and headed off himself to fetch the car. On our way, we found an incredibly perfect calla lily blossom.

We soon met up with David, who delivered us back to our car. After we had thanked him for the glorious day, he advised us to go further up the Canyon Road to the Kalalau and Pu'u o Kila Lookouts before heading home. (Lee had already planned to do that, as he wanted to find out whether the lookouts would be accessible for his father.)

How does one describe the view from the Kalalau Lookout? It has to be one of the most beautiful in the world! A vast valley with steep green walls laced with waterfalls and leading to the sea. My reaction was, "Now I've seen Hawai'i!". It was a great pleasure, too, to watch the White-tailed Tropicbirds float in graceful circles in the canyon. (They nest in rocky canyons all over the island, even out of sight of the sea.) And we were glad to find out that the walk from the parking lot to the lookout will not be too difficult for Charles.

As we were leaving the parking lot for Kalalau Lookout, we found two Nenes! This is Hawai'i's state bird, a goose obviously related to the Canada Goose but adapted to a terrestrial life style (its feet have lost some of their webbing, for example). Nenes are quite at home even high in the barren lava fields of the island of Hawai'i. The Nene has made a wonderful comeback from the brink of extinction. There were once only 25 of them left in the world, but the number is now much larger thanks to a captive breeding program at the London Zoo and another in Hawai'i.

We keep reading that Nenes don't like water, but we saw several of them at the Honolulu Zoo years ago having a wonderful time swimming in a big tub of water that was meant to be their drinking water. My theory is that they aren't really specifically adapted to life in the lava fields, but that they had expanded their niche to be all over the islands and when the Polynesians came only those that lived in the lava fields (which were sacred to the gods) failed to end up in a pot.

The Pu'u o Kila Lookout had much the same view, but from higher and at a different angle. It was high enough also to have a view in the other direction, toward Wai'ale'ale. However, climbing up its ramp was a chore for us, so we clearly couldn't bring Charles there.

Both of these lookouts are said to be good for finding the native birds, but of course we were there in the heat of the day, so it was not too surprising that the only bird we saw working over the ohi'a trees was a Japanese White-Eye. Our only other sighting was of a flock of House Finches, the first we've seen since we've been away from our feeders in Princeton.

We stopped at Koke'e State Park on our way back down the Canyon Road to get a cool drink and see their famous collection of "park-tame" Red Junglefowl. Pratt says, "All chickens at Kokee are believed to be true Red Junglefowl, although recently a fair number of odd plumage variations have been turning up there." In fact, I saw a mother hen with a large brood of downy young, half of whom were yellow all over like the chicks of domestic hens. There were lots and lots of fowl and they were very tame. We will certainly bring Charles to Waimea Canyon later in the week. What with the views, the ferns, and the Junglefowl, it is definitely his kind of place.

We stopped at a supermarket in Lihu'e on our long drive home and bought the fixings for a steak dinner. I couldn't resist also buying a lovely Bougainvillaea lei, more purple than anything can possibly be, to take home with us to put in the bowl on the dinner table. (One sees Bougainvillaea blooming all over the island, in some cases trimmed into razor-sharp hedges, which seems rather a perversion.)

When we got home shortly before 7, we found Charles and Lewis relaxing on the front deck. Charles had managed to get his 115 postcards written (with Lewis' help in reading the addresses on the envelopes that Charles had prepared before he left home). Lewis had tried out the hot tub in the lanai (there's also one in the bathroom off the master bedroom).

Over dinner, Charles mentioned that he is concerned about the mother hen and her six chicks, as they've not been seen all day. We all assured one another that the mother seems very competent and would have sheltered the chicks from last night's rain, so perhaps it was today's high wind that caused them to stay out of sight.

Kaua'i, Wednesday, July 22, 1998

I got up early and put out more corn and seed and was relieved that the mother hen and her six chicks reappeared shortly after Charles went out on the deck to look for them.

After breakfast, we were off to the Post Office to mail Charles' 115 postcards and a small number of our own. Charles has already made friends in the Post Office, so he chatted with them for a moment.

Then we were off to get tickets for the boat trip to the Fern Grotto. As we waited for the boat trip, we browsed in the junky little shop by the launching area and Lee was surprised when I selected a little nightlight with a shell lampshade from the Phillipines. In answer to his raised eyebrow, I just told him that I'd always wanted one of those, without explaining that I'd been fascinated by the one in my grandmother's house when I was a small child. He then absolutely out-kitsched me by buying a plastic hula skirt (which he assures me the Activities Director at the McCutchen will be happy to have). He was also scavenging for folk-music tapes/videos, as usual, of course, and found several.

The boat trip was quite pleasant, a couple of miles up the river, still all at sea level, with the captain giving a useful commentary on the plant life, local traditions, and archaeological remains. His comments were interspersed with a Japanese translation.

Charles found the walk from the boat to the grotto a bit strenuous but he enjoyed being in the lovely lowland forest and was delighted with the grotto when we reached it. It is a natural amphitheater of gray stone with a fine waterfall trickling from above and creating a mist that makes ferns thrive. The stone walls are almost completely covered with hanging ferns of several varieties, including beautiful maidenhairs. We're all fern fans and, as Charles said, "It's a good thing you didn't let me bring my trowel!"

We were supposed to climb up into a shallow cave inside the grotto to watch the musicians from the boat perform, but we explained to a nice man that we were here celebrating Charles' 90th birthday and that the climb would be too much for him. He congratulated Charles on his birthday and then kindly offered to take our photograph in front of the ferns, showed us where to stand to see the musicians, and directed us how to get back to the boat the easiest way. It was all very congenial.

After the performance, we started back to the boat, with a short delay to allow me to figure out the White-rumped Shama sitting in a tree in the forest. Nearer the boat, we were amused that the big orange tabby cat who seems to ride back and forth on the boat was not at all intrigued by the Junglefowl scratching around nearby; perhaps he has learned not to tangle with them.

On the trip back, the musicians performed more Hawaiian songs, with guitar and ukelele, and we regretted that we hadn't thought to suggest that Charles bring his tape recorder. To our delight, the last song was Happy Birthday sung for Charles in a combination of English, Hawaiian, and Japanese.

We stopped for lunch in a lovely restaurant with flowers all around and mountain views and sea breezes. Then we drove a bit inland to 'Opaeka'a Falls, where the river we'd been on in the morning falls down from the mountains into a lovely green canyon. It was hard to believe that the White-tailed Tropicbirds floating around the waterfall were not doing it just for joy. How graceful they are!

On our drive home, we stopped to walk for a while along a particularly lovely beach with especially turquoise water.

We spent the rest of the afternoon quietly enjoying the view from the back deck. Charles decided to leave his champagne for the owners of this lovely house and wrote them quite a nice note to go with it.

Early in the evening we drove back into Hanalei for a luau. Lee had read all the reviews to try to find something as unglitzy as possible and he chose well. We thoroughly enjoyed the evening.

We arrived a bit early so we sat for a while on the porch of the restaurant. A man came through selling leis he had made, giving us each a fragrant blossom to try to entice us to buy a lei (he had made only two). The fragance was glorious, so I was very pleased when Lee asked if I would like one of the leis. The flowers are called pau-kenikeni; they are small, waxy, and a golden yellow, and I can report that wearing a lei of them is a joy. (The owner of the restaurant, a woman who looked very much like Frida Kahlo, was wearing a similar lei, but of both yellow and red flowers.)

The lei-maker turned out also to be the pre-dinner entertainment. He sang and played the ukelele and taught us some Hawaiian words, and it was actually quite pleasant, as was the meal, which consisted of roast pork, mahi-mahi, a spicy chicken dish, poi, two kinds of sweet potatoes, and many other dishes.

After dinner, a very good troupe of Polynesian dancers and musicians performed, and we really enjoyed that. There were eight dancers, both men and women, and they performed dances from throughout Polynesia. The star dancer was a beautiful young woman in her late teens who had just won a major hula competition. Her little sisters (about 6 and 8) also performed briefly and were surprisingly good for their age.

When we got home, I followed the lei-maker's instructions to wrap my lei in wet paper towels for the night and not to refrigerate it.

Kaua'i, Thursday, July 23, 1998

This was the day for our trip around the island to Waimea Canyon. I decided to wear my wonderful lei, despite the sun and heat, so that we would have the car filled with its fragrance.

Early in the trip, we made a brief stop at the Hanelei NWR overlook, and I finally saw Hawaiian Stilts, a race of the Black-necked Stilt, two of them hunting in the taro ponds far below us.

A short while later, I spotted a Koloa on a bank along the road. (This is the endemic duck species; both the male and the female are similar to a female Mallard, but smaller.)

As we drove along, the talk somehow turned to birds that can be taught to sing human tunes, which prompted Charles to whistle a little German song he learned from a Piping Bullfinch back in the 1920s. He told us that the young Bullfinches were often kept in cages over cobblers' benches, so that the cobblers could teach them to sing as they worked.

Waimea Canyon has a complicated geological history, but it is ultimately the result of another case of part of the island slumping; in this case, it didn't slide into the sea, but created a huge fault zone. From Roadside Geology of Hawai'i:

Waimea Canyon is one of the world's truly stunning landscapes--intensely multicolored, eroded into weird pinnacles and spires, laced with waterfalls, and often shrouded by mists....

Waimea Canyon follows the western edge of the Makaweli graben, the trough that dropped between faults and then was filled with lava when Wai'ale'ale was still an active shield volcano. Evidently, the Waimea River originally flowed to the sea along the graben. Lava from later eruptions displaced the river a few miles to the west, where it carved the present canyon. So the ancient slide scarps guided the erosion that shaped the modern landscape.

Waimea looks surprisingly like the Grand Canyon; that is, there are bands of many colors in the rocks, which I hadn't expected, since it was all built up from lava flows from the same source.

When we stopped at the first overlook, the others were as surprised as we had been to see such a massive geological feature on a relatively small island. We stood and looked into the canyon for quite a while. We've read that feral goats can often be seen, but we couldn't spot any. And I needed to check out the birds circling in the canyon to see if any of them were Pueos (Hawaiian Owls), which hunt during the day and are said often to be visible from that overlook. Alas, there were no Pueos, "only" White-tailed Tropicbirds.

Charles was soon approached by a family of Junglefowl, a rooster, a hen, and two half-grown young, all coal black, and he was soon apologizing to them for not having brought them any food. I comforted him by telling him that we knew a place up ahead to buy chicken feed.

We continued on, repeating the steep drive Lee and I had made on Tuesday, climbing up more than 4,000 feet in twenty miles, stopping now and then to show Charles and Lewis banks of ferns and colorful flowers, and arriving finally at the overlook for the stupendous Kalalau Valley. We were glad that Charles and Lewis had as clear a day to first see it as we had had on Tuesday. It is really breathtaking.

As we stood drinking in the view, a pair of Nenes flew low over us calling. Later, in the parking lot, we heard a guide telling his tour group about a Junglefowl hen living in the area who knows she can get water by standing under his parked van and catching the drops of condensate from the van's air conditioner.

And then it was down to the Koke'e State Park for a pleasant lunch (I had to try the passionfruit chiffon pie) before a visit to the large group of park-tame Red Junglefowl waiting outside for Charles. We'd bought him a bag of chicken feed in the gift shop, a situation they recognized immediately. We sat on a big lava rock while he tossed corn to the birds at his feet (both Junglefowl and the very small Zebra Doves). The roosters were remarkably handsome in the bright sunshine; they have sunburst collars of glistening gold feathers and more gold at the base of their extravagant black tails.

Though the lava didn't make a very comfortable seat, Charles was quite content, so Lee and I ducked into the nearby museum and bookshop for a while. The small museum has specimens of native fauna on exhibit, including some of the extinct birds and Hawai'i's only native mammal, a very small bat. We'd heard that the bookshop is very good in Hawaiian natural history and it definitely was, so we indulged.

A trail guide we got at the museum shows where to see the (now extinct) O'o. Sigh. What makes the loss of these birds even sadder is that it has happened very recently, after the advent of "ecological awareness". In 1993, Pratt wrote:

Until the 1970s, Kauai had the distinction of not having lost any of its historically known native birds. The first to go was the Akioloa, last seen in 1969 by Phil Bruner. All the others could still be found in the depths of the Alakai until at least the late 1970s. From then on, the birds were on a downhill slide, their problems compounded by Hurrican Iwa in 1982. Kauai had not experienced such a storm for a half century. Hawaii's native forest birds had always forsaken the high forests to take refuge in lowland valleys during severe storms but now the lowlands are infested with disease-carrying mosquitoes, making them a death-trap rather than a refuge. The Kauai Oo passed into extinction around 1988 (the exact date when the last one died will never be known), the two endemic solitaires, the Kamao and Puaiohi, both declined to a few dozen individuals, and the Ou population, in the hundreds in 1975, crashed to a few pairs.
When we came back out, we found that Charles had bought two more packets of feed, to have to give to the family of black chickens on our way home. (They clearly are not endangered as long as there are soft-hearted visitors and nobody brings any mongooses to Kaua'i.)

Now that we had the afternoon light (best for viewing the Canyon), we stopped on our way down at several more of the overlooks. The views were really spectacular.

And, of course, we did stop again at the first overlook. The black chicken family was asleep in the shade of a bush, but it didn't take Charles long to get their attention. They caught on to the idea of chicken feed very quickly. (Still no Pueos, alas.)

We took a leisurely drive back around the island, deciding to stop on our way at Kilauea Point, but we found when we got there that the NWR closes at 4:30, so we (and many others) watched the birds from outside the fence. I was interested to see a Red-footed Booby attack a much larger Frigatebird in the air. (The Hawaiian name for the Frigatebird translates to "thief", as these birds are notorious for attacking other birds in flight and forcing them to disgorge food. I suppose this Booby was fed up with such treatment.) We saw Tropicbirds and Shearwaters, too, but I still couldn't spot an Albatross.

Lee had been going through the restaurant reviews and had found us a really good Italian restaurant for dinner. We sat next to a garden with a wall of Lantana blossoms and had a delightful meal. A good pianist played Chopin and Scott Joplin while we ate excellent food. (I started with a spicy lobster bisque, followed by a Gorgonzola and chicken pasta dish.) We ordered ice cream for dessert and each found ourselves being served three huge scoops.

We spent the evening quietly at home. I had letters to write, as I wanted to send pieces of my wonderful (now completely wilted) lei to my mother and sister and a few other dear ones, so they can smell its perfume.

Kaua'i, Friday, July 24, 1998

We were up early and had accounted for all of the Junglefowl, including the hen with six chicks and the hen with one chick, before setting out for the day.

We'd had heavy rain again overnight and there was still some mist spilling over the mountains as we drove along toward the National Tropical Botanical Gardens in the Lawa'i Valley on the south shore. After we turned off the main highway, the road took us through a mile-long tunnel of giant eucalyptus trees, cool and shady in the bright sun.

We had intended to take the tour of the gardens but on second thought decided that an hour of walking would be too much for Charles, so we contented ourselves with a visit to the Visitors Center.

That is new, set in a charming old ranch house that has been recently renovated. It is surrounded by lovely plantings, including a typical ranch garden, with pineapples (and much more) growing in it. The path through the ornamental gardens caught our fancy--many of the squares of concrete bear the impressions of large tropical leaves of one kind or another, including some of the enormous ferns we've seen around the island.

There was a very nice gift shop in the ranch house staffed by pleasant ladies with whom we all chatted as we browsed. We were pleased to see that (as we had hoped) they had plants that were certified to be taken to the mainland. We chose a bonzai Scheffleria that is small enough to fit into Charles' crowded room back home.

I couldn't resist buying a jar of their passionfruit jelly. I also indulged myself in a Ni'ihau shell lei and matching earrings.

Ni'ihau is a small adjacent island, the product of the same volcano as Kaua'i. Long ago, about eighty percent of Ni'ihau slumped into the sea leaving only a thin crescent of the island with steep sea cliffs on the side that had been toward the center. The island is privately held and is occupied by people who maintain a relatively traditional Hawaiian life style. Making the shell leis is one of the ways they bring in outside funds. The lei-makers spend many hours sifting the beach sands to gather the tiny white, pink, and tan shells used in the leis.

(After we left the shop, I regretted that I'd not also gotten one of the (very inexpensive) cowrie shell necklaces from Tahiti. Mankind has been adorning itself with cowrie shells for so many millennia that one really should have a cowrie shell necklace.)

Our next stop was right on the rocky shore, the Spouting Horn, which is a lava tube that funnels waves inland through the rock to create geysers of ocean spray up to 50 feet high. The geyers were lovely in the bright sunshine, but a challenge to photograph, as Lee and Charles found. (One hears a rising roar seconds before the water spews up, however, so it is possible to get the timing right, with a bit of practice.)

In the parking area, we found undoubted feral chickens. They had yellow legs, rather than the grey of the wild Junglefowl, and in some cases their feathers were completely white. Charles was happy to see that a dripping water faucet supplies them with water.

Next was a lovely old Japanese garden set on a point over the sea, really quite pretty, but full of mosquitoes. There were huge staghorn ferns, flowering begonias, and an amazing clump of bamboo-like palm trees that must have been 50 feet around.

From The Birdwatcher's Guide to Hawai'i:

The Kaua'i Marriott Resort in Lihu'e is situated on a large site that includes extensive landscaped grounds, lagoons, and islands. The park-like setting is home to domestic ducks and swans. The lush grounds, the water, and the domestic birds attract many wild birds as well....

The big surprise is a flock of over a hundred wild Nene that occasionally visit the area, settling in on an island in the lagoon. These birds are descended from a few caged birds that escaped from their pens in 1982 during Hurricane 'Iwa. Nobody told these endemic geese that they were supposed to be endangered, or that scientists are trying to establish them in higher-altitude upland areas of Maui and the Big Island. So they have been successfully breeding in the lowlands of Kaua'i, on private land a stone's throw from the ocean, and occasionally showing up at the Marriott for lunch.

Boat tours featuring the wildlife are available for a fee, every hour from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm daily.

I'd been looking forward to that boat ride all week as a chance to show Charles many of the birds, especially Nenes. But, it was closed. Rats! We walked around the pretty white-columned launching area for a while, however, and Lee spotted a large bird flying low over the water. It turned out to be another endemic, the local sub-species of Black-crowned Night-Heron. After it landed nearby, we followed it along the edge of the lagoon, and it led us to yet another endemic, the Hawaiian Gallinule, a race of the Common Moorhen.

Since the Nenes like to show up at the Marriott for lunch, we decided we might as well do the same. The grounds are really gorgeous and very extensive, with orchids and treeferns everywhere.

In a large inner courtyard, we found a big pond full of goldfish and ornamental waterbirds, including some black-and-white swans that I didn't know existed. (The head and neck are black, with the rest white.) There were also a couple of Nenes luxuriating on one of the banks of the pond looking out of place (in their subdued brown-and-white) amidst the array of gaudy ducks.

We made our way through marble halls down to a poolside restaurant with a view of mountains rising straight out of the nearby ocean bay and had a pleasant meal, the nicest part of which was the raspberry iced tea.

We stopped in the lobby on our way out so that Charles could look at the splendid orchids. That also gave him his first close look at a treefern and I was pleased to see the expression of delight on his face as he stood beneath it and looked up through the lacy fronds. (I still remember the first time I did that, in Australia's Sherbrooke Forest.)

After lunch, we decided to treat ourselves to another waterfall, a double one this time, the Wailua Falls, which one views from above where the river cuts a gorge through sugarcane fields.

We had promised Charles a chance to photograph the corkscrew pines, so we headed through sudden rain to the Princeville Golf Course (well known to birders as a place for getting rarities, but mainly the home of large numbers of Mynas and Cattle Egrets). The rain cleared just in time, so the photos should be good.

We headed home to spend the rest of the afternoon out on the back deck. Lewis took on the job of reading Charles' birthday cards to him. In two hours, we didn't quite get through all of them. (While Lewis read, I sat on the deck breaking up the leftover loaves of bread to leave as a parting gift for the birds tomorrow morning and occasionally offering a second opinion on a difficult bit of handwriting.) The notes on the cards were heart-warming, and we were impressed by the ingenuity of the folks who had managed to find cards specifically for a 90th birthday. (There seem to be only three on the market, so we had lots of duplicates.)

I added a very unexciting eleventh bird to our backyard list, House Finch. (But, of course, there are those white specks flying above the ocean almost out to the horizon that I can't make out. When I described them to David Kuhn, he said they're probably Red-footed Boobies, but all I can say for sure is that they're birds.)

We went into Hanalei for dinner and had another very good meal sitting on a little open balcony. As we left the restaurant, I heard another patron say to his companion, "There goes that guy who is 90!"

Before returning home, we drove all the way to the end of the highway so we could see a sunset on the Na Pali Coast. When we walked a short way out onto the beach, a smiling man called to us, "Friends, you've come all this way; now come another 100 feet so you can really see the Na Pali Coast". We did as he said, and it really was lovely.

Then, alas, we headed home to pack.

San Francisco, Saturday, July 25, 1998

We were all up earlier than we should have been and had soon eaten and packed and tidied the house and put out our offerings for the birds.

Just before we left the house, I spotted a twelfth bird for the backyard list, a White-rumped Shama, which attracted my attention by its singing. The field guide says, "The song is one of the most beautiful sounds of lowland forests in Hawaii. It comprises varied liquid, flutelike notes and often includes excellent imitations of other native and introduced birds. The Shama and Melodious Laughing-Thrush sometimes imitate each other, making identification by voice alone somewhat more difficult."

(We've done reasonably well with Kaua'i's birds, given that we were not really doing much birding. We've seen 32 of the 51 species in the list. But I'll leave here regretting that we missed Laysan Albatross and Pueo and even the introduced Rose-ringed Parakeet.)

There had been more rain during the night, so all of our favorite waterfalls along the road were glistening beautifully, and we saw one high on a nearby mountain that we think hadn't been active earlier in the week.

We got into Lihu'e so early that we had time to take a side trip to see Nawilliwilli Point. But then we were back in the world of airports and airplanes.

We had a comfortable flight to Honolulu after again rather wickedly declaring Charles (and the rest of us) eligible to "pre-board". Lee and I have long had a (possibly irrational) dislike of the "Wiki-wiki", the shuttle bus in the Honolulu Airport, but we decided not to make Charles walk all the way between the terminals again. We found a place where he could buy a box of fresh pineapples to take home to friends, and then he and I settled in the departure lounge while Lee and Lewis went out to buy plants that Charles could take home, returning after a while with a small orchid and some hibiscus plants.

On the flight, I read Jack London's Tales of Hawaii. David Kuhn had recommended the story Koolau the Leper, which got London excoriated by the Honolulu newspapers. It is the story of a man who leads a band of lepers to the remotest parts of the beautiful Kalalau Valley so that they won't be captured and taken to the leper colony on Molokai:

Kapalei arose. Once he had been a judge. He had gone to college at Punahou. He had sat at meat with lords and chiefs and the high representatives of alien powers who protected the interests of traders and missionaries. Such had been Kapalei. But now, as Koolau had said, he was a hunted rat, a creature outside the law, sunk so deep in the mire of human horror that he was above the law as well as beneath it. His face was featureless, save for gaping orifices and for the lidless eyes that burned under hairless brows.

"Let us not make trouble," he began. "We ask to be left alone. But if they do not leave us alone, then is the trouble theirs, and the penalty. My fingers are gone, as you see." He held up his stumps of hands that all might see. "Yet have I the joint of one thumb left, and it can pull a trigger as firmly as did its lost neighbor in the old days. We love Kauai. Let us live here, or die here, but do not let us go to the prison of Molokai. The sickness is not ours. We have not sinned. The men who preached the word of God and the word of Rum brought the sickness with the coolie slaves who work the stolen land. I have been a judge. I know the law and the justice, and I say to you it is unjust to steal a man's land, to make that man sick with the Chinese sickness, and then to put that man in prison for life."

When we reached San Francisco, Charles and I grabbed a cab and dashed to the hotel, to be sure we got there before our dinner guests, and Lee and Lewis followed with the luggage. We soon found Lee's cousin Jane and her husband and their two children and then her sister Lynn and then Lee's brother Neil and his friend Jessica. So there were eleven of us for dinner at a big round table in the hotel restaurant, and it was a very joyous reunion, with lots of catching up on news and laughing over shared memories.

We all liked Jessica very much and were charmed by the birthday gift she had brought Charles, a red stone Buddha holding a peach, the symbol of longevity. And Neil had made Charles a very pretty stained-glass piece with an orchid design.

At the end of the meal, the waitress brought Charles a dish of ice cream with a lighted candle on it and we sang one last round of Happy Birthday. Being with all his children and some much-loved cousins was a perfect ending for his birthday celebration, and it was all over much too soon (though it was close to 1am before he got to bed).

Princeton, Sunday, July 26, 1998

We managed three or four hours of sleep before the alarms blared this morning and we headed back to the San Francisco Airport for the last part of our trip home. We were a rather subdued group as we sat at breakfast in the airport with a view of purple mountains out the windows.

On the flight to Newark, I read a book we'd gotten on Kaua'i, The Art of Featherwork in Old Hawai'i (John Dominis Holt). The author tells of his great-grandmother's wonderful collection of dozens of feather leis, the solid-colored ones for formal occasions and the striped ones for less formal occasions.

The most treasured were the fluffy yellow leis made by combining the pale lemon yellow feathers of the O'o (a black honeyeater who had a tuft of yellow feathers under each wing) and the golden yellow feathers of the Mamo (a black honeycreeper who had a few yellow feathers around its tail).

From there, he goes on to discuss the magnificent feather cloaks of old Hawai'i's chiefs and kings. There are still dozens of these in museums around the world (and they are still magnificent), so one imagines that thousands were made over the centuries. Most had a background of the yellow feathers of the Mamo or the O'o with bold geometric designs worked in red (I'iwi) and sometimes black (O'o or Mamo) feathers. The effect is more sumptuous than the most opulent silk velvet.

One of the photographs in Holt's book shows a cloak with no design at all. It belonged to Kamehameha the Great, the warrior-king who united the islands soon after the arrival of Captain Cook. Here is Holt's description:

The yellow mass of thousands of mamo feathers in this royal garment belonging to King Kamehameha seem to speak of his unique position. The declaration of royal status is obvious in the use of only yellow feathers--especially mamo, the rarest of all. The total lack of design suggests that he was beyond the need of symbols to declare his human status. He was too close to the gods to be in need of the usual markings of rank.
This is Mark Twain describing that same cloak, which he saw when he visited the palace of the King of Hawai'i in 1866:
To the right is the reception room or hall of audience, and to the left are the library and a sort of anteroom or private audience chamber. In one of these are life-size portraits of old Kamehameha the Great and one or two queens and princes. The old war-horse had a dark brown, broad, and beardless face, with native intelligence apparent in it, and something of a crafty expression about the eye; hair white with age and cropped short; in the picture he is clad in a white shirt, long red vest and with the famous feather war cloak over all.

We were permitted to examine the original cloak. It is very ample in its dimensions, and is made entirely of the small, silky, bright yellow feathers of the man-of-war or tropic bird, closely woven into a strong, coarse netting of grass by a process which promises shortly to become a lost art, inasmuch as only one native, and he an old man, is left who understands it in its highest elegance. These feathers are rare and costly, because each bird has but two of them--one under each wing--and the birds are not plenty. It required several generations to collect the materials and manufacture this cloak, and had the work been performed in the United States, under our fine army contract system, it would have cost the Government more millions of dollars than I can estimate without a large arithmetic and a blackboard.

In old times, when a king put on his gorgeous feather war cloak, it meant trouble; some other king and his subjects were going to catch it. We were shown other war cloaks, made of yellow feathers, striped and barred with broad bands of red ones--fine specimens of barbaric splendor.

(Twain was confused about the origin of the feathers. The golden yellow feathers of this cloak were the undertail feathers of the Mamo. The confusion is understandable, as the Great Frigatebird (which he calls "man-of-war") is the source of feathers treasured for another kind of featherwork, and each Frigatebird has only a few of those greenish black feathers between its wings.)

The kings and chiefs also had beautiful feather helmets to wear with their cloaks. Lesser nobles had shorter feather capes. Those, too, were mostly yellow and red and black, but one very unusual example in Holt's book was made of the mottled brown feathers of the Pueo (the Hawaiian owl). Holt describes it:

This 'ahuli'i made from the feathers of the pueo is probably the only one of its kind in existence. Pueo was one of the most venerated of the 'aumakua forms [family or personal gods], second perhaps only to mano, the shark. As such, it would not have been sought after by bird catchers....This cape was said to have been worn by the Kahuna nui, Hewahewa, a noted priest of the time of Kamehameha the Great.
Another important form for Hawaiian featherwork was the "kahili", a sort of royal standard consisting of a long pole (often made of whale bone and decorated with tortoiseshell) supporting a cylinder covered with feathers. Kahili-bearers carried these in processions and such to show the rank of their masters. (Captain Cook and his men thought that the kahili-bearers accompanying the royalty visiting their ships were there to swat flies with the kahilis.)

This is from Mark Twain's description of the funeral of Princess Victoria Kamamalu Kaahumanu, a granddaughter of Kamehameha the Great (and herself heir presumptive to the throne):

The kahilis are symbols of mourning which are sacred to the aristocracy. They are immense plumes, mounted upon tall poles, and are made of feathers of all bright and beautiful colors; some are a rich purple; some crimson; others brown, blue, white, and black, etc. These are all dyed, but the costly kahilis formed of the yellow feather of royalty (tabu to the common herd) were tinted by the hand of nature, and come from the tropic bird, which, as I have said in a previous letter, has but two of them--one under each wing. One or two kahilis, also, made of red feathers from a bird called by sailors the marlinspike bird, had no artificial coloring about them. These feathers are very long and slender (hence the fowl's name) and each bird's tail is furnished with two, and only two, of them. The birds of the Sandwich Islands seem uncommonly indigent in the matter of strictly ornamental feathers.

A dozen or so of these gaudy kahilis were upheld by pallbearers of high blood and fenced in the stately catafalque with a varicolored wall as brilliant as a rainbow. Through the arches of the catafalque could be seen the coffin, draped with that badge and symbol of royalty, the famous yellow-feather war cloak, whose construction occupied the toiling hands of its manufacturers during nine generations of Hawaiian kings.

I suppose his "marlinspike bird" must have been the Red-tailed Tropicbird. Those feathers would certainly make a gorgeous kahili.

Holt's book has photographs of many kinds of kahilis, including some made from what were probably at the time the rare and costly feathers of introduced birds, including a pair made of the tail feathers of white Leghorn roosters, another of the feathers of parrots, and another of the wing feathers of Mynas.

All this leaves one not surprised that some of the middens from the early years of human habitation in Hawai'i are as much as ten percent bird bones by weight. But the O'o and the O'u and the Mamo were still alive until very recently, so we can't blame their extinction on those early inhabitants.

Our flight from San Francisco to Newark was completely uneventful and we had soon gathered our luggage and were headed back to North Plainfield to take Charles home. After we'd gotten his things to his room and helped him deliver some of the presents he'd brought for friends, we passed the dining room and greetings were called out. When he was asked how he had liked Kaua'i, his answer was, "I hope that Heaven is just like that and that I get to go there".

Melinda Varian / Office of Information Technology / Princeton University / Melinda@Princeton.EDU
26 Jul 1998