Big Island Endemics

It had been along time since I had set foot on a Hawaiian island.

The last time was on a family vacation and the island was Kauai. Before that, I had been badly sunburned while snorkeling in Maui. Mom did tell me to wear a t-shirt. Always listen to your mother!

I guess I had avoided Hawaii for a number of reasons, too many to note: too crowded, too touristy, too much introduced flora and fauna, too expensive. My idea of a vacation has never been about laying on a beach getting a tan (see above about Maui snorkeling).

Instead, I go on vacation, waking up at ungodly hours and learning as much as I can in one day. I sketch, bird, sketch some more, walk and hike, learn as much as possible, take a few photos, visit some historical sites, look at architecture, and make time for lunch, repeat. At times my vacations can seem like a job! No sleeping in here. The closest I come to a “vacation” is doing a bit of natureloafing.

But there is one island in the Hawaiian Archipelago that I have not yet visited (Well actually there are a lot more). This is the youngest island, it is merely a million years old and it is still forming today. This is the island of Hawai’i and is also home to Mauna Loa, the world’s largest volcano.

It is also home to some of Hawaii’s endemic birds. And thats what was drawing me to the Big Island (pun intended). Many of the endemic avian species are endangered and I wanted to see as many of the unique birds as I could. the avifauna of Hawaii had been decimated by introduced species such as the black rat and the Indian mongoose and disease carried by not native mosquitos. This has resulted in the loss of 65% of Hawaiian avifauna.

When I planning a trip I like to started with a little hardbound notebook, in this case a Leuchturm 1917. While this is not a watercolor notebook, I like to add an illustration to the front page. In this case I chose to draw the Hawaiian State Bird, the endemic nene, or Hawaiian goose. It is fitting that a state entirely surrounded by water should be the only state with a waterfowl as it’s State Bird.

Well to wet my appetite, I started sketching some of my target species. I’ve learned that when I sketch a bird I have not yet seen in the field, the process helps me etch it’s forms and fieldmarks into my eye. I have that image at the ready for when I might see the bird, for real.

With any list of endemic species the state bird of Hawaii has to top the list. It is the nene or Hawaiian goose. I sketched this beautiful goose and it anchored the left side of my spread. On the right side I sketched another target bird, the Hawaiian honeycreeper: i’iwi. Both of the species are relatively easy to seen on the Big Island.

Another target bird for the Big Island is the Ae’o, the Hawaiian subspecies of the black-necked stilt.
The akispolaau is probably one of the most sought after Hawaiian honeycreepers. It is only found in high-elevation rainforests on the Big Island. I will definitely try to add this amazing and endangered species to my life list!

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