Pretrip planning would not be complete without a map.
I was excited to be visiting the Big Island for the first time and one of the best ways to get to know a place is to map it. Drawing imprints information better than any other note taking strategy. Drawing is an active, not a passive, pursuit.
There are two distinct sides to the largest and youngest island in the Hawaiian Island chain. The Kona side (west) and the Hilo side (east). The Kona side is the more sunny and the most popular side. Hilo is on the windward side and experiences more rain (about 130 inches per year) than the leeward or Kona side. I planned to visit both sides. And sketching a map of the islands, helped me put towns and sites into perspective.
I also did a spread that is a visual checklist of some of the sights and experiences I wanted to encounter on the Big Island (featured sketch). Snorkeling at the Cook Monument at Kealakekua Bay, Mauna Kea, Birding on Saddle Road, Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, manta rays, ‘Akaka Falls, Hawai’i Volcano National Park, Kona coffee, and a tropical reef fish called a Moorish idol.
When I found out that there would be a pelagic birding trip out of Kona on April 3, I signed up immediately! This was a chance to add lifers that I would not be able to see from the shore.
As a birder living on the coast it is an absolute privilege (tsunamis and global warming excepted) because it brings you in contact with species that spend the majority of life at sea. To encounter most of these species requires boarding a boat and heading off shore.
I’ve been on many pelagic birding trips from the ports of Bodega Bay, Pillar Point, and Monterey Harbor but I was really looking forward to heading out of Honokohau Harbor on a Hawaiian pelagic! This was entirely new pelagic birding territory.
Pelagic birding can be at once transcendent and deeply frustrating because of the amazing and the not so amazing views of birds. Picking a bird out between swells on a rocking substrate is a challenge and that’s if you are on the right side of the boat when the rare petrel or shearwater makes it’s all too brief appearance.
How do you prepare for such a birding challenge? It’s simple: uncap your pen and sketch.
My first sketch was a study of three tropicbirds. I had a chance of see one or all three while from shore (called a sea watch), on the pelagic, or at Volcanoes National Park. I’ve always wanted to see a tropicbird and sketching then helped me to understand them a little more.
In another spread I sketched six other target species that I hoped to pick up on the pelagic trip. And who knows what other unexpected bird might show.
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.
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.