Hawaii and Kwajalein 2014 – Birding

Zambia 2014 – Work and Birding
August 17, 2014
Southern Africa Vacation 2014 – Birding
December 27, 2014

December 16, 2014

A one day lay-over in Honolulu’s Waikiki district isn’t a bad hand to be dealt. Flights to the Marshall Islands are only scheduled every other day, so when one gets handed a lemon, make lemonade, right?

Two weeks earlier I had just returned from a four-month construction safety supervision assignment in Africa and a vacation finale with my wife in Victoria Falls and Cape Town. Now I am on my way to perform construction safety management on a one-month project in the Marshall Islands, on Kwajalein Atoll. This opportunity came out of the blue, and I had never been there, so my wife and I agreed I should take the assignment and miss a month of dark, cold, wet Portland winter, promising to return with a tan and a good attitude.

During my layover in Wakakie I managed to slip out of the hotel a few times to see which birds I might encounter and photograph. Attached are a few examples, plus some fine scenery photos.

The view from the 35th floor of the Maile Sky Court Hotel

The view from the 35th floor of the Maile Sky Court Hotel

Fort DeRussy Park, Waikiki, Honolulu

Fort DeRussy Park, Waikiki, Honolulu

The park’s lawn attracts many species of birds – primarily exotics.

Waikike Beach near For DeRussey Park

Waikike Beach near For DeRussey Park

I did not observe any shorebirds, terns, or gulls on the beach.

Diamond Head as seen from Waikike

Diamond Head as seen from Waikike

Common Myna

Common Myna

Brazilian Cardinal (Red-crested Cardinal)

Brazilian Cardinal (Red-crested Cardinal)

Brazilian Cardinal (Red-crested Cardinal)

Brazilian Cardinal (Red-crested Cardinal)

Brazilian Cardinal

Brazilian Cardinal

Male Java Finch

Male Java Finch

Java Finches: male (left); female (right)

Java Finches: male (left); female (right)

A mother Red-eared Waxbill and two begging fledglings

A mother Red-eared Waxbill and two begging fledglings

Spotted Dove

Spotted Dove

Spotted Dove

Spotted Dove

Spotted Dove - a close up

Spotted Dove – a close up

Pacific Golden Plover - a wintering bird

Pacific Golden Plover – a wintering bird

Pacific Golden Plover - a close up

Pacific Golden Plover – a close up

Rock Pigeon or Rock Dove

Rock Pigeon or Rock Dove

Yellow-fronted Canary foraging upon grass seed

Yellow-fronted Canary foraging upon grass seed

Zebra Dove - almost appears like a quail, because it is missing its long tail feathers

Zebra Dove – almost appears like a quail, because it is missing its long tail feathers

Zebra Dove - a close up

Zebra Dove – a close up

I noticed a few distant White Tern fly overs and failed to get a good photograph of a Red-whiskered Bulbul. During my two-hour stroll I observed eleven species, of which only two were native – White Tern and Pacific Golden Plover. I have three nights planned on Oahu on the return trip, so I hope to document several additional island species in about four weeks…Please stay tuned!

 

December 17, 2014

Up at 5:00 am and off to Honolulu Airport. The flight south was uneventful. Meals were not served. I had eight mini-bags of peanuts though. Here are a few photos as I was flying into Majuro for a brief layover.

Preparing to land in Majuro, Marshall Islands for a brief lay over

Preparing to land in Majuro, Marshall Islands for a brief lay over

Reefs, jungle, and sandy beaches

Reefs, jungle, and sandy beaches

Reefs, jungle, and sandy beaches

Reefs, jungle, and sandy beaches

 

Distant Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands

Distant Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands

By noon we started our descent into Kwajalein Atoll. Here is a photo of the distant atoll and airstrip.

 

The view from my apartment facing east

The view from my apartment facing east

Here is my room and a view from my room in an old WWII Officers’ Quarters.

 

The view from my apartment, unobstructed by glass

The view from my apartment, unobstructed by glass

 

After a brief, work-related orientation to the island, I made it out to photograph birds and scenery. Here are a few things I saw.

An adult White Tern

An adult White Tern

A fledgling White Tern

A fledgling White Tern

Fledgling White Tern - a close up

Fledgling White Tern – a close up

A close up of an adult White Tern for comparison

A close up of an adult White Tern for comparison

These terns were sitting in the tree right in front of the apartment lobby! I noticed the fledgling from a window on the second floor.

Constant strong trade winds from the east

Constant strong trade winds from the east

The beach, about 25 meters from my apartment

The beach, about 25 meters from my apartment

 

December 19, 2014

We skipped a calendar day by passing across the International Date Line. It poured last night and I froze because of the intensity of the air conditioning in my apartment. If you open a window, you will be sorry, like the poor chap next door was yesterday – everything in his room got soaked as the warm humid air quickly condensed on the cold finishes and furnishings inside his suite. If you take your cold camera and cell phone outdoors in the morning, without giving them time to equilibrate to ambient conditions, they will short out and fry!

By 9:00 am the sun already felt intimidating, and the humid wind continued to rip. While in Honolulu I happened to notice and hear a contemporary version of Bing Crosby’s Mele Kalikimaka and now it is my trip’s theme song in the back of my head.

I am prohibited to discuss any details about the military installation I am staying on, but I will say the WWII barracks I am staying in were not doubt Officers’ Quarters – very comfortable and relatively spacious. Same with work – all I can say is we are doing some construction.

Here are a few photos from Saturday.

The beach and surf, about 25 meters from my apartment

The beach and surf, about 25 meters from my apartment

The beach, about 25 meters from my apartment

The beach, about 25 meters from my apartment

I scored a loner fat-tired bike today and took it for a spin. I discovered a seawall embedded with tons of old WWII relicts including huge boilers, cylinders, gears, and engines – fascinating. And where there are shorelines there often are shorebirds.

 

Whimbrel - a dirty-grey bird

Whimbrel – a dirty-grey bird

Whimbrel - a dirty-grey bird

Whimbrel – a dirty-grey bird

Whimbrel - a dirty gray bird, lacking "Barn Owl brown" colored plumage, without fluffy inner thigh feathers.

Whimbrel – a dirty gray bird, lacking “Barn Owl brown” colored plumage, without fluffy inner thigh feathers.

Whimbrel close up of flanks, thighs, and tail

Whimbrel close up of flanks, thighs, and tail

Bristle-thighed Curlew

Bristle-thighed Curlew

Bristle-thighed Curlew - with fluffy inner thighs

Bristle-thighed Curlew – with fluffy inner thighs

Bristle-thighed Curlew - a Whimbrel-like bird, but with fluffy inner thighs and some tawny "Barn Owl brown" plumage on flanks and tail

Bristle-thighed Curlew – a Whimbrel-like bird, but with fluffy inner thighs and some tawny “Barn Owl brown” plumage on flanks and tail

Do you see the differences between the Whimbrel and the Bristle-thighed Curlew?

 

Eurasian Tree Sparrow

Eurasian Tree Sparrow

Eurasian Tree Sparrow - the only passerine observed on Kwajalein over a three week period

Eurasian Tree Sparrow – the only species of passerine observed on Kwajalein over a three week period

Eurasian Tree Sparrows were very common.

 

Old iron engines placed to form a sea wall

Old iron engines placed to form a sea wall

Old iron boilers placed to form a sea wall

Old iron boilers placed to form a sea wall

Old iron debris placed to form a sea wall

Old iron debris placed to form a sea wall

Where there are shores, shorebirds may be present. Tattler (left); Pacific Golden Plover (right).

Where there are shores, shorebirds may be present. Tattler (left); Pacific Golden Plover (right).

A Tattler - this time of year the call is the only reliable way to distinguish a Wandering Tattler from a Grey-tailed Tattler

A Tattler – this time of year the call is the only reliable way to distinguish a Wandering Tattler from a Grey-tailed Tattler

Ruddy Turnstones in alternate, non-breeding plumage (i.e., no ruddiness)

Ruddy Turnstones in alternate, non-breeding plumage (i.e., no ruddiness)

Northern Pintail - unexpected puddle ducks

Distant Northern Pintail – unexpected puddle ducks

 

December 21, 2014

Today was Sunday, our day off. The atoll is about three miles long and less than a half mile wide. I set off on my loaner bike to explore the island. Within an hour I ran into the only other person with binoculars – Richard Clearman – the birder who has been posting on eBird for the past several months. I tagged along behind him as he did his weekly count.

Richard Clearman from Minnesota (grew up and birded in Texas as a youngster)

Richard Clearman from Minnesota (grew up and birded in Texas as a youngster)

Richard showed me a great place to snorkel, so before lunch I rented the equipment and went out for two hours, lathered up with sun block 50 and was partially protected in a white T-shirt. I did not get burned a bit! I saw dozens of spectacular species of fish, so colorful and bizarre, some very odd-shaped. Nice living coral reefs, a foot-wide anemone, and an even larger clam.

 

Landing Craft Marine (LCM)

Landing Craft Marine (LCM)

Richard pointed out a sunken LCM (Landing Craft Marine). See the vessel in back? That is one. They were used to land marines on Normandy back in WWII. See the antenna with the ball on top at the right – that is all that is poking up from the sunken LCM which I explored.

 

Emon Beach - a nice place to swim, snorkel, and picnic

Emon Beach – a nice place to swim, snorkel, and picnic

My next place to snorkel (above). It is windy (below).

The beach near my apartments. It is still quite windy, gusting to 30 mph.

The beach near my apartments. It is still quite windy, gusting to 30 mph.

White Tern

White Tern

One final shot of a White Tern for the day. They are so photogenic I couldn’t resist.

Black Noddy

Black Noddy

 

December 22, 2014

The forecast for the next few days calls for high winds, rough seas, and rain. Indeed the storm cells continued to come and go all day, but towards the end of the day it was mostly clear.

The beach in front of my apartment. Which species of birds might the storms bring in? I noticed a distant shearwater of some type through my binoculars, but it was too far off to identify.

A storm cell arriving from the east promises rain. Will a few birds drop out?

A storm cell arriving from the east promises rain. Will a few birds drop out?

 

On my way to lunch I stopped by my apartment and photographed this bird.

Pacific Reed Heron

Pacific Reed Heron

Pacific Reef Heron

Pacific Reef Heron

My best view ever of a Pacific Reef Heron.

 

This Pacific Golden Plover had some alternate plumage, including a black belly.

Pacific Golden Plover with some alternate plumage

Pacific Golden Plover with some alternate plumage

 

Pacific Golden Plover with some alternate plumage

Pacific Golden Plover with some alternate plumage

 

It was fun to observe this Sharp-tailed Sandpiper at close range! It is much different than the Pectoral Sandpipers back in Oregon. I haven’t seen any pectorals on the island yet, which would be nice to photograph for comparison.

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. Note the reddish cap.

 

I relocated the rare Bristle-thighed Curlew today. I had to try to get some better photographs!

Bristle-thighed Curlew

Bristle-thighed Curlew

Bristle-thighed Curlew. Note the tawny brown plumage on flanks and tail, and the fluffy inner thighs.

Bristle-thighed Curlew. Note the tawny-brown plumage on flanks and tail, and the fluffy inner thighs.

Bristle-thighed Curlew. Note the tawny brown plumage on flanks and tail, and the fluffy inner thighs.

Bristle-thighed Curlew. Note the tawny-brown plumage on flanks and tail, and the fluffy inner thighs.

Bristle-thighed Curlew. Note the tawny brown plumage on flanks and tail, and the fluffy inner thighs.

Bristle-thighed Curlew. Note the tawny brown-plumage on flanks and tail, and the fluffy inner thighs.

The fluffy thighs are very apparent as it trotted away.

 

December 23, 2014

The storms and winds were worse today, with only brief cloud breaks and sun. Bike riding was challenging, but good exercise.

After dinner I biked down to the small marina where the fishermen clean their fish. About a dozen of these 200+ pound Nurse Sharks were right at the water’s edge, disappointed no fishing today because of high winds. These sharks have mouths like a catfish. I have been told that an 18-foot Black-tipped Shark usually visits for chum, so I will be back after fishing resumes.

An 8-foot, 200+ pound Nurse Shark

An 8-foot, 200+ pound Nurse Shark

 

December 24, 2014

 

There are a few signs of Christmas here and there, so I will capture a few photos and send out an updated blog text tomorrow. Next, a morning swim. It is 5:10 am and I am about to walk over to the saltwater swimming pool for an hour’s swim in the dark. There are a few lights around the pool, but that is it. It is windy and rainy, in the 70s.

Not much else happened today on or off the job site. I went for a two-hour sunset swim at Emon’s Beach, definitely the highlight of the day!

 

December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas! I am a day ahead of folks on the mainland. Here is how things went down today. First some Christmas decor in the lobby of my hotel and in the dining hall.

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

I worked on my birding website this morning, and I am getting very close to posting 360 captioned photographs from my vacation with Rebecca in Zambia (Victoria Falls), Botswana (Chobe National Park), and South Africa (Cape Town, Wilderness, and Robben Island). Please stay tuned.

I hopped on my bike for exercise, but a major storm cell was heading our way from the east.

A large storm cell approaching from the east. Photo taken from the beach by my apartment.

A large storm cell approaching from the east. Photo taken from the beach by my apartment.

High winds and rain disrupt these coconut palms next to my apartment

High winds and rain disrupt these coconut palms next to my apartment

It dumped a lot of rain from the east, typical.

 

Here’s the storm on the other side of the atoll, after it had passed.

The western end of the island with the passing storm in the distance

The western end of the island with the passing storm in the distance

The beach by my apartment a few hours after the storm passed

The beach by my apartment a few hours after the storm passed

An hour or so later it was all over!

 

Black Noddy

Black Noddy

This Black Noddy was tuckered out! I was very happy to finally get a shot of one at rest. They are usually on the wing.

 

Black Noddy

Black Noddy

A Black Noddy, winging it, typical.

 

A crab

A crab

This little 5-inch crab had a great deal of spirit!

 

This crab is on high alert

This crab is on high alert

Same crab as viewed from the side.

 

Gray-tailed Tattler. This bird was identified by its feeble call. This time of year its look-alike kin - the Wandering Tattler - has a much louder, raucous call

Gray-tailed Tattler. This bird was identified by its feeble call. This time of year its look-alike kin – the Wandering Tattler – has a much louder, raucous call.

A tattler, Probably a Gray-tailed Tattler based upon its feeble call.

 

A crab

A crab

Another nice crab at the small marina.

 

A small 50+ pound Black-tipped Shark

A small 50+ pound Black-tipped Shark

A small 50+ pound Black-tipped Shark

A small 50+ pound Black-tipped Shark

A small 50+ pound Black-tipped Shark

A small 50+ pound Black-tipped Shark

Nurse Shark in shallow water at low tide

Nurse Shark in shallow water at low tide

An 8-foot Nurse Shark

 

Several 8-foot, 200+ pound Nurse Sharks

Several 8-foot, 200+ pound Nurse Sharks

Several 200+ pound Nurse Sharks. The sign clearly states No Swimming. Can’t they read?

 

Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands

Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands

Here is where I am at Kwajalein Atoll about 2,100 miles southwest of Hawaii. I plan to be back on January 13th. See you later!

 

December 28, 2014

I met Richard Clearman and accompanied him on his routine Kwajalein bird count route which he regularly submits to eBird. The best birds were seven Sharp-tailed Sandpipers on the gold course – easily appreciated close in through binoculars. We saw hundreds of Spinner Dolphins. Today 20 large Nurse Sharks performed a feeding frenzy five feet offshore, after a fisherman tossed in a large, hard Marlin head (no photos though). Here are a few photos from the day.

 

December 29, 2014

I managed to check out the point where the sea turtles are regularly seen, and was not disappointed. I hope to snorkel out to them, and the Manta Rays, IF the winds EVER die down below 20 mph (so the water at the point would be less choppy). I went biking and then swimming after work. I noticed the constellation Orion, positioned horizontally on its left side – things are different at 8 or 9 degrees north lattitude.

 

January 4, 2015

Today was my day off so I planned a short ferry ride over to Ebeye Atoll and back. Ebeye has 13,500 or so people living on 80 acres under third world conditions. Everyone gets a regular check from the US goverment and does not have to pay any rent. A king rules Ebeye and splits $350,000,000 a year (US Bases) rental with four other Marshallese kings. I prearranged a driver for the day and made it up to the fourth atoll in a chain of six…The road petered out into tire tracks, so that is as far as we travelled north, perhaps four miles north.

Ebeye Atoll off in the distance from Kwaj

Ebeye Atoll off in the distance from Kwaj

Approaching Ebeye as seen from the ferry

Approaching Ebeye as seen from the ferry

Downtown Ebeye

Downtown Ebeye

 

It is early Sunday morning and most folks are in church.

It is early Sunday morning and most folks are in church.

 

Typical Ebeye housing

Typical Ebeye housing

Low tide next to the town dump

Low tide next to the town dump

Pacific Reef Heron, dark morph

Pacific Reef Heron, dark morph

Pacific Reef Heron, light morph with violet-colored bill

Pacific Reef Heron, light morph (?) with violet-colored bill

Pacific Reef Heron, molting into dark morph plumage perhaps?

Pacific Reef Heron, molting into dark morph plumage perhaps?

Pacific Reef Heron, close up

Pacific Reef Heron, close up

This young man offered up this item for sale, with a non verbal soft pitch. How could I say no? I could not.

This young man offered up this item for sale, with a non verbal soft pitch. How could I say no? I could not.

One of dozens of pieces of corroding equipment

One of dozens of pieces of corroding equipment

Run good, needs work. Tires are good,engine is fair.

The road north of Ebeye to the second atoll

The road north of Ebeye to the second atoll

This looks like a good spot to scan for shorebirds on the lagoon side

This looks like a good spot to scan for shorebirds on the lagoon side, low tide

I asked the driver to stop here, so I could look for a Lesser Sand Plover, which would be a life bird for me. This seemed like appropriate foraging habitat, and I could see distant Ruddy Turnstones and a few Pacific Goldnen Plovers.

What's the bird to the left of the two Ruddy Turnstones?

What’s the bird to the left of the two Ruddy Turnstones?

What luck! As I describe the bird I am looking for to the driver, I spot one within 30 seconds of our stop. It will be the only one we will see today.

Lesser Sand Plover and Ruddy Turnstone

Lesser Sand Plover and Ruddy Turnstone

Not a large bird…About the size of a turnstone…Large than Snowy and Piping Plovers though.

Lesser Sand Plover

Lesser Sand Plover

Satisfying views and photographs on the bird!

A Ruddy Turnstone in basic plumage, stretched out, foraging

A Ruddy Turnstone in basic plumage, stretched out, foraging

This is how they normally appear while foraging

This is how they normally appear while foraging

A rusting landing craft marine (LCM)

A rusting landing craft marine (LCM)

The same LCM

The same LCM

And two large rusting barges

And two large rusting barges

A tattler loafing on the barge as the tide comes in

A tattler loafing on a barge as the tide comes in

A Pacific Golden Plover resting on the barge

A Pacific Golden Plover resting on a barge

A Black-naped Tern

A Black-naped Tern

A distant Black-naped Tern, magnified

A distant Black-naped Tern, magnified

These terns appear superficially similar to White Terns, but are difficult to approach and photograph.

A Great Crested Tern, basic plumage

A Great Crested Tern, basic plumage

A Great Crested Tern, alternate plumage

A Great Crested Tern, alternate plumage

Two Great Crested Terns, basic plumage - sub adults perhaps?

Two Great Crested Terns, basic plumage – sub adults perhaps?

An alert tattler at full attention

An alert tattler at full attention

Another tattler, typical relaxed pose

Another tattler, typical relaxed pose

My only Sanderling of the trip (left). Ruddy Turnstone (right). In the distance, on the road at high tide, and not very approachable.

My only Sanderling of the trip (left). Ruddy Turnstone (right). In the distance, on the road at high tide, and not very approachable.

Turnstones and tatllers loafing on high ground at peak high tide, typical

Turnstones and tatllers loafing on high ground at peak high tide, typical

The 4 pm ferry arrives. I will return to Kwajalein on this vessel.

The 4 pm ferry arrives. I will return to Kwajalein on this vessel.

Another excellent day of birding and adventure!

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