US trip: Hawai'I

To: Birding Aus <>
Subject: US trip: Hawai'I
From: Denise Goodfellow <>
Date: Tue, 23 Jun 2009 15:04:28 +0930

We arrived in Honolulu, Oahu, late on Monday, 1st June, from Dallas, Texas,
and after about an hour's wait, caught an inter-island flight to Hawai'I,
often known as the Big Island, but not to Indigenous Hawaiians. (Hawai'i is
the island's actual name, but was given to the chain by Pai'ea Kamehameha
[meaning ³the lonely one] who ruled as last war chief/first king).   From
above the island appeared heavily fissured with steep verdant razorback

My hanai sister, Leilehua Yuen, had invited me to Hawai'i, to run workshops
for women in birdwatching tourism, and give them some strategies for dealing
with insensitive comments that often greet hula performances.  This followed
on from similar work I'd done with Kunwinjku people in western Arnhem Land.

Leilehua greeted us at the Hilo airport with leis and a now famous song, Oli
Alo ha, written by Mary Kawena Pukui. She took us to her family home, a
large white 1930s bungalow sitting high above the street in a large
overgrown tropical garden. The house had belonged to her grandfather, one of
the first indigenous Hawaiian physicians.  Leilehua lives with her husband
who looks after his aged mother, but spends some time each month repairing
the house so that her husband and she can eventually return.

In Leilehua's garden that first day we saw only introduced birds - Japanese
White-eye, Mourning and Zebra/Peaceful Dove,  Java Sparrow, and Northern
Cardinal.  Oh, I did see an Hawaiian hawk, way off in the distance.

Over 1000 plants, vertebrates and invertebrates have been introduced over
the past seven decades, including frogs, carpenter bees, mosquitoes and the
lowland plants. Mosquitoes carrying avian malaria, have helped to bring
about the extinction of much of the lowland avifauna.

Introduced plants include Australian tree ferns which are sold in nurseries
and grown in gardens throughout Hilo..  Leilehua has Hawaiian tree ferns in
her garden and while they look quite similar to the blow-ins, there are
important differences when it comes to using the fronds in traditional ways.
For a start the Hawaiian fronds are much softer and easier to use.

The next afternoon three women turned up at the bungalow, the hula dancers
for the traditional show that Leilehua holds in the local Palace theatre,
and it was most intriguing to see them go through the Maile (forest spirit)
dance.  This particular presentation was in honour of Trails week.  I was to
be involved as well.

Leilehua was a protege of Auntie Nona Beamer, an Hawaiian cultural authority
who began studying hula, at the age of three.   As an adult she studied
anthropology at Columbia University, and gave the first authentic
performance of ancient hula  at Carnegie Hall, in New York.  In Nona
Beamer's book on Hawaiian chants and rituals (the Institute for Polynesian
Studies, 2001, she writes that ³the foundation of the Hawaiian culture is
the language.²

The  knowledge of the Hawaiian language brought home the loss of language
and culture among my Kunwinjku relatives, exacerbated by the highlighting of
English and Western education to the detriment of other education and
language.  Traditional education of Kunwinjku children is holistic, and on
the outstations they learn by ³doing and observing.² There is an Hawaiian
adage that says it beautifully - Ma ka hana ka 'ike ­ In the work is the
knowledge. Leilehua stressed the importance of  'upena, the net or matrix of
knowledge.  As in a fishing net, no knot is more important than the other.

On the Wednesday morning, Michael and I walked through Hilo to the historic
Palace Theatre where the performance was to take place.  I sat with Oke Ona,
an 87 year old hiker with whom I was to speak on walking trails in the Top
End of Australia.

As the curtains retreated swirling from the stage, Leilehua entered wearing
traditional dress.  She began with the welcoming chant she had performed for
us at the airport. She then switched to English explaining to the audience
how the Hawaiian men had chosen trees to cut down, by watching the behaviour
of ?Elepaio, Chasiempis sandwichensis, a type of flycatcher.  Leilehua says
this bird is a kinolau (body form) of the goddess Lea, a goddess of canoe
carvers.  ?Elepaio would seek grubs by probing the bark of trees.  If it
flew around  a tree and instead of settling down to probe, flew off, then
that was a sound specimen to be cut down.  Leilehua then began the chant
used by the men as they hauled the log down the mountain, the audience
joining in.

Leilehua made an offering to the gods of the forest, and then handed it to
me to carry on stage.  Once there Oke Ona and I talked about the necessity
of being prepared and staying safe while hiking.

One day Michael and I walked to the beach. Only Ruddy Turnstone were present
­ three standing on a rock.  I wanted to look for more shorebirds, but not
having a car made this difficult. On another visit to the shore, this time
with Leilehua, I saw from a distance a small flock of Least Sandpipers and
what appeared to be a Ruff, judging by its size and flight pattern.

Indigenous Hawaiians have names for most shorebirds, and some feature
greatly in the culture.  For instance, Wandering Tattler, is called Ulili an
onomatopeic name. Police whistles are also called Ulili, after the
resemblance of their sound to the bird's call.  Leilehua tells me that Ulili
is not to be confused with Uli, the god of procreation, cited in wedding

One morning we we visited the Kipuka Pu'u Huluhulu at Mauna Kea.  A kipuka
is an area of high land surrounded by lower, younger lava flows. From this
large hill-like mound one can see the huge shield volcano Mauna Loa.

Dry forest  on this kipuka is dominated by three important trees, the
Mamane, Sophora chrysophyla (family Fabaceae)which is the main food source
for an endemic bird, the Palila; the red-flowering ohi'a-lehua, Metrosideros
polymorpha (Myrtaceae) important for two little red songbirds, the 'Apapane
and the 'I'iwi, and the Okoa, Acacia koa (Fabaceae).  The scarlet flower of
the Ohi'a has long stamens and resembles that of a eucalypt or Xanthostemon.
The Okoa has long phyllodes, very much like that of many Top End acacias. I
was surprised to recognise so many indigenous Hawai'ian plants in families
found in the Top End of Australia.

The first bird we spotted at the beginning of the climb, was an Erckel's
Francolin, one of several introduced gamebirds. As we climbed small,
yellow-headed birds began to follow us in pairs ­ Palila.  They were rather
hard to get a good look at as were some gorgeous scarlet birds - 'Apapane -
feeding on a flowering Ohi'a, and so we sat down to see whether they'd come
in.  No luck so we kept on climbing.

Near  the summit, we spotted several more birds.  Most were house finches, a
shock to Leilehua who had seen no introduced birds on her last visit five
years ago.  However, there were also little, plain birds that flew rather
awkwardly ­ Hawai'i Creeper.

Entering the Koa forest we saw more Palila. More shocks were in store
however ­ we sighted Indian mynahs and Japanese White-eye.  Leilehua
mentioned that the area used to be covered with snow in winter, and that
often visitors would turn up in t-shirts and shorts. Now it seemed, snow was
rare, and introduced avifauna and avian malaria were working their way into
some of the last refuges on the endemics.

Leilehua, as a renowned maker of leis and cultural practitioner, knows her
plants backward by their Hawai'an names, even the relatively insignificant
Hawaiian language is very comprehensive,  and there are names for all forms
and all parts of plants.  As for birds, there is even a word to describe the
begging posture used by fledglings and some females ­ nenene.  In turn I
shared my knowledge of plants and birds with Leilehua.  It was an experience
we both enjoyed.

A few days after we arrived, Leilehua held a lei-making class.  We drove to
a town called Volcano near the Volcanoes National Park, to collect
Kamaluhia, and then onto Park Headquarters where they filled out the
necessary forms to allow us to carry out cultural duties within the park.
Dean Gallagher, one of the rangers, and I had a long chat about birdwatching
tourism etc, and I promised to send him my book Birds of Australia's Top

We drove up one of the roads, stopping every now and then to look at plants.
In the traditional way we had to travel to where we would first collect and
then move down so we didn't retrace our steps. When we stopped Leilehua made
an offering and placed it on top of a rock in sight of Mauna Loa.  But the
wind, blowing strongly, threatened to topple the little leaf-bound parcel,
and so she placed it behind the rock.

Prior to this Leilehua had shown us some lava tree moulds.  These were holes
up to five metres deep made where lava had flowed around trees and
solidified. The trees then caught fire in the continuing flow, leaving the
holes.  We didn't wish to collect along the roadsides where visitors could
see us, and so entered the forest, being very careful to walk where there
were rocks.  Lava tree moulds could be anywhere, and we didn't wish to risk
a sudden drop!

Moving downhill to our next stop, a Koa forest, Michael and I were delighted
to encounter some Elepaio.  They were confiding little birds that looked,
and behaved, like a hybrid between a fantail and a fairy-wren.  Then,
driving past a Ohi'a we spotted some red birds ­ Apapane.  But one had a
long beak and  a ³rusty door² call ­ 'I'iwi.  It wasn't keen to make another
appearance and Kamaluhia had to feed her baby so we left. Kamaluhia, like
Leilehua, is very keen to learn about Hawai'an birds and birdwatching
tourism, and I promised that next trip I'd run more workshops.

After dropping Kamaluhia home with a promise to return in a few hours to
show her lei-making techniques, Leilehua took us off to see the volcanoes
from Jaggar Museum.  The museum is named for Dr. Thomas A Jaggar who came to
Hawai'i in 1909 to serve as director of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.
His concern for society resulted in improvements to the forecasting of
eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis.  From the museum we looked into the
smoking caldera of Halema'uma'u.

I had hoped to see Nene, the indigenous goose now the state bird of Hawaii,
and Koa'e, White-tailed Tropicbird roosting in the crater.  Unfortunately
there were no Nene in the grounds, and we couldn't explore too widely as a
gas alert was in place.  Elevated sulphurous gases (sulphur dioxide) had
made driving around the crater dangerous.  Sulphur dioxide levels were 700
tonnes per day compared to the average rate of 140 tonnes per day. The
island was on orange alert, with molten lava present in a funnel-shaped
cavity in the floor of the crater.

So we went instead to the big caldera, Kilauea 'iki, parked at the top and
went for a walk in the drizzling rain. Hundreds of feet below us, on the
smoking floor of the volcano, were walkers.  As I watched them, a bright
orange bird with a short beak flew past ­ 'Akepa.  We then drove to the
Volcano Hotel where we saw many 'Apapane.

It was late by the time we returned to Kamaluhia's home.  But she needed to
know lei-making techniques in order to show them to relatives she was about
to visit.  So Michael and I entertained baby Nigel while the two women sat
cross-legged on the floor. Then Michael took charge of Bubs while I joined
in the class.

The next day, a Sunday, we joined a group of volunteers from E Mau Na Ala
Hele, members of the Pu'u Wa'awa'a Volunteer Work Program and Mike Donoho of
the Division of Forestry and Wildlife in clearing a path through a forest.
This particular area has won funding to clear weeds, namely Fountain Grass
Pennesetum  sp. and Silk Oak, an invasive grevillea, from a public hiking
trail, part of the historic Pu'u Wa'awa'a Ranch, and put in habitat for

On the way we spotted Yellow-billed Cardinal, a South American species,
hopping around the carpark near a shopping centre.  When we stopped near the
park where we were to work, flocks of Yellow-fronted Canaries in the
invasive Fountain Grass, and a few Japanese White-eye were the only obvious
birds. Near the park building was a dam under construction. A pair of
worried Hawaiian stilts flew round in circles, and so I moved away thinking
they might have young ­ this was later confirmed by the ranger.

At least fifty volunteers turned up to remove stones from the track.  One I
got to know was Cindy Evans, a state MP.  She, Leilehua and I heaved stones
together, all the while talking.  We covered topics from birdwatching
tourism to motor cycles.

We left early as I had to prepare a presentation to give the next day.
However, as usual, we became side-tracked.  First, a couple of friendly
horses hung their heads over the fence for a pat.  Then I spotted Saffron
finches ­ we'd seen them before in Hilo, but not as well.  On a fence nearby
sat some rather pale finch-like birds ­ Warbling Silverbills, another
introduced species.

On the way back to Hilo Leilehua asked if we'd like to see the site where
the film Waterworld was made.  It proved to be a huge valley, Waipi'o,
overhung with trees that looked very much like paperbarks Melaleuca
leucadendra. Nearby hopped a Yellow-billed Cardinal and so I took its photo!
Far below, Koa'e glided over the breaking waves.

And of course we couldn't miss the highest waterfall on the island ­ Aka.  A
most beautiful place, but, sadly, Leilehu couldn't find one native plant.
And the only bird in sight was a Japanese White-eye, and the only frog we
heard, the Coqui, Eleutherdactylus coqui (family Leptodactylidae, a family
not found in Australia) introduced from Puerto Rico.   I couldn't help
comparing the place with the Australian waterfalls I'm familiar with.

On the Monday, I gave my last talk, a Kope Kope Coffee House.  Elaine, a
delightful lady of Japanese ancestry, who had worked in the Congressional
Library, Washington DC, came to collect us as Leilehua was busy - she had
conducted a wedding service in the morning and was now running a hula class.
Elaine greeted Michael and me with beautiful leis she'd made by hand,
placing them around our necks and then hugging us.

Elaine was avidly interested in native plants and birds, and on reading of
my talk in the local newspaper, had decided to come along, as had several
other people.  Elaine said she often had Pueo, Short-eared Owl, and 'Io,
Hawaiian Hawk in her garden.  Michael and I had seen the latter from
Leilehua's garden, along with a large raptor, its wings held in a dihedral
Of the latter bird Leilehua said there were odd records of Steller's Eagle
being blown in on storms, along with other Palearctic birds, but this one
didn't come close enough for me to ID.

Leilehua is a world-authority on early monarchy styles of Hawaiian feathered
regalia, Kahili ­ the royal feathered standards (analagous to a coat of
arms), from the period around 1778, and is interested in doing a PhD so that
this knowledge is not lost.  If anyone knows of a university who would
welcome such an expert studying with them, please let me know.

Leilehua has also begun compiling information on Hawaiian birds, and is
interested in doing a book in the style of Birds of Australia¹s Top End.

The next morning, our last full day in Hawai'i, I looked out the kitchen
window to spot a  medium-sized brown bird wearing what appeared to be white
eye-liner heading across the lawn into the bush -  Melodious Laughing
Thrush, yet another introduction. When we left to catch the plane to Sydney,
Leilehua sang to us as she had done on the first day, and we promised we'd
be back.

At Sydney Airport, the television program, Border Security, was being
filmed.  To our relief the officer was professional but very friendly.  I
told him that I¹d scrubbed my boots with nappy cleaner both entering and
leaving the US.  He approved.  Soon we were on the flight back to the NT.

Michael and I would like to thank the following people for helping to
arrange this trip and for sorting out various problems along the way:  Alana
McBride (great service and advice, my dear friend) and Melita Zaknic; Fred
and Anne Weinmann; Nicole Duplaix; Ron Felzer; Muriel Horacek; Bob Sanger;
Sky and Anne Hilts; Meredith B. McGuire; Gerald Kyle; Ellen Prediger; Ross
and Lyn Silcock (special mention to Lyn for her efforts in obtaining
antibiotics for me); Ros and Don Pevsner; Jesse Pope; Stewart Skeate; Ellen
Rudolph; Margo Smith; Anne Lindsey and Nancy Easterling; and the one and
only Leilehua Yuen.

Denise Lawungkurr Goodfellow
PO Box 3460 NT 0832, AUSTRALIA
Ph. 61 08 89 328306
Mobile: 04 386 50 835

Birdwatching and Indigenous tourism consultant
PhD Candidate


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