Guest Feature: Hawai’i State Bird…by Brad Marks

Well, the good news is we made it back from Witchita..I mean Wichita yesterday after 10 long hours passing through corn field after cornfield. Pulled into the driveway, bolted into the house, changed and managed to get another training run in. Perfect conditions for the latter half of the actual race – dead tired, legs and back sore from sitting so long and temps dropping as fast as the sun. Now it’s Halloween trail 7×28 (need to find a way to squeeze a few more hours out of each day). Clearly going to be a struggle to get my required posts up with the current pace of things, so pressed the bat signal once again. Brad once again came to my aid – actually, more than came to my aid, brought me not one, but TWO features to help fill the gaps (and I think he is working on another one for you). Cannot thank him enough for the assist and I know you will enjoy this second adventure. I’m going to head back into the woods now and try to get a nasty clown infestation under control – happens every year right before the big party, sigh. Time to step aside and let Brad take the helm once again. Take care and see you down the road.

……Take it away Brad

We were fortunate enough to recently enjoy a lengthy vacation on the Big Island of Hawai’i.  Our daughter and her boyfriend were able to join us for the first week.  We spent time on the beaches, snorkeled, took coffee & chocolate plantation tours, and went to a luau.  We drove to the mountains and stayed overnight on the volcano.  We hiked many miles over hardened lava and through the rainforest and near the coast to see 500-year-old petroglyphs.  We watched every sunset possible and caught a few sunrises as well.

We probably went through a gallon of reef-safe sunscreen (OK, I probably did by myself).  We maximized the “unlimited mileage” on our rental car (a little over 2,000 miles total) even though the island is not much more than 90 miles across.  You would think the Hawai’i state bird would be as obvious as the Northern Cardinal is in our home state of Illinois.  You would be wrong.  We couldn’t see more than two up close until our last five hours on the island.

Nene from Brad Marks

Hit the jump to read more of Brad’s adventure.

Not very many things say Hawai’i like the Hawaiian Goose, or Nene (Nay-Nay).  Nene are the State bird of Hawai’i.  They are native to Hawai’i and found ONLY on the islands of Hawai’i.  The Hawaiian Creation Chant refers to them as the “guardian spirits of the land”.

Nene have recently been upgraded to “Threatened” on the Endangered Species List.  Their population is increasing ever so slowly, so they are not quite out of the woods.  In the mid 1940’s there were only about 30 Nene left, and it looked like extinction was their next stop.  Today, thanks to intense protection and multi-national breeding efforts, there are between 2,500 to 3,000 in total (hard to count them because they don’t sit still for very long) with 1,000 of those in captivity.  Nene are the rarest goose in the world and the Hawaiian Islands are their ONLY habitat. (did I mention that already?!)  They can live up to 35 years or more in the wild.  Once bonded, a pair is together for life.

Nene nest on the ground, which makes their eggs particularly vulnerable to predation from other species introduced throughout the years including:  mongoose, cats, dogs, feral pigs, rats, and humans.  Come to think of it, humans brought all of the others to these isolated islands in the first place.  (Sidebar:  Mongoose were introduced to Hawaii starting in the 1870’s to control the rat problem.  Rats caused significant damage to the #1 cash crop:  sugarcane.  Many suggested studying the rat problem a bit more to see how other nations fared when introducing mongoose.  They were ignored.  One problem became two problems:  rats are nocturnal, mongoose diurnal.  Guess who never sees each other?!)

Nene from Brad Marks

Nene and the Canada Goose are thought to have diverged from a common ancestor between 500,000 and three million years ago.  The Hawaiian Goose has a very similar body type to the Canada Goose (43” long, wingspan up to 73” and adults weigh up to 14 lbs.) but Nene are smaller (26” long, wingspan up to 38” and adults average 4-5 lbs.).  Nene females are slightly smaller than the males.  Both have black and white striped necks with mostly black heads and their average brown “blend into the background” plumage.  They are capable of flight between the islands, but do not need to fly very often because they do not migrate (no giant V’s in the air like their cousins from Canada).  With the exception of one trio flying over the volcano caldera (too far to walk around it I guess) the Nene we saw preferred to walk everywhere, even right down the middle of Chain of Craters Road like this pair. (Nene feet have adapted to a more terrestrial life with less webbing on their feet and thicker pads for walking on the lava plains).

Nene from Brad Marks

As we drove up very slowly, this pair wandered over out of curiosity.  They were constantly “talking” to each other and us, with a variety of muted vocalizations.  Some say they sound like a soft “moo”, or like their namesake “nay-nay”, or like a library quiet Canada Goose call.  When full grown they ignore predators and show little fear of humans.

In contrast to what all of the experts say about their habitat, we often saw them on pavement.  When gathered in numbers they seemed to dominate the wildlife in the area.  These Nene were eating cat kibble from a parking lot.

Nene from Brad Marks

The Big Island has many (hundreds of) feral cats.  Many good-natured cat lovers buy cat food to feed the cats at feeding stations scattered around the island.  While Nene are normally grazers, feeding in the lava fields on grasses or native shrubs, they seem to have developed a taste for cat kibble.  On our last day we found a lady pouring mounds of kibble on the pavement for the cats to eat.  The Nene would gang up and chase the cats away so they could eat the kibble.  Bellies full, they then scurried off to enjoy the sunset.

Nene from Brad Marks

Since we visited outside of the normal breeding season (October thru February), we did not see any toddler or teenage Nene.  The teenagers were all probably playing with their smart devices or at the Nene mall.

Nene from Brad Marks

Just after photographing this bird, we had to drive to the airport.  But as the sun was setting, we safely pulled off the highway to watch the last Hawaiian sunset of our vacation.  Never miss a good Hawaiian sunset.  Here is one of the best from our prior visits.

Nene from Brad Marks

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