Taking Flight Over the Na Pali The Na ‘Pali Coast is filled with wonder and mystery. There are miles of unexplored valleys and waterfalls. The scenery is constantly changing, with cliff sides collapsing, and coastlines eroding. Each time I get on a boat, or enter the wilderness to hike a new trail, explore a new riverbed or canyon peak, I see Kauai's sea birds and I wonder what they have seen and if they realize they live in paradise. Birds on Kauai range from native Hawaiian birds to birds introduced to the Hawaiian Islands throughout the years. Some are migratory, some live here their whole lives and some live at sea, keeping nests near beaches and on cliffs. This article will focus on a few choice birds found along the Na’Pali coast cliffs, caves, and valleys, as well as birds found in Kilauea on the north side of Kauai. There are many endangered species of birds found on Kauai, most importantly, the state bird, the Nene. The Na’Pali Coast, and surrounding Pacific Ocean is the perfect habitat for seabirds. By travelling long the Na’Pali Coast, we are able to get a glimpse at the lives of these free flyers. The largest of the seabirds on Kauai, but smallest of its family is the Black-footed Albatross or Ka’upu. It can be seen on the ocean during daylight hours, hunting for fish eggs, squid, and crustaceans. This bird hunts alongside other types of birds, towering over with its 6-7ft wingspan. The black-footed Albatross is easily recognizable by a white band around its long, dark beak. The bird’s plumage is typically completely dark-gray to black, but some Black-footed Albatross have white tail feathers. From November to May, the birds nest near beaches. In monogamous pairs, they share the duty of incubating a single
Taking Flight Over the Na Pali
The Na ‘Pali Coast is filled with wonder and mystery. There are miles of unexplored valleys and waterfalls. The scenery is constantly changing, with cliff sides collapsing, and coastlines eroding.
Survivor of the Sea Seeing Hawaiian monk seals along the Na Pali Coast is always a rare treat. As one of the most endangered species left on the planet, their numbers are dwindling each year with only approximately 1,200 individuals left in the wild. Even with federal protection their road to recovery is a long one—being that it is a road full of potholes. They are unable to reproduce fast enough to replenish the population, at a sustainable level, as it takes roughly eight years for a female to reach maturity. When the female does give birth the mortality rate for a pup is extremely high due to shark predation, lack of food, habitat loss, and entanglement in derelict fishing gear. Human interaction is also a problem as more pups are born in the main Hawaiian Islands at popular beach areas. So, many obstacles to survival clearly show their extinction is inevitable. For those who do survive against all of these odds, a life of leisure seems to be the case—or so it seems at first. We often spot the Hawaiian monk seal basking on the beach and looking so very sleepy and mild-mannered. But the seals are actually taking an important “nap” and are not to be disturbed. They are restoring the critical energy they will need to hunt for food later on—to keep them alive. For these survivors of the sea, extreme intelligence is key. They are smart, top of their class, and never to be underestimated. With the energy of puppy dogs, and the grace and speed of ballerinas in the sea, they are able to conquer the challenges of the ocean. When I do occasional scuba dives at the island of Ni‘ihau, there is a monk seal who acts as the “welcoming committee” for me every
Survivor of the Sea
Seeing Hawaiian monk seals along the Na Pali Coast is always a rare treat.
Several summers ago I recall seeing a dead goat on the reef at Hanakoa Valley. The poor goat had lost its footing and fallen to its death, landing on the exposed reef ledge, only 2-3 feet above sea level. After about four days baking in the hot, summer sun the smell had become strong enough to literally make you start to dry heave. I remember passing the corpse on the fifth day thinking what a stink this guy is, this couldn’t be good for business and how long will it be before the smell would dissipate? Summer afternoon tides rise high and like magic as we passed back down the coast the tide had taken the carcass away, to my delight. But was it really gone? Was it? Then I saw what appeared from a distance to be an upside down table floating on the surface of the water, with the bobbing legs sticking straight up in the air. the table was moving erratically as if it were alive, but the legs were stiff as can be. As I got closer I quickly figured it out. It was the goat, and its dead carcass was being savagely mauled by no less than six hungry white tip reef sharks. It reminded me of seeing my young daughters devour an ice cream sundae with chocolate syrup dripping down their mouths. Before the carcass floated out to sea, these sharks must have been waiting in anticipation for days as the goat’s blood scent tickled their senses from above, and streamed out into the ocean with the tide, whose gentle lower tide lapping against the carcass like basting a turkey on Thanksgiving. No doubt the sharks sensed this meal for days before it was presented to them in this high tide feast in July,
Several summers ago I recall seeing a dead goat on the reef atHanakoa Valley. The poor goat had lost its footing and fallen to its death, landing on the exposed reef ledge, only 2-3 feet above sea level.