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An 'I'iwi pauses briefy while feeding on the nectar-rich blossom of the 'ohi'a lehua tree.


Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF500mm f/4L IS USM +1.4x at 700 mm, 1/800 sec at f/5.6, ISO 800

A critically endangered Palila feeds on seed pods of the Mamane tree.


Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF500mm f/4L IS USM +2.0x at 1000 mm, 1/400 sec at f/11, ISO 800

On several recent visits to Hawaii’s Big Island, Alison and I have made efforts to see as many of the endemic forest bird species as possible. With significant amounts of driving and hiking we have managed a fair degree of success. So, perhaps with an inflated sense of confidence, on a recent trip to the Big Island I brought my big lens and other assorted camera gear with the goal of capturing some of these tropical gems in photographs. While none of the target birds were particularly cooperative — most of the time either they remained hidden, stayed way up high in the trees, or moved constantly behind a tangle of vegetation — I was fortunate to create a few images that I consider “keepers.”

The bird pictured in the top photograph is an &#39I&#39iwi (Vestiaria coccinea). With its long, decurved bill colored to match its brilliant red feathers, its exotic appearance makes it one of my favorite Hawaiian birds. Like nearly all native Hawaiian birds, the &#39I&#39iwi is under pressure, and the State of Hawaii has classified the &#39I&#39iwi as Endangered due to its numbers declining throughout the island chain. Only on East Maui and Hawaii at elevations above 1250 meters have populations stabilized, primarily because only in these areas can the &#39I&#39iwi escape the mosquito-borne illnesses that have wiped them out at lower elevations. The photo in this post shows the &#39I&#39iwi perched on an emerging blossom of the ohi’a lehua tree (Metrosideros polymorpha). &#39I&#39iwi rely on the nectar from these (and other) blossoms, along with insects, as their major sources of sustenance.

Another endemic species of Hawaiian honeycreeper is shown in the bottom picture: a white, gray, and yellow bird called the Palila (Loxiodes bailleui). We were fortunate to find at least four Palilas feeding near the old ranger’s cabin at Pu’u La’au on Mauna Kea’s Western slope. On the way to this spot, I listened to the song and calls of the Palila on my iPod, which paid off handsomely as I recognized the real-life Palila vocalizations as soon as I hopped out of our rented Jeep. Heading in the direction of the Palila’s calls, I spotted them just 100 yards away from our parking spot. In 2009 the Palila’s conservation status was downgraded from “Endangered” to “Critically Endangered”. Chief among the threats to the Palila’s continued survival is habitat loss. It feeds primarily on the seed pods of the Mamane (Sophora chrysophylla) tree, a tree whose range has been reduced approximately 95% by livestock and grazing mammals introduced for sport hunting.

At least 55 species of Hawaiian honeycreepers are known to have existed, all descendants of a few wayward mainland finches. By the time Europeans arrived in the late 1700’s 18 species had already gone extinct due to impacts from Polynesian settlers. Sadly, only 17 species survive today, as human colonization of Hawaii and the non-native species that accompanied the colonizers have resulted in mass extinctions. Extinctions continue to this day, with the most recent being Maui’s Po&#39o-uli (Melamprosops phaeosoma) in 2004. On this trip, I was able to photograph (with widely varying degrees of image quality) six of the remaining nine species of native Big Island forest birds including three species of honeycreepers.

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