Late grebes and loons take risk

Common Loon

The Common Loon can barely walk on land and if forced, will try to scoot along on its belly. Courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Published Dec. 21, 2014, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Risking nice Wyoming weather, grebes, loons get caught.”

By Barb Gorges

You probably recognize that sinking feeling I had the morning of Nov. 10 when we cleared Denver traffic and a solid wall of cloud was suddenly visible 50-60 miles away, between us and home.

The rain, predicted for afternoon, started around 9 a.m. at Fort Collins, Colorado. In a few miles it turned to flakes. The road surface quickly iced as we climbed in elevation.

Northbound traffic slowed to a crawl, but only because there was a traffic jam of emergency vehicles gathered near the Colorado-Wyoming state line, where vehicles slid off the interstate earlier. One was lying on its roof.

No matter how slowly, we were happy to still be creeping toward home.

Some birds, however, were not as lucky with the weather.

One would think that migratory birds would be tuned into changes, but even they can be caught unawares.

If you remember that week, along with the snow, the temperatures dropped into negative numbers at night. My husband was contemplating an early start to the ice fishing season.

On Nov. 14, I had a bird call–people wondering how to help a Western grebe found at the plant west of town. They took it to the Cheyenne Pet Clinic, which is licensed to handle wild birds.

The bird had to be euthanized because a wing joint was broken and couldn’t be repaired. Veterinarian Christopher Church said two other grebes were rescued and brought in that week and staff were able to release them at the Wyoming Hereford Ranch. Later that day, a Wyobirds report came in about a loon stuck in a small bit of open water, unable to take off. Someone in the Riverton area reported eared grebes, I think it was, also getting stuck.

Grebes and loons have bodies evolved for swimming underwater, not walking. Their legs are at the back of their bodies, like an outboard motor, and not under their center of gravity, like a normal bird.

Because their feet do all the work when underwater, their wings are small. And their bones are not light and hollow like a songbird’s, but dense, making it easier to dive. Flying is difficult for them.

Ornithologist Joel Carl Welty calculated a loon’s wing-load, square centimeters of wing area to bird weight in grams, as 0.6. On the other hand, a black-capped chickadee is 6.1–comparatively buoyant. A Leach’s petrel, an ocean-going bird, finds flying extremely easy at 9.5.

So, these heavy loons and grebes, hardly ever trying to move around on land, can only take to the air by flapping while pattering their feet against the water surface, Loons need as much as 650 feet for takeoff , according to Arthur Cleveland Bent, another ornithologist.

You can see where this is going. The grebe tucks its head under its wing one night and the next morning looks around at new ice hemming it in. “Oh crud.”

The loon in the Wyobirds report kept busy diving for fish, and even tried walking a bit on the ice, but the next day, when the little bit of open water had frozen over, and the same observer went back, she saw no trace of the loon—not a feather or drop of blood, despite the bald eagles hanging around. It’s quite unlikely that it flew. Perhaps the ice was finally thick enough for someone to walk out and rescue it, or for a predator to carry it off.

Ducks, which are better-balanced, need little space to take off, but have managed to become trapped in ice also.

What happened to the grebe with the broken wing? Grebe species migrate at night. Apparently, they can get disoriented in snowstorms or fog or get confused by the sight of a wet parking lot shining in reflected lights, and hit it hard, thinking it’s water.

The common loon migrates through Wyoming, as do three species of grebes we see most often: pied-billed, eared and Western. Doug Faulkner, in “Birds of Wyoming,” describes their fall migration patterns, always mentioning that a few individual birds don’t leave until the reservoirs freeze up.

For these risk takers, the later they stay, the fewer birds they have to share the food source with. Some years, the bet pays off and they are better fed when they arrive on the wintering grounds, reaping the benefits, such as better reproduction. But then again, maybe they don’t make it.

After surviving this latest, unexpectedly dicey road trip, our weather forecasting being not much better than the lingerers’, I’m wondering if we should have taken a lesson from all the smart loons and grebes that headed out by October for their ice-free wintering grounds.

Feral cat policy will fail

House cat

An indoor house cat is safe from outdoor dangers, and the birds are safer. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Dec.10, 2014, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, as a column on the opinion page. “Feral cat policy will fail.”

By Barb Gorges

Last month, the Cheyenne City Council passed an ordinance allowing the Cheyenne Animal Shelter to implement a “trap, neuter, vaccinate and release program” for feral cats in the city.

The shelter staff is tired of euthanizing cats–84 last month alone, many more in spring months–and sees this as a proactive measure.

The Community Cat Initiative allows “community cat caregivers” to bring in feral cats and pay $30 to sterilize and vaccinate then release them, their ears tipped so they can easily be recognized as neutered.

Normally, unwanted cats, if not adoptable (and there is a barn cat adoption program for the less sociable), are euthanized.

I object to the TNR program, as it is referred to, for several reasons.

One is, I love cats. Our current feline, an indoor cat, is pushing 16 and is curled up on my shoulder as I write this.

I think more inhumane than euthanizing them is leaving cats outdoors. Feral cats as well as roaming family pets encounter life-threatening dangers: vehicles, predators–including other cats, not to mention inhospitable weather.

Conversely, feral cats untrapped—and unvaccinated—are public, human, health concern.

Why tolerate cats running loose, but not dogs?

It’s also inhumane to leave wildlife at the mercy of a non-native predator like the cat. Many of our native birds here on the prairie are ground nesters, easy prey, as are small mammals.

In the U.S., free-roaming domestic cats kill an estimated 1.4 billion to 3.7 billion birds and 6.9 to 20.7 billion mammals each year, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sponsored-study. More recent studies show it could be more.

Nowhere in the literature has “trap, neuter, vaccinate and release” been shown to be successful in controlling feral cat populations.

On paper, the program sounds good, and I wish it worked.

Simply put, if you have a colony of cats and neuter all of them, the colony will die out when the last cat dies. Problem solved in the space of a feral cat’s lifetime—probably less than five years.

In real life, no agency practicing “trap, neuter, vaccinate and release” has been able to trap enough cats to substantially lower the population.

Cheyenne’s policy, waiting for the public to bring feral cats in, is doomed to fail even more rapidly.

Trapping cats is a bit like herding them. Plus, do the soft-hearted have deep enough pockets?

A staff member at the shelter said they are pursuing grants that would allow for a more aggressive “trap, neuter, vaccinate and release” program.

Meanwhile, we’ll have an ever-increasing feral cat population (think about lying awake at night listening to cat fights) until nature finally deals with it—probably an ugly new and deadly disease. Not very humane.

Here are some more humane suggestions.

Hunt for nests of kittens and bring them in to be neutered and adopted at the age they can be socialized and become happy indoor cats. But don’t allow them to be released outdoors.

Also, instead of charging people to bring in feral cats for neutering and vaccination, pay them $30. Putting a price on a species sent the passenger pigeon to extinction and nearly did the same for the buffalo.

Next, release adult, neutered feral cats, if they cannot be socialized, in a cattery, a place where they are safe and wildlife is safe from them.

Those options I’ve mentioned take money. Meanwhile, the problem grows.

I don’t think it is fair to ask people charged with sheltering animals to do what really needs to be done from the wildlife and public health standpoint.

The wildlife agencies need to step in, as they have in Hawaii, another place where non-native predators, including feral cats, are decimating the wildlife.

Removing feral cats, euthanizing them, is not a happy proposition. Each one looks just like our own cat.

We need the fortitude to take actions to insure the well-being of cats. Releasing them to fend for themselves is not good for them, nor for wildlife.

If you want to read a balanced look at this topic, see this Nebraska Extension Service publication, “Feral Cats and Their Management,”

Project FeederWatch needs you!

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpeckers are more likely to visit if a suet or seed cake is available. Photo by Errol Taskin, courtesy of Project FeederWatch.

Published Dec. 15, 2014, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Project FeederWatch needs you.”

2014 Update: One more reminder: If you haven’t signed up yet, do it now.

By Barb Gorges

OK, listen up, people. I want YOU for Project FeederWatch.

While I can’t draft you like Uncle Sam, I would still like to recruit you.

Project FeederWatch is one of the citizen science programs of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. This is the 27th season backyard birdwatchers in North America have contributed data about the birds that visit their feeders during the winter. The information is becoming increasingly important to scientists, yet it is so easy to submit, even a child can do it—and children are welcome.

It takes only a glance at the participant map to see that the Great Plains region is vastly under-observed. Even in a populated place like Cheyenne, the last few years there has been only one red dot—me, and possibly someone else too close by to show up as a separate dot. A few years back several dots showed up across the city.

I’d hate for the scientists to consider my backyard typical, or to have them completely drop our area in studies because of insufficient data, so that’s why I’m inviting you to join me. Besides, it’s fun, and it doesn’t have to take much time. Also, like me, you can learn a lot about the birds in your backyard.

Here’s what to do:

Visit the Project FeederWatch website,

Go to the “About” tab for an introduction and a step by step explanation of how to participate. Under the “Learn” tab, you can find out about feeding and identifying our local birds. The “Community” tab is where you’ll find tips and photos from other participants and the FeederWatch cam.

At the “Explore” tab you’ll find a bibliography of studies that used PFW data and nifty animated maps.

Next, click on the “Home” tab and then the Join Now button. Yes, it costs $15 ($12 if you are already a CLO member), but it’s a contribution to bird conservation. You have the option of paying over the phone, 1-800-843-2473, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. ET (6 a.m. – 3 p.m. Mountain Time).

All new participants get a handbook, a calendar and a full-color poster of common feeder birds in the mail. You may send your data online or mail in tally sheets at the end of the season.

Once you receive your identification number, you can log in through the “Your Data” tab. Set up your count site by describing it: number of trees and shrubs, bird feeders and birdbaths, and so forth. Sprinkling black-oil sunflower seeds on the ground where they can be seen from a window is perfectly acceptable.

Scientific protocol requires selecting your count days in advance. Each set of two consecutive days must be at least five days apart. Mark and I have chosen Saturday and Sunday each week.

It’s OK if you miss some of those count days. Project FeederWatch officials don’t expect you to stay home for the whole season, which is early November through early April. You can sign up after the season has started.

It’s also not necessary to sit by the window continuously. Mark and I leave pencil and paper on the table in front of the window, and whenever we are in the vicinity, we check and see if there any new species for the current count days, or more individuals of any species than previously recorded.

The other bit of protocol is that you only count the birds you can see at any given time. You can’t add the 15 house sparrows you saw in the afternoon to the 10 you saw in the morning. You can only record the largest number you saw at one time.

Record the high and low daylight temperatures over the two days. We use the weather reports published the next day in this paper, figuring the coldest temperatures are pretty close to dawn.

What do I have to show for 14 years of submitting data? With the newly redesigned website, I can see very colorful graphs for each of the 25 species I’ve observed. I know that 11 of those seasons we’ve had goldfinches and that 2004 was the first winter we had any Eurasian collared-doves—and only twice.

But mostly, by participating, I find satisfaction in knowing that “my birds” are contributing to scientific knowledge.

While the current season has already begun, it isn’t too late for you to share that satisfied feeling, or even provide it for someone else as a gift.

Recognizing celebrity birders

Pete Dunne

Pete Dunne’s preferred habitat is the hawk watching platform at the Cape May Bird Observatory in Cape May, New Jersey. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Published Dec. 16, 2012, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Nationally known birders have nothing on birds, the true celebs.”

2014 Update: In September our local Audubon chapter celebrated its 40th anniversary and was fortunate to be joined by John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and Ted Floyd, editor of Birding magazine, flagship publication of the American Birding Association.

By Barb Gorges

Studying birds in your field guide will help you identify them when you finally see them in the field. But don’t neglect to study the author photo on the back cover—you never know when you’ll have a chance to identify them as well.

Over Thanksgiving, Mark and I attended a family wedding in Philadelphia. One of my new shirttail relations, John, is a birder and came with us to Cape May for a day.

The southern tip of New Jersey has long been recognized for its numerous and varied migrating birds and has lots of public access for birding. We stopped at the Cape May Bird Observatory hawk-watching platform first, figuring that official migration observers might still be around and help us Westerners and John, an Irishman living in England, identify local birds.

The first ID I made was that the observer on deck was Pete Dunne, author of several books I’ve reviewed for this paper, including “Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion” and the first three of his seasonal quartet beginning with “Prairie Spring.” He’s also a co-author of “Hawks in Flight,” along with other entertaining books and articles for birding magazines.

Pete’s day jobs are director of CMBO and chief communications officer for New Jersey Audubon Society. But they let him out of the office to count birds. He can distinguish a turkey vulture from a black vulture, even when they are mere specks overhead. Without his help, we would not have identified the red-shouldered hawk or determined that the Cooper’s hawk in flight was not a sharp-shinned.

If you go to bird festivals, you too, will meet nationally recognized birders. Nearly 30 years ago, I shook hands with Roger Tory Peterson at a National Audubon convention. A few years later at another one, I correctly identified, from a distance, without using binoculars, the man in the middle of a flock of middle-aged women as author Kenn Kaufman.

But we met Pete at home, in his own habitat, with no printed agenda or groupies to indicate his status.


Mill Grove

John James Audubon explored the bird life around Mill Grove in 1803. Photo by Barb Gorges.

The next day we visited the John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove, in Audubon, Penn., where one of the world’s most famous bird artists lived when he first came to the U.S. in 1803 at age 18. Hiking the trails around the house, now a museum, through the woods and fields overlooking Perkiomen Creek, I was able to add a singing Carolina wren to my life list, imagining Audubon first hearing it here as well.

A week later, the wedding couple, my uncle and my new aunt–both knowledgeable birders–were able to refind Pete on the same deck at Cape May.

Pete remembered the three of us from the week before, and conversely, said the sighting of Wyoming birders was a lot rarer event than meeting John, even though he came further. There are just over half a million Wyomingites, after all, compared to 62 million Brits. Many of us from the Cowboy State, by nature of our choice of residence, and especially those attracted to birding, prefer travelling to remote places rather than congested coasts.

We were too late to meet superstar storm Sandy, luckily. Cape May was untouched because Sandy landed some miles up the coast at Atlantic City where she devastated Brigantine National Wildlife Refuge and the barrier islands.

We still noticed Sandy’s damage in the suburban-rural area north of Philadelphia, mostly toppled pines and hardwoods, including one that impaled the second story of a house.

What happens to birds in severe storms? My aunt forwarded a New York Times article by Natalie Angier, published Nov. 12, reporting how perching birds have toes that automatically lock around a branch when they bend their legs. So they are as safe as the branch they sit on.

Angier reported birds feel the changes in air pressure from an approaching storm and those migrating may steer around it or correct course afterwards. Some get a boost, having been documented as flying into a storm at 7 mph and coming out the other side at 90.

No matter how many well-known birders I may meet, the birds are the true celebrities. The migrants propelling themselves over dangerous distances, as well as the ordinary house finch weathering another winter, are to be celebrated.

So if I attend the National Audubon convention in Stevenson, Wash., in July, I will be sure to identify the keynote speakers, but the local birds will be the real stars.

A hawk ate my songbird!

Sharp-shinned Hawk

A Cooper’s Hawk in our backyard nailed an Eurasian Collared-Dove, first plucking it, then gorging, then flying away with the remains. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Dec. 25, 2011, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “A hawk ate my songbird! Bird feeder or bird feedlot, it’s all a part of the food chain.”

2014 Update: This year there were reports of Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks in Cheyenne preying on Eurasian Collared-Doves, an invasive species that first arrived in town in 1998.

By Barb Gorges

Coming home from errands recently, I let the dog in and glanced out the window. What was that on the grass in the backyard? It was a sharp-shinned hawk sitting on its prey, maybe a sparrow. How exciting!

Mark and I have fed birds for years and though we’ve seen plenty of sharp-shinneds patrol our yard, this was the first time one of us saw one be successful.

Most people think of small songbirds when they think about bird feeding, so watching hawks feed on feeder birds can come as an unwelcome surprise.

I’ve had callers who ask me how to protect “their” birds from hawks. They aren’t always happy to hear me explain how wonderful it is that they are witnessing the next step in the food chain.

For a small hawk like the sharp-shinned, which has the aerodynamics to navigate the urban forest easily, our bird feeders must seem like feedlots. But when the feeders/feedlots are right outside our windows and we welcome the same cheerful chickadees day after day, I think we forget their role in the food chain and food web.

Mark and I are on a first-name basis with several farmers and ranchers who raise our meat, if not with the actual animals, plus we hunt and fish, commiserating with predator species. But even if we were vegetarian, we would be wrong to transfer that ideology to wild, meat-eating animals. Carnivorous, omnivorous and carrion-eating animals need animal protein to stay healthy.

Most of the little songbirds, including our seed-eating feeder visitors, prey on insects and spiders when they are feeding their young and need lots of protein. No humans complain.

Conversely, some of the birds that we would consider meat eaters occasionally pick up the odd seeds or berries.

But, looking through my copy of Kenn Kaufman’s Lives of North American Birds, I found plenty of birds that eat only non-plant material: some of the grebes, all of the seabirds, pelicans, herons, cormorants, egrets, osprey, hawks, falcons, eagles, some shorebirds, many gulls, all of the terns, owls, nighthawks, swifts, most of the swallows and wrens, the dipper, both shrike species and some of the warblers—and warblers are the quintessential songbird!

Granted, warblers are eating insects and although insects are animals, their deaths don’t seem to bother many people.

The day after I wrote the rough draft of this column, the dog and I, leaving for a walk around the neighborhood, witnessed a sharp-shinned hawk doing acrobatics a few feet over the driveway, fighting to hang on to a starling. There are so many of those invasive starlings that this seemed like a good thing, except that our feeders remained unvisited for the next six hours due to hawk fright. Oh well.

We who feed birds do so for our own enjoyment, to bring wild birds in close to us. I think if we are very lucky, we feed a hawk or two.

Since all of us feeding birds don’t put out the same seed, I wonder if the hawks notice what their prey species have been eating. I can hear it now. “Ah, I just enjoyed a Gorges free-range, sunflower seed-fed sparrow!”

Lake Minnehaha plan to benefit park visitors

Holliday Park

Lake Minnehaha, in the middle of Holliday Park in Cheyenne, Wyoming, has been a favorite hangout for Canada Geese year round. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Dec. 11, 2011, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Plan to refresh Lake Minnehaha would benefit park visitors, including birds.”

2014 Update: The lake has been deepened and the island removed. Specially trained dogs have been hired to scare the geese away. This last summer, the geese seem to have relocated to the lakes out at F.E. Warren Air Force Base. I haven’t heard whether the lake smells better.

By Barb Gorges

What stinks at Holliday Park in the summer?

The waters of Lake Minnehaha, at 6.5 surface acres in the middle of the park, are stagnant. There isn’t enough movement and so it provides a perfect habitat for blue-green algae. In hot weather, it dies and produces the putrid smell.

This particular algal species can at times be toxic, killing dogs that drink it or sickening people coming in contact with it. It spreads on the water surface and blocks sunlight that would otherwise encourage growth of healthy organisms. Storm water runoff brings in more gunk and debris.

Teresa Moore, Planning Manager for the Cheyenne Parks and Recreation Department, invited me to read the recently compiled report from Ayres Associates proposing how to clarify the water.

  1. Deepen the lake, from 3 feet to 8 or 9, with gradual slopes where there are now eroded banks. The island would not be rebuilt.
  2. Instead of aerators, which have been tried before, install a SolarBee. The 300 already installed nationwide show they are effective in circulating water, which creates enough surface turbulence to keep blue-green algae from growing. It would be in the middle of the lake and, as the name implies, powered by attached solar cells.
  3. At the storm water inlets, put in SNOUTS, ingenious technology that collects gunk in an underground vault before it can go into the lake. Vacuuming the vault once a year would be easier than the maintenance department’s current methods.
  4. Develop wetlands– cattails and rushes–by the inlets to catch remaining sediment so it doesn’t fill in the lake over time.
  5. Route “reuse” (treated waste) water through the lake. Cheyenne has plumbed itself to use it for irrigating other parks, cemeteries and athletic fields. The water would constantly flow through new inlets and out through a new automatic outlet (the current one has to be adjusted by hand), helping prevent blue-green algae growth. Reuse water would also irrigate Holliday Park.

From my birdwatching observations at the park, blue-green algae doesn’t affect the Canada geese. By the middle of last June, I was counting 200 of them, including 40 goslings.

Canada Geese

Catching a few rays of winter sunlight, these Canada Geese rest in front of the island in Lake Minnehaha. The island has since been removed. Photo by Barb Gorges.

The adults were molting and unable to fly. By fall, wing feathers grown back in again and daily numbers (between 8 and 9 a.m.) were running 100-150. They spend time in the water, but mostly they graze the grass.

There also are a few dozen mallards and domestic ducks, three dozen white or gray domestic geese and occasional wild visitors: wood ducks, redheads and shovelers.

Removing the island would make me sad, but it would remove the major location for goose nesting. By all standards, especially the standards of people trying not to step in goose poop, there are too many geese.

By clean water standards, there is too much nitrogen in the water, some of it from goose poop. Removing the island hatchery could encourage wild geese to disburse and nest elsewhere. The island is not used as a refuge from potential predators. When the geese feel threatened, they, and their goslings, head for the water, not the island.

The black-crowned night-herons used to nest in the island’s trees, but when the big trees disappeared, they moved to the big cottonwoods to the north. Pelicans sometimes rest on the island in spring and summer, but I’ve seen them enjoy island-free lakes on F.E. Warren Air Force Base and they like a thick stand of cattails just as well.

What attracts the non-water birds are the trees. If willows are added to the shoreline, as suggested in the plan, over time, they will make up for the loss of the scrubby foliage on the island.

All of the improvements would clarify the water, allowing other organisms to grow, including the food chain that leads to fish. We might see more of the fish-eating bird species that we see at Lions Park, like the grebes.

All together, the proposed improvements would have a positive impact on birds—and other park users.

So when can the digging begin? As soon as $1.5 million can be found. The city does not have a budget line for construction in the parks, though there are many repair and improvement projects needed.

Park damage just doesn’t get the same respect a pothole does.

Because the Holliday Park project involves water and engineering, Teresa said there are some funding options. She’s an expert when it comes to writing grants, so if you have ideas, contacts or appropriate funding sources, be sure to contact her at 638-4375, or If you have comments on other park topics, please call 637-6429.

Canada Geese

You would think that a Canada Goose would find it better to migrate than spend winter on a frozen lake in Wyoming. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Birding the Big Island of Hawaii


The endangered Nene is completely unafraid of quiet people on a trail passing by it. Photo by Mark Gorges.

Published Dec. 9, 2008, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Visiting Hawaii helps bird lover add birds and endangered species to life lists.”

2014 Update: Type “Hawaii” in the search box, then click your Enter key to find the accompanying story that was published in November 2008, and also the story from our 2012 trip that included Kauai.

By Barb Gorges

Zebra doves calling and Japanese white-eyes twittering as they flit through the hibiscus—who would have thought a year ago I’d be waking up on the Big Island?

When our older son, Bryan, accepted a job in Hilo, Hawaii, nearly a year ago, Mark and I knew it would be an opportunity to travel.

With copies of “Hawaii’s Birds” from the Hawaii Audubon Society and “Hawaii The Big Island Revealed” guidebook, plus what Bryan had learned, we were able to add birds to our life lists, including endangered species.

The Hawaiian Islands are a mid-ocean crossroads. Volcanoes built them 70 million years ago. A small amount of flora and fauna was able to make it by water or wind and establish itself.

However, no terrestrial mammals, amphibians or reptiles made it so surviving species evolved without the ability to evade those kinds of predators. Also, adaptive radiation occurred.

For instance, from one species of honeycreeper, several species evolved, each particularly suited for one of the various habitats within the islands.

Far flying bird species still accidentally find Hawaii, but none seem to establish breeding populations now.

wild chickens

The Polynesians brought chickens to Hawaii and many run wild. Photo by Mark Gorges.

About 1,600 years ago the Polynesians found the Hawaiian Islands and colonized them, bringing pigs, chickens, dogs and rats as well food crops like taro. It appears as many as 35 bird species and subspecies became extinct as a result.

Following Captain Cook’s visit in 1778 was a flood of introduced alien species with unfortunate results for the natives. Even today, illegally released parrots may increase and spread, threatening commercial crops.

Still, the Audubon field guide lists 71 species and subspecies that are endemic, meaning they are found nowhere else in the world. Of those, 30 are on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Endangered Species List.

At Hawaii Volcanoes National Park efforts are being made to restore the landscape by fencing out wild pigs and controlling mongoose and feral cat populations. We saw one endangered species there, the Nene, the Hawaiian goose.

Following a trail at the park in a deserted walk-in campground, we looked for a picnic table in the shade. No such thing in a lava field with scrubby vegetation. But we spotted the goose grazing on berries. We stopped and watched as its route brought it closer. Then we walked away.

After lunch the goose was alongside the return path and we had to step around it. No wonder there were so many signs warning against feeding them and caution signs on the road picturing them. They are too trusting for their own good.

These days there’s only one hawk species on Hawaii, the ‘Io. As Mark and I took a break in our labors hiking up out of the Waipi’o Valley, we saw two soaring on the thermals.

This was fitting since the valley has always been considered the Hawaiian kings’ favorite place and the ‘Io is a symbol of royalty in Hawaiian legends.

At Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park we plodded along the beach, stepped around a napping, endangered green sea turtle and arrived at a birding hotspot, ‘Aimakapa Fishpond, to find several Hawaiian coots, also endangered. They look like ours except the hard white material of their beaks extends up over their foreheads.


Cardinal in Hawaii

Cardinals were introduced to Hawaii. Photo by Jeffrey Gorges

We saw familiar birds: wild turkeys introduced from North America in 1815 and now at home in the grasslands on the slopes of Mauna Kea, house sparrows introduced via New Zealand (1871), cardinals from eastern North America (1929) and cattle egrets from Florida (1959).

We even saw a black-crowned night-heron, a bird that nests in Cheyenne parks. Apparently this species made it to Hawaii on its own some time ago.

The ‘Apapane, a small red bird which works ohi’a blossoms for insects and nectar is one endemic forest bird that is fairly common. I identified one only because the field guide had a photo of what it looks like when it is perched high overhead.

We needed to start on our world bird lists after finding an Erckel’s francolin (Africa 1957), junglefowl (original Polynesian settlers), zebra doves (Asia), mynas (India) and yellow-billed cardinals and saffron finches (South America).

We weren’t visiting at the right location or time of year for the marine birds. The visiting shorebirds were difficult to i.d., as usual. I’m sure of only one, the Pacific golden plover. It breeds in Alaska, with many wintering in Hawaii and others migrating south another 2,500 miles.

Some say the golden plover was the bird that intrigued the ancient Polynesians who lived on islands south of Hawaii. It made them wonder where the birds went when they left for the summer, if it was to land farther north. It caused them to load up their double-hulled canoes to find out.

How was the golden plover to know so many of us would follow?