Seabirding, Hawaiian Style

The four-day ‘Weigelagic’ as I understand it has been referred to amongst the in-the-know portion of the ABA ‘Fantasy Birding’ crowd, was a success, no matter how it is considered. Although a difficult creature from the get-go, like many out-of-the-box projects I’ve been involved with over the years, from imaginative zoo exhibits to high-aiming conservation initiatives, breaking new ground/water on the Hawaiian birding front will prove, for someone else, to be much easier to accomplish, given what we have learned first time ‘round. Pioneer efforts are typically cursed with traps, pitfalls and brick walls. These tend to look obvious in hindsight. I wouldn’t be surprised if such Hawaiian sea trips soon become the norm for year-listers and life-listers alike, maximising the chance for birders to encounter seldom-reported seabirds within the ABA area.


With the false start of an ill-fated multi-day mission in April, due to insufficient participants due to the ridiculous amount of money required to get on board I wasn’t optimistic about assembling a team for mid-October – but surprisingly did. I had overcome the challenge of finding a boat – literally contacted every boat captain in Hawaii who has an online presence. Of them all, only one captain agreed to do the trip, but at a hefty price. But as we neared the date of the trip – just three weeks out, he informed me that he’d had a change of heart, and couldn’t do it. Once again I contacted dozens of Hawaiian charter motorboat operators, and once again had a single positive response. This time I was quoted an astronomical 38K for the four days, with a limit of six participants. Crikey. It seemed that the only solution appeared to be a sailboat. Almost everyone I asked for an opinion about the idea of a sailboat for pelagic birding either laughed out loud or gave a disarming smirk. But desperate times call for desperate measures. I found the biggest ship I could find, a 62’ catamaran, and negotiated a price that was about half the cost we were going to pay the 46’ motorboat captain. My team of co-conspirators surprisingly took my word for the appropriateness of the vessel, and in hindsight, this all proved to be a master stroke of good luck. I had no idea that the Blaze II would be running twin engines almost continually, and that only a portion of the propulsion would come from the wind. It proved to be very stable, and truly ideal for the job. Incredible. Our results were good – and I suspect could have been even better with better timing (a few weeks earlier would more likely allow for migratory birds – and April might have been better still) with most participants adding numerous life-list birds. Since I’d already scored many of the rarities we encountered, earlier in the year through my west coast Spring repo-cruise trip an early April one-day pelagic trip with Alex Wang out of Kona, I had to settle for three year-birds: Black-winged Petrel, Flesh-footed Shearwater, and Newell’s Shearwater. Other species we encountered included Hawaiian Petrel, Juan Fernandez Petrel, Mottled Petrel, Murphy’s Petrel, Bulwer’s Petrel, Red-tailed and White-tailed Tropicbirds, Band-rumped Storm-petrel, Wedge-tailed and Sooty Shearwaters, and three Booby species. We made it out to the Middle Bank, 100km northwest of Kauai, and to two targeted islands, where unfortunately, we didn’t connect with Gray-backed Terns nor Blue-gray Noddies.


You want Wedgies? We got Wedgies. Plenty of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters kept us on our toes throughout the four-day trip.


Masked Booby.


White-tailed Tropicbird


Seabirding legend John Sterling made all the difference for the trip – identifying (and too often spotting) all of the tricky birds, and doubling the enthusiasm of the team. What a guy!


Captain Kim in her Captaining gear. She puts on an incredible experience, including gourmet meals that we really appreciated.


Team Hawaiian Seabirds, in part. From left Richard Liebler, Laura Keene, John Sterling, and ABA listing king, Macklin Smith. Also on board, and more than pulling her weight, Barbara Dewitt. I had so much fun with this team of pioneers.


Hardened seabirder and the ‘guts’ of our mission, Barbara Dewitt. Laura Keene in background, with crew member Slavinka taking a break from dripping fish oil from back of boat.


Best mates – Slavenko – first mate on the Blaze II. What a great job these folks did. Google the ship name and talk to Captain Kim if reviewing this blog is part of your future Hawaiian birding research!


Black-winged Petrel! My old friend from Norfolk Island, Australia, and a much-appreciated addition to my ABA year-list. We saw over 20 of these graceful Pterodomas.


Volunteer deckhand Red-footed Booby.