My Return To Paradise
Trip of a Lifetime –
I recently took a “trip of a lifetime” to the island of O’ahu, Hawaii. My wife, her friend and I spent just over two weeks there, relaxing on the beaches and exploring the tidal pools and habitats. I did a little fishing from the shore, where I caught around 15 species of fish that I haven’t ever seen before, and we saw things like green sea turtles, harbor seals, spotted eagle rays and countless different fish species while snorkeling. As a wildlife biologist, it was an amazing trip because of the diversity of sea life I experienced.
I also did some birding (of course) and I added 33 new species to my life list…which sounds amazing…but, 21 of those species were birds introduced to the island a long time ago that are now considered “naturalized”. They are amazing birds, beautiful birds, lovely singers and have interesting behaviors, but they are species that would have never been there had they not been introduced. I actually only found 4 “endemic” species of birds (found only in Hawaii) while I was there, obviously all new to my life list, and added 6 new species of ocean birds to my life list as well.
Conservation Efforts There
There used to be more endemic species. Over the years, various plant species were introduced to the island. Beautiful plants from all over the world are now found there, some of which are invasive and taking over portions of the island. A large percentage of the island is now covered by plants that don’t belong there. I was privileged to be able to join up with a research crew as they attempted to capture and band birds on two different mornings in amazing parts of the island where native trees and shrubs still dominate the landscape. We caught very few birds, and all of them were non-native species, but it was still an amazing learning experience. I learned about some of the efforts that biologists and conservation groups are doing on the island and the struggles they are facing.
I got to thinking about the Loess Canyons area of SE Lincoln County, where we are also battling an invasive species, eastern red cedar. At 338,000 acres the Loess Canyons area is nearly the same size as O’ahu (about 380,000 acres). We are fighting a battle with a single species covering maybe 30% of the area, they are battling with dozens of species covering maybe 70% or more of their island. During a two-week stay, I observed 45 total species of birds on O’ahu, during the same time period the year before I observed 84 bird species in Lincoln County, Nebraska. They also don’t have deer, elk, coyotes, native snakes or lizards, and maybe a dozen species of butterflies, nothing really resembling prairie, not much for wetlands…while I loved the ocean, the mountains and the forest of O’ahu, I was ready to come back home.
While I would gladly go back to O’ahu again (and to other islands there that are in better condition ecologically than it is) and I had a great time there, I was glad to come back home. In Nebraska the birds are almost all native species, and they change throughout the seasons. During migration, the birds present can literally change every day. There are also chances at odd birds from distant mountain, desert and tundra landscapes showing up here. And we have more diverse types of habitat and there are public lands that are easily accessible (a lot of O’ahu’s public lands are far off the beaten path and difficult if not impossible to access).
I loved my time there – if you ever get a chance you should go. I also loved watching two Husker games with the ocean in view, but I was very happy to return to paradise…right here in Nebraska. Get out there and enjoy the fall, whether you are hunting, fishing or viewing wildlife it will be time well spent.
Biologist, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission