I am at 37,000 feet. Again. I love it actually, which is obviously why I do it. It would be silly if I hated it, no? This time I am on what is known as the 'Flying Whale', the Airbus A380. Gigantic, lumbering. Nimble? No idea. Hope that never needs checking out. Comfortable? Loads of space to spread out? Yes. A wonderful invention in that respect, and I in am possibly the more comfortable in this seat than any other I've been in. The champagne helps of course. Laurent Perrier. I made sure to have three glasses in quick succession after take off as a pre-lunch aperitif, soaked up by some almonds. There were not enough almonds.
Anyway, where am I going this time I hear you ask? I know you are interested. Well this particular flight is going to Washington D.C., where I am planning on having a nice afternoon with my Aunt, and my Aunt just happens to have my Uncle staying with her, who I have not seen for several years. I am really looking forward to it, it has been too long and my Uncle is such an interesting man. This is just the first hop however, mainly because I am very stupid in how I get to places. My next destination – tomorrow - is Los Angeles, where I have an afternoon of birding and photography planned at a wetland area and a beach. It depends of the weather of course, as if it's too bright for pictures I'll have go birding instead. Dammit. Either works for me of course, this is one of the great benefits of being a birding photographer. But I'm still not done.... After my afternoon in California I'm getting back on yet another plane and flying further west.....to Hawai'i.
Oh yeah! Or is that Aloha? Once again this has been a trip a long time in the offing. I've been planning it for months, or rather not planning it for months. It got to last Friday and I realised I didn't have a field guide that covered the islands. For naturally this trip is about birds, as they always are. Well, mostly. Certainly the long distance ones are, and as far as distance goes this one is right up there. Kaua'i' is about 7,000 miles from Wanstead, which is possibly the furthest I've ever travelled in search of avian life. Love it. I had kind of assumed that my Sibley West had it covered, but a quick check of it a week ago revealed I was totally mistaken and therefore completely without any reference material. Oops. A quick bit of internet research revealed that there wasn't much out there on the Pacific, and certainly nothing very recent on Hawai'i. I jumped on Amazon and ordered a couple of second-hand tomes, one of which was from a US seller in Maryland which I had sent to my Aunt's to hedge my bets. Happily though the UK one turned up at home the day I left, and so this flight I'm on has passed exactly as I like my flights to pass – researching and learning birds on my way somewhere new.
And the birds of Hawai'i take some learning, they're like nothing else encountered anywhere – a perfect of example of adaptive radiation – like the Galapagos but on a larger scale. Honeycreepers with curved bills and a selection of bizarre finch-like species. The field guide sadly also shows all the extinct species, a graphic illustration of how mankind has yet again screwed it up. Some species are listed as highly endangered with just a few individuals remaining as of writing, which given this book dates from 1985 does not leave me very hopeful for lucking out on a 2016 visit.
I've basically got two things planned – trekking the high altitude plateaus and ridges in search of the endemic forest birds (if any are left) and then sea-watching from Kileaua lighthouse on the north coast for a variety of spectacular seabirds. As I drive between these two locations I hope to pick up the handful of endemic waterbirds, including the Nene Goose and Koloa, the Hawaiian Mallard. And the uber-exciting Hawaiian Coot, which the guide flags as interesting (see cover of book!) as it far more closely resembles Eurasian Coot! To say I am excited doesn't come close, thrilled would be more accurate. I've timed my visit spectacularly badly for Albatrosses however. The adults left for the open ocean in mid-summer, and the last chicks left the island in July. Brilliant. I've never seen an Albatross and I'm rather gutted that I'm managing to visit a place where they actually breed and am going to miss them. I am an idiot unfortunately, as even the most cursory research prior to booking would have flagged that Laysan Albatrosses breed from October to May. It is an excuse to go back of course, provided the amazing Dublin sale comes around again (that's where I left from, London would have been too simple). And if I am allowed...
In other exciting news I went birding in Wanstead quite a lot last week. If I'm honest this is less exciting than the prospect of birding in Hawai'i, but actually it was really good, I've missed the place I think. It was just a casual wander round, nothing more, but it was comforting to be back, treading familiar paths, taking regular routes. I swear I could still walk across there with my eyes closed, despite the paucity of my visits recently. I missed the good birds of course, I was in the air for those, but I did manage quite a few Spotted Flycatchers and probably a Tree Pipit too. I understand that I've missed a Pied flycatcher and a Common Sandpiper, but neither of those will cause me a wistful shake of the head, a sigh of what might have been. There's always next year for those, and I've lost count of the number I've seen before on the patch. I'm after new experiences these days, experiences like 'I'iwi for instance, a riot of red with an orange curved bill. They are apparently fairly common. Good.