‘Alae’ula: surprise guests at a party

First off, I would like to congratulate my good friend Art for getting his Master’s degree. I was at his graduation party on Sunday at The Oahu Club in Hawai’i Kai to celebrate. I actually had no plans this weekend for hiking and surveying. There wasn’t anything out of the ordinary at first: some of his guests were swimming, some were playing tennis. My friends and I were poolside taking in the Jets/Steelers game on the nearest flatscreen TV and drinking beer.

We made our way down to the lawn when the food was ready when, much to my surprise, a family of Hawaiian Moorhens (Gallinua chloropus sandvicensis) appeared!

I had no idea that the Hawai’i Kai wetlands are one of the few breeding grounds for the birds. Hawaiian Moorhens, or ‘Alae’ula, used to be common on all the main islands except for Lana’i and Kaho’olawe. Today they are only known from Kaua’i and O’ahu with some reports from Maui. They are much rarer than the Hawaiian Coots I blogged about previously. I have only see one wild Hawaiian moorhen in the past; an individual that somehow made it to the Flamingo pond at the Honolulu Zoo and stayed for a few weeks.

The key is the shallow wetlands next to where we had set up the party. It has areas of emergent vegetation which are the perfect habitat for the moorhens.

I did some impromptu interviews of the staff (Some party animal I am) and it turns out that it is a species of non-native California bulrush. There are plans to restore the wetland habitat to better suite the birds. Eventually native bulrush will be planted to replace the non-native species that is currently established.

These particular birds, to borrow that British birder’s parlance, were cheeky. They showed no reservations moving amongst us party-goers. It allowed for many great shots. I didn’t even have my camera on me, these are pictures that I snapped from my friend’s camera (Again, some party animal I am). By the way, thanks again Armen & Ani!

There were 5 birds; It looked like a mated pair and 3 subadults.

The parents had a much more developed red frontal shield compared to the juveniles. Check out the following 2 photos:

See the difference? We were lucky enough to have the birds walking around the area for the entire duration of the party. Like I’ve said before, considering how depauperate the fauna of O’ahu is compared to the rest of the chain, seeing any native fauna is special. The fact that is was one of the more well known species that is more common on O’ahu than elsewhere almost made me forget about how my team lost in the early game. Almost.

What?! Don't look at me, I'm not Todd Collins!

It was truly amazing to have this great party and interact with native fauna at the same time.

No one can say for certain what happens down the road. But this is exactly the kind of optimistic future I am working for: People interacting with their environment mundanely, as entrenched in our psyche as socializing and parties.


Hawaiian Moorhen SGCN(pdf)

Bishop Museum

East Oahu Sun article on Hawaii Kai wetlands restoration (pdf)

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