Right Outside the Front Door
The Common Myna or
Indian Myna is fearless and can be quite noisy
at times. It is not unusual for it to
occasionally perch on the railings on the lanai.
This large starling from India was introduced to
Hawaii in 1865 and now is considered to be
basically endemic. It is an intelligent brown
bird with a yellow bill and shows white on its
wings when it flies. They lay pretty blue eggs.
The Zebra Doves are a
bit smaller brown birds that are around every
day and can be spotted walking around the yard
but normally do not come up to the lanai for a
visit as the Mynas do. The larger spotted dove
is less common but is seen from time to time.
Another common bird is
the Java Finch\Sparrow which has white cheeks
and a bright orange-red bill. They remind me of
a tiny version of a Puffin.
The 'Io or Hawaiian
Hawk is endemic to Hawaii but only found on the
Big Island. We've seen it flying through the
Ironwood trees across the street from our home.
We were told that at one point there was a pair
nesting in the trees.
In October of 2012 I
was treated to a White-tailed Tropicbird flying
low just off the lava cliffs.
The Nene (Hawaiian Goose) is the world’s rarest
goose and is found only in Hawaii. We have seen
them across the street hanging out on the cliffs
as well as on the higher cliffs about a half
mile north of the house. You will find them in
different areas of the Island. They are a
protected species so please do not disturb them.
In 1952 the population was but 30 but luckily it
has been making a comeback. In 2014 and for the
first time in centuries a nesting pair have been
spotted on Oahu about 40 miles from Honolulu -
bringing that Island's population from zero to
Finally there are small colorful red birds and
yellow birds that we have yet to identify.
Frogs and Toads
What you hear starting around sunset are the
frogs and toads. Hawaii has no native frogs or
toads – all are introduced and doing quite well.
There are three kinds of frogs that come out at
night and you should try to listen for them.
Their population goes up and down depending on
the amount of rain. The most recent introduced
species, called the Coqui, is from the
Caribbean, is very small and the noise they make
is very similar to their name: a two (sometimes
three) syllable squeak (koh-kwee or
The second most common frog is the Hawaiian Cane
toad, known elsewhere as the bufo toad, is more
melodic (tonal) and is heard every night. They
can be as big as your fist or larger and it's
not uncommon to see them hopping through the
yard in the daytime. Sometimes they hang out in
the overflow tube from the catchment tank on the
north edge of the property. I've seen them
sitting there as the water washes over them. Be
aware that these toads have toxic glands
that ooze when they feel threatened so don't
pick them up. Wash your hands and your
children's hands thoroughly if you come in
contact with them.
Every once in a while you will hear a third frog
I call the Jackhammer because it sounds like
someone using a jackhammer in the far, far
distance. These guys migrate from swimming pool
to swimming pool of the homes along the coast.
Hawaii has no squirrels but we do have the sleek
very quick manakuke, the Indian mongoose, which
can grow to 2 feet in length, including the
tail. Occasionally you will see them scurrying
through the yard but it is more likely you will
see them crossing the road while you are touring
the island. They were introduced to Hawaii to
control the rat population on the sugar cane
plantations but that did not work quite as well
as desired as rats run around at night and the
mongoose during the day.
Geckos and Black Salamander
The beautiful small green geckos (called Gold
Dust Day Gecko) with varying amounts of orange
speckles and patterns are our friends as they
eat many of the insect pests that would like to
live in our home. One of the benefits of the
introduced frogs and geckos is that they help
control the insect population. That said we try
not to leave the doors open so as to keep the
geckos and bugs outside.
In greater population but much harder to spot
are the small black salamander-like creatures
found in the lawn. About the only time I see
these guys is when I’m mowing the yard as they
panic and scurry out of the way.
In the ocean the most common wildlife you will
see are humpback whales (November – April),
spinner dolphins, and sea turtles.
The green sea turtles are here year around and
can be spotted close to shore. They are named
not for the color of their shell (usually a
patterned brown) but for the color of their
skin. These guys are big - up to 700 pounds -
and very gentle. You will find the turtles in
many places in Hawaii. They are almost always at
Carlsmith Beach Park in Hilo. I have also seen
them napping at the bottom of the Kapoho tide
pools. It is usually quite a surprise to
discover one while snorkeling. Keep in mind they
are a threatened species and should not be
bothered or touched. Another threatened turtle
species is the hawksbill but there are much
fewer of those.
The spinner dolphin often can be found in
near-shore pods of a dozen or more. When they
are jumping “spinning” out of the water it can
really be quite a sight. The dolphins come into
the bays to sleep from 10am-2pm or so. They
circle slowly on the bottom and occasionally
coming to the surface to breathe. This makes
them a target for human eco-tours. If you choose
to go on a tour please be aware that the
dolphins, especially the young ones, need their
rest so they can survive the night. You can read
more on this sight
The bottlenose dolphin is commonly seen on boat
tours and can also be seen off our shores
swimming in pods of 2-15. If you decide to swim
with the dolphins and kiss one these are the
dolphins you will be with. If you decide to take
an eco tour you might consider calling ahead to
be sure you are visiting the bottlenose dolphins
and not interfering with the spinners.
The humpback whale is the most common whale with
peak viewing from mid December through March
(see below for whale watching tips) though in
2012 the first arrived in October. Other whales
found in the waters off Hawaii are the fin,
minke, Bryde's, blue, North Pacific right
whales, and sperm. You may not see any of those
but the pilot and false killer whales are
spotted on boat tours.
Very rare is the Hawaiian Monk seal. It is one
of the most endangered animals in the world and
most commonly found in the Northwestern Hawaiian
Islands. If you see a monk seal you will be
quite lucky indeed. There is a museum in Hilo
about the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands – Mokupapapa
Discovery Center. It’s a must visit for
any nature lover. Though currently closed it is
scheduled to reopen in June 2013.
Whale watching tips
Bring your binoculars!
Our neighborhood is good for whale watching
beginning in November and running into April
with the peak from mid December to the end of
March. But in truth there are whales year around
just not as many. In April 2011 house guests
said they saw a mother and calf come up so close
they heard the spouts.
For viewing, you can
start by walking across the street to the lava
cliffs. If you walk or drive to the left about
half a mile the lava cliffs are even higher and
afford a somewhat better view of the bay. During
our trips we have seen numerous spouts, tails
and even a couple breaches across the street.
Whales have been spotted from the lanai. The
best viewing time is in the late afternoon with
the sun behind you. In late March 2013 at sunset
my wife and I were sitting on the cliffs across
the street when we watched a whale and her calf
performing multiple breaches for 15 minutes - it
was quite spectacular.
Once, we saw a whale slap the water 18
consecutive times with its tail. We had no idea
what was going but later we learned this was
called “tail lobbing”. Much of the behavior of
Humpback whales remains a mystery, and tail
lobbing is no exception. It’s apparent it has to
do with communication but no one is sure if it
is telling the sharks “stay away” or something
else. But for sure the sound can be heard a long
distance under water. It is really something to
Our understanding is that the humpback whales
you see in the far distance are the big males
keeping an eye out and scaring away the sharks
from the young.
Black Witch Moth
Look under the eaves
during the day and you may see the large Black
Witch Moth. It can be up to 6 inches in width
and is not native to Hawaii. They are harmless
and act like a bat when they fly. The female,
pictured on the left can be identified by a
white stripe that the male lacks.