Flying between presidents’ birthdays to Kauai’s annual bird blessing

Here it is, Presidents Day again — the holiday that I’ve thought for many years combines the birth dates of two, revered presidents, Washington and Lincoln — Feb. 22 and Feb. 12, respectively. Turns out I’m not the only one to hold that misconception.

The federal holiday observed on the third Monday in February now is officially Washington’s Birthday, and some states still observe both birthdays. This federal holiday was celebrated on Feb. 22 until 1971, when it was moved to the third Monday in February. The first public celebration for good old George actually took place while he was in office.

Washington’s birth date marks for me the birthday of my husband, the most important February Piscean I happen to know. Rather than the fish of his birth sign, he favors watching birds.

This has earned him the nickname “Dee-Bird” in his inner circle, whereas to many he’s known as just “Dee.” To his many past biology students who enjoyed his Kokee field trips to learn of bird and plant life particular to our forest, it’s “Mr. K.”

The Green Flash wrote of Mr. K’s love of birds last spring (TGI, May 7, 2018, “Whistling ‘for the birds’”). His interest was tweaked back in the 1970s when Winona Sears, another Kapaa High School science teacher, invited him to help with the annual Christmas bird counts. This was before Mr. K began teaching about our endangered native birds but led to his eventual fascination with those beautiful and rare species we treasure here.

His first bird counts with Mrs. Sears were in the lowlands, Kapaa to Anahola. Water and shore birds were common in those counts, some sparrows and mynahs and other imported birds, and many rice birds. The flocks of rice birds were so thick, he remembers, the birds rose in clouds of beating of wings from fields which in those days were planted with sorghum.

Mr. K is not an OB (Official Birder), carrying a checklist at all times as some do, but an UA (Unofficial Appreciater). Possibly, Dear Readers, you fall into that category, too, for who of us has not stopped to wonder at the fragile beauty and captivating call of a bird at some time in our lives?

Besides birds, my husband enjoys mystery novels. A book he’s thoroughly enjoyed (tying in with birds) is Kirk Wallace’s “The Feather Thief.” (In times of cold and bluster such as Kauai has been experiencing, you might like curling up with this compelling story.) The author crafted this tale based on a true crime committed in November 2009: Stuffed birds were stolen from a British museum.

Their feathers were worth big money (“hundreds of thousands of dollars worth”), and their various caring curators over the years had protected these particular birds from “insects, sunlight, German bombers, fire, and theft.”

Why? Who would risk feathers for prison? The answer lies in the money to be made selling feathers to those who would use them to tie flies for fly-fishing to creating fashion trends. (Here, I’m picturing the museum quality red-and-gold feather capes and helmets of Hawaiian ali‘i, made from the treasured feathers of who knows how many of our forest birds.) More of the book’s mystery will not be revealed here on the chance it will ruin your read.

However, the Green Flash will say that many of the stolen feathers were rare, so they’re now lost to science. According to a write-up on the “Feather Fiend” on this “Natural History Heist of the Century” in Nature Conservancy magazine (Winter 2018), Author Johnson wrote that the birds’ curators understood that they “held answers to questions that hadn’t yet even been asked.”

The same goes for our endemic forest birds, many of which are becoming fewer in number due to threats to their survival from climate change, increased competition from introduced species for food sources, the dwindling and die-off of some of these food sources (i.e., rapid ohia death), avian malaria and other factors.

Some of the rarer ones we admire eke out existence in the forests of Kokee, e.g. the puaiohi (Kauai thrush), the iiwi (scarlet Hawaiian honeycreeper), the akikiki (endemic creeper), among a few.

We are fortunate to have the Kauai Forest Bird Recovery Project organization working to save our birds. The work these committed people have done with our akikiki, among other endangered birds, received national play last year in The New York Times.

On Friday, March 1, the KFBRP will hold the annual spring bird blessing and forest work day in Kokee with representatives of Ka ‘Imi N‘auao o Hawaii Nei Institute performing the morning ceremony once again at the institute’s adopted forest site, Pohaku Hula. Volunteers from the KFBRP, the Kokee Resource Conservation Program and the Kauai Invasive Species Committee and various community club members, officials and friends of the forest will attend.

The group will gather at the state park pavilion area at 8:30 a.m. for instruction on rapid ohia death equipment-decontamination protocols, state park waiver-signing and assignment to appropriate vehicles.

This is definitely a time when the saying, “for the birds,” holds only positive connotation, as we honor our forest jewels within weeks of honoring past and present leaders of our country.

•••

Dawn Fraser Kawahara, author and poet, made her home on Kauai in the 1980s. She and her husband, a retired biology teacher, live with books, music and birds in Wailua homesteads. Shared passions are travel and nature. The writer’s books may be found in local outlets and on Amazon. For further information, email tropicbirdpress@gmail.com.

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