Inviting students: Back-to-school bird-watching opportunity

  • Dawn F. Kawahara / Special to The Garden Island

    Costa Rican hummingbirds hover, jewel-like, around a sugar syrup feeder hung before a misty mountain view.

Usually I picture my readers at all ages, but this column will focus upon students from fifth through 12th grades, particularly students who are drawn to nature and like to think carefully about what they see, hear and imagine. I’m broadcasting the news of a first — the 1st Student Poem Contest, sponsored by the Kauai “Live Poets’ Society” in cooperation with the Lihue Public Library.

The subject is birds — any birds found on Kauai. The specific viewpoint is given in the name of the contest, “From a Bird’s Eye.” Introduced birds, native and endangered birds, and seabirds are all eligible subjects, from the flashiest scarlet i‘iwi to the smallest dowdy-brown sparrow. The guiding factors are that whatever bird is chosen as the subject, it must make Kauai its home. Also, the poet must “become” the bird, and present the bird’s viewpoint, first hand.

In planning this student invitation, the initial idea was to focus upon enlarging youth knowledge about our endangered forest birds, particularly because of climate change and our specialized habitats. However, because spending time in the Kokee forest is not always possible for students, and because most forest birds are shy of humans and not easily seen, the subject was broadened. The LPS planners feel either live observation or learning about birds through educational materials are both valid ways to approach the challenge.

With this said, Dear Student Readers, how would you like to craft a fine piece of writing (in this case, a poem — any form, free verse encouraged) because of your observation or interest in learning of birds and your ability to “become” a bird and write from the bird’s viewpoint. The members of the LPS have lined up some generous prizes with which to reward the creativity and imagination that participating student poets exhibit.

Not only will the top three poems receive a publication prize by appearing in The Garden Island, thanks to the generosity of Editor-in-Chief Bill Buley, but the “ice cream on the cake” he’s offered is that the students who create these will be able to have their photographs taken by a staff photographer at TGI by appointment and supply a short biography about themselves, their teachers and their schools, that will be included in publication. If there are honorable mentions, these will also receive acknowledgement.

Additionally, winning and HM poems will go on display at the Lihue Public Library, and all who enter this free competition will be invited to the awards ceremony at the library and a public reading of poems in the first week of November. This will be another fine “feather in your cap” for student achievers, along with the publication credits and honor.

The LPS 1st Student Poem Contest information has been distributed to a list of schools by Lihue Public Library’s Sierra Hampton-Eng. She immediately received a response from teachers, one of whom right-away jumped on the opportunity to request an educator representing Kilauea Point Natural History Association, the nonprofit friends of the Kauai National Wildlife Refuge Complex — Kathleen Viernes, who volunteered — into the class with educational materials to help inspire a writing unit.

A part of me can’t help wishing I were back in my school days and could enter, getting more acquainted with birds than ever — not just for the terrific prizes being offered beyond publication and honor and an opportunity to read in public. However, I would have loved to be able to treat myself and three members of my family to a day’s visit at the National Tropical Botanical Garden’s McBryde Garden — free of charge. Or, similarly, a visit to Kilauea Point courtesy TropicBird Press. And I would not have been unhappy with the beautiful books, notebooks and writing that are also in the prize award mix, courtesy Kilauea Point Natural History Association, the nonprofit friends of the Kauai National Wildlife Refuge Complex, and the Lihue Public Library.

So, Dear Student Readers, drop in to your regional public library where copies of the “From a Bird’s Eye” rules, tips for writing, and prize list are being made available. Tell friends, parents, teachers and community leaders about this opportunity, too. Help spread the word. The deadline for your poems to be received is closing time at the Lihue Public Library Wednesday, Oct. 2, whether mailed or hand-delivered.

The poet/writers who make up the LPS membership want to make this first student poem contest a really good success as they “grow” and mentor our student poet/writers as well as each other. As Viernes wrote to me, “Who knows? You may be inspiring the next Mary Oliver!” Or, I might add, our late Hawaii Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin.

Back to watching birds: One of my husband’s and my most recent trips was to Costa Rica for just such purpose (aside from visiting rural schools and villages and the Tortuguero — it means “turtles” — National Park). We dearly wished to see the legendary feathers of the Quetzlcoatl. Though rewarded with only back and dangling-tail-feather views of these amazing birds, we were often mesmerized by dancing, bejeweled hummingbirds, thrilled to see the “flying banana” beaks of toucans, and happy to view/hear calls of many other lesser-known birds.

Now, again, we’re content with our regular watching of mynahs, doves, Brazilian and Eastern cardinals, meijiros (Japanese white eyes) and even our colorful roosters, fluffy hens and puffball chicks. We also see cattle egrets aplenty, and at midday up against the mountain fly our favorite tropicbirds. Ahh, good to be home.


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. They share the passion of nature and travel to far-away places. The writer’s books may be found in local outlets and on Amazon. Email her at

  1. Susan Campbell September 3, 2019 8:51 am Reply

    What an excellent opportunity for students! Well done, Dawn!!

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