Friday, June 17, 2016

Saffron Finch on the Big Island of Hawai'i

We are going outside of California for awhile, since I was overseas on the Hawaiian Islands, and to say that there are lots of birds there is an understatement. There are lots, and only a few are at all familiar to Californians. There are both native birds and introduced (even invasive) species, and the introduced birds are the most visible. You really have to work at seeing the natives, as they have been driven into the high elevation forests for reasons to be discussed later.
In the meantime, the introduced species provide a splash of color to the exploration of the islands, and one of the most striking birds one can encounter is the Saffron Finch (Sicalis flaveola). It is a tanager that is native to the Amazon Basin in South America (it certainly bears some resemblance to the Western Tanager back home in California). 

The Saffron Finches are popular cage birds, and that is the probable explanation for their existence in the Hawaiian Islands. They were first noted in the 1960s and were most likely escapees. They are common on the Big Island, and increasing in Oahu as well.

I encountered several of the finches at our first hotel on the day of our arrival, but it wasn't until several days later that we were exploring Lapakahi State Park on the northern coast that we saw one up close. Lapakahi preserves an ancient fishing village. We spied the finch "hiding" in a tree above a burial site ("hiding" is a strong term for such a colorful bird).

Later on we stopped in Kapa'au on the northern tip of the Big Island, and had another finch land nearby the group. I like the color contrast with the red paint on the roof.

Expect a lot more colorful birds in coming weeks. There were a lot of them out there!

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