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My Wild Life: On the Lookout for Bushtits in my Backyard and the Black-Crowned Night Heron in Maui

In separateness lies the world’s great misery; in compassion lies the world’s true strength. Buddha

It’s late: 10pm. And inky dark outside, the full moon yet having made it’s way to the west side of my home. I am sitting at the kitchen counter devouring the latest issue of National Geographic Traveler when I hear a familiar sound, like someone ratcheting a bolt or car jack.

It’s coming from the Dogwood tree and I know exactly what it is: a young Cooper’s hawk. He moved into the neighborhood a year ago, disappeared for a while and then finally returned. He terrorizes the resident backyard birds, and sadly has taken out a couple of rufus hummingbirds, chickadees and fledgling sparrows. He’s not the only wildlife I have mixed feelings about.

We also have a coyote that frequents the neighborhood. He largely snags the household cats rather than the wayward wild ones. The precision-cut remains he leaves puzzles and saddens the cats’ humans, but also leaves others imagining a much more scary alternative—a whackjob human.

Despite the neighborhood terrorists, I feel very fortunate to live in a city surrounded by wildlife. I am not sure why I feel so connected to the wild things, but I do. I was raised by a mother who loved song birds, and found a way to feed them each winter, despite having 12 in her own brood to feed. We had a rotating menagerie of pet rabbits, ducks, and even a baby squirrel and an orphaned fox kit (until it was rehabbed).  Sometimes, when my mother was napping, we would put the bunnies next to her in her bed, and she would cuddle them. It’s no wonder I became a dog rescue volunteer as an adult.

One of the obvious reasons there are so many critters and birds in my urban neighborhood is my home’s proximity to an old railroad bed that has been converted into a greenway belt extending from downtown Portland all the way out to the mountain gateway community of Boring. Called the Springwater Corridor, it’s an amazing treasure. I had the opportunity to help design and plan this greenway as an early member of Portland’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, a commitment I eventually let go of when an opportunity to live closer to the mountain  asserted itself.

Out there, I had deer in my backyard, and even a stealth cougar and bear that would occasionally wander through. I also had a pair of Pygmy owls (averaging a mere 2.4 ounces, G. c. grinnelli are found up and down the West Coast from Southeast Alaska to Southern California), and a tiny resident pine squirrel that would sit on my deck and decimate pine cones, leaving the seed husks in neat little heaps on the railings.

But eventually the pull of the city grew too strong, the lack of human contact on the mountain soul wearying, and the commute too tedious and dangerous.

I was glad to back in the city where I felt I could better manage my backyard wildlife. As a writer, I take comfort in small moments, like turning my head to see the new fledglings learning to dine on the sunflowers outside my home office window or watch a flock of bushtits land on a suet cake, or hear the chatter of my squirrel friends letting me know they are ready for their daily organic walnut treats that I pathetically feed them by hand.

I am somewhat embarrassed by this. But what is there to say? Well, that I have experienced some of the most profound and meaningful moments in my life when I was connecting with wildlife. All I can is nothing else slows me down, and brings me into the present like communing with my bird and squirrel friends.

Hearing the Cooper hawk in my yard at night is an interesting new development. I usually hear that sucker in the middle of the day as he stalks my birds and squirrels. I have never seen or heard him at night, in the dark. I sneak out the front door and tiptoe to the base of the dogwood tree and squint up toward the moon-filtered higher branches. I hear the leaves rustle, and only see the hawk as he make his escape.

Whoosh, he lifts off and is gone.

I go back inside and settle back into my chair at the counter.

Soon the steady patter of the fall rains will discourage such curiosity-borne forays, and of course, the windows will be shut so I won’t hear the song of the birds or the chatter of the squirrels for a long while. All of which gets me thinking about my next season of my life and this one involves travel. Destination: Hawaii. In November.

It may be too early to catch the first wave of Humpback whales, which typically arrive in early December, and it is also a time of year when the trade winds began to have a greater influence on the weather. The islands’ terrain differences— interior valleys, coastal plains, and mountain peaks—often make conditions highly variable across relatively small areas.

But generally speaking, I am told there are two seasons, and they’re not necessarily the highs and lows that correlate with the number of visitors, although some Hawaiian travel prognosticians divide it up that way. Mostly high and low refers to dry and warm season, or rainy and warm season. The latter of which begins in November and typically lasts through March.

Unlike Portland’s predictable October through June deluges, island residents will tell you that it pretty much rains every day somewhere on the islands most of the year. Mostly, I have found, it’s more of a soft rain than a drencher, and it rarely rains over the entire island at the same time. So you just go to the other side of the island if you really want to escape it.

In any case, Maui, one of the most compelling islands in the world, is one of my favorite travel destinations pretty much anytime of the year, because no matter what, I can always submerge my snorkel mask and enjoy the underwater worldview of tropical fish and sea turtles—rain or not.

And if I am lucky, when I am paddling through an estuary, I’ll get to see my favorite native island bird, the ‘Auku‘u’ or Black-crowned Night Heron. And if I have some spare time  before my flight out, I like to stop by Kanahā Pond, a wildlife sanctuary near the Wailuku Kahului Airport. Even though it borders an industrial area and is one of the few remaining wetlands in Maui, it’s the largest, and an amazing place to experience wildlife.

Birders can tick off a life list of migratory bird species at this site, as well as four of the ‘big five’ breeding waterfowl. In addition to my favorite, the Black-crowned Night-Heron, you’ll often see the Hawaiian Coot, the Hawaiian Moorhen, and the Hawaiian Stilt. All of these are endangered. So connect, from a distance, while you can.

Maui Travel Tips: 


Here’s the best way to go with this: http://www.mauihawaii.org/restaurants.htm


Napili Kai Beach Resort 

5900 Honoapiilani Rd,

Lahaina, HI 96761



This condo and hotel complex offers one of the most authentic Hawaiian lodging experiences on Maui. Located on the oceanfront, most of the condo-style units (there are hotel rooms as well) offer sweeping ocean views with Molokai and Lanai on the horizon.  Fully-equipped kitchenettes help contain cost, allowing tight budget travelers to a splurge at the Sea Horse, where you can sip or dine in an open-air dining room at the water’s edge. The award-winning restaurant offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily.

Check out their latest online specials, currently two nights free with a one week stay, at their website.

The Mauian

5441 Lower Honoapiilani Road

Napili, HI 96761



Here’s another nostalgic property updated with the best modern and stylish appointments. Small and laid-back, the boutique beach studios on Maui’s Napili Bay were originally built by a Hawaiian family in 1959. The two-acre, low-rise property is a closely held secret retreat for the many repeat visitors who return time and again for the retro 50s  tropics architecture, warm hospitality, and sweet island ambiance.  The Mauian gets bonus points for its Ohana Room, open to all guests and offering complimentary WiFi, and a library of books, games, and movies. You’ll also find a complimentary continental breakfast daily in this room, and a weekly poolside “Aloha Party” with live entertainment on Thursday evenings. Special rates at the Mauian this fall include:  $199 for Ocean View Studio, $179 for Pool View Studio, and $169 for Pool View Hotel Room; per night based on double occupancy and subject to applicable Hawaii taxes.

Makena Surf

4850 Makena Alanui

Kihei, 96753



Want to spend the majority of your time on the beach or in the water, but want to be as far from commerce as possible, book at Makena Surf, a Destination Hotel condo resort. Tucked into a half-mile stretch of Po’olenalena Beach (on a section called Paipu Beach) on the southern Mauian coastline, it’s noted for its oceanfront seclusion and ocean views from each of its two- or three-bedroom suites. With 107 units, two pools and hot tubs, four tennis courts, outdoor BBQs, daily room cleaning service, central A/C, and free hi-speed Internet access in rooms, and washers/dryers in each unit—well, it’s your paradise away from home.

If Paipu Beach’s (also called Chang’s Beach) gentle slope and terrific snorkeling isn’t enough, you’re very close to body surfing opportunities at Oneloa, also known as “Makena or Big Beach,” and just down the road further south is Maluaka Beach with its fine sand and excellent snorkeling among interesting coral beads in the morning, and excellent good boogie boarding in the afternoon when the swells come up with the wind.