Hawaii: Day 2

Yesterday was my birthday, and though we were going to the Botanical Gardens, it was overcast in the morning and so I decided to see the famous Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, the most touristed part of Hawaii (hey, I had to see it once). And I had a special birthday breakfast. Normally I drink only coffee, but I had lox, bagels, and cream cheese, along with a freshly picked pineapple. (You haven’t lived until you’ve had a fully ripe locally grown pineapple, bursting with sweet juice.)

On the way to Waikiki, we stopped to feed the ducks in the local marina, including my favorite, Fergus, a putative domestic mallard/muscovy hybrid, or a “mullard”. (I think the muscovy ancestry accounts for his pink bill.) He’s a friendly lad (I think it’s a male, as it never quacks), and always lead his friends, a pack of five other ducks, to the feeding spot. He eats more than any duck I’ve ever known:

Fergus on the job:

On the way in, I noticed “Bailey’s Antiques,” perhaps the world’s most famous place to buy antique and used “aloha shirts,” the colorful Hawaiian shirts worn by many of the locals (coats and ties are almost unheard of here).

Aloha shirts are worn at weddings, while doing business (especially on Friday, which is “aloha day”) and on many other occasions in which mainlanders would wear dress shirts or coats and ties (aloha shirts are worn mainly by men). This clothing lends an appealing color and informality to the island which we’d be well to imitate in other parts of America. How can you be in a bad mood when everyone is wearing a colorful patterned shirt?

I had gone here about 20 years ago and bought an inexpensive aloha shirt. Now my collection has grown to several dozen, most far more colorful than those worn by the locals, who favor muted patterns and avoid loud colors. (I brought my muted shirts here so I wouldn’t be mistaken for a tourist, which of course I am.)

Many notables have bought shirts here. As Mel Magazine notes,

Anthony Bourdain dropped $3,000 here in 2008 while taping his travel show No Reservations. King of Margaritaville Jimmy Buffett got one for $5,000. Meanwhile, Nic Cage, never one to be outdone, spent $10,000 on a vintage shirt.

Here’s a video of the owner, Mr. Bailey, explaining the history of the store and its inventory:

I asked the woman behind the counter which shirt was the most expensive. It’s the one in the middle below with the seated island lady; it cost upwards of $7,000 (price is determined by rarity, age, and condition).

Below is a picture of Anthony Bourdain wearing an aloha shirt when he visited the shop.

Some other pricey aloha shirts. The one in the middle is a classic, and a version of it was worn by Montgomery Clift in the famous 1953 movie From Here to Eternity, which won 8 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, and best Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress.

It’s a great movie about soldiers stationed on Hawaii right before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, and many of the principals wore aloha shirts when off duty. Here’s Clift and another star, Frank Sinatra, wearing aloha shirts in the film (other stars included Deborah Kerr, Burt Lancaster, and Donna Reed).

The interior of the shop. As I already have so may shirts, I didn’t buy any, but did admire the old and pricey ones.

On to the beach, where the first order of business was to look at the white terns in the trees along the beach park, and feed the friendly ducks in a nearby pond.

We immediately encountered many individuals of the common myna (Acridotheres tristis), a species introduced from elsewhere but native to south Asia. It’s one of the world’s fastest-spreading birds. They can also be taught to talk.

Time to feed more ducks! (Hey, it was my birthday.) While tossing food to the ducks in this pond near the beach, a gazillion other birds flew up, including two species of doves, other ducks, and warblers.

The white doves, also called “release doves” are really white pigeons bred to be released at weddings and celebrations. There are so many weddings in Honolulu that the pigeon population is loaded with white genes. (Remember, pigeons are rock doves, Columbia livia.) There are also small doves (I don’t know the species) in the picture below:

But we wanted to see white terns (Gygis alba, also called “fairy terns”), which nest and roost in the trees right by Waikiki Beach. They are gorgeous birds, and they reproduce in a weird way: they lay one egg right on the branch of a tree, brood it for about a month, hoping it doesn’t fall off, in which case the female immediately lays another egg). The chick, when it hatches, has to sit in one spot on the tree for another month until it’s ready to fly. If it falls out, it’s a goner, and the female lays a replacement egg.

This nesting behavior is unique to white terns, I think, and seems patently maladaptive. Why can’t they build a damn nest?

The species is not endangerd, but is native to Pacific islands and so birders try to keep them alive, since rats in populated areas can climb the trees and eat the eggs. White terns can nest only in areas that have rat control, and one of these is Waikiki. And they have to be near the sea because they catch fish for themselves and their young.

Trees with roosting terns can be seen by looking for the white droppings below them, and trees with unfledged chicks are marked with bands like this one:

The chick in the tree above. It was hard to photograph as it was high up, and so I had to zoom full in:

I’m amazed these things can sit for a month in the same spot, holding on in rain and high winds!

An adult; I saw only one, and I couldn’t get a good shot. They are gorgeous birds (see the video below this photo).

Here’s a video of one feeding its chick (both male and female tend the offspring, and go out fishing for chick food):

Waikiki beach, fronted by very expensive hotels. When there are so many secluded and beautiful beaches on the island, I’m baffled by why people congregate here. But I guess it’s the “crowd effect’ and the fame of the area:

The view toward the famous landmark mountain Diamond Head:

Beach volleyball:

A banyan tree, a fig of the genus Ficus that begins life as an epiphyte on another tree. It’s famous for its aerial “prop roots”. The banyan usually kills the tree that hosted it by overgrowing it:

A statue of “Mr. Hawaii,” Duke Kahanamoku (1890-1968), a multiple Olympic medalist in swimming and the man who popularized surfing in Hawaii. He was greatly loved on the islands, and his statue is always festooned with fresh leis.

Surfboards were big and heavy then. Duke favored a “long board” made from the wood of a koa tree. His was 16 feet long and weighed114 pounds. It lacked the “skeg” or aft fin, which hadn’t been invented yet. Here’s Duke with his board in Los Angeles in 1920:

The surf was nonexistent on Waikiki yesterday, but hopefuls floated offshore, hoping to catch a tiny wave. Nobody did:

After a long day strolling on and around the beach, it was time to go home for a special dinner. On the way, Fergus and Friends got their special birthday feeding as well:

There’s also a canal full of ducks (the water level varies hourly), and they got fed, though it’s hard to toss duck pellets over the fence:

The resident cat where I’m staying. His name is Pi (he’s a rescue Persian, abandoned after he stopped fathering kittens), and despite his fearsome appearance, which reminds me of Wilford Brimley, he’s a sweetheart. I call him Poi as he’s the color of fresh poi.

And, as the sun sets on the south shore, I prepare for tomorrow: a visit to Pearl Harbor. On January 1 it’s going to be a small boat trip out to the ocean to snorkel with dolphins, turtles, and (I hope) whales.



  1. Posted December 31, 2018 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Your trip is triggering so many memories for me of when I was stationed Kaua’i; what a pleasant thing to be figuratively transported back for a short bit during the day. Mahalo.

  2. d3zd3z
    Posted December 31, 2018 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    I remember going into a clothing store in Kona. The clerk referred to these “Hawaiian” shirts simply as “dress shirts”. It’s weird that they seem kind of casual when worn stateside, but are considered fancy or dressy on the islands.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 31, 2018 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

      They remind me of the patterned “costumes” (FR : “suit”) so popular in tropical Africa. Oh yes, PCC(E) has done field work on Principe/ Sao Tome, so must have seen them.

  3. Serendipitydawg
    Posted December 31, 2018 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    My wife’s parents lived next door to a Mynah called Hank. His vocalisations were many and various, highlights including a phone ringing, refrigerator starting up and my father in law getting his morning smoker’s cough out of the way. He ultimately went to live in an aviary in a park with many other birds but would still produce many of his favourite phrases when prompted.

  4. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted December 31, 2018 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    All looks terrific! Agree strongly that wearing Hawaiian shirts is a joy. I pretty much wear them every day to work, all year long.

  5. rickflick
    Posted December 31, 2018 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    The white terns are a handsome bird. I noticed the parent did not easily give up the chick’s meal. I think they want to teach the little guy to work for it. Just like my mom did for me.

    • Diane G
      Posted December 31, 2018 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

      I thought, also, that s/he was being very careful that the fish not fall.

      • Posted December 31, 2018 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

        Yes,the fish has to be oriented in the direction of the chick’s gullet, which isn’t easy when the mother’s holding the fish sideways. Check out other videos and you’ll see the same thing (and also learn how big a fish a tiny chick can eat!).

    • Diane G
      Posted December 31, 2018 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

      Wait–your Mom played tug-o’-war with your food?

      • rickflick
        Posted December 31, 2018 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

        Yes, in the nicest way possible.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted December 31, 2018 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

        I thought rickflick meant his Mum sent him out to work as a chimney boy or such to earn his crust 🙂

        • rickflick
          Posted December 31, 2018 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

          Well, in fact none of this was true. She lived for her children and spoiled us all. We had to become as successful as we did out of respect for her nurturing. Not as a result of her pressure.

  6. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted December 31, 2018 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    There’s also a canal full of ducks (the water level varies hourly)

    That’s a storm drain, and speaks of really intense rainfall and flash floods. Something to bear in mind if you’re doing any hill-walking.

  7. Posted December 31, 2018 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    Dear Prof Coyne
    Happy birthday for yesterday.
    Hope your health remains good for many years so that we can enjoy your entertaining website.

    • Glenda Palmer
      Posted December 31, 2018 at 12:40 pm | Permalink


  8. Diana MacPherson
    Posted December 31, 2018 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Ugh Waikiki is still pretty because it’s in Hawaii and clean despite all the traffic it gets but I really found it the worst part of Oahu. I stupidly thought it would be a good idea to stay there for a couple of nights since I usually avoid Waikiki like the plague, refusing even to drive through it. What a mistake that was! People yelled and screamed all night and then there was a parade of motorcycles that went on for ages and the sounds of their engines reverberated off the buildings. Yes, I am a party pooper but I much preferred going to nice, quiet beaches anywhere else on Oahu where the locals have picnics and barbecues.

    There is a cute dove that I see on Oahu a lot – a zebra dove (Geopelia striata). It will be all over the Pearl Harbour memorial and they are quite friendly as they like to beg for hand outs. I like them because they are slightly smaller than the mourning doves I’m used to and their zebra patterns make them even cuter.

    • Sandy
      Posted January 1, 2019 at 6:33 am | Permalink

      I have visited Oahu a number of times, the first time stayed in Waikiki, it was something I am glad to have experienced, however all other visits I have stayed on the North Shore. Absolutely love the quiet and the beaches are amazing. Always visit Waikiki, but my heart is on the North Shore. Next visit planned for February 2019, can’t wait. Well worth the 24 hour trip from the U.K.

  9. Posted December 31, 2018 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    The small dove is probably the barred ground dove, Geopelia striata. Like most land birds you’ll see in Hawaii, it’s an introduced species.

  10. Neil Wolfe
    Posted December 31, 2018 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    I hope Pi doesn’t suffer from diabeetus like his doppelganger.

  11. Posted December 31, 2018 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    I wear Hawaiian shirts often. They are a pleasure to wear.

    Oahu is underrated. Often thought to be just for tourists. Not so. It’s got so much to offer for everyone.

  12. Posted December 31, 2018 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    I have never liked crowded beaches. On the other hand, in Kenya, most of the tourists were by the hotel swimming pools just next to the beautiful almost deserted long beaches with white sand made of old corals and which do not get hot in the sun!

    With regard to shirts, these aloha shirts remind me of the colourful Thai shirts, often with dragons and beautiful patterns. I’ve got a couple of them, with dragons.

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted December 31, 2018 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

      And they both remind me of the batik shirts of Malaysia and Indonesia. I’ve still got a couple stashed away somewhere – relics of my work trips to that part of the world, where one had to wear such things for formal diplomatic receptions. Anything else would have been a serious faux pas!

  13. Randall Schenck
    Posted December 31, 2018 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    Some may not like the crowded touristy nature of Waikiki but it is where the majority of the hotels are located as well as many high rise condos in this area. They are full of people who live there year round. It should be noted that the economy is – number one by far, tourism, both from America & Canada and from Japan. After tourism is military.

    One of the big hotels there on Waikiki is the Hale Koa Hotel. This is a rest and recreation location for the military and retired military to stay. The money to build this place comes from the company I worked for – AAFES or Army & Air Force Exchange Service. So just to note, it is not your tax dollars that built such places, it was money from AAFES. I believe the Hale Koa sits next door to the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

  14. Tom Besson
    Posted December 31, 2018 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    I went surfing as often as possible when I lived in Hawaii in the mid-Sixties. Your photo of the flat surf off Waikiki reminded me that I went back to Hawaii in the early Eighties to find the water flat for months on end to the point where it was called “The Endless Bummer”.

  15. James Heard
    Posted December 31, 2018 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    When I went to the University (UH) in the early 1970s there was a local story (tongue in cheek) about how the University at one time held a contest for students, and the winner of the contest received a free one-week stay in Waikiki. And second place was a free two-week stay in Waikiki. So you can imagine what third place was😜

    • James Heard
      Posted December 31, 2018 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

      So you can imagine that at least at that time (70’s) locals and students pretty much avoided Waikiki!

  16. Joe Dickinson
    Posted December 31, 2018 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, as a fly guy and specialist in speciation, you should try to have a look at some of the more than 100 species of picture-winged Drosophila representing a radiation of island endemics that puts Darwin’s finches to shame. You will need some sponges, thumb tacks and mushrooms, preferably near the end of their shelf life. Put the mushrooms in a plastic bag, sprinkle with a little water, close the bag and leave in a warm spot for a couple of days. They should be starting to ferment and smelling pretty “ripe”. Find you way to a patch of native forest somewhere in the interior of one of the islands. Squeeze a mushroom or two into a damp sponge, then tack the whole thing to a tree at about eye level. Do several such stations in a little circuit. Now just follow your circuit and check for flies on or near the sponges. If you were actually collecting to bring back to the lab, you would pop a vial over each fly then use a card to coax the fly into the vial until you can get a plug in.

    • Posted December 31, 2018 at 6:24 pm | Permalink


      I did that with Hampton Carson on the Big Island when I was here about 20 or more years ago. We did catch some, but I’m not sure what I could get on Oahu.

      • Joe Dickinson
        Posted December 31, 2018 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

        OK, I was there on sabbatical with Hamp in about 1978 (40 years ago?!!); one of just three fine sabbaticals. The others were about 1970 with David Suzuki in Vancouver and 1991 with Micheal Akam in Cambridge.

  17. KD33
    Posted December 31, 2018 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    I love more remote Hawaii (Hana on Maui, north shore Kauai), but a few years ago agreed to stay right on Waikiki beach a couple of nights, at the old Moana Surfrider. To my surprise, I loved it! Hanging out under the old banyan trees, then taking a longboard out for a while. It was actually relaxing and really fun. But it does help to be in one of the old hotels right on the beach, off the main strip.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted December 31, 2018 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

      If you go in the summer time it is much less crowded. However, as some suggest, there is a lot more to Oahu than just Waikiki. I would always recommend caution if you are a tourist, where you go beach-wise.

  18. Posted December 31, 2018 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    Am I the only one who thinks that it is irresponsible to release release doves (or any other, for that matter) on an island where they are not native? I wonder how it is allowed.

  19. BJ
    Posted December 31, 2018 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    Serious question: is there any place you’ve ever visited where you didn’t manage to sniff out some ducks? If so, where? (

    Note: if ducks hasn’t been a lifelong obsession, then consider the question as in regard to since the time you became so fascinated by them.

    • Posted December 31, 2018 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

      Ducks have only been an obsession of mine for about a year and a half: since Honey produced her first brood that I helped tend in the summer of 2017. Before that I had no interest in ducks.

      But they are fascinating and underappreciated birds. They are at once automobiles, boats, planes, and submarines.

      • BJ
        Posted January 1, 2019 at 1:17 am | Permalink

        “They are at once automobiles, boats, planes, and submarines.”

        That’s seriously poetic! I’m going to remember that the next time I see a duck.

        Happy new year!

  20. Posted December 31, 2018 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    Happy Coynezaa once again, dear Jerry. Though we’ve haven’t met yet, I count you as a friend-ly. ❤

  21. Ken Kukec
    Posted December 31, 2018 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    That new hat of yours is lookin’ kinda Thelonious Monk, boss.

    • Mark R.
      Posted December 31, 2018 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

      Dig Mr. Monk…I’ve never seen a “bad” photo of him. Very charismatic, that one.

    • Posted December 31, 2018 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

      I do believe that this type of hat is called a pork pie hat. 🙂

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted December 31, 2018 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

        Indeed. Lester Young, whom IIRC is one of our host’s favorite saxophonists, was also famous for his pork pies. When Lester died, Charles Mingus wrote a tribute to him, which became a jazz standard, called “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.”

  22. Steven Howell
    Posted December 31, 2018 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    While you’re here, you could search out a local beer, Pussy Grabs Back.


    I hope you get to see more white terns, Pairs or triplets often fly in formation. Great fun to watch while waiting for waves.

  23. Alex K.
    Posted December 31, 2018 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    The inner carnivore in me wonders why hasn’t been there a market for non-native pigeon or duck meat on the islands.

  24. Posted December 31, 2018 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    Someone agrees with you about Waikiki: https://www.fasthorseinc.com/blog/2015/02/hawaii-is-fantastic-but-you-should-never-go-to-waikiki/

  25. Dionigi
    Posted December 31, 2018 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    I think it is only Hill Mynas that can be taught to talk. The common Myna in the picture has a very extensive range of sounds, most of then not very melodic but I don’t think it is usually taught to imitate speech. I can hear them out side my house as I am typing this.

  26. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted December 31, 2018 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    “I brought my muted shirts here so I wouldn’t be mistaken for a tourist, which of course I am.”

    I’ve always found it quite useful to look like a tourist. You can wander round looking vaguely lost, camera in hand, taking snaps of random things, secure in the knowledge that if you transgress some local custom or regulation it will probably be ignored as harmless where someone who looks as if he knows what he’s doing would get into trouble.


  27. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted December 31, 2018 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

    I love banyan trees. I’ve seen one in Fiji a hundred yards across (I presume it was one tree); and one in Vaipae, Aitutaki where the local main road runs through the middle of it.


  28. parusmajor22
    Posted January 2, 2019 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Coyne,

    I am a big fan of your scientific work, as well as your blog. I am also a PhD student in the Biology Dept. at Univ. of Hawaii – Manoa, in Honolulu. It’d be great to grab a drink or something while you are in town if you have the time! But I understand you may be all booked up, in which case enjoy your time here in the islands!


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