Story by Coco Zickos
Photos by Elyse Butler
Teetering atop one of Kaua‘i’s tallest mountain peaks, André Raine plunges through dense vegetation, undaunted by the three-thousand-foot drops on either side of him. Mist blankets his clothes, and he hasn’t seen another person for days —not since a helicopter dropped him off and left him alone in the cloud forest with only a backpack and his determination. Raine regularly visits such remote places in the National Tropical Botanical Garden’s Upper Limahuli Valley and the Hono O Na Pali Natural Area Reserve, listening for the donkey bray-like calls of the ‘a‘o, mapping their nests and observing their behavior.
“You can really feel that there used to be so many more. There are lots of empty [nesting] holes out here,” he says. “You go to some of these sites now and it’s just deathly silent.” Even so, for Raine visiting places no one else may go and spending nights wedged among ‘ohi‘a branches and uluhe fern to study the birds is an unparalleled experience. “At night, when the birds are coming in from their foraging trips at sea, the mountains echo with their haunting calls. It’s like a window into what Kaua‘i must have looked like before humans set foot on the island—although of course there would have been many, many more birds streaming into the valleys,” he says.