This winter, I returned home to Hawaii to quarantine with family for an extended three month period. With quarantine allowing many of us the opportunity to slow down, reflect, and take notice of things that we may be too busy to notice in normal times, I assembled a collection of some of the most novel things I had the privilege of seeing and experiencing during this period. Being forced to seek out different ways to spend my time has usually meant getting outside and enjoying nature, exploring places closer to home that I have long wanted to but never had the time for, and revisiting some familiar places with new eyes.
Wildlife sightings in general are an ongoing mission for me whenever I’m in a place where there’s potential for something to see - one of the biggest perks of quarantine has been more sightings than ever before, in both new and familiar places.
There are only around 1,400 Hawaiian monk seals remaining in the wild, so seeing them is a rarity. I recall only ever seeing one monk seal in my life in the wild - talking to friends, it seemed to be fairly uncommon even for those who live there and go to the beach regularly. Every time I go back, I’m on a mission to seek them out, usually unsuccessfully. In early 2021 however, in a little over a month, I was lucky enough to spot them a total of 11 times - some in a known resting area that I rarely get the time to visit, some newly appearing at a beach right in my own neighborhood that we visit often, one even underwater on a dive.
The Portugese man o’ war is a known hazard in Hawaii, but not something I’d ever encountered before. Revisiting some nearby beaches that I hadn’t been to in years, as well as some of my favorite spots, I suddenly started seeing them washed up on the beach every time. In spite of the obvious hazard both in and out of the water, I became kind of fascinated with them and how beautiful they actually are.
Birding is an activity I’ve come to love more and more in recent years, and quarantine has generally been a good time to discover and notice bird life I might not have been aware of otherwise. A short hike to a new part of a familiar area gave me the height advantage and quiet space to discover albatrosses that I never knew inhabited that part of the island - and as far as I know, I had never heard of reported sightings in the area. Getting the chance to enjoy this usually popular spot at a quiet time when there was no one else around made for an even better experience. The expansive view of a landscape that has been actively defended against development, combined with the sunset, the sound of only the ocean crashing against the rocks below, majestic birds soaring overhead, and whales splashing in the distance made it one of those moments of realization of how surreally perfect this place is, and how lucky I am to be able to call it home.
White-rumped shamas were introduced to Hawaii in the 1930s as pets because they were valued for their beautiful singing, and have been living in the wild on most of the islands ever since. But like a lot of wildlife that's been spotted in new places recently, I'd never seen or even heard of them until this one started hanging out in our backyard every day. Side effect of quarantine, or climate change, or for no special reason, I don't know... But we all started looking forward to seeing this little guy every morning and evening, when he'd come sit on his favorite branch and sing for us, forage for food, then be on his way.
One night while watching the sunset from the backyard I saw him sitting in his usual favorite spot, oddly quiet. To get his attention, I played a recording of him I took on my phone earlier, then tried my best whistling imitation. After a few tries he started whistling back, which led to a back and forth conversation for the next several minutes. The more we chatted, the closer he’d come, eventually making his way to a tree branch a few feet away from me. It was such an incredible moment to have this connection, to feel “accepted” by another species without any food or other factors involved.
He eventually stopped visiting our yard and moved on sadly, but my new friend will remain one of my fondest memories of this period.
Being home for three months straight for the first time since college, with quarantine added onto the extended time, the stay felt more relaxed, less pressured to cram everything I wanted to do in a week or two, and became more like day to day life at home, complete with lazy days of doing nothing in particular outside of work and family time. On those days in particular, my family and I found a new hobby of catching the sunset any clear night, often at a bay near our house that we would drive by daily but rarely take the time to stop at. The more we did this, especially on weekends, the more we started to notice how popular an activity it had become at this particular spot - in the absence of movies, bars, or other Friday night activities, people started parking themselves in this spot to watch the sunset.
The burden of waking up at 5 a.m. every morning for work did come with the added benefit of some of the most beautiful sunrises too - something I’d never normally be awake for. Just seeing the view change daily from my own home became a nice route, noticing nuances in the colors, catching views of the neighbor islands on clear days, and spotting hikers on the nearby mountain with their headlamps every night.