The mystery sound was first heard over the rush of water running in the kitchen sink. Close the tap. Definitely some sort of bird saying "chuk, chuk, chuk, grrr, grrr." What kind of bird? The sound seemed to come from the overgrown oleander bush covering the window. The call was answered by a simple "chuk, chuk." No mechanical "grrr" at the end.
There is no end to the sounds around the house bordered by a field with a scrubby pasture along Na'alae Gulch on one side. On the other side of the road, there's a string of single houses backed by another pasture. The location is far from remote, but it is definitely in the country. Critters outnumber people.
A glycine-covered fence behind a waist-high rock wall shields the house from the whoosh and rumble of trucks, cars and the occasional motorcycle. Traffic on the narrow strip of asphalt posing as a road has increased since a new landowner began building in a subdivision down below. The noise created by 20-mph vehicles is easy to ignore.
The closest neighbor has four small dogs barking now and then, usually when a walker or truck loaded with big dogs goes by. The barking was incessant during the day when "mom and dad" were at work. It's been relatively quiet since the dogs began wearing bark collars. The collars give the dogs a mild shock when they bark.
On a calm night, it's possible to hear music from down the road. On most any night, an eerie, ascending, whooping bark comes from axis deer in the neighborhood. During those times of year when calves are taken away from their mothers, pipi wahine bawl for their missing keiki.
Birds create the most common soundscape.
Common mynas (Acridotheres tristis, imported from India in 1865) are very social but often indulge in family disputes by squabbling. If one gets separated from the others, it will make harsh, chuckling sounds and will yell "caat, caat" whenever a feline appears in the vicinity. They also are fond of tap-dancing on the metal roof.
A 1929 import from North America is a frequent visitor to the 30-foot-high mock orange bush. The northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) often greets the day with a high, clear "chip, chip." The male is easy to spot with its red crest, head, breast and a beak surrounded by black. Can't remember ever seeing a female, which is brown with only hints of red, according to the Hawaii Audubon Society's "Hawaii's Birds."
The loudest bird around is the gray francolin (Francolinus pondicerianus, introduced from India in 1958). A flock of seven or eight will march across the yard heralding their progress with an extended chorus of "titur-titur-titur." The call is especially loud if one of the ground birds gets separated from the others. This time of year, it's common to stop on the road to keep from running over a scatter of baby francolins. There's always one or two that can't decide where to run.
Around dawn, spotted doves (Streplopelia chinensis, introduced from Asia in the mid 1800s) get busy telling everyone to "go to school, go to school." They fall silent during the day. There's an easily spooked gang of 20 to 40 that mob the cat-feeding area every evening. They have accurate clocks and love eating leftover cat kibbles, robbing the felines of a second helping if not chased off.
The squawk of a ring-necked pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) can be heard occasionally. The game bird is a native of Asia and was introduced in the islands in 1865, much to the delight of hunters and hat-band lei makers.
A few years ago, a northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos, imported from North America in 1928) hung around for a few months. The mocking bird would serenade the area from atop utility lines. The melodious song was never exactly the same.
The mystery sound was eventually traced to a pair of small birds jumping from branch to branch in the oleander. Newsman curiosity prompted diving into the Audubon book. The size, the chips and buzzes of the call, shape of bill and white-streak fan tail matched a native 'apapane but the color was wrong. Or so it seemed. The picture in the Audubon book showed an all-red bird, perfect for Hawaiian featherwork.
It was a puzzlement. After getting a closer look, note a hint of red on head and back. Dig out the book. Read the description more carefully. Ahhh. "Immature (bird is) like adult but crimson replaced by dull dark brown." The young 'apapane (Himatione sanguinea) have left, probably to go uphill where their favorite food is found on 'ohia, flowering koa, mamae and eucalyptus.
End of mystery, just the sort of surprise found on Maui (Hawaiian Islands, Northern Hemisphere, Pacific Ocean, mind of God).
* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.