Extinct Bird Naturalist Dies in Menehune Valley

Posted by: Loren Coleman on February 12th, 2007

Menehune Folk Art

Na Pali means “The Cliffs” in Hawaiian. The secluded green valleys of the Na Pali Coast are said once to have been home to an ancient race of little humans called Menehune (seen above in the Hawaiian Medical Association’s publication logo). The Menehune are the tiny people of the Hawaiian Islands, who are perhaps related to the Flores Hobbits, Homo floresiensis.

In more recent years, the Na Pali location has become familiar to movie goers worldwide. The beautiful scenery has served as the backdrop for such movies as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, and the remake of King Kong.

David Boynton

On Saturday, February 10, 2007, one of Hawaii’s most renowned and celebrated naturalists, David Boynton, 61, (above) died in a tragic fall while hiking along a cliff trail to his favorite remote Na Pali Coast beach. His body was recovered on February 11th, at the base of a 300-foot cliff on the north face of the Miloli’i Valley wall. He had been hiking regularly down the rugged Na Pali cliffs to photograph sea turtles on Miloli’i beach, which is inaccessible during much of winter due to rough sea conditions.

Boynton was the creative force behind the development and the current director of the Koke’e Discovery Center, a facility in Koke’e State Park. One of his educational tools was an audio recording of the last known ‘o’o ‘a’a, an extinct black/gray and yellow Kaua’i forest bird that would sing its complex song over and over, a call for a mate. Boynton was especially interested in this bird, and was always on the lookout for a possible survivor. Boynton was a specialist on the bird’s last known habitat, the Alaka’i Swamp.

o'o'a'a bird

The o’o’a’a bird, also called the Kaua`i `O`o (Moho braccatus).

On Hawaii in the late 1800s, the o’o’a’a bird was common. By 1928, the o’o’a’a was said to be rare, and by 1960, a survey turned up a mere dozen of the birds, according to Sheila Conant in Atlas of Hawaii. In the early 1970s, a pair of o’o’a’a was spotted trying to raise their young in nests among the ohia trees of the Alakai Swamp, near Halehaha Stream. But a decade later, biologists keeping tabs on the pair reported hearing just one o’o’a’a, singing alone. Despite several expeditions to relocate the o’o’a’a, none has been seen since 1987.

The Kaua’i o’o’a’a was a black bird that measured approximately 8 inches long. Its belly and undertail coverts are brown, and its throat was streaked with white. Its one distinct feature was its yellow leg feathers which stood out against a black body.

Menehune Pond

David Boynton’s photograph of Alekoko (The Menehune Fishpond).

Boynton was also a noted wildlife photographer. He was born and raised on the island of Oahu, received his B.A. in Anthropology in 1967, and lived on Kaua’i for the past two decades. He helped to organize the Kaua’i Group of the Sierra Club, and was an active member of the Conservation Council for Hawaii (the local NWF affiliate). His broad knowledge of Hawaiian natural history, especially birds and native flora, led to his being featured in a film on the Alaka’i Swamp, and to assisting with the production of the Emmy award-winning National Geographic Special documentary film, “Hawaii: Strangers in Paradise.”

David Boynton’s books included Ancient Place Names and their Stories, Flowers: Images from Hawai’i’s Gardens, Kaua’i Days, and Capturing Hawai’i: Kaua’i, as well as a contributor to others’ works about Hawaii’s natural wonders.

Our sympathies and thoughts go out to David’s wife Sue and their family and friends.

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

4 Responses to “Extinct Bird Naturalist Dies in Menehune Valley”

  1. Mnynames responds:

    THIS guy is worth all of the media attention currently being wasted on some no-talent actress’s self-indulgent demise…egads I live in a culture that’s barely comprehensible to me any more. The names of people like Boynton should be shouted from the rooftops and proclaimed from on high (Steve Irwin being a rare exception where this has actually been the case), not relegated to small paragraphs in the back of the newspaper. I wonder if there are any who will ever take their places when the world loses such good people…Sorry, but this is just striking a bad chord with me tonight…

  2. Loren Coleman responds:

    The contrast is incredible, yes, and yet the media will repeat “entertainment obit” details about Ms. Smith for days and days.

    Meanwhile, Mr. Boynton did much for the preservation of the natural world in Hawaii, the investigation of its mysteries, and deserves our attention, as mnynames correctly mentions.

    I will do my best to continue to push forward to our front page the celebration of the lives of the seemingly forgotten people here. After all, we don’t forget.

  3. Ceroill responds:

    People like this deserve to be remembered and honored.

  4. kittenz responds:

    The media feeding frenzy around the death of Anna Nicole Smith is a sad reflection of our one-hit-wonder society.

    Every death is a loss to those who loved the deceased. Sadly, Ms. Smith does not seem to have had much love around her at the end of her life.

    Ms. Smith will be a nine-day wonder in death as she was in life. Mr. Boynton will receive the respect and accolades of his peers, and his name will go down in history as a great naturalist. His memory will be treasured, not only by those close to him, but by everyone to whom the natural world is also a treasure.

    I can find it in my heart to pity Ms. Smith and her tabloid death. She will be forgotten in a Hollywood minute, while the memory and legacy of David Boynton will endure, inextricably linked with his beloved Hawaii.

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