Endemic to the islands of Hawaii, a sub species of the short-eared owl is in grave peril. Studies have found that few of these endangered creatures exist and a unique sighting such as this one is as allusive as their existence. Walking a ridgeline on the Nā Pali coastline, Chad Copeland and his local assistant were greeted by the Pueo. The assistant indicated he had never seen one before and had lived there his entire life.

Photo Assistant Mike Teixeira:

Pueo over Kalalau Valley

Hiking in Kōkeʻe in the late afternoon Chad and I were at the edge of one of the many ridges that offer spectacular views of the dramatic sheer cliffs along the Nā Pali coast. As we settled in at the ridge’s end, Chad started taking photos of the surround area. The contrast from the deep blues of the ocean below to the vivid greens on the rising mountains alone is a worthy image.

As the time passed and we waited for the sunset to give us the light we were anticipating a Pueo (a subspecies of a short-eared owl endemic to Hawai’i) flew over the hill right in front of me. In my excitement all I could blurt out in time was: “Shoot that!!!” and as if Chad had known me for years he turned from the ocean already with his camera in hand and taking photos was able to track the Pueo flying right over our heads, slowly gliding off the ridge towards the valley, then finally circling back around us and on it’s way.

I instantly asked him if he got the shot and told him about how awesome and rare the experience was that we had just witnessed. Being from Hawai’i I’ve seen them around many times, however I’ve never seen one that close in broad day light gliding mid flight so gracefully like that before. Usually you see them at night, flying by in a dark blur, hear their distinct screech as they hunt, or spot them at a far distance in the early evening. The fact that it looked straight at us too makes it all the more special.

The Pueo in Hawai’i is recognized by many as ‘Aumakua (a spiritual connection between ancestors that have past away and returns to help, inspire, and guide current family members) appearing in dreams, speaking directly to relatives, or appearing as a sign/omen have been some of the many ways ‘Aumakua manifesting in animal form have been believed to communicate with the living.

For some families their relationships with their ‘Aumakua is a very personal and sacred thing, and their stories are only shared within the family or with people they feel comfortable sharing that part of their history with.

It was a pretty special and rare occurrence given the circumstances of where we were, the time of day, the proximity it flew over us, and the laser focus it had on us for that brief second.

Sometimes images speak for themselves, and this is one of those images that speaks volumes.


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