A sweet piping calls the sun out of the Molokai Channel as a gaggle of nēnē geese (Branta sandvicensis) emerge from the dawn mists—a whistling parade of café-au lait colored birds wearing red anklets from the State of Hawaii. They fly in to our lawn at Puu O Hoku Ranch for their morning grazing. A mile and a half east towards the Pacific, there are dozens more pairs nesting inside the State’s enclosure, protected from the predators that brought this Hawaiian state bird to extinction on Molokai, and to near extinction in all the islands in the 1950s. Since Puu O Hoku Ranch pioneered a safe harbor agreement with the State of Hawaii in 2001, twenty-five nēnē were released on the ranch, and the number of breeding pairs has more than quadrupled here in twelve years.
We will never know the full loveliness of the Hawaiian Islands before the catastrophic invasion of Homo sapiens, as the songs of more than seventy species of birds are forever gone from our forests and grasslands, and countless endemic plants have vanished. But for those hundreds of species that hang on in remote crevices and remnant forest patches, those named as endangered such as the Molokai white hibiscus (Kokio keokeo), or the endemic gardenia (Nau)—and birds that we dare dream may still be hiding in the ohia trees on the mountain—may they flourish and spread as the nēnē has in our pastures, coming in faithfully every morning to call the sunrise, and to signal, perhaps, the necessary steps to a restoration ecology.