Pretty young goats

Young goatfish have been conspicuous all summer long this year, just like every year.  Now that the long Hawaiian summer season is drawing to an end (at least by my definition—dropping water temperatures), these young goatfish are still around, but in smaller numbers.  Goatfish tend to be overlooked in favor of the more gaudy, “tropical” looking butterflyfish, damselfish, and surgeonfish, but they are really quite beautiful if you look closely.  These were all photographed at Mahukona.

Subadult island goatfish cruise the reefs all summer long. In contrast to most other Hawaiian goatfish species, they are usually solitary.

Young manybar goatfish tend to form small schools. They can change color from predominantly brown to red at will.

An adult island goatfish—not as attractive as the younger fish.

An adult manybar goatfish with a young wedgetail (or Picasso) triggerfish in the foreground. The juvenile wedgetails are also very common in the summer.

And then there’s these guys—the ubiquitous, schooling yellowfins.


Spectacled at Makaiwa Bay

We snorkeled one day last week at Makaiwa Bay, off the Mauna Lani Resort.  As always, fish were abundant and tame.  I don’t recall seeing spectacled parrotfish there before—we mostly see them at Mahukona or on Lanai—but on this day I ran into a single male spectacled.  In contrast to those at Mahukona, it was pretty receptive to being photographed.

Spectacled parrotfish crunching coral in ten feet of water at Makaiwa Bay, along with a goldring surgeonfish. 

Touring the coast with Kohala Divers

The other day Marla and I took a two-tank dive trip with our friends at Kohala Divers in Kawaihae.  We hadn’t been diving with them for over a year, and it was really great to spend some time with them again.  Their entire crew is always enthusiastic, welcoming, fun, and highly competent.  There are a lot of good dive outfits on the Big Island, and we’ve dived with a handful of them, but Kohala Divers remains our favorite of the bunch—which is fortunate because they are also by far the closest to our home.  This particular boat trip was a “club dive,” which meant that most of the divers were local fish geeks.  We really enjoyed their company.

Kohala Divers uses over a dozen dive sites scattered along the North and South Kohala coasts.  On this day we went north, in the direction of Mahukona.  Currents were rather strong, and for that reason the crew checked several sites before settling on Black Point for our first dive and a spot called Horseshoe for the second dive.  Black Point is an exposed, fairly deep site with black coral, longnose hawkfish (neither of which I got a good look at because I’d neglected to bring a dive light) and abundant, approachable pyramid butterflyfish.  Horseshoe offered a Whitley’s boxfish (which I didn’t see, but most of our group did) and had a nice mix of the usual suspects.

I brought my “better” camera setup on this trip—a discontinued Nikon mirrorless J1 with Nikon housing that I picked up for a total of about $200.  It’s a lot bulkier than my little Olympus compact, which is why I tend to carry the compact more often, especially for day to day snorkeling, but the Nikon produces better photos and can go deeper than the Olympus.  While taking photos with scuba is in many ways easier than shooting under the breath-hold constraints of free diving, it can be frustrating trying to stop for photos when the divemaster is in a hurry, leading the group of paying divers quickly from one spot to another.  Both Marla and I prefer a more leisurely pace, allowing time to stop and study the small stuff and to take some shots.  Tony, our divemaster on this trip, was very accommodating to our desire for a relaxed pace that allowed for some lingering and a few decent photos.  Anyway, here’s some of what we saw (click for a better view):

For me, the best fish of the day were the subadult blacklip butterflyfish. These splendid little fish (also called bluehead, sunburst, or Klein’s butterflyfish) with their gorgeous blue-violet foreheads were present in small numbers at around sixty feet at both dive sites. (A few adult blacklips were present in relatively shallow water at Mahukona in 2014 and 2015, but I’ve not seen them there for at least a year. The blacklips at Mahukona did not seem as pretty as those from the other day, possibly because they were more mature, or possibly because the color looks more vibrant at greater depth.)

Pyramid butterflyfish, always a pleasure to see, were abundant and quite tame at Black Point. The pyramids are always present at Mahukona, but those at Mahukona seem to me to be smaller than those we saw on this dive, and not quite as approachable.

This big ringtail wrasse wandered into my camera’s field of view, providing a very short photo opportunity. I think that the relatively flat, dull coloration of this photo accurately represents the natural lighting down at these depths—approximately sixty feet in this case. All of my photos are taken using natural light, as opposed to the multiple strobes used by many UW photographers.  Strobes really make the colors pop, but to me they can lend an unnatural (and expensive!) quality to the photos.

Trumpetfish are ubiquitous in Hawaii. Get a load of that head and mouth!  Head shape varies wildly among fish—think Picasso triggerfish relative to this trumpetfish.   This variability is a source of endless interest and delight among ichthyologists and evolutionary biologists.

Another trumpetfish. They’re cooperative photo subjects, as they tend to remain very still, and can be quite approachable. I think they look great, too.

Yellowstripe goatfish are almost as ubiquitous as the trumpetfish, and just as rewarding a photo target.



Marla and I travelled to eastern Idaho to view last Tuesday’s solar eclipse.  We watched from the bank of Henry’s Fork, a tributary to the main fork of the Snake River.  The event was indescribable, surreal, and well worth the effort of our three-week, several thousand mile trip.  With only two minutes of totality, every second was precious, and for that reason I decided to forego the distraction of trying to photograph the eclipse.

After the eclipse we spent an all too short couple of days in Yellowstone National Park.   Rookies to this park, we were both extremely impressed.  It’s so vast, with a wide variety of gorgeous landscapes and abundant, readily observable wildlife.  No wonder it’s considered the jewel in the crown of our National Park system.  (I had to use that cliche—Marla and I are both big fans of the old Jewel in the Crown mini-series about the last days of the Raj.)

While we spent several hours hiking in the Park, we spent more time driving, and it was the latter that provided most of our wildlife sightings.  I brought along a Nikon mirrorless camera with a really long lens.  Here’s some of what we saw:

Pronghorns (or pronghorn antelope as they were called in my Golden Book of Mammals) were an iconic species for me as a kid. I’d tell my parents, or any adult who would listen, that pronghorns were the second fastest land animal after the cheetah. (That’s what I read—not sure if this is considered accurate anymore.) This scene is reminiscent of the dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History that were so much a part of my childhood. I spotted these females maybe 150 yards from the roadway.

Here’s a male. For some reason he kept his distance from the rest of the herd, which consisted about half a dozen females.  Pronghorns are the last surviving species of an ancient family of mammals.  They’re relatively distant relatives of the true antelope, which are found strictly in the Old World.  Nonetheless, seeing these splendid animals on the open range evokes to me scenes of the African veldt.

Bison were all over the place, walking right up to cars, often blocking traffic.  This and the next shot were taken out the car window.

Leading the parade. We were delayed several times by up to a half hour. We didn’t mind though—it was like watching a nature show on TV.


Trumpeter swans are common on the park’s many lakes. They’re supposed to be rather rare elsewhere.

Marla, being a Rocky and Bullwinkle fan, really wanted to see a moose. We finally saw this one in Swan Valley after we’d left the park.


A female mountain bluebird. Not at all rare or particularly noteworthy, but I like the photo.


Fresh from the open ocean

Many, if not most, species of reef fish begin their lives as tiny planktonic larvae drifting on open ocean currents.  Most settle to the reef bottom to start their adult lives while they are still quite small.  But one species, the moorish idol, does not transform from planktonic to reef-dweller until it is fairly large—about three inches long.  I was fortunate to spot a newly settled juvenile moorish idol yesterday at Mahukona.  It was the first I’d ever seen.

A newly settled young moorish idol.  Note how pale its coloration is relative to the older individuals shown below.  Almost all planktonic organisms—apparently including young idols—are nearly colorless in order not to be conspicuous in the blue ocean.  Many reef dwellers on the other hand are brightly colored for varied reasons that seem not to be totally understood.  This youngster has only just begun the transformation from planktonic to reef-dwelling coloration.

Two somewhat older juveniles displaying adult coloration. Moorish idols are common throughout the tropics and are among the most easily recognized reef fish.

In this shot of an adult it’s easy to see the distinctive spine that this species has above and in front of the eye.

Due to the intense black coloration of the head, it is usually difficult to distinguish moorish idol’s eyes. The eyes, especially the right one, are evident in this photo, taken a few years ago at Mahukona.


Lanai’s friendly fish

Last week Marla, Wendy, and I spent a night on the sweet island of Lanai to celebrate Wendy’s birthday.  We stayed at the Hotel Lanai in sleepy Lanai City, the only town on the island.  The delightful little hotel was built in 1923, and while it has recently been refurbished it retains the feel of old Hawaii.  We had dinner at the hotel restaurant, the Lanai City Bar and Grill, and all three of us agreed that this place was among the best restaurants we’ve been to anywhere.  Given our diverse tastes, this is quite an accomplishment.  We highly recommend both the hotel and the restaurant.

Anyway, on to the fish.  In our day and a half on the island we snorkeled three times at Hulopoe Beach.  Marla and I had been there once before and the fishwatching really impressed us.  Fish diversity here is not as great as at many Kohala snorkeling spots, but fish abundance is great, and, more importantly, the fish here are really friendly.  Largely because Hulopoe Bay is a protected from spearfishing, the fish swim right up to snorkelers.  Here are some:

Spectacled parrotfish are quite common at Hulopeo Beach, as they are at Mahukona.  But those at Mahukona are much harder to photograph than this especially friendly terminal male. Water was about twenty feet deep here.

Swinging by for a bite of coral and flashing those bright yellow pelvic fins.

This bluefin trevally spent several minutes darting around a coral head, hunting for small fish in coordination with a whitemouth moray and two peacock groupers while I watched.

Paletail unicornfish are abundant and tame in Hulopoe Bay. The two scalpels near the tail are apparent here. The scalpels are extremely sharp and are used to deter would-be predators.  Unicornfish (some of which lack horns) differ from the closely related surgeonfish in having two scalpels on each side versus just one in the surgeonfish.  Check out the lips—looks kind of like the fish is duck-lipping for a selfie.

Three leafs

Last November I posted about seeing a leaf scorpionfish at Mahukona.  It was the first I’d seen in hundreds of snorkels over nearly a decade.  A few months later I came across another at Keokea Beach Park.  Then just last week Marla and I saw three of these fascinating fish within a ten meter radius at nearly the same location I’d seen the first one.  Are they getting more common, are we just getting better at spotting them, or is this group sighting just a coincidence?  Probably a combination of the last two.

On last week’s sighting, Marla spotted the first leaf scorpion just a few feet from the dock and called me over for a look.  This fish was much more conspicuously colored than the leaf scorpionfish I’d seen before—a cream color that verged into either pale green or pink, depending on the lighting.  It took us a couple of minutes to discover that there was another, more cryptically colored individual just one or two feet away.  I spent several minutes trying to get a decent photo—leaf scorpions tend to remain stationary, making them good photo subjects; but they tend to station themselves in crevices with poor lighting, which makes them poor photo subjects—while Marla moved on.  It took her just a minute to find a third leaf scorpion just a few yards from the first two.

Leaf scorpions are known to remain at the same location for months at a time.  We came back for a look a couple days after our first encounter, but could only find the pale individual.

Look at that eye!  And check out the modified, leg-like pectoral fin.  This adaptation to life on the bottom (as opposed to up in the water column like most fish) is also found in other families of fish, notably the frogfish, which the leaf scorpion superficially resembles.  These modified fins foreshadow fish’s tetrapod descendants.  

The two leaf scorpions side by side.  Wonder what made them both choose this spot.