DP151 Singing Nightingales (Kona Nightingales)

DP151 Singing Nightingales (Kona Nightingales)


A month after 911, my wife Debbie and I moved to Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii, something we had both wanted to do even before we had met. As soon as we were unpacked and settled in our Island home, I knew one of the first things I needed to photograph were the feral donkeys of North Kona.

These donkeys were the descendants of the animals that the coffee farms had used before the end of World War II. Before the war, the donkeys could often be heard in the evening braying from farm to farm and became known locally as the “Kona Nightingales.” After the war ended the surplus of military vehicles replaced these beasts of burden, and they eventually wandered off the farms and onto the open space to the north.

Six years earlier we were married on the beach at Kona Village Resort. This resort was situated on an ancient village site and was surrounded by the 1801 lava flow from Hualalai. Because the resorts water supply was above ground, there were two huge water tanks about half the way from the highway to the resort. The tanks had overflow valves that supplied water to the animals in the area.

Twice a day the donkeys would visit this area for the water. I knew that the development of the area was coming and it was unclear as to the eventual fate of these donkeys. I knew that I needed to try to photograph these animals out in the lava fields while they were still there.

Lava flows in this area were hard to navigate, somehow the donkeys knew where to step. As for myself, I ambled while planning my route several steps ahead while carrying my camera with a long lens and a tripod. I would make several trips into this area to photograph the Nightingales. Finally one day I was rewarded by three donkeys standing next to each other with the two closest to the camera braying. My shutter got a workout that day.

Once all of the film was processed and edited, I found several images that I was sure would sell nicely. I made some test prints to show Debbie, and when I showed her what would become DP151 Singing Nightingales, she responded: “That’s really cute, but it will never sell.” I said I was still going to try as I felt this image had some potential. We were both wrong; it turned into our best selling image of all time in about eleven months and is still one. One of my clients happened to be a dental office in Kona, for patients to view while getting their teeth cleaned.