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U.S.A. -- Hawaii –
by Tom Harrison
I once published an article on all the crazy places we birders hang
out. You know: garbage dumps, sewage ponds, landfills.
Seemed like one of those rules of birding that the best birds were in
That was before I went to Kauai.
Kauai is heaven on earth. Beaches. Mountains.
Waterfalls. Rain forest. And wonderful birding. My
wife and I went to Kauai at the end of April and it was one of the most
relaxing, enjoyable vacations we’ve had.
Arriving at the Honolulu airport, we were greeted by SPOTTED DOVES,
ZEBRA DOVES (the first of 26 lifers for the trip) and COMMON MYNA – in
gardens right at the airport as we walked over to catch our commuter
flight to Kauai, the furthest of the main Hawaiian islands from the
Once in Kauai, we rented a car and headed south. COMMON MYNA,
PACIFIC GOLDEN PLOVER and CATTLE EGRET and the doves were abundant
everywhere we went. We drove down a beautiful tunnel of trees
near Poipu and got HAWAIIAN COOT on a pond off to the right.
We opted for the Waimea Plantation Cottages rather than staying in
Poipu (where most people stay) because we wanted to be as close to
Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Park as possible. But I think the
B&B at Spouting Horn might have been a better choice. The
trees around our cottage produced RED-CRESTED CARDINAL and JAPANESE
WHITE-EYE. Dinner at Roy’s in Poipu was the best meal of the trip
(Note: we found all the restaurants in Kaiui are on the pricey side,
but this one was truly worth it).
Early the next morning we drove up the stunning Waimea Canyon. A
pair of ERCKELL’S FRANCOLIN greeted us and we knew we were off to a
good start. On the advice of fellow birdchatters, who, as usual,
were wonderfully helpful, I had arranged to join an excursion into
Kokee and the Alakai Swamp being lead by David Kuhn
(808/335-3313). I’d say it’s the only way to go. David is a
top-notch birder and a nice guy. He took four of us into some of
the most beautiful mountain rain forest you could ever see and, thanks
to his keen ear, got us excellent looks at the target endemics
including IIWI, APAPANE, ELEPAIO, ANIANIAU, KAUAI AMAKIHI, and AKEKEE.
We struggled for an AKIKIKI. David heard one and saw a flash of
bird, but I missed it.
If you plan to make this trip, be sure to spend some time studying the
endemics (the Pratt book is excellent) in advance. There aren’t
that many and it makes it much easier in the field. As for
prononciation, the accent is usually on the second to last
syllable. For example: Iiwi is pronounced ee- EE-ve.
Apapane is pronounced ah-puh-PAH-nay.
We also picked up SHORT-EARED OWL, RED JUNGLE FOWL and a HWAMEI
(MELODIOUS LAUGHING THRUSH) that darted across the road in front of us
A mountain canyon seems like a funny place for WHITE-TAILED TROPICBIRD,
but there they were soaring around one of the stunning waterfalls.
After the day with David, we drove 2 hours north to the Princeville
side of the island. Actually, I wish we had spent another day and
night down south before heading to Princeville. Next time.
We had a beautiful condo (Poli Ke Kua) on a cliff overlooking the
ocean, quite near the giant and overwhelming Princeville Hotel
Resort. When we checked in, I was startled by a LAYSAN ALBATROSS
which cruised right in front of us. The grounds near the condo
and around Princeville yielded NORTHERN CARDINAL, RED- CRESTED
CARDINAL, SCALY-BREASTED MUNIA (aka NUTMEG FINCH), BLACK-HEADED MUNIA
(aka CHESTNUT MANNIKIN) and JAVA SPARROW.
Princeville is a great base for a number of good birding
locations. First stop: Kilauea Point Lighthouse. A stunning
place. Just imagine: hundreds and hundreds of RED-FOOTED BOOBIES
all around you! GREAT FRIGATEBIRDS overhead. Dozens of
LAYSAN ALBATROSS – many coming almost close enough to touch.
WEDGE-TAILED SHEARWATERS on their nests mere feet away (careful where
you walk!). And RED-TAILED TROPICBIRDS fluttering over the
waves. We had hoped to go on the guided bird walk they have every
morning, but there was already a waiting list, plus you need better
hiking shoes than sandals because of the lava rock. This is one
of the best places for HAWAIIAN GOOSE (aka NENE) which we got on our
second visit there.
Also quite close to Princeville is the Hanalei Wildlife Refuge. A
delightful spot to bird. Cruise the taro ponds for COMMON MOORHEN
(not a common bird in Hawaii), HAWAIIAN COOT, BLACK-NECKED STILT (will
it be split off as HAWAIIAN STILT??!), BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON.
The furthest pond (back by the parking area) had plenty of HAWAIIAN
DUCK. In the surrounding gardens and jungle areas, I had
WHITE-RUMPED SHAMA, COMMON PHEASANT and JAPANESE BUSH-WARBLER (you can
learn their simple up-slurred whistle and have quite a "conversation"
Finally, on one of our last days, we took a catamaran trip out of
Hanalei (of Puff the Magic Dragon fame) to see the Napali Coast.
Breath-taking views, dramatic waterfalls, good snorkeling. The
highlight for me: BLACK NODDIES that nest in the caves and on the
cliffs of the Napali Coast.
If it’s power-birding you’re after, add a couple of days on Mauai and
on the Big Island (of Hawaii) and, if your budget can handle it,
consider a side trip to Midway Island. We took the more relaxing
(and economical) route this time: Just Kauai. If I had it to do
over again (not a bad idea, by the way…), I’d spend another day or two
in the south, schedule a second outing with David Kuhn, and stay at
least 2 weeks instead of 9 days – not because it would have added any
more species, just because of the beauty and relaxation Kauai has to
La Canada, Calif