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U.S.A. -- Hawaii --
Big Island (Hawai'i) & Oahu
3 - 16 December 1997
by BB Hahn
Big Island & Oahu
Snow was falling the morning of our departure from Denver. We
giggled and congratulated ourselves for missing at least one storm as
we took of for warmer climes.
After a gruelling travel day (5:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. Colorado time), we
finally collapsed in our hotel on the Big Island (after looking
at/listening to COMMON MYNAS in the trees outside our room).
December 3. A productive morning. I wandered around alone
in the rental car. Just off the main road on the way to
Kealekekua Bay was a grassy area alive with birds. Many
YELLOW-FRONTED CANARIES and NUTMEG MANNIKINS flitted amongst the
seedheads, while ZEBRA DOVES, YELLOW-BILLED CARDINALS, Northern
Cardinals, JAPANESE WHITE-EYES, JAVA SPARROWS and SAFFRON FINCHES
searched the trees, shrubs and grasses for their breakfast.
At one point I had all in the same field of view: Saffron Finch, Zebra
Dove, Nutmeg Mannikin, Yellow-fronted Canary, House Finch, and a
gorgeous orange variant House Finch.
At the bottom of the valley there were many Yellow-billed Cardinals and
a flock of foraging LAVENDER WAXBILLS feeding their young. Back
on Highway 11 heading south, I rounded a sharp curve and saw a hawk
shape in a dead snag only 20 yards from the road. After pulling
off the road I got great views of the dark phase I'O, or HAWAIIAN HAWK,
calmly preening in the morning sun.
I continued on to Manuka State Park, a lovely spot in a native forest
preserve. Many of the Ohia trees were dead/dying. These
trees have a gray trunk even when healthy, and give the forest a
ghostly quality. Their bright red blossoms, however, attract the
HAWAII AMAKIHI and APAPANE. The Apapane were abundant, constantly
moving from tree to tree, singing. I had worn flip-flops (wasn't
planning on hiking), so could only go a short way up the 2 mile nature
trail, but did find a HAWAII ELEPAIO male before I had to turn around.
In the mowed park itself there were several PACIFIC GOLDEN-PLOVERS
10:30 a.m. - time to head back to the hotel. A tropical
depression was keeping clouds over the Islands, so it wasn't good beach
weather (Bob was peeved), but great birding weather (:-), so after
lunch we went again to Kealakekua Bay and saw SPOTTED DOVES, many
Yellow-billed Cardinals and another I'o being strafed by House Finches.
3:30 a.m. comes early! Arrived at McCandless Ranch at 4:45
for breakfast on the porch of the main house before leaving to see the
critically endangered Alala (Hawaiian Crow).
When we had left home for Hawaii, Keith Unger, the ranch's manager, had
told me that the one person who had signed up for the trip had
cancelled. This meant that unless I wanted to bear the total cost
of the trip, I was not going to see the Crow. But, happily, upon
our arrival to the Big Island, a message from Keith was waiting, saying
another person had signed up at the last minute, so YES!! we were
going to go up Mauna Loa! Bruce Brown, from England, was the
second party, and we set out for the hacking facility on the shoulder
of Mauna Loa around 6 a.m.
Cool, cloudy weather made for an easy ascent (the GMC Jimmy helped,
too!), and we arrived 45 minutes later at the main aviary, where a pair
of Alala that are showing signs of wanting to nest are being
kept. We had just alighted from the truck, anxious to see the
still-hidden birds, when the male ALALA let go with what I call the
"James Brown" scream - a loud "YEOOWW" that is instantly
recognizable. What a thrill! But so very sad to see them
McCandless Ranch is in a quandary: The remaining Alala in the wild are
being preyed upon by the also endangered I'o. In the last year 5
Alala have fallen to the I'o. So the possible nesting pair are
being protected in the aviary from the I'o, and I'o are being captured
and released elsewhere in hopes of preventing the Alala from becoming
easy meals. After watching the pair a while, we drove a bit
farther, parked, and walked about 1/2 mile straight downhill to a cow
carcass where 5 Alala were hanging around. A humbling experience
to realize that I was feasting my eyes on about 40% of the total Alala
population (14) in the wild. We stood about 12 feet away from the
smelly, rotting carcass and watched 3 juveniles come to feed (they must
have cast iron sinuses).
About 18" in front of me and a foot higher than me was a dead tree
limb. As I stood quietly watching, the old Corvid curiosity got
the best of two of the birds, and they each flew up to the limb and
eyed me closely, cocking their heads to one side, then the other, then
preening a bit before going back to the carcass. I had ample time
to inspect their lovely gentian blue eyes, pink gape, the upper
mandible feathered about 1/3 of the length from the forehead, the
feathers. I must confess that I wept. An unforgettable
These birds were hatched in June and still they were quite clumsy,
still learning to feed themselves, still learning to fly with control,
and vocalize. I won't comment on private property owners
vs. government here, but I wish McCandless Ranch well, and hope
that their partnership with USF&W reaps many Alala chicks so that
we have these wonderful creatures for many generations to enjoy and
Also saw a pair of Elepaio and I'IWI (what delightful birds) before
heading up the hill. We ate lunch near 6,000' in elevation, where
our hosts donned warm parkas and shivered, while I told them my home
was at 7,500' and I felt quite warm!
We stopped to see where Madame Pele had spewed her viscous wrath down
the side of Mauna Loa, along with good specimens of 'tree forms' where
the lava burns the tree and leaves a hole where the trunk had once
been. Other birds seen: KALIJ PHEASANTS, a Wild Turkey hen,
Amakihis. A huge, 150# wild boar was caught in a trap (he would
be dispensed with later that day), and we saw feral sheep and feral
cattle, as well.
We took some time to walk into the forest, hoping to glimpse an Akepa
or two. The walking was truly torturous with the long grass
hiding the lava formations, and it did my recently-sprained ankle
absolutely no good. No Akepa either.
The Apapane and the few I'iwi sang all day long (because it was cool
and cloudy? I don't know.), and by the time we started off the
mountain, the wispy fog was lowering.
Returned to the hotel at 4 p.m., and Bob suggested we look at the
tropical fish swimming in the lagoon under the hotel's patio.
With binocs in hand, we counted 23 different species in just 20 minutes
as we also watched numerous RUDDY TURNSTONES land on the tidal rocks,
and the sun slipped into the sea.
Before Rob Pacheco picked us up at the hotel for our day trip, we found
an adult Black-crowned Night-Heron in the lagoon, and an immature flew
Rob's trip up Saddle Road (in the middle of the Big Island) to a
private ranch with a 2200-acre kipuka (island of native forest
surrounded by lava fields) was a treat. Here again, though the
walking was less strenuous, its uneven lava took a toll on the old
ankle. On the way up we saw: many ERKEL'S FRANCOLIN, Quail
species too far away to identify, EUROPEAN SKYLARKS, Ring-necked
Pheasant, 2 PUEO (Short-eared Owl), WARBLING SILVERBILLS, and one
Northern Harrier, which, at the time, Rob thought might be the first
record for the Big Island.
In the kipuka, we found 8 OMAO (Hawaiian Thrush) singing beautifully, 1
RED-BILLED LEIOTHRIX, 7 (yes, 7!!) HAWAII CREEPER, several Amakihi, one
male and one juvenile AKIAPOLA'AU (that wonderful bill with the long,
thin, delicate decurved upper mandible and the lower mandible straight
and half as long). Lots and lots of I'Iwi, many Apapane.
The drive back down Saddle Road produced 1 BLACK FRANCOLIN, and 2 GRAY
FRANCOLIN, which flushed as we stopped and reversed the car, giving us
great looks at the rusty tail spots.
At 6 a.m. I went to Aimakapa Pond south of the airport on the
Kona coast. Clumsy walking in the deep sand. Saw my first
HAWAIIAN COOTS. As I watched, 2 dark Ibis species flew in from
the south, circled low over my head and headed south again without
landing. I couldn't tell if they were Glossy or White-faced, and
I don't know if they are unusual on the Islands, but I left word with
Reg David and Rob Pacheco (hope to hear from one of them on this
Also saw: 12 HAWAIIAN STILTS 2 Wandering Tattlers 6 Ruddy
Turnstones 12 Cattle Egrets 40 N. Pintail Many
Japanese White-eyes Many Bl.-cr. Night-Herons 5
Pacific Golden-Plovers 4 Lesser Scaup 1 Dark brown Mallard
hybrid 4 American Wigeon 1 Pied-billed Grebe Many
Yellow-billed Cardinal Many Yellow-fronted Canary Several
We left our hotel and began our drive to the Hilo side of the
island. We stopped at Pu'u Lani subdivision, a lovely luxury home
area. At the horse facility we saw 2 NENE (Hawaiian Geese), a
small flock of Warbling Silverbills, a small flock of RED AVADAVATS,
and many Saffron Finches. Just outside of Waimea it started to
rain. We were looking for a place to picnic, but, having no luck,
we simply pulled off the road, facing a gate with an empty field beyond
and the sea behind it, and ate. We were entertained by several
European Skylarks climbing the sky, twittering and tinkling, then
Visited Akaka Falls just north of Hilo and was treated to another
close-up look at a perched I'o in a dead tree, the hawk intently
studying the thickly vegetated side of the canyon.
We did Volcanoes National Park. Was rewarded for my patience with
4 WHITE-TAILED TROPICBIRDS flying around Kilauea Iki (Little Kilauea)
crater, an I'o, many Apapane; and down at the Sea Arch turn-out, BLACK
NODDIES and one Myna on the cliffs.
Mid-afternoon, I zipped up to Powerline Road. Took a blanket, sat
in a kipuka, since my ankle was now a problem, and saw Elepaio,
Apapane, Amakihi, and 1 male and 2 female/immature AKEPA clashing with
the Ohia's red blooms. Made my day!
I went up to Pu'u La'au where, once again, after another trecherous but
short hike, I sat and let the birds come to me. Saw CALIFORNIA
QUAIL on the road, and in the open forest, many Amakihi, several
Elepaio, and, finally, after 2 hours, a lovely PALILA pair. After
seeing the Palila, I was ready to head for Kauai, which we did when I
Our room looks down on Waimopo Stream rushing to the sea a few yards
away. Birds around the place: N. Mockingbird, N.
Cardinal, Japanese White-eye, House Sparrow, Zebra and Spotted Doves,
Myna. We drove to Kilauea Lighthouse, where we saw dozens of
RED-FOOTED BOOBIES, 3 Brown Boobies, many breeding/nesting LAYSAN
ALBATROSS whinnying, bowing and clacking their bills, several GREAT
FRIGATEBIRDS, 2 WEDGE-TAILED SHEARWATERS, and 2 gentle Nene. We
got a giggle out of seeing Western Meadowlarks here, too.
A bit farther north we found a large flock of CHESTNUT MANNIKINS
feeding in a pasture.
Back at our room we saw a 20+ O'olu (?) or Grouper, swimming in the
stream below our deck, trapping Mullet in the rocks of the small
freshwater outlet. Several Green Sea Turtles, too. Also
WHITE-RUMPED SHAMAS, a yellow variant House Finch, and several
My birthday, and a planned hike in Koke'e State Park with David Kuhn,
but my ankle was so swollen I couldn't fit it in my hiking boot, so
sadly I cancelled.
We drove north again, stopping briefly at the lighthouse for another
try for a Red-tailed Tropicbird. Saw several White-tailed
Tropicbirds and the other birds of yesterday, but no R-T Tropicbirds.
Back on the road, Bob noticed a "duck with red on it." Sure enough, the
Hawaiian subspecies of COMMON MOORHEN, and several Hawaiian
Coots. At the end of the road, we picnicked on the beach and were
immediately surrounded by RED JUNGLEFOWL and Zebra Doves.
Apropos, they all loved our Hawaiian sweet bread, and the roosters were
quite willing to sit in your lap to get it. Sand in your picnic
Later, we sat on our deck with drinks and watched an adult and an
immature Black-crowned Night-heron fish for dinner, then ate an
excellent birthday dinner of our own at The Beach House Restaurant.
Actually chilly this a.m. Poor Bob, whose only goal on this trip
was to lie on the beach and get tanned. The weather has been puny
with not a lot of sun to date, and angry tides. For the
landlubber (me), that is not the least bit exciting. Not good for
helicopter tours, either. So we drove down to Spouting Horn and
saw Hawaiian Stilts, Turnstones, Golden-Plovers, and Chestnut Mannikins.
We drove up to Koke'e State Park. Thick fog at the very top, but
saw a few Apapane. Back down to Waimea Canyon Overlook.
Numerous White-tailed Tropicbirds and Red Junglefowl, not much
else. The sun came back out, so we headed back up the hill and
went down "Sloggett Road" and found KAUAI AMAKIHI piercing the bases of
hanging pink blossoms. Great looks at a few I'iwi. Two
Erkel's Francolin crossed the road in front of us. A KAUAI
ELEPAIO flew into a shrub next to the road and I got good looks.
Returning, passing the same shrub with hanging pink blossoms that the
Amakihi were seen in, we found two ANIANIAU creeping along the
branches. We tried the top of Koke'e again, but the fog moved in
once more, and we gave up.
Stopped at Salt Pan Park in Hanapepe and found a couple KOLOA (Hawaiian
Duck), Turnstones, etc., and 1 Sanderling.
Stopping at the overlook above the Hanapepe Valley, we got a look at 3
ROSE-RINGED PARAKEETS flying up the valley.
Took a couple of days on Kauai to goof off, then flew to Oahu this
a.m. Took in the Arizona Memorial & Museum. Greeted at
the visitors' center by many RED-VENTED BULBULS and other common
Hit Kapiolani Park early. New species seen: RED-WHISKERED BULBUL
and 6 FAIRY TERNS. Then up to Kuliouou Trail, which was quite
easy walking and I had little trouble picking up the Oahu Elepaio about
30 minutes up the trail, and lots of the more common birds as well.
Later Bob and I drove up the coast, taking in the sights at Hanauma
Bay, chuckling over the 'Laysan Albatrosses' on the small island of
Kaohikaipu. Bob was burned out birdwise, so we just did the
tourist thing, and took the newly opened H-3 highway through the Pali
and back to Honolulu.
I must confess here that I have never gotten lost so many times in such
a short visit as I did on Oahu (specifically Waikiki/Honolulu
area). So I won't bore you with how long it took and all the side
adventures before I found Aiea Trail on the morning of
But find it I did, and it was so pleasant to be back in a somewhat
native forest again. I managed to get a good look at an elusive
Japanese Bush-Warbler near the ground, then walked slowly for a bit and
was gratified to see a number of the Oahu version of Amakihi, which
gave me an Amakihi for each of the islands we had visited. Alas,
no hint of an Oahu Creeper, which I was prepared for, but nonetheless
hoped for at the same time. I am relentlessly optimistic!
And thus ended a delightful two weeks of birding. I hope to
return one day to see the several birds I did not find this time
around. I only pray that the remaining native birds go forth and
multiply, that we who have not yet seen them shall have an opportunity
to do so.
Black Forest, CO