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U.S.A.  --  Hawaii -- Big Island, Oahu, & Maui

20 - 29 February 2000

by Laura Erickson

Thanks to all the birdchatters who gave me tips, this trip was about as good as it gets, for a non-birding family vacation! .

This was a family vacation, NOT a "birding trip," so I couldn't spend time going to out-of-the-way, lovely little kipukas (pockets of forest that remain after molten lava spreads in fingers from a new eruption)--more time was scheduled for beaches and a whale cruise and snorkeling than hiking, and hikes were chosen more for scenery than birds.  My normal technique on a family hike is to lag behind, listening and watching.  Several of the native Hawaiian forest birds are elusive, more often heard than seen, and take patience to find--several times when I thought I was closing in on something new, I had to give up because everyone else was antsy to move elsewhere for food or something "more interesting." And living in Minnesota, I somehow expect warm, sunny, summery days to last longer than 11 hours 47 minutes--several times our day was cut short by an amazingly quick sunset and fast onset of darkness.  We spent four and a half days on Maui, two on Hawaii, and one in Honolulu.  I found a total of 53 species of birds, of which 37 were lifers.  I got a wonderful overview of these three islands and now can't wait to go back for some SERIOUS birding!

There are some birds you simply can't miss in Hawaii.  Even if I hadn't been a birder I think it would have been impossible for me to miss Mynas, House Finches, House Sparrows, and Northern Cardinals on Maui.  The Zebra Dove was the first bird I spotted, in the Honolulu Airport, and could be found underfoot just about everywhere on all three islands.  Spotted Doves were less abundant but conspicuous and everywhere.  On the Big Island, Yellow-billed Cardinals were everywhere in resort and shopping areas along with all these species.  In Honolulu, Red-vented Bulbuls, Red-crested Cardinals and Java Sparrows were also conspicuous and abundant.  Japanese White-eyes were just about everywhere we went on all three islands, but despite their loud, Indigo Bunting-like song and their abundance, I suspect that most non-birders wouldn't have noticed them.  Gray Francolins skulked about at every motel we stayed at.  Unfortunately these were all introduced species--most have served as disease vectors to native birds, and many compete with native birds for food.  Many other introduced birds were easy to find in the resort areas and parks-I ended up with a total of 16 introduced birds in the urban and motel areas we visited, 13 of them lifers.

We went on a whale-watching cruise from Lahaina, on Maui, the first morning, on which we saw Spinner Dolphins, Humpback Whales, and False Killer Whales.  We spent another day on Maui snorkeling and saw incredible fish, an octopus, and seven huge sea turtles at VERY close range.  On both these cruises, there were absolutely NO seabirds seen, and I was searching!  The snorkeling trip would almost certainly have provided close looks at some birds during nesting season, but we were a bit early for that.

I had several close encounters with mongooses while checking out motel parking lots in the early morning-once I saw a flock of mynas and two cardinals mobbing a mongoose.  These mammals are cute and endearing, but have wreaked havoc on native ground-nesting birds in this land where they don't belong.

Hawaii is in its third year of a serious drought, and we didn't see a drop of rain or mist, or even a cloud, during our eight-day visit, even in the rainforest.  As a matter of fact, one of the most beautiful and famous waterfalls on Maui was dry, and as pleasant as our weather was, we were sad to see some normally lush countryside parched.

I knew from reading Pratt's "Enjoying Birds in Hawaii" and Soehren's "The Birdwatcher's Guide to Hawaii" that gulls would be few and far between-but it was still jarring to this birder who has spent a lot of time on shorelines and in dumps to not find a single gull on the entire trip.  The harbor and beach skies seemed strangely still and quiet.  Finding just about any water birds was tricky. 

On Maui there were a few Hawaiian Ducks, several Hawaiian Coots, and a lot of Black-necked Stilts in Kanaha Pond, a few of these along with Mallards and Northern Shovelers in Kealia National Wildlife Refuge, Pacific Golden-Plovers at these ponds and on golf courses, parks, beaches, and even a parking lot, and Black-crowned Night Herons and Cattle Egrets in the ponds and occasionally flying over here and there.  A group of Black Noddies were on the rocky islet at Waianapanapa State Park and a lone Wandering Tattler flew in for a close look (it looked right back at me!) at Ohia Gulch in Haleakala National Park. 

Nenes were nesting, and I was told that the eggs were hatching the very day I was in Haleakala NP, so they stayed completely out of sight there.  We passed at least a dozen "Nene Crossing" and "Do Not Feed the Nenes" signs at Haleakala and then on Volcanoes National Park (on the Big Island) which were starting to fill me with a bitter feeling until we finally came upon a real, live Nene at an overlook in Volcanoes National Park.  That one stood behind the chain at an overlook, wistfully eyeing the tourists as it begged for food literally inches away.

At Volcanoes NP, White-tailed Tropicbirds flew about in just about every crater we came to.  As beautiful as they are, they weren't exactly conspicuous-I don't think my kids would have noticed them if I hadn't pointed them out.  I found my lifer Common White-Tern (I definitely prefer the old name, Fairy Tern!) exactly where Pratt's book said I would, in Kapiolani Park on Waikiki Beach on Oahu our last day, perched in a tree.  I savored that lovely sight in the company of a pair of Red-crested Cardinals, a bazillion Java Sparrows, and a dozen Yellow-fronted Canaries for a full half-hour while waiting for the rest of the family to return from a McDonald's lunch.  They found the white pigeons at the park at least as fascinating.

‘I only had four ventures into genuine Hawaii forest to see native forest birds during the whole trip - that's where I would have spent almost all my birding time had I been on my own.  First, my husband and I drove the treacherous switch-back road to Polipoli Springs (on Maui) too late one afternoon - by the time we finally made it up there, we had only ten minutes before we had to turn right around.  The narrow, winding road is smooth, and would have been a fairly easy drive if trucks coming the other way hadn't forced us off the road at several points and if we hadn't been in a hurry as the sun moved lower and lower in the sky.  The most curious sight at the Polipoli Springs campground was the outhouse - a primitive, tiny shack like any outhouse but with a working flush toilet!  The most wonderful sights-my very first Common (or Hawaii) Amakihis and Maui Alauahios (or Maui Creepers).  The creepers were ABUNDANT.  The drive up also gave us our first Skylarks and only Short-eared Owl of the trip.

The next day we went to Haleakala at sunrise-spectacular, but the only birds at the top were the ubiquitous Zebra Doves.  Then I went to Hosmer Grove to bird while the rest of the family rode bikes down the volcano-a regular tourist activity.  This happened to be a Thursday, and I was there 45 minutes early for a regularly-scheduled weekly hike provided by the Nature Conservancy and National Park that went into the Waikemoi Preserve. 

During the 45 minutes I was on my own, I found my lifer Iiwi (on the same branch with a House Sparrow!), Apapane, and Hwamei (or Melodious Laughing-Thrush-another introduction) all in the public picnic grove.  Iiwis were abundant!  And both the scarlet Iiwi and the crimson Apapane fly over making wing sounds and vocalizations, so were as easy to spot as they were beautiful. 

Again, Japanese White-eyes were everywhere.  I was glad I'd learned their song well in the previous days so I could concentrate on studying the native bird songs.  I was also glad I'd studied ahead of time the cassette tapes of Hawaii's Birds produced by the Hawaii Audubon Society.  It made recognizing and finding birds by sound much easier in the dense trees.  I didn't see any new lifers on the organized hike into the preserve, but the guide was knowledgeable and informative, and I had ample opportunity to learn more vocalizations and see more and more of these delightful native birds.

My next venture into a rainforest was on one of Rob Pacheco's Hawaii Forest & Trail Guided Nature Adventures-this their Rainforest Discovery Adventure.  It was a wonderful trip, first along the Saddle Road (which wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, but made me understand why most car rental companies prohibit use of rented vehicles on this road), into the Puu Oo Ranch.  We were part of a fairly large group, in two large four-wheel-drive vans.  Most of our group was comprised of a large family together in Hawaii for a reunion-none of them were birders and none had realized this trip involves some difficult hiking.  Fortunately, whenever we took a hike, the entire family stayed with one leader, moving slow and gentle, while my daughter Katie, one fairly new birder, and I went with the other leader.  Sixteen-year-old Katie isn't a birder, but she thoroughly enjoyed the scenery, the birds, and learning about Hawaii's dramatic natural history.

Our leader, Lisa Hadway, was interesting and knowledgeable, with good eyes and ears and a good ability to explain things to a group.  She said Rob Pacheco is big on cool gizmos, and sitting in the back of the van, I particularly appreciated the sound system which carried her voice to me as clearly as if she were sitting right next to me. 

Along the Saddle Road we found Erckel's Francolins, Ring-necked Pheasants, and Wild Turkey (well, they looked pretty domesticated to me, but I was assured that these are wild game birds).  When we set up at a small parking area at an entrance to the rainforest, Lisa and the other leader set up an awning between the vans to protect us from the sun-normally I suspect it's more used as protection against rain, but served us well. 

Even from the parking lot at the Puu Oo Ranch, native songbirds were everywhere.  I never imagined there could be so many Iiwis anywhere on the planet.  Adults were chasing each other, singing, and even doing a bit of mating.  Although this was only February, the month their mating season is supposed to begin, there were already immatures flying about, confusing my identification skills for a bit.  Apapanes were also abundant.  And we found five or six Hawaii Creepers and a dozen Amakihis. 

A small group of Red-billed Leiothrix posed for me on the ground amidst some ferns-they were tricky to find, so no one else in our group managed a peek.  The birds I was most eager to see this day, the Elepaios who were once considered the friendly guardian spirits of Hawaiian canoe makers, showed up here and there throughout the day.  My daughter was delighted to find a pair of Kalij Pheasants before I did-that's the first lifer she's ever had before me, and I think she was a little disappointed that I found them a minute later.  These elegant but showy birds skulk around the forests rather than out in open country the way Common Pheasants do.  A plump, soft looking Omao perched quietly on a branch, as if waiting for us to notice.  If Lisa hadn't spotted that one first, I would probably have missed it, but I did find one myself a bit later, though that one gave me a much less satisfying view.

I wish I'd been there on a Monday or Tuesday, when Hawaii Forest & Trail offers a trip into the sub-alpine dry forest west of Mauna Kea, where I could have seen a little Palila and a unique race of the Elepaio.  But nevertheless, this trip was a delight from start to finish.  And it was fascinating looking at the different forms lava can take.

Our second and last day on the Big Island, we went to Volcanoes National Park.  Most of my family wanted to look at craters and volcano stuff, so I searched for tropicbirds and Nenes.  We saw a bit of rainforest when we visited the Thurston Lava Tube.  I went through the main lava tube with everyone, and then went back to the main entrance to watch the forest birds for a bit while they went deeper into the lava tube.  I got one glimpse at an Omao, and a few looks at Amakihis, but spent most of my time trying to savor the wonderfully abundant Apapanes.  They were everywhere here, as abundant as Iiwis had been the day before, but I ended up spending more time answering questions from tourists than I did simply enjoying them.

On our way back from the National Park, we stopped at South Point, the southernmost point in the United States.  The road to it was narrow and broken, but straight.  Far off in the distance from the tip was a handful of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters.  These are supposedly one of the most common of all seabirds from the main islands, but this was my first glimpse of them.  If we'd timed the trip differently, they would have been conspicuously nesting in the area where we'd gone snorkeling.  It made me think about how lovely it would be to live in various places for a whole year, seeing firsthand how the birdlife changes with the seasons.

This marked the end of our visit to wild Hawaii.  The next morning we flew back to Oahu, where we spent the day in Honolulu.  We first went to Pearl Harbor.  Russ's father fought in World War II, and I know several people who were stationed in the Pacific, so this visit was meaningful and somber, but I couldn't help noticing and adding to my lifelist Red-vented Bulbuls and Common Waxbills. 

After visiting Waikiki Beach and seeing that Fairy Tern at Kapiolani Park, we climbed the steep path and stairway to Diamond Head-an adventure that proved to me that I need to start an exercise program!  At the top, a pair of Zebra Doves were displaying and mating just inches from where I was panting.  I spent my time at the top scanning the ocean, and finally spotted four Laysan Albatrosses winging slowly by.  I was elated.  Before the trip, my most-wanted species had been a Fairy Tern, any tropicbird, and any albatross.  And thanks to the albatross, I had batted a thousand!

The kids wanted to spend the last remaining hours of our visit at a shopping mall.  I tried to be good-natured about this, but after a few minutes I started to go bonkers, just a block from the ocean but stuck indoors!  Finally I managed a semi-graceful exit and spent the last hour of daylight on a Honolulu Beach.  I saw more of the introduced birds I'd seen in other places, and looking out at a cruise ship out in the ocean, found another group of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters flying along with my last lifer of the trip, a handful of Bulwer's Petrels. 

As the sun set quickly in the west, a lovely Fairy Tern flew over my head carrying a fish, several Black-crowned Night-Herons winged past as if reminding me that there were plenty of lovely birds to return home to, and one final Red-crested Cardinal looked at me from a tree as I returned to the mall, gathered my family, and prepared for the long flight home.

Trip List


Where Observed

Laysan Albatross

Oahu (4 flew over at Diamond Head)

Bulwer's Petrel

Oahu (Honolulu beach near mall)

Wedge-tailed Shearwater

Hawaii (South Point) and Oahu (Honolulu beach)

White-tailed Tropicbird

Hawaii (Volcanoes National Park)

Hawaiian Goose or Nene

Hawaii (Volcanoes National Park)


Maui (Kealia NWR)

Hawaiian Duck

Maui (Kanaha Pond)

Northern Shoveler

Maui (Kanaha Pond, Kealia NWR)

Cattle Egret

Maui (various places)

Black-crowned Night Heron

Maui, Hawaii, Oahu (various places-hard to miss)

Gray Francolin

Maui, Hawaii (various places-hard to miss if you're listening)

Erckel's Francolin

Hawaii (Rob Pacheco's Hawaii Forest & Trail rainforest tour)

Red Junglefowl

Maui (Waikemoi Ridge Trail) (well, this one isn't countable, but it came out of an uninhabited state forest, and my son Joey found it)

Kalij Pheasant

Hawaii (Rob Pacheco's Hawaii Forest & Trail rainforest tour and Volcanoes National Park)

Ring-necked Pheasant

Maui, Hawaii (trip to Polipoli Springs, Rob Pacheco's Hawaii Forest & Trail rainforest tour)

Wild Turkey

Hawaii (Rob Pacheco's Hawaii Forest & Trail rainforest tour)

California Quail

Hawaii (Volcanoes National Park)

Hawaiian Coot

Maui (Kanaha Pond)

Wandering Tattler

Maui (Haleakala National Park-Ohia Gulch)

Ruddy Turnstone

Maui (Kanaha Pond)


Maui (Kanaha Pond)

Black-necked Stilt

Maui (Kanaha Pond, Kealia NWR)

Pacific Golden-Plover

Maui, Hawaii, Oahu (in many places. Quiet but hard to miss!)

Black Noddy

Maui, Hawaii (Waianapanapa State Park and South Point)

Common White-Tern

Oahu (Kapiolani Park in nest tree, Honolulu beach flyover)

Rock Dove

Maui, Oahu (easy to miss except in Honolulu!)

Spotted Dove

Maui, Hawaii, Oahu (everywhere)

Zebra Dove

Maui, Hawaii, Oahu (amazingly abundant - everywhere!)

Short-eared Owl

Maui (along drive to Polipoli Springs. Searched in many places where it should have been, but hard to find.)


Hawaii (Rob Pacheco's Hawaii Forest & Trail rainforest tour)


Hawaii (Rob Pacheco's Hawaii Forest & Trail rainforest tour, Volcanoes National Park)

Common Myna

Oahu, Maui, Hawaii (everywhere conspicuous, abundant, and impossible to miss)

Red-vented Bulbul

Oahu (everywhere from Pearl Harbor to Waikiki)

Japanese White-eye

Maui, Hawaii, Oahu (everywhere, but small and easy to miss if you're not paying attention)


Maui (Haleakala National Park-Hosmer Grove. These birds are noisy singers, easy to recognize if you listen to the tape, but it takes patience to actually see! I also heard at Polipoli Springs)

Red-billed Leiothrix

Hawaii (Rob Pacheco's Hawaii Forest & Trail rainforest tour)

Sky Lark

Maui, Hawaii (along drives to Polipoli Springs, South Point, and Rob Pacheco's Hawaii Forest & Trail rainforest tour)

House Sparrow

Maui, Hawaii, Oahu (WAY too abundant. I saw on same branch with lifer Iiwi, and at high elevations in wild areas as well as heavily urbanized lowlands.)

Lavender Waxbill

Hawaii (Resort area-little flocks are easy to walk past if you're not paying attention!)

Common Waxbill

Oahu (Pearl Harbor-little flock in grass that would have been easy to overlook)

Nutmeg Mannikins

Maui (Resort area in Kona-flocks moved about in weedy fields, but hard to approach)

Java Sparrow

Maui, Hawaii, Oahu (few and far between in resort areas until we arrived in Honolulu-then everywhere!)

Yellow-fronted Canary

Oahu (here and there in Honolulu parks)

House Finch

Maui, Hawaii, Oahu (everywhere-I was surprised how abundant they were)

Hawaii Amakihi

Maui, Hawaii (Polipoli Springs, Haleakala National Park, Rob Pacheco's Hawaii Forest & Trail rainforest tour, Volcanoes National Park)

Hawaii Creeper

Hawaii (Rob Pacheco's Hawaii Forest & Trail rainforest tour)

Maui Alauahio

Maui (Polipoli Springs, Hosmer Grove at Volcanoes National Park)


Maui, Hawaii (Hosmer Grove at Haleakala National Park, Rob Pacheco's Hawaii Forest & Trail rainforest tour)


Maui, Hawaii (Hosmer Grove at Haleakala National Park, Rob Pacheco's Hawaii Forest & Trail rainforest tour, Volcanoes National Park)

Red-crested Cardinal

Maui, Oahu (here and there but hard to find on Maui, abundant in Honolulu)

Yellow-billed Cardinal

Hawaii (easy to find in resort areas, shopping areas, and airport)

Saffron Finch

Hawaii (Kona resort area)

Northern Cardinal

Maui, Hawaii, Oahu (all over the place)

Laura Erickson

"We cannot ensure success, but we can deserve it."
                        --John Adams

Duluth, MN

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