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U.S.A.  --  Hawaii – Kaua’i

April 1998

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 yuckiest places.

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 mainland.

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 (BVD).

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" with them).

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 offer.

Kaua’i Trip List

Laysan Albatross                       Diomedea immutabilis
Wedge-tailed Shearwater                Puffinus pacificus
Red-tailed Tropicbird                  Phaethon rubricauda
White-tailed Tropicbird                Phaethon lepturus
Great Frigatebird                      Fregata minor
Red-footed Booby                       Sula sula
Hawaiian Goose                         Branta sandvicensis
Hawaiian Duck                          Anas wyvilliana
Cattle Egret                           Bubulcus ibis
Black-crowned Night-Heron              Nycticorax nycticorax
Erckell's Francolin                    Francolinus erckelii
Red Junglefowl                         Gallus gallus
Common Pheasant                        Phasianus colchicus
Common Moorhen                         Gallinula chloropus
Hawaiian Coot                          Fulica alai
Black-necked Stilt                     Himantopus mexicanus
Pacific Golden-Plover                  Pluvialis fulva
Black Noddy                            Anous minutus
Rock Dove                              Columba livia
Spotted Dove                           Streptopelia chinensis
Zebra Dove                             Geopelia striata
Short-eared Owl                        Asio flammeus
Elepaio                                Chasiempis sandwichensis
Common Myna                            Acridotheres tristis
White-rumped Shama                     Copsychus malabaricus
Japanese White-eye                     Zosterops japonicus
Japanese Bush-Warbler                  Cettia diphone
Hwamei                                 Garrulax canorus
House Sparrow                          Passer domesticus
Scaly-breasted Munia                   Lonchura punctulata
Black-headed Munia                     Lonchura malacca
Java Sparrow                           Padda oryzivora
House Finch                            Carpodacus mexicanus
Anianiau                               Viridonia parva
Kauai Amakihi                          Hemignathus kauaiensis
Akekee                                 Loxops caeruleirostris
Iiwi                                   Vestiaria coccinea
Apapane                                Himatione sanguinea
Red-crested Cardinal                   Paroaria coronata
Northern Cardinal                      Cardinalis cardinalis
Western Meadowlark                     Sturnella neglecta


Tom Harrison
La Canada, Calif

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