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U.S.A.  --  Hawaii -- Maui

18 November - 10 December 2007

by Marika Ainley

After an uncomfortable flight from Vancouver by Air Canada we arrived at Kahalui Airport at 9 pm, found our rental car and drove to our rented condo in Kihei. The change from rainy, grey Vancouver was amazing. The air was warm and humid and we woke to the sound of birds and coconut palms moving in the wind. And to traffic sounds. Cars whizzing by non-stop. Pratt in Enjoying Birds in Hawaii wrote in 1993 that "traffic on Kihei Road can be horrendous" and he was not kidding.

Nevertheless, people were walking and jogging early in the morning, oblivious to the sounds of zebra doves, spotted doves, gay francolins (a lifer for me) as well as house sparrows, common mynas, and house finches. The large white birds seen flying in the distance were not gulls but cattle egrets.

Because it was so warm I decided to walk every morning and cover different areas along South Kihei Road. I soon found that the bird life was restricted to a few species. In addition to the ones seen the first morning, I saw Java sparrows, northern cardinals and Japanese white-eyes. My second lifer was a red-crested cardinal, a very handsome bird indeed. A walk along the shore on the 21st produced a wandering tattler and pacific golden plovers.

I did not see any endemic birds until we drove up Haleakala, the 10,023 foot volcano. On the way up, past the sugar cane fields and Eucalyptus trees, we saw western meadowlark, cattle egret, Pacific golden plover, chuckar, grey francolin, house finches and, inevitably, house sparrows. 

Our first stop at Hosmer grove was unproductive, one Apapane (lifer) in flight and a few house finches. At the national park headquarters two Nene (lifer) posed for photos, both were banded. We continued to the crater lookout at 9740 feet--unfortunately there were no birds but the view was amazing and we saw a few Silverswords, amazing plants that grow at that altitude. There were a few more just below the summit but none in bloom.

On the way down we stopped again at park headquarters and saw two other nene--these were not banded. More photos of course. We stopped to have a picnic at the Hosmer Grove campground and eventually I saw several I'Iwis (lifer) in flight. Two nene called as they flew overhead, and also saw a couple of Amakihi (lifer)  feeding on insects in small shrubs. There were also a few Japanese white-eyes. On the way down the hill we also spotted a ring-necked pheasant.

I added another lifer in Kihei on the 23rd, warbling silverbill. The birding guides list two ponds where one can see waterfowl. These proved to be practically inaccessible--we tried to get to Kealia Pond several times but it proved to be impossible because of road work. The heavy traffic also made it impossible to pull over and scan the pond from even a considerable distance. We also tried to get to Kanaha Pond and while we saw it from the car, we could not find the access points. We phoned both refuge offices but did not find the information helpful. So we never got to see the Hawaiian coot (an easy bird apparently), or the duck that is now so genetically mixed that it is not even a full species (or so the park naturalists said), but did see several Hawaiian stilts (lifer) along the road and in flight. We also saw common waxbill and, while photographing the pollution from the sugar factory, I spotted  a chestnut munia (lifer) at the edge of the sugar cane field. 

On December 3rd I saw a brant in Cove Park, Kihei,  photographed and reported it to the Hawaiian Audubon Society. Apparently, there were an unusual number of brant seen around the islands this fall. On December 3rd, a drive to Kula in rain and mist produced a northern cardinal and northern mockingbird and a few white-eyes. The following day, my birthday, was extremely windy but I got a lifer--a white tailed tropic bird. The wind continued as a major Pacific storm approached, one that the local radio stations referred to as "the storm of 2007." The wind blew in greater frigatebirds(!), then the rain came down in sheets, we lost electricity for 36 hours and there was not a bird to be seen. It cleared up on the 7th but the roads were flooded, there were mud slides and flash floods and this put an end to our side trips. We had hoped to drive to Hana and see the tropical vegetation and, hopefully, some more of the endemic birds but it was impossible. We did not see anything new the rest of our trip.

On the whole, we did not find Maui particularly good for birds. I know that islands have a restricted avifauna--we spent a month in Fiji in 1997 and actually saw many more birds than on Maui. The habitat destruction, traffic and high density population in certain areas of  Maui meant that, in the easily accessible areas, there was little variety in vegetation and birds and that one had to drive long distances to see endemic birds.  I was happy to see the Iiwis, nene, and white-tailed tropic birds. We had fabulous views of hawk-billed sea turtles, and took lots of photos of plants, some birds, the turtles and the scenery. But for good birding we will have to try one of the other islands next time.

Marika Ainley

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