Birding the Americas Trip Report and Planning Repository
Return to the Main Index

Return to the North America Index
Return to the U.S.A. Index
Return to the Hawaii Index

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.

Big Island

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 strolling about.

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.

December 4

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 caged, calling.

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 experience.

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 reflect upon.

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.

December 5

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 overhead.

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. 

December 6

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 subject).

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 Mongoose (geese?)

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 diving Earthward.

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.

December 7

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!

December 8

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 got back.

December 9

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 RED-CRESTED CARDINALS. 

December 10

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 lunch, anyone?

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.

December 11

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.

December 14

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 species.

December 15

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

December 16

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.

BB Hahn
Black Forest, CO

Birding Top 500 Counter