My wife and I went to the Big Island for our 20th wedding anniversary. As a long time non-birding spouse, she was very accommodating in allowing me a reasonable amount of time to go birding. My birding was done in Volcano NP, a wonderful place to visit even if you don't see any birds, Puu Laau, Hakalau Forest NWR, Manuka State Park, Puu Anahulu, Mauna Lani Bay Resort, and along the Saddle Road. My main reference was Doug Pratt's Enjoying Birds in Hawaii, an essential reference for finding the birds in Hawaii, as well as his Field Guide to the Birds of Hawaii and the Tropical Pacific. To get access to Hakalau Forest NWR, I went on a one day guided tour run by Rob Pacheco of Hawaii Forest and Trail. He runs an excellent tour, and has a thorough knowledge of the Big Island's endemic birds, including their calls and songs. Rob has a permit that allows him to access Hakalau 12 times per year, and he picks his dates on a first-come-first-served basis. The tour costs $130, and this includes breakfast, lunch, water, pack, and raingear (ponchos). He can be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com (note that I did not find them responsive at all via e-mail) or via phone at 800-464-1993 or at PO Box 2975, Kailua-Kona, HI 96745. I highly recommend them. (Please note that I have no affiliation with Hawaii Forest and Trail, I'm just a satisfied customer).
I spent the first couple of hours before breakfast birding each day, as well as the full day to Hakalau, and an entire morning visiting Puu Laau and Puu Anahulu. I also spent a couple of hours each on 3 afternoons. In all, I saw 49 species, including 11 endemics, 5 of them on the endangered species list.
(Numbers refer to the sites in Pratt)
Pied-billed Grebe - 1 at Aimakapa Pond (6), their only known breeding location in Hawaii.
White-tailed Tropicbird - seen at Kilauea Iki and Halemaumau Crater, within the Kilauea Caldera at Volcano NP (2). A total of about 15 birds seen, some very close.
Nene - A difficult species, as there are no sure places to look for it on the Big Island. I found two early (7:15) one morning in Volcano NP (2) along the road to Hilina Pali Overlook, about 2 miles past Kipuka Nene. This spot was recommended to me by a park ranger, one of the few times that I actually got good information from a NP employee. I also saw 2 more birds later on at about 1:00 while I was sightseeing with my wife at Halemaumau Crater. They flew by honking (very reminiscent of Canada Goose), and landed by the parking lot. In both cases they were very tame and allowed close approach. The NP has many signs warning people not to feed the Nene. Apparently one of their biggest problems is being hit by cars.
Io (Hawaiian Hawk) - I had good luck with this sometimes elusive bird. I found my initial bird about 3:30 in the afternoon along the Stainback Highway, about 1.5 miles down from the Kulani Rd. This is a site recommended by Pratt in his species account. It was perched in a dead snag near the road. The next morning as we were leaving the village of Volcano, I saw two different birds soaring about 2 mile apart, one over Jade Rd., just off Hwy 11, and another from Hwy 11. When I went to Hakalau Forest NWR (14), we had two circling overhead briefly before the mist closed in. On my last morning in Hawaii, I had a young bird come into a tree near the B&B I was staying at above Kailua-Kona, below Holualoa.
Black Francolin - seen early morning and late afternoon at several spots, particularly along the Waikoloa Road between Hwy 19 and Hwy 190.
Erckel's Francolin - the most common francolin. Seen easily in the early morning and late afternoon at several spots, including the Saddle Road, Puu Laau (11), Keanakolu Rd on the way into Hakalau (14), and at the Puu Lani Ranch subdivision (8). I had an interesting time with the subdivision. The first two time that I went there, mid-morning, and late afternoon on the same day the gate was open. The next two times, both in the early morning, the gate was closed. No one hassled me when I went in, but it seems problematical if the gate is sometimes closed.
Gray Francolin - seen easily in the early morning and late afternoon around the resorts on the Kohala Coast (10), particularly on the golf courses. These resorts have easy public access.
Chukar - an adult with a couple of young seen early one morning on the Saddle Road.
Kalij Pheasant - I found this species to be quite common in many different habitats, again in the early morning and late afternoon. I saw them at Thurston Lava Tubes, Kipuka Puaulu, and Kipuka Ki in Volcano NP(2), Puu Laau (11), the Saddle Road, and along the Keanakolu Road (14).
Indian Peafowl - I both heard and saw several at the Makalei Hawaii Country Club at MM31 along Hwy 190. I drove in early in the morning, and saw them perched in the trees near the road by the clubhouse. Again, no one hassled me, possibly because it was early morning. I also saw 3 in an open field on the makai side of Hwy 190 just past the entrance to the country club.
Wild Turkey - several flocks seen along the Saddle Road, and on the way into Puu Laau (11).
California Quail - numerous flocks on the road into Puu Laau (11), and a couple of flocks on the way into Hakalau (14).
Hawaiian Coot - numerous at Aimakapa Pond (6).
Pacific Golden-Plover - anyplace with grass had these birds, from the coastal golf courses to the slopes of Mauna Kea at 9000 feet. Also seen along the ocean.
Black-necked (Hawaiian) Stilt - 2 at Aimakapa Pond (6).
Black Noddy - a couple seen near the Holei Sea Arch in Volcano NP (2).
Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse - 38 seen in a 15 minute span from 9:45 - 10:00 at MM50 along the Saddle Road. All the birds were flying north to south, in flocks of 2 - 14.
Barn Owl - one along the Saddle Road, another at Puu Lani Ranch (8), both during the day.
Short-eared Owl (Pueo) - 2 along the Saddle Road in the late afternoon while returning from Hakalau.
Sky Lark - everywhere in the higher elevation grassland on Mauna Kea.
Elepaio - I saw all three subspecies during my stay, but found them difficult, except at Hakalau (14). I saw the volcano subspecies at Kipuka Ki in Volcano NP (2) and at Hakalau, the mamane subspecies at Puu Laau (11), and the Kona subspecies at the top end of the nature trail at Manuka State Park (4). In each case I only saw a couple of birds.
Omao - Seen and heard at Kipuka Ki and Thurston Lava Tubes in Volcano NP (2) without too much difficulty. Several seen easily at Hakalau Forest NWR (14).
Red-billed Leiothrix - seen easily at Kipuka Ki in Volcano NP (2), Puu Laau (11), Hakalau (14), and Manuka State Park (4). I expected this species to be tougher to see, but once their churring call is known, they are easy to find and see.
Yellow-billed Cardinal - easily seen at Mauna Lani Bay Resort along the Kohala Coast (10) and at Aimakapa Pond (6). Also seen in Kailua-Kona.
Saffron Finch - found easily at Mauna Lani Bay Resort (10), Puu Anahulu (8), particularly Puu Lani Ranch, and at our B&B near Kailua-Kona (Hale Maluhia), coming to a feeder that gets filled each morning.
Yellow-fronted Canary - large numbers seen in several locations. Easy at Puu Laau (11) and Puu Anahulu (8).
Palila - 3 seen one morning at Puu Laau (8). I tried for a couple of hours one afternoon with no luck, and then found them without too much difficulty the next morning, thanks in no small part to Mike Austin (who runs the TX RBA), who had spotted them earlier and provided directions when I met him on the way up the trail. This was in the area recommended by Pratt, above and behind the cabin at Puu Laau. I would have said about a half mile back along the track is where Mike found them, and I saw 1 bird. I then saw 2 more while walking back to my car.
Hawaii Amakihi - the easiest endemic to see. I saw them in Volcano NP (2), at Puu Anahulu (8), at Hakalau Forest NWR (14), in Manuka State Park (4), and at Puu Laau (11). At all of these locations, they were easy.
Akiapolaau - two, a male and a female well seen at Hakalau Forest NWR (14), with another heard.
Hawaii Creeper - at least 6 seen at Hakalau Forest NWR (14), with several more heard.
Akepa - at least 20 seen at Hakalau Forest NWR (14).
Iiwi - seen only at Puu Laau (11) and Hakalau Forest NWR (14), but easy in both locations.
Apapane - another very common endemic, but not as widespread as the Amakihi. Seen in large numbers in Volcano NP (2), at Puu Laau (11), at Hakalau Forest NWR (14), and particularly large numbers in Manuka State Park (4), along the nature trail.
Lavender Waxbill - seen only at Puu Anahulu (8), where I had about 15 late one afternoon and 2 on another morning, both times at the bottom of the hill mentioned in Pratt.
Red Avadavat - a large flock seen one morning and a few seen another morning at Puu Anahulu (8). At about MM19 on Hwy 190, there is a track that you can hike in the makai direction through some good grassland. I had Avadavats, Yellow-fronted Canaries, Scaly-breasted Munia, and African (Warbling) Silverbill all in good numbers here.
African (Warbling) Silverbill - seen at a number of dry locations, particularly around Puu Anahulu and Puu Lani Ranch (8).
Java Sparrow - a large flock comes in to the feeder at Hale Maluhia B&B where we stayed in the Kailua-Kona area, the only ones I saw.
Other species seen: Cattle Egret, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Common (Ring-necked) Pheasant, Ruddy Turnstone, Wandering Tattler, Spotted Dove, Zebra Dove, Scaly-breasted Munia (Nutmeg Mannikin), House Finch, House Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, and most common of all, Common Myna.
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