My (semibirding and birder tolerant) wife and I spent the first week of this month on the island of Hawaii, our first visit there. The main purpose was to celebrate her birthday, which we did with plenty of sightseeing, a helicopter ride, good eating, snorkeling, fireworks, and considerable lolling about, but I also managed to see a fair number of the local birds in what is maybe the least birdy week of the year there (which might at least partly explain why I didn't run across a single other birder during my week on the island).
We started with two nights at Volcanoes National Park. I saw lots of APAPANE and a good number of AMAKIHI around our hotel (Kilauea Lodge) and at the good spots on the Crater Rim Road (Thurston Lava Tube and the area around the Devastation Trail parking lot). I heard what I was pretty sure were OMAO at both Thurston and Devastation, and finally at the latter spot, after I heard the "jerky fluting" come from a thickly leaved tree, I finally got a rather fleeting view of a bird flying away that was too big for a Honeycreeper, and had a small straight bill and dark gray plumage above, light gray below. I checked it off as my life OMAO -- but better view desired.
Along Crater Rim Road I saw several KALIJ PHEASANTS (particularly in early morning and late evening) and saw CALIFORNIA QUAIL at the Jaggar Observatory parking lot.
On our drive down Chain of Craters Road, we had a good view of about 15 BLACK NODDIES foraging and apparently nesting (we saw them fly into crevices in the cliffs, but didn't see nests or young) at Kohei Sea Arch.
One afternoon while my wife was checking out the Volcano Art Store, I drove up Mauna Loa Rd, and saw my only HAWAIIAN HAWK (IO) of the trip soaring overhead at the point (above Kipuka Ki) where the powerline crosses the road. In the Ohia forest just uphill from this point, I also saw my first ELEPAIO.
I kept scrutinizing Kilauea Crater and particularly Halemaumau for WHITE-TAILED TROPICBIRDS each time we stopped for a look, but without luck until our very last look, this one from the porch of Volcano House, when I finally got a ten second look at a bird flying away in the distance near the rim of the larger crater.
Our big dip was: no Hawaiian Goose (Nene), and by the end we were laughing at the "Don't feed the Nene" and "Watch out for Nene" signs that abound throughout the park area.
From Kilauea, we drove to the South Kohala resort area around the Hilo side, stopping for looks at Akaka Falls and Waipio Valley (the exciting drive down into the latter requires a 4WD vehicle), and generally enjoying the lush rain forest vegetation on a day that was generally dry and intermittently sunny.
We arrived at our condo (at Mauna Lani Point) in late afternoon, and right away in the parking lot as we checked in we had good views of SAFFRON FINCH and YELLOW-BILLED CARDINAL. We later discovered a YB Cardinal nest in one of the cross-beams of the amazing Neo-Polynesio-Baroque lobby of the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel. Near our condo we found a family of GRAY FRANCOLIN, two adults and six hatchlings, and later around the grounds I found a small flock of NUTMEG MANNIKIN (my only view of this species) and a single NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD.
One morning during our stay we walked in along the beach (on which nudity has apparently been extirpated :-( ) to Aimakapa Pond, where we saw several of the Hawaiian race of BLACK-NECKED STILT, including a couple of downy young, and the Hawaiian race of AMERICAN COOT (according to Pratt's Enjoying Birds in Hawaii these latter had not as of 1995 been accorded the separate species status he thinks they deserve). It was low tide, and along the lava below the beach as we walked in were the only two shorebirds I saw on my visit, a PACIFIC GOLDEN-PLOVER without black front plumage, and a WANDERING TATTLER, both presumably over-summering second-year birds. We also had YELLOW-FRONTED CANARY in the trees along the pond.
On my own one morning I checked out Kaloko Mauka subdivision, where I saw KALIJ PHEASANT, ERCKEL'S FRANCOLIN, YELLOW-FRONTED CANARY, APAPANE, and AMAKIHI. Near milepost 31 along Route 190 I saw a wild male COMMON PEAFOWL, and in Puu Lani subdivision at Puu Anahulu I saw WILD TURKEY, WARBLING SILVERBILL, ERCKEL'S FRANCOLIN, EURASIAN SKYLARK, and MOURNING DOVE.
My big birding expedition was a drive up to Puu Laau and over Saddleback Road which took most of one day. At the West Hawaii Concrete plant I saw a single CHESTNUT-BELLIED SANDGROUSE near the quarry, and along the road in the same area was lucky enough to see a few BLACK-RUMPED WAXBILL (which I gather are quite rare, and indeed which Pratt does not list as a possibility at this site).
At the start of Saddleback Road, I saw my first BLACK FRANCOLIN, a handsome male, and then I had the four miles of dirt road and the cabin area at Puu Laau to myself (you could make it up to this point in a conventional vehicle). In the mamane trees not far past the gate I was lucky enough first to hear and then to get two brief but clear views of PALILA, which is the local specialty, a second ELEPAIO (a different race from those at Kilauea), and my only good view of the remarkable IIWI, which by this time had come to rival the Nene as my jinx bird. There were lots of AMAKIHI and EURASIAN SKYLARKS.
Despite a total absence of waterfowl and only two shorebirds, I was able to see 40 species on the Big Island, including 19 life birds. I'm looking forward to the next trip, when I hope to visit Hakalau Refuge, maybe see more rarities like Aki, Akepa, and Hawaiian Creeper -- and definitely see a Nene.
The Pratt Enjoying Birds book is an excellent birdfinding guide, and I also profited from Birdchat trip reports by Jennifer Matkin, Mike Feighner, David Powell, and BB Hahn, for which many thanks!
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