My husband and I were in Maui January 8-14 and in Kauai January 14-20. Although not primarily a birding trip, I did a lot of birding and wanted to file the following report.
First, re: guides, the two little ones that are most helpful are Douglas Pratt's Pocket Guide to Hawai'i's Birds and the Hawai'i Audubon's Hawaii's Birds. The former gives 12 birding hot spots in Hawai'i -- we went to all Pratt listed in Kauai and Maui -- and told what birds to expect to see at each place (a little overly optimistic in a couple of places!). The Audubon is more like a Peterson's guide in that it gives distribution, voices, habits and description. If you want to invest the $40 (or have a friend who can lend it to you) take along Pratt's et al, The Birds of Hawaii and the Tropical Pacific -- it is the most in-depth and has the best pictures and descriptions of the birds. When birding I left this book back at the hotel but used it at night when I was compiling my bird list for the day and wanted to spend more time learning about the birds. You can get all three from ABA or at the Borders Books on Maui and Kauai -- I managed to drop the Audubon guide while bounding across boulders in a waterfall and was happy I could get another on the island, especially since I had borrowed it :-)
We stayed at the Four Seasons in Wailea, and I birded the grounds early mornings. In the gardens and around the pool you will find the Japanese White-eye (it's ubiquitous), Spotted and Zebra Doves, Northern Cardinals, House Finches, Common Mynah (also ubiquitous). There is a pair of Gray Francolins that make a lot of noise, and I found them on the grassy lawn between the Four Seasons and the Grand Wailea next door. If you walk along the ocean (there's a paved walkway that goes for miles) you can see Great Frigatebirds sailing above the ocean. There's also, off to the right as you first reach the Grand Wailea's grounds, a place where they put old plants and other "debris," and here is where I found the Pacific Golden-Plover (on the ground) and the Nutmeg Mannikin (in a tree).
Pratt mentions as a hot spot the Kanaha and Kealia Ponds -- we went to both, but you can see the Hawaiian Black-necked Stilts, the Black-crowned Night Heron and the Hawaiian Coots much better and closer at Kanaha -- it is easy to get to, near the airport and well marked on the map the car rental place or hotel gives you. The Kealia Pond is also on the map, it runs along Highway 31 -- I think Pratt is correct when he says a spotting scope would be helpful there.
For forest birds the best place is Hosmer Grove in Haleakala National Park. Once you get to the park, it's just past the entrance kiosk to the left. There is a short trail that winds around, and there are a lot of Koa trees where you can find the 'Apapane and I'iwi hanging out near the top of the trees. The I'iwi is the most exciting bird to see, especially in the morning sun. It is as bright red as a Scarlet Tanager, and when in flight the black wings and the crimson red body make for a dazzling display. Once they stop to suck nectar out of the Koa's haole (whitish-yellowish pompon flowers) you can see their striking orange curved beak. (A good paperback book on the Hawaiian trees and their flowers, Angela Kepler's Trees of Hawaii, can be purchased at the ranger stations in the national parks.) The 'Apapanes are identifiable because they are not as deep a red as the 'I'iwi, and they have white undertail coverts which are very visible. You'll more readily hear and see the 'Apapanes than the I'iwis.
There's a picnic area at the grove, and since the ranger said the Common Amakihis liked to eat the crumbs from people's sandwiches there, we went there to have our picnic lunch. Perched on a tree right near where we sat down was a Maui 'alauahio -- the Maui Creeper, but it does not creep! It didn't move for several minutes. The Common Amahikis showed up on a stump right near us, and later, a banded one was so engrossed eating bread crumbs on the ground from another table that I was able to take several close-up pictures.
Although we did not see a Nene in Maui, the ranger said one hangs around park headquarters (7,000' elevation). Up at the top of the crater, a man asked about a bird he'd seen driving on his way up and the ranger at the Sun Visitor Center identified it as a Chukar. You can get a Haleakala National Park bird list from the ranger.
A couple days a week, there are ranger led hikes leaving from Hosmer Grove and exploring for several hours the woods and ranch land around the grove. A birder we later spent a day with on Kauai said there is a possibility of seeing the Akohekohe on these hikes. We were not able to go on the hike because we were driving to Hana the next day when the hike was scheduled. So, if you are interested in this hike call the Park headquarters first -- 808-572-7749.
The infamous road to Hana (600 curves in 30 miles, 54 stone bridges, most one-way and with waterfalls) yielded no great birding -- we did take the hike on the Waikamoi Nature Trail and heard a lot of birds, but didn't get a good look at them. If you go all the way to the picnic area you will be treated to thick bamboo groves and their clacking. The friend who lent me the Audubon guide had written in it that he had seen the Red-billed Leothrix on the road to Hana, but I had no such luck.
Hana is a very green, hilly, quiet Eden, and we stayed at the most relaxing Hana Maui Hotel on a ranch of 1000s of acres and hard by the sea. The dramatic Ironwoods along the ocean rocks are very romantic -- like weeping pine trees -- you can often find the Japanese White-eye in them. While in Hana I saw the Pacific Golden-Plovers and Ruddy Turnstones on the lawn at the hotel. The House Finches there have orange, not red coloring. Great Frigatebirds and White-tailed Tropicbirds soared above the ocean at the Hana Bay beach. You can also spot the Great Frigatebirds and White-tailed Tropicbirds from the Ranger Station at 'Ohe'o Pools -- 10.6 miles past the center of Hana.
Kaua'i is the island where Jurassic Park, Raiders of the Lost Ark and South Pacific were filmed -- the green spiked mountains and cliffs (pali), numerous waterfalls, Waimea Canyon, Na Pali Coast, white sand beaches with surfers at many of them riding big waves, well, it makes for fabulous scenery. It is rainier than Maui, especially the northern part near the Na Pali Coast where we stayed.
Our first hike was on the Kalalau Trail from Ke'e Beach to Hanakapi'a (4 miles round-trip) -- the scenery of the cliffs and water are sensational, but the red dirt is very slick and slippery, wear good hiking boots and see if you can find a sturdy hiking stick to take along. It was along this trail that I found a solitary Melodious Laughing-Thrush in the understory. Lots of Japanese White-eyes as usual.
Further on the trail, I found a White-rumped Shama high up, perched on a barren tree limb. They also often perch on the trailhead sign, and once back from our hike, we saw one there. After we crossed the waterfall (not easy, where I dropped my friend's book in the water) and got to the beach we rested under three Hala trees, and a Red-crested Cardinal flew in and waited on a branch, I think to see if we'd feed him. Later at our hotel my husband was eating breakfast outside, and a Red-crested Cardinal landed on his table!
The fullest and longest day of birding we spent with bird expert David Kuhn in the Koke'e State Park. You can call David at 808-335-3313 to arrange for a birding trip -- it's a fun day, we saw all seven species he said we would, and it's an adventure. David moved to Kauai with a large group of friends nine years ago. Most of them stayed and have made their life on the island -- he's an interesting man who can tell you a lot about the flora and fauna on the islands, and the history of many birds there.
On our drive up to Koke'e at around 8:30am we saw the Erkel's' Francolin and again coming down the road around 4:30pm -- they are on the side of the road (and crossing it).
We met David at 9 and drove to the Pihea Trail which we hiked 6 miles round-trip into the Alaka'i swamp. Although it was foggy and misty on our way in, coming back, it was clear and sunny, and we had great views of Mt. Wai'ale'ale -- the wettest spot on earth -- and the Kalalau Valley from the Pu'u Okila lookout. David pointed out a couple of Hump-backed Whales in the far off ocean down below. You can also get a clear view of Ni'hau, the forbidden island -- it is a privately owned Hawaiian island, and if you land on its shores, you will be asked to leave.
David has a secret spot on a hidden trail off the main trail (he has it well camouflaged but was worried wild pig hunters had been using it ) from which one can find all the birds he had told me over the phone we would see: 'Apapane. I'iwi, 'Anianiau, Kaua'i Amakihi, 'Akeke'e, 'Akikiki and the Kauai 'Elepaio. The spot overlooks many native as well as exotic trees -- the I'iwis, Amakihis and 'Apapanes especially liked the red Lehua blossoms of the native 'Ohi'a trees. (Kepler writes in her book on Hawaiian trees, "Note the presence of the 'Ohi'a lehua whenever you are above 3,000 feet elevation ... sacred in olden days ...'Ohi'a lehua was used only for carving temple images and war gods" p.32.) It was a sunny afternoon, and when one of the 'I'iwis flew across the valley in front of us, David exclaimed "Merry Christmas!" They really are bright, bright red, and the contrast in flight with the black wings is something to see. The birds also liked the 'Olapa trees. We spent at least an hour at this pleasant place and had delicious sandwiches, which David had made of local avocado and ahi (yellowfin tuna). After we left there (and David added more thorn bush material and dead branches at the start of his special trail to improve the camouflage) we hiked and birded further into the swamp, crossing streams and waterfalls -- in all, we saw about 50 'Apapanes, 12 'I'iwis (the most David had seen in awhile), 4 Japanese White-eyes, 2 White-rumped Shamas, 10 'Anianiaus, 15 Kaua'i Amakihis, 16 'Akeke'es, 3 'Akikikis (this was the hardest bird to find and see well), and 4 adult Kaua'i 'Elapaios and 2 juveniles.
This was a long but exciting day. We didn't get back to the trailhead 'til after 4. But if you are serious about finding these native forest birds, it's well worth it to contact David.
The next day it rained all day on the northern part of the island. At about 4pm we drove to Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge -- drive past Princeville and just after the bridge on your way to the town of Hanalei (where Puff, the magic dragon, is from) turn left onto the paved road. You will see a lot of Taro fields off to your right. We got out and birded here, but you are not supposed to do this (we didn't know better at the time) -- instead, continue down the road a mile or so and there are new trails that have recently been cut.
We were there an hour or so and saw many Hawaiian Ducks, Coots, Stilts and Moorhens (a very secretive bird, it hid under big Taro leaves, and made a lot of croaking and creaking noises). We also saw lots of Cattle Egrets, a few Black-crowned Night Herons, and I found a Western Meadowlark by its singing -- I had never seen one but have a clock my son gave me that has a different bird every hour with its song on the hour, and I knew the song from the clock. It was perched on a post at the far end of the Taro fields.
Our last day in Kaua'i we went to the Kilauea Point Lighthouse -- also a national wildlife refuge. The Laysan Albatross are now mating and beginning to nest there. There were hundreds of Red-footed Boobies on the cliffs and in the trees. We saw a few White-tailed Tropicbirds and Great Frigatebirds out over the water. The Red-tailed Tropicbirds don't arrive until late February, and the Wedge-tailed Shearwaters left in November. We took the guided walk led by a volunteer -- it's about an hour-and-a-half long and you need to call the lighthouse and sign up for it in advance (808-828-1413) -- and got to learn the Nene dance. You flap your arms up and down when the Nene flies at you, which they do at this time of year because they are beginning to nest. The walk takes you off the beaten trail, and you may not see too many more birds than you would if you just walked up to the Lighthouse (except for the Nene, which does not hang around the lighthouse) but you see some breathtaking views from look-out points in the acres around the Lighthouse. We did hear and see more Western Meadowlarks on this walk.
It's hard to read the big Pratt book and see how many Hawaiian birds are noted as extinct. For me, though, it was worth it to go there and just see the amazing I'iwi as the morning sun caught it flying between tall Koa trees. There's also great scenery, and fabulous snorkeling on the islands (check out Molikini off Maui and Poipu Beach on Kaua'i.
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