Trip Report: Kauai, April 1998

Tom Harrison, La Canada, California USA

I once published an article on all the crazy places we birders hang out. You know: garbage dumps, sewage ponds, landfills. Seemed like one of those rules of birding that the best birds were in yuckiest places.

That was before I went to Kauai.

Kauai is heaven on earth. Beaches. Mountains. Waterfalls. Rain forest. And wonderful birding. My wife and I went to Kauai at the end of April and it was one of the most relaxing, enjoyable vacations we've had.

Arriving at the Honolulu airport, we were greeted by SPOTTED DOVES, ZEBRA DOVES (the first of 26 lifers for the trip) and COMMON MYNA -- in gardens right at the airport as we walked over to catch our commuter flight to Kauai, the furthest of the main Hawaiian islands from the mainland.

Once in Kauai, we rented a car and headed south. COMMON MYNA, PACIFIC GOLDEN PLOVER and CATTLE EGRET and the doves were abundant everywhere we went. We drove down a beautiful tunnel of trees near Poipu and got HAWAIIAN COOT on a pond off to the right.

We opted for the Waimea Plantation Cottages rather than staying in Poipu (where most people stay) because we wanted to be as close to Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Park as possible. But I think the B&B at Spouting Horn might have been a better choice. The trees around our cottage produced RED-CRESTED CARDINAL and JAPANESE WHITE-EYE. Dinner at Roy's in Poipu was the best meal of the trip (Note: we found that all the restaurants in Kauai are on the pricey side, but this one was truly worth it).

Early the next morning we drove up the stunning Waimea Canyon. A pair of ERCKELL'S FRANCOLIN greeted us, and we knew we were off to a good start. On the advice of fellow birdchatters, who, as usual, were wonderfully helpful, I had arranged to join an excursion into Kokee and the Alakai Swamp being lead by David Kuhn (808/335-3313). I'd say it's the only way to go. David is a top-notch birder and a nice guy. He took four of us into some of the most beautiful mountain rain forest you could ever see and, thanks to his keen ear, got us excellent looks at the target endemics including IIWI, APAPANE, ELEPAIO, ANIANIAU, KAUAI AMAKIHI, and AKEKEE.

We struggled for an AKIKIKI. David heard one and saw a flash of bird, but I missed it.

If you plan to make this trip, be sure to spend some time studying the endemics (the Pratt book is excellent) in advance. There aren't that many and it makes it much easier in the field. As for pronunciation, the accent is usually on the second to last syllable. For example: Iiwi is pronounced ee-EE-ve. Apapane is pronounced ah-puh-PAH-nay.

We also picked up SHORT-EARED OWL, RED JUNGLE FOWL and a HWAMEI (MELODIOUS LAUGHING THRUSH) that darted across the road in front of us (BVD).

A mountain canyon seems like a funny place for WHITE-TAILED TROPICBIRD, but there they were soaring around one of the stunning waterfalls.

After the day with David, we drove 2 hours north to the Princeville side of the island. Actually, I wish we had spent another day and night down south before heading to Princeville. Next time.

We had a beautiful condo (Poli Ke Kua) on a cliff overlooking the ocean, quite near the giant and overwhelming Princeville Hotel Resort. When we checked in, I was startled by a LAYSAN ALBATROSS which cruised right in front of us. The grounds near the condo and around Princeville yielded NORTHERN CARDINAL, RED-CRESTED CARDINAL, SCALY-BREASTED MUNIA (a.k.a. NUTMEG FINCH), BLACK-HEADED MUNIA (a.k.a. CHESTNUT MANNIKIN) and JAVA SPARROW.

Princeville is a great base for a number of good birding locations. First stop: Kilauea Point Lighthouse. A stunning place. Just imagine: hundreds and hundreds of RED-FOOTED BOOBIES all around you! GREAT FRIGATEBIRDS overhead. Dozens of LAYSAN ALBATROSS -- many coming almost close enough to touch. WEDGE-TAILED SHEARWATERS on their nests mere feet away (careful where you walk!). And RED-TAILED TROPICBIRDS fluttering over the waves. We had hoped to go on the guided bird walk they have every morning, but there was already a waiting list, plus you need better hiking shoes than sandals because of the lava rock. This is one of the best places for HAWAIIAN GOOSE (a.k.a. NENE) which we got on our second visit there.

Also quite close to Princeville is the Hanalei Wildlife Refuge. A delightful spot to bird. Cruise the taro ponds for COMMON MOORHEN (not a common bird in Hawaii), HAWAIIAN COOT, BLACK-NECKED STILT (will it be split off as HAWAIIAN STILT??!), BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON. The furthest pond (back by the parking area) had plenty of HAWAIIAN DUCK. In the surrounding gardens and jungle areas, I had WHITE-RUMPED SHAMA, COMMON PHEASANT and JAPANESE BUSH-WARBLER (you can learn their simple up-slurred whistle and have quite a "conversation" with them).

Finally, on one of our last days, we took a catamaran trip out of Hanalei (of Puff the Magic Dragon fame) to see the Napali Coast. Breath-taking views, dramatic waterfalls, good snorkeling. The highlight for me: BLACK NODDIES that nest in the caves and on the cliffs of the Napali Coast.

If it's power-birding you're after, add a couple of days on Maui and on the Big Island (of Hawaii) and, if your budget can handle it, consider a side trip to Midway Island. We took the more relaxing (and economical) route this time: Just Kauai. If I had it to do over again (not a bad idea, by the way!), I'd spend another day or two in the south, schedule a second outing with David Kuhn, and stay at least 2 weeks instead of 9 days -- not because it would have added any more species, just because of the beauty and relaxation Kauai has to offer.

Kauai Trip List (4/98)

  Laysan Albatross                      Diomedea immutabilis
F Wedge-tailed Shearwater               Puffinus pacificus
F Red-tailed Tropicbird                 Phaethon rubricauda
  White-tailed Tropicbird               Phaethon lepturus
F Great Frigatebird                     Fregata minor
F Red-footed Booby                      Sula sula
F Hawaiian Goose                        Branta sandvicensis
F Hawaiian Duck                         Anas wyvilliana
  Cattle Egret                          Bubulcus ibis
  Black-crowned Night-Heron             Nycticorax nycticorax
F Erckell's Francolin                   Francolinus erckelii
F Red Junglefowl                        Gallus gallus
  Common Pheasant                       Phasianus colchicus
  Common Moorhen                        Gallinula chloropus
F Hawaiian Coot                         Fulica alai
  Black-necked Stilt                    Himantopus mexicanus
  Pacific Golden-Plover                 Pluvialis fulva
F Black Noddy                           Anous minutus
  Rock Dove                             Columba livia
  Spotted Dove                          Streptopelia chinensis
F Zebra Dove                            Geopelia striata
F Short-eared Owl                       Asio flammeus
F Elepaio                               Chasiempis sandwichensis
  Common Myna                           Acridotheres tristis
F White-rumped Shama                    Copsychus malabaricus
F Japanese White-eye                    Zosterops japonicus
F Japanese Bush-Warbler                 Cettia diphone
F Hwamei                                Garrulax canorus
  House Sparrow                         Passer domesticus
F Scaly-breasted Munia                  Lonchura punctulata
F Black-headed Munia                    Lonchura malacca
F Java Sparrow                          Padda oryzivora
  House Finch                           Carpodacus mexicanus
F Anianiau                              Viridonia parva
F Kauai Amakihi                         Hemignathus kauaiensis
F Akekee                                Loxops caeruleirostris
F Iiwi                                  Vestiaria coccinea
F Apapane                               Himatione sanguinea
F Red-crested Cardinal                  Paroaria coronata
  Northern Cardinal                     Cardinalis cardinalis
  Western Meadowlark                    Sturnella neglecta

41 species

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This page served with permission of the author by Urs Geiser;; May 26, 1998