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Hawaii 2021 - Adventures and Misadventures (1 Viewer)

ovenbird43

Well-known member
Having explored all corners of the lower 48 United States and visited several parts of Alaska in 2019, Hawaii was the last major frontier for me in US birding. I love birding tropical regions, but the expense and effort of getting to Hawaii vs. the low species count has always seen me off to other places. But it's still something I always intended to do, so when the pandemic resulted in cheap airfare and closed off many other options, I began looking seriously into a trip to Hawaii. Once Hawaii added COVID test options to avoid mandatory 10-day quarantine, I decided it was time to go, and booked fights for March 7-16.

Hawaii's COVID restrictions are still a bit tricky to navigate (hence plane ticket prices had not increased yet when I finally purchased them) - requirements to enter the state are a negative COVID-19 test taken within the last 72 hours, but only the NAAT tests are accepted (I believe this excludes all rapid 15-minute type tests) and results are only accepted from a list of "trusted travel partners". Fortunately, Walgreens was one, and there are several in my area, although if I wanted a guaranteed 24-hour turnaround time for the NAAT test I had to drive the hour to Mobile, Alabama to a Walgreens there. Which I did, not wanting to trust to the "1-2 days but could be longer" for the other type of test.

The same requirements also exist for interisland travel, with the exception of travel to Oahu from other islands, for which no test is required. Kauai also has additional restrictions (soon to be eased), that one must either have been in the state of Hawaii for at least three days prior to arrival, or you can opt to stay in a "resort bubble" for three days. I really wanted to do both the big island and Kauai on this trip, so I timed my test so that my pre-departure test also covered my flight from Oahu to the big island, and then planned to get a second test for Kauai later on in the trip.

I knew there would be risks to traveling under these restrictions, so while I wrote up an itinerary, I didn't book many things in advance. In fact, I didn't have anything but my plane ticket, first two night's hotel stay, and my reservation for Hakalau Forest before I received by negative COVID results the night before I left. My intended itinerary was as follows:

March 7: Morning flight, arrive Honolulu in the afternoon, pm flight to Hilo
March 8: Birding Mauna Kea area for natives including Palila
March 9: Hakalau Forest with Hawaii Forest and Trail
March 10: snorkeling Kona coast, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
March 11: fly to Kauai, seabirds and waterbirds on north coast
March 12: backpacking into Alakai Wilderness - endemics
March 13: Alakai Wilderness
March 14: snorkeling south coast, flight to Oahu
March 15: Oahu birding, pm departure

The big island itinerary went more or less according to plan, the rest very much not so... it was a trip full of ups and downs, but I'm glad I went, even when things didn't go right I managed to see some amazing things.

Detailed daily report to follow.
 

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ovenbird43

Well-known member
March 7

Mostly a travel day, American Airlines flight from Gulfport, Mississippi to Honolulu, Hawaii with a short layover in Dallas. I had a few hours to kill in the late afternoon between arrival and my Southwest flight to Hilo, so I took an Uber to Restaurant 604 at the recommendation of an airport employee to sit down for a drink and snack. Along the way and outside the restaurant I saw the first of many introduced species, including Saffron Finch, Red-vented Bulbul, Warbling White-eye, the ubiquitous Common Myna, and a group of Java Finches. Wish I'd gotten a photo of the last, pretty cool birds and those were the only ones I encountered all trip. I also spotted a White Tern from the car and several Pacific Golden-Plovers by the roadsides. I returned to the airport after some poke and a beer, and arrived in Hilo after dark in the pouring rain. I picked up my rental car, drove to Hilo Hilltop Legacy B&B, and promptly went to bed.

March 8

Even after the long travel day, I woke up long before the sun thanks to jet lag, so I studied the maps and ebird checklists for a bit before heading off to grab some coffee and snacks for the road. It was still raining off an on, so I picked up a poncho as well, figuring I would need it in the days ahead. Shortly after first light I hit the road out of Hilo and drove up to the Pu'u O'o trailhead, about a half hour's drive up the east slope of Mauna Kea. It was overcast but not raining when I arrived, and I was immediately greeted with unfamiliar bird song and a couple of Yellow-fronted Canaries in the lava field by the parking area. The first endemic that I spotted was, surprisingly, and Oma'o, the endemic thrush, which was vocally fairly common but usually hard to spot. I snapped a crummy photo, the only one I would manage. Soon after I spotted my first honeycreeper, Hawaii Amakihi, fairly common on this trail, and then bright red Apapane singing and fluttering about at the tops of the Ohia trees. I wandered slowly along the trail, picking up a single I'iwi farther along and hearing melodius songs from the denser areas of brush - I later was able to identify them as Red-billed Leiothrix. I turned back at the first lava field, happy with my first foray into the Hawaiian native habitat and ready to move further up the road for Palila.

Regarding the Palila, I had overlooked the fact that a 4x4 is required to get up to the Palila Discovery Trail from the main highway, and I had rented a regular sedan. Whoops! Undeterred, I parked at the start of the road to hike the 4 miles (~6.4 km) up to the trailhead, packing snacks, water, and rain gear for the afternoon. It was a pleasant hike, I flushed a Short-eared Owl at the start and saw many Eurasian Skylarks. Hawaiian Amakihi were very common, and I caught a glimpse of a Red-billed Leiothrix, quite a pretty bird. It took me about an hour and a half to get to the Palila Discovery Trail, where I sat down for a quick snack and then started the trail. I wandered slowly through the Mamane thickets, surrounded by amakihis, hearing the lovely song of what I later identified as Japanese Bush Warbler, and spotting a family of Hawaii Elepaio. I finished he loop trail having seen or heard no sign of Palila, and I bumped into another birder who hadn't seen it either. Darn... I set out on a second loop, finding nothing different except for a skylark. I then wandered farther up the road a bit, turned around, and took a third loop of the trail. Still no Palila, and at that point I figured I should start heading down if I wanted to reach the car before dark. Bummer. I started down the road, and caught a lift as the birder I had run into was driving back down. We had a pleasant chat, I noted that the road really didn't seem that bad, I'd taken my Saturn on worse, and he said it had been graded just the past year. He dropped me off and I headed back to Hilo, trying to plan my next attempt on the Palila - would spend the time to hike up and down the road again? Give the road a try? Trade my rental in for a 4x4? Forget about it? I didn't decide this day.

In the meantime, I also learned that I was the only person signed up for the Hawaii Forest and Trail's Hakalau trip the following day, and they have a 3-4 person minimum. Crap! Getting to Hakalau is the only reasonable chance for three of the endemics - Akiapolaau (although that one is possible but harder on Pu'u O'o), Akepa, and Hawaii Creeper. Another decision - let the trip be canceled, or pay for extra seats to make the trip happen? I bit the bullet and paid for the extra seats (still afraid to look at my credit card statement!). So, the trip was on for the next day. I returned to Hilo to find more pouring rain. I grabbed some Thai food for dinner and went to bed early.

Below, Oma'o, Hawaii Elepaio, Red-billed Leiothrix, Hawaii Amakihi, I'iwi
 

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Dave Boyle

Well-known member
I did some work on Wake Island a few years ago & got to spend a bit of time in Hawaii & I loved it. I managed to find Akiapolaau & Akepa fairly easily on the Pu'u O'o Trail but couldn't find Hawaii Creeper, I always hoped to get back one day & have another look even though, in pictures at least, it looks like the most uninteresting of the Hawaiian Honeycreepers!

Really looking forward to seeing how you got on on Kauai, from what I've read recently there's been huge declines in the native birds since I was there about 15 years ago. Maybe more like 20 years ago thinking about it!
 

ovenbird43

Well-known member
March 9

Today was my tour to Hakalau Forest with Hawaii Forest and Trail. This is a restricted-access location, with different guides permitted to take clients into the refuge on specified days of the week (Tuesdays for Hawaii Forest and Trail). It was pouring when I left Hilo and raining most of the way to the tour meeting spot, Gilbert Kahale Recreation Area up on the saddle between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. I arrived 20 minutes early, and the guide Gerry was already there with the van and ready to go, so we set out. It was about an hour drive from the meeting spot to the refuge gate, most of it on a rough 10-mile dirt road traversing through degraded grazing land full of gorse. The drive produced a few introduced gamebirds, including Ring-necked Pheasant, Erckel's Francolin, Kalij Pheasant, and Wild Turkey. We entered the refuge gate and parked in an open space by a shed, with my first Nene wandering about in the open field. It was not raining when we got out but we geared up with boots and rain jackets, packed snacks and a lunch, and started off along a dirt road heading downslope.

Gerry was very knowledgeable and told me about the history of the refuge, the restoration efforts (something over a million native trees had been planted), and talked about some of the native plants, including a few planted individuals that are otherwise extinct in the wild. The trees were full of Apapane and I'iwi, with many of the latter foraging down low on the flowering Hawaiian Raspberry. I was hoping to get some better photos of these cooperative I'iwi, but it started raining again, so we made our way down to the shelter, a 3-walled "cabin" with a defunct kitchen and a picnic table. We waited for a bit, watched the commoner honeycreepers from our shelter, ate an early lunch, and waited some more. The rain was showing no sign of letting up. After a long couple of hours, we decided just to go out in the rain - it was steady but not torrential. We left most of our gear and set out. The birds were active despite the rain, and we managed to find Hawaiian Creeper without too much difficulty. This plain green honeycreeper is most distinctive in its behavior, rather like a nuthatch or treecreeper, hopping along branches and probing into bark and lichen. We searched a few different areas for the other targets with no luck.

After about an hour wandering in the rain we were quite wet, my rubber boots full of water, and decided to gather our gear and work back up the road, where a pair of Akiapola'au had lately been seen with a fledgling. On the way up we finally came across an Akepa, a beautiful red-orange male foraging at eye level. We followed it for a bit, soaking in the views, and I briefly considered digging my camera out of my bag, but didn't really want the hassle of taking my rain jacket off, backpack off, etc. only to have the bird fly away. Wish I'd done it anyway though, the bird was very obliging, and gave walk-away views. 2 out of 3 in the bag, we continued upslope, and very soon Gerry heard the fledgling Aki begging. We tracked it down, and there it was, the juvenile 'Akiapola'au - such an amazing bird, with the complex dual-purpose bill (chisel on the lower, long, curved upper), I promptly tore of my jacket and backpack and grabbed my camera. I snapped a few photos and the Gerry pointed excitedly, the male had come in and was showing off, foraging right above us. Getting photos was tricky, he was fairly active and I was pointing my camera right up into the rain, but I persevered and snapped a few acceptable shots. A couple of Hawaiian Creepers came in to form a proper mixed-species flock. My lousy photos of the creepers hardly give the experience justice, they were very cooperative.

Eventually we decided we were wet enough, and with my camera lens also wet I wasn't going to do any better with the photos, so we headed back to the van, elated with our successes. Naturally, it stopped raining as soon as we left the refuge gate. We enjoyed views of snow on top of both Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on the drive back.
 

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ovenbird43

Well-known member
March 10

This day I had original planned for mostly non-birding activities, but having missed the Palila, I decided to use the early morning to try for it again. To save time and avoid the 8-mile round trip hike, I chanced it and started up the dirt road in my rental car. It was mostly easy going, and I was feeling somewhat confident until I encountered a hump running all the way across the road, and despite much care I scraped the bottom a bit. Not terribly, but it unnerved me, and eventually I lost my cool and parked at the side of the road about 1 mile shy of the trailhead, just before a daunting stretch of steeper slope. Well, that still saved a lot of time and energy, it didn't take too long to hike the remaining mile. Birds were fairly active along the Palila Discovery Trail, but it was the same story as last time - nothing new (other than an actual glimpse and photo of the uber-skulky Japanese Bush Warbler), no whiff of Palila. Feeling dejected and also apprehensive of the drive back down, I started heading back down the road. But lo and behold, after not 5 minutes of walking, I finally heard what I was fairly sure was a Palila singing. I dashed excitedly off the road toward the sound, and sure enough there it was! A pair were foraging together on mamane fruits, and one was very obliging for photos. After some excellent views I continued down, elated - slam dunk on the surviving big island honeycreepers. The drive down was blessedly uneventful, I managed to drive around instead of over the big hump, and cruised back to the paved road, receiving befuddled looks from two people at the entrance sign as I drove by in my Kia.

The rest of the morning and early afternoon was dedicated to snorkeling. It took about an hour and a half to drive from the dirt road leading to the Palila area down to the snorkeling area known as Two Step, just outside the entrance to Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park. I had chosen this spot after reading the e-version of Big Island Hawaii Snorkeling Guide, and as predicted, my late morning arrival meant the area was crowded and parking was limited, but I followed the example of others and parked along the road leading to the National Historical Park entrance. I geared up and plunged in for my first taste of Indo-Pacific marine life. Schools of Yellow Tang were my first welcomers, along with the endemic Gold-ringed Surgeonfish. Exclamations of delight escaped my mouthpiece with my first looks at Lagoon Triggerfish and Moorish Idol, classic and stunning Pacific reef fish. Fish were everywhere, with several species of surgeonfish and the amazing Pacific Orange-spined Unicornfish, multiple butterlyfish species including Forceps Butterflyfish, and three more triggerfish species (my favorites): Pink-tail, Lei, and Black-finned. I stayed in the water until I was too cold to focus (maybe an hour??), clambered awkwardly out onto the lava beach, and warmed myself up on the sun-heated lava while watching the tidepools, which contained Convict Tang, Snowflake Moray, and other goodies.

Feeling pretty tapped out, after warming up and changing out of my gear, I continued south along the Kona coast, stopping for a rare hot meal of some sort of local fish at Kai Loki's Restaurant near the south tip. Here I began encountering rain again, and make various exploratory stops before reaching Whittington Beach Park. The prime attraction here was the Black Noddy colony, with a handful of pairs exploring potential nest ledges by the pier. They did not disappoint - a lifer and an endemic subspecies to boot.

At this point it was late afternoon, so made the last hour's worth of driving to get to Volcanoes National Park, where I planned to camp at the primitive Kulanaokuaiki Campground. It rained most of the way and was pouring by the time I entered the park. In the fading daylight I pulled over and considered other options. Volcano Hotel and various places in the nearby town of Volcano had available rooms, but all more expensive than I really felt like paying, especially given the expenses I'd already made (private tour to Hakalau, car rental, etc.). I decided to head to the campground, figuring if nothing else I'd just sleep in the car. I lucked out though, after making the 20-minute drive the rain lifted just before I arrived. I threw my tent up as fast as I could, thinking it would be a short window, but it ended up staying dry for the most part, with just a short rain sometime in the middle of the night. Three other people were at the campground, only one of which had a tent set up - the others, it seemed, opted for in-car camping.
 

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Hamhed

Well-known member
Hawaii is on our radar; thanks for the posts. Is March normally such a wet month in the islands? Hoping for more!

Steve
 

ovenbird43

Well-known member
Hawaii is on our radar; thanks for the posts. Is March normally such a wet month in the islands? Hoping for more!

Steve
Winter in general is wetter than summer, and after looking at some annual rainfall charts, it did seem like March can be especially wet.

More is on the way! Sorry for the glacial pace of writing this report, work and other life stuff has me slammed, but I'll get it done!
 

dandsblair

David and Sarah
Supporter
Nice report.
We had 4 days on Ohua in March two years ago (part of round the world flight ticket) but couldn't make logistics work to get to other islands, so good to see what we missed.
 

ovenbird43

Well-known member
March 11

This is the day that began departing from my original itinerary.... I guess to back up a bit, on the evening of March 9 I went online with the hope of scheduling my next COVID-19 test for the following day. To my surprise, there was nothing available that I could find, the soonest option was at a CVS for the afternoon of March 11. Worse yet, I couldn't find any of the guaranteed 24-hour NAAT tests like the one I had done prior to departure, so I had to choose the one without a guaranteed time, just "1-2 days typically". Having scheduled this test, I then opted to shift my itinerary to return to Oahu for two nights starting March 11, with the expectation that I would receive my results while I was in Oahu and then fly to Kauai.

So back to March 11, I had a morning to spend at Volcanoes National Park before I needed to be in the town of Pahoa for my test at 11:00 am, and then catch my flight back to Honololulu a couple hours later. My only remaining native target was Io (Hawaiian Hawk), which can often be seen in the upper elevations of the national park. The sky had cleared somewhat, so I was able to enjoy a few hours hiking some of the upper trails, encountering numerous Apapane, Hawaii Amakihi, and Omao, as well as doing a bit of botanizing in the beautiful Ohia and tree fern forests. A visitor who took note of my binoculars and camera told me about a Hawaiian Hawk she had just seen in front of the Volcano Lodge, so I checked that area just before leaving the park, with no luck. A quick look at ebird showed a number of possible locations around Pahoa, so I figured I'd search around after my test.

I drove to Pahoa and got my test without incident, although this time I was instructed to keep the swab inside each nasal passage for 15 seconds, which was slightly torturous! After the test I visited the nearby Lava Tree State Park, with hopes of Hawaiian Hawk as well as an interest in seeing the lava trees themselves - lava formations formed when lava flows formed molds of now long-gone trees. The lava trees were certainly the highlight of the visit, there was otherwise an assortment of non-native plants and birds, including Common Waxbill.

After completing the short trail here, I moved on to Carlsmith Beach Park, where I figured I would pack up my stuff and relax for the last couple hours before my flight. There was also a chance there for Hawaiian Hawk, though I finally had one fly right over the road as I left Pahoa - score! A perched view or photo opportunity would have been welcome but I had to be satisfied with a tick, as I was not to find one again in the last couple hours. After arriving at Carlsmith Beach Park and repacking my stuff for travel, I wandered across the road to the freshwater pond, where I saw Hawaiian Coot, Northern Shoveler, American Wigeon, and a hybrid Hawaiian Duck x Mallard. Back across the road, I watched the tide pools for a bit for fish, spotted some Ruddy Turnstones and a Wandering Tatter, and watched a curious Green Sea Turtle approach some snorkelers right by shore.

My flight to Honolulu was short and uneventful. Then I had the joy of standing in line for almost 2 hours to get my rental car from Thrifty, so it was almost dark by the time I arrived and checked in to the Waikiki Grand Hotel. I was annoyed to learn that on-site parking was $25, so I opted for street parking. I had some food and a drink at the on-site gay bar and went to bed early, excited for snorkeling and White Terns the next day.
 

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ovenbird43

Well-known member
March 12

I planned to start the day with some early morning snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, where I had read that fish were plentiful and accustomed to snorkelers, but early arrival is recommended for this popular park. As described, entry is a bit of a process. You first have to stop at the entry gate pay $3 to park, where you also get a ticket with a time for a mandatory introductory video and orientation session, occurring every 20 minutes. Then, you have to pay $12 for park entrance proper, watch the short video, and then you are free to go down to the beach. Once through all that, I walked the 1/4 mile downhill to the beach, set my stuff down, and got in the water.

The snorkeling area here is shallow and rocky, with a lot of dead coral, but with lots of fish. Some of the stars included both Wedge-tail and Lagoon Triggerfish, Hawaiian Spotted Toby, a number of large parrotfish (many I couldn't ID to species), some Bluefin Trevally, Saddle Wrasse, and of course many more. As before I stayed for probably an hour, until I was too cold to enjoy myself anymore, and staggered onto the beach and back to my stuff.

I changed out of my wet stuff and prepared to leave, when I noticed something crawl out of my pocket. Oh no. Is that... I squished it and it left a small spot of fresh blood... it was a bed bug. Crap! (well, worse words than that were uttered...). Normally I check every hotel room as soon as I arrive, but yesterday I had been so tired from my long day and long wait for my car, that all I had done was throw my wet tent and other gear about the room to dry. Well. I wasn't sure what to do, so I tried to go about enjoying my day as planned for now.

I continued east along the coast, stopping at various overlooks to watch for seabirds and whales, spotting White-tailed Tropicbird, Sooty Tern, and Humpback Whale along the way. I had seen on ebird that Nu'upia Ponds was a good spot for Bristle-thighed Curlew and some other waterbirds, so I drove out to that area, not realizing that it was on the Marine Corps base. I read later that supposedly you can check in as a visitor to bird the area, but the person at the gate only told me that I couldn't enter without a Marines ID. Ok, well then. I moved on, deciding to try for the two Oahu native songbirds at the Aiea Loop Trail. The forest here was quite degraded compared to what I had seen on Hawaii Island, but there were a few patched of Ohia at the far end of the loop. Oahu Amakihi was farily common, visiting even the eucalyptus trees at the traihead, but I did not see any sign of Oahu Elapaio. There were plenty of non-native forest birds, particularly White-rumped Shama and Red-billed Leothrix, plus some feral chickens, some of the roosters looking nearly pure Red Junglefowl, though they are only countable as such on Kauai to my knowledge.

After the Aiea Loop Trail I decided to go for the nesting White Terns. There are several spots for them in downtown Honolulu, I opted to try at the Iolani Palace. There is no fee to visit the outdoor palace grounds, and I spent a pleasant hour wandering around, enjoying the White Terns, including a couple of older chicks high in the trees, and a confiding pair interacting at point-blank range and just above eye level. There were also Pacific Golden Plovers wandering about, and the usual assortment of non-natives, which on Oahu includes Red-vented Bulbul. I also picked up Chestnut Munia at this spot.

All good stuff, but at this point I was starting to get stressed out. I hadn't received my test results yet, and I was scheduled to fly to Kauai the next morning. Also the bedbugs were weighing heavily on my mind. The bites themselves don't bother me, it's the risk of taking them home in my stuff. Having made the most of my morning and early afternoon, I decided I needed to do what I could about the situation. I searched my room and found where they were - I probably would have missed them in the first place had I done my usual search, because my "king bed" was two double mattresses stuck together, and they were in between the two mattresses. I told the lady at the front desk about them, showed them to her on some tape, she tried to argue they were something else but couldn't quite tell me what she thought they were. I offered to show her the bloody ones, and with obvious discomfort she gave me a new room but told me to dry everything I could on high heat before moving it, and gave me a handful of quarters for the dryer. So I spent the next couple hours shuffling armloads of stuff from my room to the basement laundry and then up to my new room on the 7th floor (which I checked extremely thoroughly, and even then stored everything in the bathtub). By the time I completed the switch, I was tired and cranky and hungry, so I went out looking for dinner. I ended up wandering for an hour in the rain and blasting wind, everything was either closed or packed with no availability. Eventually I found a burrito place open. 9:00 pm, still no test results, so I went online and changed my flight from the morning to the afternoon departure (Southwest offered free and easy online itinerary changes), hoping the morning would bring better news.
 

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ovenbird43

Well-known member
March 13

With an extra morning available on Oahu, I decided to give Oahu Elepaio another shot. Based on recent ebird reports, it seemed that the trail through Wailupe Valley east of Honolulu would be worth trying. With rain clouds looming at higher elevations I didn't know how long I would have. It was a pleasant hike, with nicer-looking forest than at the 'Aiea Loop Trail, and it was fairly birdy. However, all the birds were the usual introduced forest species (White-rumped Shama, Red-billed Leiothrix, Warbling White-eye), I dipped on the Elepaio again and had to dodge a few rain showers.

By late morning, I still hadn't received my test results, so I bumped by flight again to a 4:00 pm departure, and headed to Makapu'u Point Lighthouse Trail. The parking lot for this trail was already overflowing, with cars parked on the side of the busy coastal highway. This is a popular tourist destination as well as seawatch area, featuring a ~1 mile paved road that winds uphill to a prominent point with a lighthouse and wide views of the Pacific Ocean, including views of Kaohikaipu Island. Hundreds (maybe thousands) of Sooty Terns nest on this island, along with a few Red-footed Boobies. The island is too far to really see the nesting activity, but Makapu'u Point is a good place to these and other seabirds streaming back and forth. Indeed, groups of Sooty Terns were constantly passing by at eye level from the top of the point, with a few Red-footed Boobies flying by far down close to the ocean's surface. I saw a few individuals each of White-tailed and Red-tailed Tropicbird, and a single Great Frigatebird made a few passes. Humpback Whales surfaced and breached offshore.

I returned to my car about 2:00 pm, checked my email, still no test results. Well. Forget flying to Kauai today - I pushed my flights again to the following morning and resigned myself to staying on Oahu another night. I wasn't keen on returning to a hotel (for cost considerations as much as bed bugs), so I looked into camping options. There were a few campgrounds scattered throughout the island, some offering tent sites for at least semi-reasonable prices, but all were fully booked. I decided I might just car camp, and then called Thrifty to extend my car rental for one day. They said they couldn't do it over the phone (are you f***ing kidding me?!), so I had to return to the downtown rental facility in-person. As when I first arrived to Oahu, there was a long line that likely meant another 2-hour wait. ughhh... but I went up to the manager and told her I just wanted to add an extra day to an existing rental and she soon had me on my way.

I drove out to the far northwestern point of the island, where the road ends at Ka'ena Point Trail. From here, it's a 3.5-mile one-way hike to Ka'ena Point, which hosts a nesting colony of Laysan Albatrosses. After the stress and bustle of the last couple days, hiking this remote, quiet trail was very refreshing. It wasn't especially birdy, especially with the wind whipping, but the waves were awe-inspiring and the trail meandered through some interesting patches of remnant native beach vegetation. The birding treat was all at the end of the trail. There is a tall fence around the albatross colony in order to keep grazing animals and ground predators out, but there are unlocked doors to allow foot access to visitors. There were dozens of Laysan Albatrosses in the area, with individuals constantly coming and going, some walking about in an exaggerated head-bobbing waddle, others swooping gracefully by right above my head. I couldn't tell from the path whether pairs had eggs or young chicks, but I did get to see one pair engage in their famous greeting ritual. Watching out to sea from the far point, I spotted two Black-footed Albatross (one or two pairs nest with this colony), as well as a fly-by Wedge-tailed Shearwater. It was a peaceful, magical place - but eyeing the setting sun and approaching rain clouds, I finally tore myself away, knowing I still had a long hike back.

I didn't manage to beat either the rain or the darkness, and arrived back at my car in full darkness and fully soaked. That's just how it goes, I changed clothes in the car and drove back to the town of Haleiwa to treat myself to an actual dinner and some good wine at Mayas Tapas and Wine. I had one of the best burgers ever followed by the best slice of cheesecake ever - very good food there, and I don't think it was just because I'd been subsisting on granola bars for much of the trip. At 9:00 pm, just as I was thinking I'd likely have to finish out my trip on Oahu, I got a text notification saying my test results were in (and negative). Wow, just under the wire! So I would by flying to Kauai the following morning after all. After dinner, I drove back toward Ka'ena Point and found a quiet spot to pull off the road to sleep.
 

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ovenbird43

Well-known member
Thanks all! Glad you are enjoying the report.

March 14

It was still dark when my alarm awoke me from my cramped position in the back of the car. I packed my stuff and drove back to Honolulu to catch my flight to Kauai. Car return and flight went off without a hitch, and I was one of maybe 15 people on the plane, with the steward making jokes about our private jet charter. The flight was just about 30-40 minutes, and as we approached Kauai, I could see it was wrapped in gray clouds, although it did create a beautiful rainbow that just seemed like a postcard-perfect Hawaiian view. After landing, I picked up my Jeep Wrangler and set off toward Koke'e State Park, loading up on a few groceries on the way.

It rained off an one during the hour's drive from the Lihue airport to Koke'e State Park, where the Mohini-Camp 10 road starts. I stopped briefly at the Koke'e State Park visitor's center just to orient myself, and saw a group of Red Junglefowl hanging out. I believe these are countable as such, although I wasn't satisfied with it as a tick until I saw a pair on the Mohini-Camp 10 road, coming out from the woods and then fleeing at the sight of my vehicle approaching. As advertised, a high-clearance 4x4 is strictly necessary for this road; even then, I fully expected to have to get out and backpack at some point in order to reach the Mohini-Waialae Trail at the end of the road. As I slowly made my way in my jeep up and down the ravines traversed by the road, the rain picked up and seemed to settle in. About 4 miles in, I reached a point in the road that was blocked off with cones and flagging, and I could see just beyond it the road became quite a mud pit. Unfazed and fully expecting this, I backed up to where I could pull off the road a bit and gathered everything for an overnight backpacking trip. I put my poncho over everything and set off in the rain. Just 10 minutes down the road I came to Kawaikoi Camp, the first of several campgrounds along this road. Immediately though I could see I was at an impasse - the road crosses the Kawaikoi Stream just beyond the campground, and it was a raging river thanks to all the recent (and ongoing) rain. There was no question of attempting to ford it - almost certainly I would be swept away if I tried. Well. Unless I could cross the stream higher up via one of the trails through the region, there would be no getting to Mohini-Waialae Trail this trip.

I figured the best course of action was to camp at Kawaikoi Camp and make the most of what I could access - certainly I could forget about the Small Kauai Thrush and Akikiki, but I could still try for the other endemics. The rain was still coming down steadily, so I just left my backpack with camping gear on top of a covered picnic table and put together a day pack for hiking. I started up a trail that follows the Kawaikoi stream and eventually meets up with the Alakai Swamp Trail. Close to camp I flushed a few large brownish birds, very skulky, I didn't get great looks but they were just identifiable as Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush. A bit farther on I spotted my first native, Kauai Elepaio, which gave good views, but I decided to leave my camera safe in my dry backpack. I continued on for a bit, not seeing much else but Warbling White-eyes. I found where the trail forks and crosses the Kawaikoi above the camp, but the crossing was still too treacherous up here. Eventually I worked my way back to camp.

It was midafternoon now, still raining. I looked around for a sheltered spot to set up camp, and considered a spot in the forest near the camp, but decided to wait. I walked back up the road a bit to where the Alakai Swamp Trail meets the road, and headed up the trail. A few miles up the trail, where it crosses the Pihea Trail, I came to the first patch of good forest I had seen yet. Very different from the native forests I had seen on the other islands, Kauai's native forests are older and more diverse, and the trees were covered in mosses and lichens - just the thing for Akikiki, if I could be so lucky. I spotted a few Apapane and Kauai Amakihi, but not much else. After this patch of forest, the Alakai Swamp Trail descends steeply, and at the bottom of a ravine I came to another uncrossable stream. So... that was as far as I could go along this trail. I turned around, and made by way back to camp.

It was still raining, with no sign of letting up, and dusk was falling. By now I had been soaked for hours and my feet were starting to feel raw from hiking in my long-since waterlogged boots. I gave up on the idea of setting up camp, retrieved my backpack, and settled in for a night in the jeep. Fortunately, I was tired enough that all it took was the one beer I had brought and I was asleep soon after dark.
 

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ovenbird43

Well-known member
March 15

Sometime during the night the rain finally stopped. At this point, given access limitations, I didn't figure I could find any more of the honeycreepers except Akepa, but I was still eager to try, an to enjoy the native forest some more without the constant rain. So, I returned to the Alakai Swamp Trail, this time turning left onto the Pihea Trail when I reached the junction.

Birds were very active in the clear morning, and Apapane were quite common along the trails. I spotted a few more Kauai Amakihi and Kauai Elepaio, but try as I might, carefully picking through every bird, I couldn't rustle up an Akepa. By mid-morning I decided it would be best to head out and spend some time on the other side of the island looking for waterbirds and seabirds.

It was a bit of a long journey to get all the way around to Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, but I made it there at noon. This location is well-known for spectacular views of several breeding seabirds, including Wedge-tailed Shearwaters nesting right along the pathway to the lighthouse. Unfortunately, I discovered that the refuge was closed on Mondays - if I had visited yesterday it would have been open. Darn! At least some things can be seen from the parking area outside the gate though - not nearly as good as going inside, but I could watch Red-footed Boobies coming and going, bringing nesting material, and White-tailed and Red-tailed Tropicbirds flying around farther out.

I decided to head on to my last destination, Hanalai National Wildlife Refuge, which is an excellent spot for waterbirds, where I hoped to pick up Hawaiian Duck and the Hawaiian subspecies of Black-necked Stilt. However... just a mile or so before the turnoff into the refuge, highway 560 was closed off. I'm guessing there was a landslide ahead, and no way to get around it. Well that was just great. At this point, I was quite fed up with my luck and read to head back to Lihue to get on my plane home.

The rest of the trip was uneventful... I caught my late afternoon flight to Honolulu and then my evening overnight flight back home. Even though the trip was at many points stressful or disappointing, it's the high points that still stick with me, and I went in to the trip fully expecting at least some setbacks. The main lessons learned, and suggestions for future travelers, are: don't attempt Kauai during the rainy season (go in summer instead), and don't attempt to do so much with such limited time under the current covid testing requirements. Getting my second covid test might have been easier if I had planned to do it on Oahu instead of Hawaii. If I were to do my itinerary over again, I would have skipped Kauai entirely, saving it for another time, and just spent more time on Hawaii - there was so much more snorkeling I wanted to do, and another day would also have allowed me to explore Volcanoes National Park, which was simply amazing.

Some day I'd like to give the Mohini-Waialae trail another try, and visit Maui for Crested Honeycreeper.
 

ovenbird43

Well-known member
A couple photos from the last day
 

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