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Hawaii - Part One - The Big Island (1 Viewer)

Hamhed

Well-known member
Some random thoughts as a preface:
It is our hope that this report on birding the Big Island and Oahu will be of special benefit to US birders planning a visit to increase their ABA life list. This trip was limited to two of the Hawaiian Islands. Kauai was originally a third possibility. The difficulty of seeing its endemic birds and the cost required to do so meant scaling back to more achievable goals. We had a target of about fifty two species possible for our own list and came closer to reaching that number than expected. Only fifteen on that list are considered native species, either endemic to the islands or in the case of the Bristle-thighed Curlew, a winter visitor. Six of the endemics on the islands we visited are considered endangered, with the Palila being a critically endangered species. We did not include sub-species in our target list, though in the end, we did see several, saved for potential future use.

Not surprisingly, given the geographical location of the islands, many of the introduced species are from Asia, with several from Africa and South America. A colorful and exotic display of species often overwhelms us when studying lists for a overseas destination, however, given the limited species possible, these two islands did not seem to be as difficult, at least, for visual identification. Vocalizations were never within our grasp to memorize.

Preparation for the birding included adding iBird Hawaii to our phones and iPads. Hours were spent reading trip reports, new and old, from various web locations including Bird Forum (thank you, Ovenbird), watching endless YouTube videos and studying eBird reports for the past several years to help determine where each species would best be found. By phone, I contacted Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources and Richard May, leader for Audubon bird walks on Oahu, who remained communicative through most of our stay. I created a spreadsheet to help us understand what was where, adding my own often inaccurate rating as to the difficulty of locating each species.
As a member of the Birding Pal network, I’m sad to say there are almost no Birding Pals in the Hawaiian islands. The one I did contact never responded. Richard May said that the birding community in the islands is actually pretty small. The two birders I was able to contact dropped communication after a single response.
On eBird, I set my Alerts to get daily, emailed reports on what was being seen by other birders in the entire state.

As a method of helping us determine where the best birding and snorkeling locations were in relation to each other and where we might choose to stay, I color marked a simple map on maps.me, a program Niels Larsen suggested to us years ago (thanks, Niels! We’ve used this many times over the years). On this map, I marked birding locations in red, snorkeling in green, Airbnb stays in yellow and points of interest in blue. This was of great help in organizing our travels on each island to minimize any needless driving.

Snorkeling, which we are beginning to see as an aquatic counterpart to birding, was high on our list of activities. Indeed, our check-in bag was mostly filled with wet suits and snorkel tubes. In hindsight, a waterproof camera or GoPro would have been wonderful to share our underwater sightings. In the end, neither made the budget cuts.

We kept a fairly close watch on our budget with constant reminders of higher than typical costs for a domestic location. Choosing the island’s off season for our travel was primary in keeping costs in line. Our plane fare was nearly entirely mitigated by points saved during the 2 1/2 years we avoided travel, thanks to Covid concerns. Airbnb’s were our main choices of lodging. Staying at three hundred a night resorts was not a budget option. Oahu was the more expensive of the two islands. We found it nearly impossible to avoid a nightly stay of less than $200. There were even parked camper vans renting for $150 a night! We seldom (occasionally) ate take out and never at restaurants, shopping at groceries and cooking in facilities within our lodging whenever possible. As vegetarians, this would have been difficult anyway. Hawaiians like their raw fish and meat and this was reflected in all menus.

Alternatively, we relaxed the budget by staying in Los Angeles for a night both coming and going to make the travel effort more absorbable by our aging bodies. In hindsight, this proved worth the cost in time and dollars to us as jet lag in either direction was never a problem. Another budget relaxation was to give ourselves the best chance at seeing the endemic honeycreepers on the Big Island. This meant booking with Hawaii Forest and Trail for a trip to Hakalau Reserve on our on our only guided excursion. A pelagic, though possibly productive, was never in our discussions.

Renting cars was fairly straightforward, so we thought. On the Big Island, we chose to go with an economy model from Enterprise. We arrived after dark and their economy models were all gone so a free upgrade to an intermediate was welcome. The car was rented on the west side in Kona but returned in Hilo on the east coast to save us the cross island drive. More on Oahu car rental later.

Finally, one goof in my original cost analysis was to omit the cost of gas. Though the high number we saw was $5.90 a gallon, the typical price was just over $5 a gallon. The total fuel cost for the trip ended up being more substantial than I might have guessed but not a budget buster.
 

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Day One 10-26
Travel from Asheville, North Carolina, our home town, to Los Angeles, CA. Arrived after dark with a free shuttle to LaQuinta. Street side of the motel was a little noisy. For a late night meal, we bought take out from Panang Thai across the street which was 8 lanes of light traffic. Subway was also available.

Day Two 10-27
While waiting for the 7am breakfast to open, we had a decent morning checklist for the backside of a city motel, the highlights of which were a Rufous Hummingbird and Cassin’s Kingbird. On our flight to Kona, our Delta jet confusingly flew north along coast at first which I later learned was to avoid a military exercise. Many in-flight movie choices and last minute study of hoped for birds kept us occupied. Night arrival in Kona to a partially open air terminal, food and gift kiosks creating a beach town vibe we liked immediately. A dark drive for a short distance to our Airbnb where we checked ourselves in as coqui frogs sang a lullaby.
EBird checklists will follow our daily log.

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It’s been a while since I’ve posted a report so still,trying to figure out the photo attachment with titles….

Day Three 10-28
First day for Hawaii birding. Easily up at 5am, the side effect of a six hour time difference. One of the yard chickens became the first bird of the day. Unidentifiable songs came from hidden birds in the surrounding low forest. We wasted little time in driving up slope a few miles to a non-hotspot location seen on eBird where we spied our first new birds and better yet, Hawaiian honeycreepers. We easily recognized the red and black Apapane; the Amakihi, with its more muted tones, took second and third looks. There were also a half dozen Warbling White-eyes, recently split and now separate from the Japanese White-eye we’d seen in California. A pleasant hour here, admiring flowering Kahili Ginger, Banana Passionfruit and Possum Grape as well as a Jackson’s Chameleon clasping a bare branch. We met and exchanged birding notes with Daniel Cassel from Oregon. Dropping down and east to the coast, we located the entry to the Kealakehe Wastewater Treatment Plant. Though listed as a often visited eBird hotspot, a closed gate and no entry sign stopped us from exploring this further. We were later to find out that it is necessary to park and walk nearly a half mile to access the berm that overlooks the ponds that form the birding area. Wouldn’t it be nice if this information was somehow available on eBird?
Next, we made a visit to Keahole Point, a coastal location of flat, slippery rock close to the Kona airport, parking on rough lava to get off road. No pelagic species seen but our second ever look at Wandering Tattlers. On our way to a snorkeling location, we put in a few minutes at a cliff- jumping swimming hole called End of the World, where we picked up Zebra Dove, Common Myna and Yellow-billed Cardinal. After a wonderful relaxing and entertaining session in the water at Two Steps, ( yes, we saw the Hawaii State Fish - the Humuhumunukunukuapua’a or Reef Triggerfish), we changed into dry clothes and took advantage of our parking spot at Puuhonua O Honaunau, (a National Historic Site). A short time here netted Spotted Dove, Common Waxbill, Yellow-fronted Canary, Saffron Finch, Northern Cardinal and our first Code 3 (according to my own judgement), a Lavender Waxbill. Final stop was for food at a Kona/Kailua Safeway, noting Kona coffee selling for $27 for a six ounce bag. I didn’t see any one pound bags for sale…..
 

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Day Four 10-29
Though less than a hour drive away to the north, we somehow did not get started on the road to the Palila Discovery Trail until just after 7am. 51° seemed like a chilly start for a walk in Hawaii but walking uphill in the morning sun soon found us shedding clothes. A pair of four wheel drive only warnings at the start of the cinder road were a reminder that the DLNR signs were not a suggestion but law and punishable by a fine. We didn’t see any rangers patrolling the road but rules are rules, just like in a soccer game or ABA bird lists. The DLNR has valid reasons for those conditions and we felt obliged to abide by them, leaving our two wheel drive sedan behind. Another such rule for using many of Hawaii’s trails was to clean one’s shoes in a boot scrubber arrangement and spray the soles with a 70% alcohol mix. The bristles on the scrubbers worked well enough but the spray bottle provided was often empty.
At mile 2.3, we unexpectedly found our first Palila in the expected mamane tree, their main source of food. Given the scarcity of reports and the warnings from several sources that drought has affected their numbers in recent years, I half expected to miss them altogether. We could have turned around then - target bird achieved, but we like to hike and the day was set aside for just this one site so off we went. With the day’s bird in the bag, the change in elevation became less objectionable and other birds were able to distract us. Amakihi’s were in abundance as were Canaries and White-eyes. There were unsatisfactory glimpses of Red-billed Leiothrix and we heard a calling California Quail, one of the area’s game birds. Other sounds included another game bird, one of the Francolin’s but we didn’t know the sounds and couldn’t see the birds. Hunting has a way of making the larger birds harder to see. A distinctive sound we recorded and identified later turned out to be a Japanese Bush-Warbler. There were several calling but we never managed to lay eyes on them.
We reached the Trail at well over 7000 feet in elevation, scrubbed our shoes again and climbed the ladder into a fenced area, designed to exclude the feral sheep and goats. After the gradual grade of the access road, the one mile rough lava rock trail with some abrupt changes in elevation was real mountain hiking.
Incredibly, the critically endangered bird I expected to be very easily missed showed again, not one but two Palila’s! Singing and perched in the open, we had good views and an easy photo op for the bird of the day. Icing on the cake was a pair of active Hawaiian Elepaio, quick, little flycatchers of the Mauna Kea race. As seen on the hike to the reserve, the Amakihi ruled the day with many seen and singing a song we were beginning to recognize. In the pleasantly warm air, we sat on the rough lava rock, ate our lunch and savored the location and events of the morning.
Despite all the talk of years of drought conditions, dark clouds were building as we finished the walk, the moisture not arriving until we donned our raincoats and began the downward miles.
Light rain followed us much of the way to the hunter “checking” station where our car was parked. We saw few others during the day. One birding couple stopped their truck to chat for a moment. No sounds of shots or other hunting activities but a couple of empty trucks were parked down the side roads.
Back at our stay on Kaloko and out of any rain, Kalij Pheasants wandered the yard as the day ended.

To me, it is not intuitive how to label the attached photos. The title I’ve used in my iPad is ignored. So, one is the Palila Discovery Trail, two is the four mile access road, three is the Palila.
 

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Day Five 10-30
A variety of locations were on the agenda for today. Driving north again on Route 190, aka Mamahaloa Highway, we passed many lava fields being colonized by invasive feather grass. An internet search says that the grass is from Mexico. Our experience is that it forms nearly pure stands, not unpleasant to see the masses of seed heads waving in the breeze. Our first stop was the beautiful Makani Golf course. Barely in the entrance road, we spied several Gray Francolins but with no place to get off the road, we moved on to the parking lot, where the birding action continued. Ignored by both groundskeepers and golfers, we strolled the paved cart paths, giving way to paying golfers, who seemed to take our presence in stride, maybe with a hint of amusement at times. In an hour here, we picked up tame Nene or Hawaiian Geese and African Silverbills among other previously seen birds.

Five miles further north, we parked at a gated and unused parking area at the intersection of Waikoloa Road and Route 190. More African Silverbills, Canaries and Saffron Finches flitted stealthily in the tall and varied grasses surrounding the lot. With them was a stunning pair of Red Avadavats, our first but not our last, as we were to see more in the coming days. Not much more habitat to explore here and so we drove another few miles to an unusual eBird hotspot that happens to be miles long.
On eBird, this site is called “Old Saddle Road and Waiki’i Ranch (mile marker 43 to west end)”. We visited this stretch of road several times, so for brevity sake, I’ll call it Old Saddle Road. There’s a good bit of open country along this two lane highway, cattle and sheep pastures mainly, prime hunting grounds for Short-eared Owls and the habitat Eurasian Skylarks seem to prefer. We did a slow driving loop of ten miles, picking up one cryptic and quickly disappearing Skylark on the roadside but no owl. This Hawaiian owl is a sub-species of Short-eared Owl but the most common owl on Hawaii. Not a new species for us but who can resist a drive-by owl? As it was, we settled for the Skylark, which was new, 11 Wild Turkeys, twice that many Cattle Egrets and our second Francolin of the day, the Erckel’s Spurfowl. Okay, I know I just said Francolin. The Erckel’s was promoted to Spurfowl just before we departed on our trip, leaving just two birds in the islands properly named Francolin.

Still yet to be mid-morning, we doubled back and drove west to the town of Waikoloa to the shopping plaza including a KTA Superstore or grocery, multiple coffee cafes and eateries, a gas station, banks, travel agents, etc. The shopping center was actually beautifully landscaped with shade trees blanketing most of the parking lot and storefronts. This vegetation attracted a variety of introduced and easily seen species. In just a few minutes, we found the Rosy-faced Lovebirds the market is known for and Java Sparrows, a striking bird with a super-size beak. IBird Hawaii tells us they are considered a vulnerable population, not common even in their home range in Indonesia.

At the north end of the town is the Waikoloa Skatepark, an empty skateboard layout and a deserted and unmowed baseball field, surrounded by more low grass and patchy fields. The wind was strong here; I lost my hat briefly while scanning for Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, a chicken-size bird that is reported here regularly. Yellow-fronted Canaries were the most numerous birds here along with Silverbills and Zebra Doves. We gave the site nearly an hour, knowing there was a possibility we could return.

There was another Sandgrouse location back out on 190 so we returned to another wordy eBird hotspot “Junction of Saddle Road and Mamahaloa Highway area (cement plant)”. Whew! The key word in this descriptive name is “area” since the cement plant is actually a half mile north on Nohanohae Iki Road. I didn’t make that name up; it is on a sign at the head of the road to the plant. Why eBird chose to ignore the actual location is a mystery. We did some sleuthing on Google Earth to find the correct site, visited the short stretch briefly, noting that it was Sunday and the place was nearly deserted, including by birds. Strong winds prevailed here also.

Our birding eyes ready for a break, a drive to Kahalu’u Beach Park, south of Kailua-Kona, took us to a second calm water bay for a relaxing snorkeling session. We were pleased that my repair on Liz’s snorkeling tube held up. A plastic retainer ring had snapped but a piece of wire, a rubber band and a layer of tape from a utility bag I carry on every trip, secured the tube to mask for the remainder of our time on the islands.


Warbling White-eye in Chinese Hibiscus
Saffron Finch
Pacific Golden Plover
Hawaiian Goose
Erckel’s Spurfowl
 

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More birds from 10-30.
Rosy-faced Lovebirds
Java Sparrow
Common Myna
 

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Day Six 10-31
We chose to start the day as we did our first day in Hawaii, driving a few minutes uphill to Hao Street, just outside the Mountain Thunder Coffee Company. Too early for it to be open, we were there for a particular bird, Tanimbar Corella, rather than coffee and in short while, a pair of them flew over, calling as they arrived, giving me just enough time for identification and an ugly photo. Not yet ABA countable but our first encounter with any type of Cockatoo.

The Sandgrouse were still missing from our list so we next made another run north to the “park of strong winds” in Waikoloa and managed to miss them again. This is the most favorable location for this species but we were not adding to those eBird reports. The cement plant, 6 miles to the west, was the alternate location so, of course, there we went. Out of the car and looking at a Black Francolin, a security contractor for the nearby solar farm stopped and suggested we stick to road birding as the surrounding land was owned by Parker Ranch who did not take kindly to trespassers. A pair of skittish Eurasian Skylarks and some House Finches were added to our short list. Active concrete trucks and windy conditions kept our time there to just a few minutes.
The convenience of Old Saddle road had us on another slow drive east, on the lookout for owls but seeing nothing of note until we found ourselves at the entrance road to the Palila trail. Again, we parked at the Kilohana Hunter Checking ( shouldn’t that be “check-in”?) Station where we walked a mile up the access road to the Ka’ohe Restoration Area. The area paid off again as we spied the first of only two Hawaiian Hawks of the trip and our only look at a non-vocal, Japanese Bush Warbler.
Early afternoon had us stopping a second time at the Makani Golf Course. In a small, shallow patch of water near the entrance, birds were busy bathing so we stopped to watch a colorful display of Scaly-breasted Munias, Java Sparrows and Saffron Finches. On the course, more Erckel’s Spurfowls, Hawaiian Geese, Wild Turkeys, Doves, Mynas and Plovers and a much better look at Red Avadavats, seemingly attracted to sheets of some rubber fabric, laying in a area off the main course.
With the newly gained knowledge that a visit to the Kealakehe Wastewater Treatment Plant required parking at the gate and walking in a 1/2 mile, we grabbed the scope for the first time, scanning from the berm overlooking the ponds. Our timing was not the best. The afternoon sun backlit much of what we viewed but we did add a dozen Hawaiian Coots, the Hawaiian sub-species of the Black-necked Stilt, a Cackling Goose, one White-faced Ibis and a number of Black-crowned Night-Herons. There were ducks in one of the far ponds but we opted to leave them for another time as it was after 4 pm and dirty clothes needed a visit to a Asian laundromat, conveniently located next to Killer Tacos.

African Silverbills
Hawaiian Hawk
Red Avadavats
Scaly-breasted Munias
 

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Kahili Lily, Banana Passionfruit, typical scenery of grass and lava fields
 

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Day Seven 11-1
A most awaited, albeit expensive day, with Hawaii Forest and Trail. Meeting at their office in Kona, we piled into a 10 passenger van with Taj, our trip leader for the day, at the wheel. We took a coastal route to pick up additional passengers at two locations, one of which was the familiar shopping center in Waikoloa. At a high point on Route 200, the cross island highway, we stopped for a quick bathroom break at the Mauna Kea State Recreation Area where an Amakihi was sighted, a first for some. The turnoff to Hakalau National Wildlife Refuge was on Keanakolu Road, a hotspot in itself. The view along much of this steep, rough road was of invasive gorse and invasive goats but a brief sighting of a Short-eared Owl and a number of Erckel’s Spurfowls and Wild Turkeys had most eyes on alert. Three hours from the office, we finally disembarked onto a grassy meadow patrolled by no less than 17 Nene’s, visited the portable toilets, scrubbed and sprayed our shoes and walked off through a goat gate then onto a path through a forest of native Ohia and Koa trees.
Taj knew the bird sounds, of course. He knew much about Hawaii, the volcanoes, how they formed, why they formed as they did, and was able to keep up an informative narrative on a variety of related subjects throughout our drive without repeating himself. The birds of Hakalau were old friends to him and he called out identities of hidden honeycreepers while we could only focus on very the visible Kalij Pheasants. Slowly though, we began to pick out the birds, color matched to the flowers they fed on. The I’iwi, black and red, strongly curved pink bill, blended well in a bundle of Ohia blossoms as did the Apapane, another red and black jewel of a bird. The two species formed the majority of the honeycreepers we could see. Surprisingly, Amakihis where far less abundant than at lower elevations. Since we’d seen our share of them in several locations, our focus was on species like the Hawaiian Elepaio, now the Hilo Coast sub species. Or, Hawaii Creeper, cryptically colored in dull green and gray and keeping to the shadows. Or the Akiapolaau, nearly missed until Taj heard a distant song and led us through a field of young Koa trees to find this bizarre, woodpecker/honeycreeper cross.
On our return, one of the better photographers showed a photo to Taj, asking “what’s this bird”? That got us all on the only Hawaii Akepa seen, rusty orange against green foliage, you would think easy to see but the bird had other ideas and I failed to stop gawking long enough to get a photo. No matter; the memory of all those beautiful but troubled native birds will stay with us for a very long time.
There were thrushes also; the fruit-eating Omao with one sound we likened to a frog call. The Omao was another that seemed to like the shadows and avoided the camera lens but we were to see more later.
Incidentally, the Akepa photographer had fallen on lava rock just days before, shattering facial bones under her eye but was there anyway, a real trooper. Or just a crazy birder. But that may describe many of us.
Cameras clicking, binoculars revolving in every direction, arms raised, fingers pointing. Provided bag lunch eaten trail side. Taj, the walking encyclopedia, there for any question. Bright red Ohia blossoms in every view. Mostly cloudy, one slight threat of rain that never happened. Never hot or cold. Memories of the Hakalau visit.

Returning on Old Saddle road, we all finally had our perfect Owl sighting. The long ride west through Waikoloa, south down the coast road, those left in the van reached the office in Kailua-Kona near dusk. With all the endemic honeycreepers seen, can we say it was money well spent? In hindsight, I can only say I’m glad we did.



Hakalau trail
I’iwi
Ohia tree
Hawaiian Elepaio
Ohia blossom
Short-eared Owl
 

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Day Eight 11-2
Our final morning on the eastern half of the Big Island, we took time driving the coastal road north to Kua Bay for some morning snorkeling before driving the roads adjacent to the Mauna Lani Golf Course in hopes of seeing a Bristle-thighed Curlew. Though, at the correct season, they are often reported here, none had been seen in recent days. Convenient to our travels was one last session at the skatepark in Waikoloa. Though it was early afternoon and by previous experience, a time for the breeze to blow, the wind did not appear, making for much better birding conditions. As we parked, we played a recording of what the Sandgrouse might sound like. That proved to be a well spent pause before stepping out of the car because in just a few minutes, the calls of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse sounded from several directions and we watched five drop down into the unmowed ball field. As we scanned for the birds, who blended well with the tall, brown and dull green grasses, others called, flew in and joined the initial five.
Birds located and photographed, we stopped for a burrito at the Waikoloa Tres Mex, and, on a whim, drove north to Waimea then east to the coastal road, reputed to be a most scenic approach to the city of Hilo. Not quite up to our expectations, the two lane, windy road offered few views of the ocean but was pleasant enough. We tried to take a short break at Kolekole but the access road was closed so we moved on to Hilo for some food shopping at the local KTA. A note here that most foods in the Hawaii groceries bundle their products in non-recyclable hard plastic, which, for a state with limited space for landfills, seems a poor choice. Recycling does not seem to be a priority on the islands. Aluminum is accepted but steel cans are not, nor is paper and only plastic bottles at certain locations. Glass, energy intensive to recycle and fairly benign in a landfill, is recycled. Not options that seem well thought out.
Rain welcomed us as we passed out of Hilo and made our way south towards our lodging near Volcano National Park. A perched Hawaiian Hawk was sighted during the drive, our second and last of this species.
Darkness had arrived but the rain ceased as we arrived at our newest Airbnb, 4 miles off the main road and well into an area of scattered houses, unpaved roads and forests.

Kua Bay snorkeling spot
Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse
 

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Day Nine 11-3
On my 65th birthday, I purchased for a nominal fee, an “America the Beautiful Senior Pass”, a government issued card that has saved us a good bit of money in entry fees to US National Parks and Historic Sites. The card was accepted at the Hawaii Volcano National Park, saving us the $30 entry fee each day. Our first birding stop however was at Kipuka Puaulau, outside but adjacent to the park, where a nature trail of nearly two miles awaited our exploration. A Kipuka can be described as a variably sized section of forest left unharmed by flowing lava. Typically covered with native vegetation, they offer a haven for Hawaiian honeycreepers and thrushes, although in a fractured landscape.

We arrived just after 8, fortunately beginning our walk at the same time as Cindy, a knowledgeable park volunteer. A experienced birder, she became our guide for the next 2 1/2 hours. With three pair of eyes and Cindy’s knowledge of bird calls, we don’t think we missed much. Kalij Pheasants were almost friendly, accustomed to trail visitors. More Erckel’s Spurfowls, many Warbling White-eyes who calls were nearly out of my hearing range, even more of the colorful Red-billed Leiothrix traveling in small flocks and some decent sightings of Omaos, feeding on wild olives. Also sighted were a few Elepaios, again the Hilo Coast subspecies and Apapane, high in the canopy. Nearing the end of the walk, Cindy heard the distant and rambling song of a Chinese Hwamei. We had expressed our interest in this uncommon species, our main target for this particular kipuka. Though we caught up with the singing bird, only brief and poor views were gained, as it stuck to heavy brush and disappeared quickly.
As we finished our effort to locate the Hwamei, what would be an all day rain began to fall.
On the entry road to the Kipuka, we had passed a sign pointing to “Tree Molds”, which were tubes left in lava when the molten material surrounded a tree trunk and became a hollow tube when the trunk either burned up or rotted away. A quick detour was made for Liz to get a peek at some of the closer ones.
Inside the park, we stopped for a few minutes at the Visitor Center, relief from the rain as well as some interest in the gift shop and park maps. Nearby, the Kilauea overlook seemed to offer the best chance at seeing a White-tailed Tropicbird, the final target bird for the Big Island. Rain still coming down, we watched smoke from the smoldering cracks in the crater floor and scanned the two mile wide expanse for large, white birds. We were beginning to feel a bit drenched and decided a smart move would be to visit the Thurston Lava Tube, a tunnel formed by flowing lava and a volcanic feature we had also experienced in California at Lassen Park. Well lit and easy walking, I thought this would be another hiding place for the steady rain. Unfortunately, the porous lava above the tube allowed water to percolate and drip steadily from the ceiling so we kept our raincoats on. Reaching the end of the tube, we forded a stream of water that washed over the ascending stairs. Not at all the dry visit I had envisioned.

Never high on our list of birding activities, driving 18 miles down on the Chain of Craters road to the coastal cliffs, now seemed like a good way to spend what remained of the afternoon. The road has been buried in lava more than once but somehow it was important to recreate the drive each time. It may be an area of cultural significance as are many locations in the park. Most of the visitors parked at the site were there to view the Holei Sea Arch, a natural formation in the cliffs. We, however, were focused on a cliff nesting species, the Hawaiian Noddy, a sub-species of the Black Noddy. Our first sighting in the continuing rain was in less than five minutes, flying over the crashing surf and looking small from our vantage point. We stayed just long enough to see 4 Noddies before retreating to the car once again.
Nothing left to do but go back to our lodging and try to dry off.


Kipuka Puaulu
Papala Kepau pods-a sticky seed covering traditionally used by Hawaiians to trap birds
Thurston Lava Tube
Red-billed Leiothrix
 

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Day Ten 11-4
Rain fell through the night and was still coming down in the morning. I’ll take this opportunity to describe our Airbnb as having a Costa Rican vibe, with the touch of an artist’s hand and some odd design decisions. Certainly roomy enough, electricity was provided by solar power but also, and especially during our time there, by a generator only faintly heard. The loose concrete block entry steps, up a steep slope, were tricky to navigate in the dark, carrying our luggage. WiFi was fair, seemingly absent at one point. If weather and time allowed, we would have liked to spend some time birding the wooded property.
As it was, we decided to drive west, nearly halfway back across the island to find drier locations. Back through Hilo, west on Route 200, an hour’s drive found us in late morning at the Kaulana Manu Nature Trail, a beautiful kipuka that allowed 30 minutes of birding before heavy rain caught up with us. We managed several each of Apapane, Omao, I’iwi and one Amakihi before giving up all attempt at birding the balance of the trail.

Further west a few miles was the Pu’u O’o trail. Had we decided to not take the Hakalau tour, this would have been our backup site for all of the Big Islands honeycreepers. There is potential for a nine mile walk here, an all day adventure, visiting scattered kipukas, separated by lava fields. EBird lists this as a two mile hotspot, visiting only the nearest islands of vegetation. It was the middle of the day but Apapanes were busy visiting Ohia blossoms. We saw Canaries, Amakihis, heard an Omao but had to stop when the rain again caught up with us. It was a unique landscape with special birds so we were sorry to leave so quickly.
As well as dealing with wet weather, I received a text message from Turo, a rental car agency we planned to use for our time on Oahu, where we were to be the following evening.
Turo is a different concept in car renting. Like Airbnb, Turo acts as an agent, connecting travelers with car owners who have a vehicle they will rent. The costs seem initially low but insurances come at a steep price and of course, Turo charges a fee. Still, we went that route, reserving a Prius for our week on Oahu. The text message told me our Prius host was cancelling our reservation as the “check engine” light on his car came on and he would have no time to do any repairs before our visit. So, our time on this trail of I’ve dreamed about for months was cut short by weather and a text message. Liz took us back to Hilo where we parked and got on our phones, seeing what was available from a traditional agency. Turo was no longer a consideration.
It didn’t take long to reserve a car from Dollar, who we later found out operates under or with Hertz; we never understood the relationship.
Rain still falling, we needed to try again for the Tropicbird at the Kilauea overlook, which we did, seeing more steam but no birds. With our plane trip scheduled for the afternoon of the next day, we heading “home” to dry off (again) and pack.

Kipuka Manu nature trail
Pu’u O’o
Also Pu’u O’o
 

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Day Eleven 11-5
Our last morning on the Big Island began on the Devastation Trail in the park. This location was a bit of a long shot at the Tropicbird. An easy, popular one mile hike through a section of native trees and a barren cinder field, Nene’s were supposedly common and learning to beg from visitors. We saw none however, nor did we find Tropicbirds. There were a good number of Apapanes but not a particularly memorable walk.
Remembering our birding success at Kipuka Puaulu and hoping for a better look at the Chinese Hwamei, we returned to that trail and walked again counter clockwise, avoiding a group of chattering students that began their own walk in the other direction. As well as being approached by a Kalij Pheasant for a handout, we found a good many Red-billed Leiothrix, in the open and on the ground, more Elepaios and Omaos in various olive trees. The student group met up with us as we were viewing one of the olive trees and we pointed out the thrushes and Elepaios to them. We showed them a picture from our iBird app of the Hwamei and they said “oh, we just saw them a few minutes ago”! Hoping they weren’t delusional, we continued on and just past the only bench on the trail, we saw two Chinese Hwameis on the path itself. Unlike the first Hwamei we saw, these two didn’t seem very shy and we were able to get good looks and our typical mediocre photos.
What else to do but go to the Kilauea overlook again before our drive to the Hilo airport? This time, we were actually able to see distant but actual glowing lava along with the steam. Along with that sighting, we finally scored four Tropicbirds, across the crater, over a mile distant. The scope was packed away but they were viewable with our binoculars and record photos were obtained. With that species now seen, we couldn’t have done much better on the Big Island, missing only the non-countable Burrowing Parakeets and the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, an Asian vagrant that left the island before we arrived.
A stop at Kurtistown Cafe where a decidedly Asian influenced menu still had(offered) veggie burgers(.) we(We) bought (these)for our lunch at the airport. Missing rental car return instructions, we ended up at the wrong office in Hilo and had to call for correct directions. The car was returned with no issues and we were soon working on our burgers inside the terminal.
Forty-five minutes after leaving Hilo, we landed in Honolulu, Oahu, making our way through the attractively landscaped grounds inside the terminal. They do airports right in Hawaii!


Devastation Trail
Kilauea Iki
Kilauea sign
Kalij Pheasant
Chinese Hwamei
Tropicbirds in Kilauea crater (look closely!)
 

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More from yesterday.

Omao
Red-billed Leiothrix
Kilauea steam
Honolulu airport
 

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It’s been a while since I’ve posted a report so still,trying to figure out the photo attachment with titles….

Day Three 10-28
There were also a half dozen Warbling White-eyes, recently split and now separate from the Japanese White-eye we’d seen in California.
Actually, Japanese just plain doesn't really exist anymore as a name. The Los Angeles White-eyes are generally considered Swinhoe's White-eye. Not yet countable but probably will be within the next decade, given there expansion.
 
Right you are. I also called the Warbling White-eye the Japanese White-eye 50% of the time I saw them. The older I get, the harder it is to change. Thanks for the reminder.

Steve
 
Wow, great luck on palila. None of the last 5 trips up there had any, nor have any of the recent tours since around July. The Kauai endemic birds, which are exceptionally difficult, have been significantly more reliable which is really saying something.
 
I see a few successes on eBird from that time frame including Mandy Talpas the week before but no reports of more than single birds. We were indeed very fortunate.

Steve
 
Yes, they've been seen by a few independent visitors here and there. Sometimes they are misIDs but many of them have photos that confirm what they saw. Didn't know Mandy had them, none of the Big Island operators have.
 

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