Day 1 - Sunday, March 29, 2009
Day 2 - Monday, March 30, 2009
We drove out toward the southeast coast of Oahu where the wind was whipping up the surf and waves were crashing fiercely into the rugged cliffs. The bright sun made visibility a challenge but soon had our first Great Frigatebird, White-tailed Tropicbirds, a flock of Sooty Terns and a distant Fairy Tern. The light made it tricky to discern the Gray-backed from the Sooty Terns and Gina was able to spot one that disappeared all too soon. We moved up the road and pulled off in an area were Red-tailed Tropicbirds were flying very close to the road allowing cracking views as they drifted up over the edge of the cliff. Fantastic! There were two pairs both flying backward in tandem as part of their courtship ritual making an extraordinary scene.
Further on along the coast road we made another stop overlooking the sea and two offshore islands. There were many Red-footed Boobies flying by and thousands of Sooty Terns over and around the larger island. A distant Wedge-tailed Shearwater was seen as well as our first Brown Noddies. Bart noted a Cattle Egret on the smaller island and appreciation of this was cut short by the sighting of a Brown Booby. Some of the Sooty Terns were being pushed over the shore by the strong wind making for incredibly close views. On the shoreline side of the bigger island there were four endemic Hawaiian Monk Seals hauled out on the sand and we enjoyed scope views of these critically endangered marine mammals. Thought to be extinct in the early 1800’s after commercial hunting for fur, oil and food nearly wiped this species out, between Hawaiian Monk Seals breed on the smaller islands of Hawaii and it is unusual to seem them hauled out on the main islands.
We continued driving up to the northeast coast stopping at Laie Point where it was still very windy. More Brown Noddies were seen passing in front of a jetty and as we watched David saw a spout of a whale close to shore. We kept watch on the area and enjoyed good views of two Humpback Whales moving together, spouting and logging just offshore. These enormous creatures return to Hawaiian waters each year to raise their calves which are born with no blubber and must put on a layer of fat insulation before heading north to feed in polar waters.
Further on up the coast, we stopped at another area and walked along a golf course to an open area scrubby behind some sand dunes. As we approached, our first Bristle-thighed Curlews were seen. Another endangered species, Bristle-thighed Curlews breed in Alaska and winter in Hawaii. It was particularly exciting for Gina and Steve to see this species which had also been seen in Nome, Alaska on the June 2008 Alaska tour. A group of Ruddy Turnstones did not get as much attention and more Pacific Golden Plovers were noted. We walked a little further into the dunes and scoped some ponds which held Hawaiian Coot, Common Moorhen, Hawaiian Stilt, Northern Pintail, several more Bristle-thighed Curlews, and a Black-crowned Night Heron Later on, we headed back to town for another nice dinner on the waterfront and an update of the checklist.
Day 3 - Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Later in the morning we flew to the Big Island of Hawaii enjoying spectacular views of the island’s two volcanoes as the plane descended into Hilo. We checked into our hotel, had lunch and then headed up to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. On the way to the park, our first Hawaiian Hawk was seen flying above the road. As we reached the visitor center, it was raining lighting but that did not deter us from finding our first Apapanes in the Ohia trees just outside the visitor center Little did we know that we would see many more of this gorgeous, abundant Hawaiian honeycreeper. We ventured over to the historic Volcano House and immediately went to the veranda to enjoy the view of the 2 mile long, 2.5 mile wide Kilauea Caldera. Relative small in comparison to the other two volcanoes, Mauna Kea (13,677 feet) and Mauna Kea (13,796 feet), Kilauea is one of the world’s most active volcanoes with the current eruption having begun in January 1983. Even in the mist, the caldera was impressive and a large steam vent was visible. There were several Ohia bushes just below the overlook with many Apapanes feeding adding to the excitement of the scene. As we worked our way back toward the car park, the first Common/Hawaii Amakihi showed briefly to for Keith, David T., and Steve.
We drove through the park along the Crater Rim Road and turned off on the Chain of Craters Road which led down toward the sea. We crossed an expansive lava flow that was created by Mauna Ulu from 1969 – 1974 and could see sections of the old road that had been covered by the flows. Some areas were bare lava while others had plants colonizing the primordial substrate. It was an unearthly landscape and as we got closer to the sea it was obvious how much new “land” had been created by this flow. We stopped at one point and walked to the edge of the lava where waves were crashing against the low black cliffs. A few Black Noddies were seen flying by and some came into perch on a hollowed out area of lava allowing nice scope views. On the way back up toward the summer, the lava fields were lit up by the sun and the smooth pahoehoe lava looked shiny in the afternoon light. As we ascended, we passed through intermittent showers which produced rainbows. Our last scheduled stop of the day was at the Thurston Lava Tube where we walked a short trail through a fern forest and an elongated lava tube. After exploring this unique area, we left the park and headed back toward Hilo in the rain. David L. spotted a Hawaiian Hawk perched on a palm tree causing us to turned around and go back to get a view of it and we were all pleased with the view considering the wet weather conditions. Back in Hilo, we enjoyed an excellent dinner in a local restaurant before catching up with our checklist for the day.
Day 4 - Wednesday, April 1, 2009
We then continued on and made our way back to our first stop of the morning which had been previously rained out. It was still raining but we had to persist so we wrapped up in our rain gear and took the trail leading into one of the pockets of unique tropical forest that surround the slopes of Mauna Kea (White Mountain). The birds didn’t seem to mind the rain and we soon found our first obliging I’iwi, a stunning bird that fed openly on a flowering Ohia right in front of us. Moving on we entered a patch of forest scattered with large Koa trees, the favored habitat of one of Hawaii’s most difficult and rarest birds, the Akiapola’au a bird recognized for its remarkable bill which has a short lower mandible for chiseling and a long flexible, sharply decurved upper mandible for probing inside cavities. We spent a few cold wet hours searching this woodland, seeing many I’iwis, Apapanes, Hawaiian Elepaio (this time of the Mauna Kea race), and many Hawaiian Amakihis. Some of us were lucky to see a showy Oma’o, an endemic thrush species. Eventually an Akiapola’au was found but the views were not satisfying as it was silhouetted against the pale rainy sky. The bird flew off, and try as we may, we never managed to relocate it. Feeling very soggy and somewhat defeated, we returned to the cars and drove back to our hotel and had time to dry our gear out. Later we met up and drove along the coast to try and view an active lava flow. We reached the parking area and walked a short distance to view a huge steam plume at the edge of the sea. As darkness fell we could also se the glow from the molten lava flowing into the sea, a nice way to end the day.
Day 5 - Thursday, April 2, 2009
The weather was clear for the moment so we walked an open trail into the reserve of gorgeous Koa and Ohia trees searching for our targets. As we descended a hill, David K. heard the call of an Akepa and we soon spotted a pair of Akepas feeding in an Ohia tree including a beautiful tangerine-orange male. Further on, we all got good views of a Hawaiian Creeper in a tree close to the track and the bird stayed for several minutes while we all watched it foraging on a trunk. On the way back, an Oma’o (Hawaiian Thrush) flew past us and perched atop a tree in the open. Pleased with our finds, we made our way back to a shelter where we ate our picnic lunch. The shelter overlooked an open field and to the right was a large Ohia which had several birds actively feeding on it including I’iwi, Apapane, Japanese White-eye, and Hawaii Amakihi.
After lunch, we walked back down the trail surprising a pair of Kalij Pheasants just after we set out. There were numerous Apapanes, I’iwis, and Hawaii Amakihis and another Oma’o. A few of us stayed back at the lunch shelter and witnessed a Barn Owl that flew in over the field and gave a show. We drove back out of the reserve in light rain and had great views of a perched Hawaiian Hawk on the way out.
Day 6 - Friday, April 3, 2009
Day 7 - Saturday, April 4, 2009
Later in the afternoon we drove up the scenic road into Haleakala National Park, one of the oldest National Parks in America established in 1916. We ascended the road to the summit, touted as the steepest paved road on the planet. Combine that with numerous hairpin turns and incredible panoramic vistas and it was an exhilarating journey. At the top at 10,000 feet, we had misty views of Haleakala Crater, the largest dormant volcano in the world at 7.5 miles long and 2.5 miles wide. From the top, we could see the floor of the Crater and its numerous cinder cones. The landscape was unearthly and dotted with a few native Silversword plants of the Haleakala subspecies which grows in a low rosette for years before sending up a tall spike of composite flowers. While enjoying the view, Steve spotted a Petrel flying over a distant hill near the Visitor Center below. We quickly moved down to the Center and walked out to the edge of the path. In a few minutes, we spotted the rare and endangered Hawaiian Petrel, flying over the lava hills. This was the first time David K had seen this pelagic bird in daylight as normally they stay out at sea except when they come to nest in burrows along the Haleakala Crater. Some of the birds started coming close to us and a few flew right over our heads eliciting gasps of delight from the crowd. Amazing! We witnessed courtship flights and could hear the birds calling and enjoyed this incredible experience as the sun set in the distance. In all, we saw at least twelve of these remarkable birds and it was a highlight of the trip! As darkness fell, we made our way back to the vehicles and enjoyed our picnic dinner while recounting this fabulous experience. The ride down the road was exhilarating to say the least and we returned to the hotel and retired for the evening.
Day 8 - Sunday, April 5, 2009
We walked through an exotic forest into another area with native trees and spent a long time looking for the targets here. There were plenty of I’iwi, Apapane and Alauahio and we heard a few Japanese Bush Warblers but focused our efforts on the difficult Akohekohe (Crested Honeycreeper), the exceptionally rare Maui Parrotbill. Chuck shared his knowledge of the area with us as we made our way to an area that had been used as a helicopter pad to bring in supplies to build a boardwalk on the hillside. We walked down the boardwalk through the forest to an observation platform where we were to stake out our target birds. Late in the morning, some of us walked up the boardwalk to stretch our legs. After awhile, David L. spotted the first Maui Parrotbill just a few yards up from the observation platform. We all rushed up as quickly as we could but the bird had disappeared. An hour later the bird showed again, this time it sat and preened for long enough for more of us to get views including Mike who had been searching for this bird for 45 years! Finally, he had his reward with a good view of it! In a few minutes the bird showed again for the last time allowing a few more people to catch up with it. There were still a few who had not seen the bird so we watched the area intently for several minutes but it did not show again. Instead, an Akohekohe flew in and perched briefly to the delight of those in the right spot. With another victory under our belts we made our way back up to the vehicles and celebrated with some beers that Chuck had brought in anticipation of our success. We drove back down the mountain to our hotel and enjoyed another lovely meal David’s favorite restaurant in town.
Day 9 - Monday, April 6, 2009
In the bay on the quieter side of the point, there were several Spinner Dolphins in the water some of them spinning as they jumped out of the water. There were several Humpback Whales in the near shore waters and a couple of Pacific Green Sea Turtles were floating near the surface of the water. Brown Boobies and Great Frigatebirds were about and the whole scene was magical.
It was getting late in the afternoon and we had a few more stops to make so we continued further north into a posh housing development where we found a Laysan Albatross chick on the ground in a lot between two of the houses. Though it looked vulnerable, there were signs posted informing people that the chick was being tended to by its parents and to leave it alone and keep domestic animals under control. It was a sight unlikely probably anywhere else – a baby albatross in a housing development. We moved to another area where a pair of adult Laysan Albatross was displaying behind a house – an interesting yard bird. As we positioned ourselves to get better views, we saw another chick, this time sat in a garden bed near a pink flowering bush. Incredible!
As the sun was setting we made our way back to Lihue and went to dinner overlooking the beach and bay across from our hotel.
Day 10 - Tuesday, April 7, 2009
There were a few Sooty Terns around and a Gray-backed Tern made a quick appearance as did a small flock of Gray Phalaropes. The return trip was much choppier making it difficult to discern birds but several Flying Fish were easy to see as they took flight from right next to the boat. Some smaller, dark shearwaters were identified as Christmas Shearwaters and we had a very close encounter with a Hammerhead Shark. In all, we had a successful trip with a dozen species and some new ones for our list.
After lunch and a short break we went out to the lighthouse to sea watch. There were lots of Boobies, Wedgies, and Humpback blows but most were too distant for good views. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped for some good looks at Koloa (Hawaiian Ducks) in a pond next to a golf course. We returned to the hotel and met up with Judith and Diane who had spent the day exploring the island and making friends with the locals. We went back to the waterfront for dinner, this time in an excellent Italian restaurant.
Day 11 - Wednesday, April 8, 2009
We continued up turning off onto a bumpy road which led to a trail head into the Alakai Wilderness. A trail stretched along a ridge through the wet mountain forest and then a high elevation bog, and as we walked, David pointed out some of the endemic and introduced plants in the area. There were many Japanese White-eyes around, as well as Apapane, I’iwi and an Anianiau was heard though David was concerned at the lack of activity in the forest. White-rumped Shama was also seen and Diane D found a Metallic Skink on the trail. A few hearty souls hiked up a stream where David K had seen some of the rarer forest birds but all that was about was a Puaiohi (Small Hawaiian Thrush) that flew over too quickly to see. Those of us that chose not to forge the stream enjoyed slow, quiet walks back to the car park and good views of the more common birds.
After lunch at a local lodge, we checked some viewpoints overlooking the rugged Na Pali coast. Birds included Japanese White-eyes, I’iwis, Apapanes, and a female Anianiau which we all finally got good views of (again with patience!). On the way down we took in more views of Waimea Canyon and some of us got another look at Pueo, an endemic subspecies of Short-eared Owl. Back in town we all met for dinner at a Mexican restaurant where Bart used his Dutch charm to somehow convince our server to spoon feed him a desert!
Day 12 - Thursday, April 9, 2009
The other group had a more relaxing day on the north coast first visiting Limahuli Botanical Garden and then checking some beaches for seabirds. On the drive up there were plenty of Hawaiian Chickens and a White-rumped Shama was particularly showy perched on a wire. Except for a group of Black Noddies at Ke’e Beach, the sea was devoid of birds. After exploring a large lava tube, we returned to Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge to sea watch at the lighthouse. Nenes greeted us in the car park and Red-footed Boobies dotted the adjacent hillside and struggled to fly against the strong wind. There were several Laysan Albatross around and the chick we had seen a few days ago was sitting up an in better view than before. The Red-billed Tropicbirds were doing their courtship flights and a few Great Frigatebirds were patrolling along the cliffs. The Wedge-tailed Shearwater burrows were obviously active but only one bird was seen over the water. Diane was enjoying some views of Spinner Dolphins when Gina called her over to see some close Humpback Whales that were pec slapping and fluking. Two adults and a young whale were moving together slowly past the point and we got the best views of the trip of these leviathans! On the way back toward Lihue, we had a Western Meadowlark fly across the road. Further on, we stopped at a picturesque overlook with a waterfall on one side and a winding river on the other. Our last stop was at an arboretum where we could hear a Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush in the forest. The skies opened up and we thought it best to drive back across a stream we had crossed before the water level got too high. The antics of some young men and their four-wheel drive trucks kept us entertained briefly and then we moved on to one last stop at a reservoir which held Hawaiian Coot and several Japanese White-eyes in the trees at the water’s edge. We returned to Lihue and our last evening was spent at our favorite Italian restaurant, a very nice way to end our Hawaiian adventure.
Day 13 - Friday, April 10, 2009
We then caught our flight back to Oahu where we had an all day wait for our respective international flights. The tour was officially over so everyone spent the day doing their own thing, while for once in our lives both me and Gina had time to try and complete the write up of this report.
Apart from the unseasonal weather, it had been a great trip with a fun group of people who all got on together wonderfully. We would like to thank everyone for the laughs and making this an enjoyable tour. Aloha!
Steve and Gina