Hawaii 2023 Trip Report
Hawaii 2023 Trip Report
For our only full day on Oahu, we do a big lap around the island hitting the key sites for the endemics and various species tricky to find elsewhere in Hawaii.
We begin with an early hike on the Aiea Loop Trail in Keaiwa Heiau State Recreation Area, one of the more convenient locations to find Oahu’s two remaining endemics: Oahu Elepaio and Oahu Amakihi. Having found a pair building a nest the previous day, our search for the Elepaio is easier than usual.
The nest is nearly complete as we observe an adult using its chest to shape the cup, and though the nest is not far from a constant parade of dog walkers, trail runners and hikers, we keep moving to avoid disturbing the pair.
Throughout our walk, we hear and catch fleeting glimpses of Oahu Amakihi which are hiding in the canopy for the most part. When we hit our turnaround point which has the first flowering Ohia, we get better looks at a few birds that venture down to feed on the bright red blossoms.
Next, we lunch at the food trucks along the North Shore for poke, shrimp tacos and more. We then visit the Kahuku Golf Course for Bristle-thighed Curlews, and Laʻie Point State Wayside for seabirds, namely Brown Noddy and Sooty Tern.
We finish the day with a long scenic drive back to the hotel with a quick stop for Tropicbirds along the island’s south shore.
Before our flight to Kauai, we spent our last morning on Oahu enjoying some relaxed birding with a stroll through Kapiʻolani Regional Park near Waikiki Beach with White Tern being our main target.
We hit the ground running on Kauai with an afternoon walk to the lighthouse at Ninini Point, picking up Red Avadavat and Pueo (Hawaiian Short-eared Owl) near the airport in Lihue, and our first of many Nene (Hawaiian Goose) for the trip.
Our first full day on Kauai started out with non-bird targets, the Hawaiian Monk Seal and Honu (Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle) which we quickly found at Poipu Beach.
We then continued along the southern shore of Kauai to Kawaiele State Waterbird Sanctuary briefly stopping for an accommodating Brown Booby along the way. At the Sanctuary, we experienced our first (and last!) rain shower of the tour, and only managed a few new shorebirds at the site. Nearby though, when the rain gave us a window, we had amazing views of one of the more stunning introduced gamebirds, the Black Francolin.
For our second full day on Kauai, we explored the north side of the island. First stop was for gorgeous scenery, Opaekaa Falls and an overlook of the Wailua River Valley. We then tried our luck with Greater Necklaced Laughingthrushes on the Kuamo’o Nounou Trail but came up empty.
Our main attraction for this day is Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, and we had fantastic weather to watch the endless parade of whales, albatross, boobies, and tropicbirds passing the lighthouse. Thankfully, a few Wedge-tailed Shearwaters had recently returned to nest, and we had amazing views of a pair courting outside their burrow.
After an amazing lunch with fresh ono (wahoo) tacos and burritos, we took a break at Anini Beach to get some time in the water. Our last stop for the day was Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge to view most of Hawaii’s endemic waterbirds.
For our third and last full day on Kauai, we climbed into the deeper sections of Koke’e State Park to look for the native forest birds still holding on atop the Alakai Plateau of Kauai’s northwestern highlands.
Weather is hard to predict in one of the world’s wettest spots, but we get lucky again, with mostly clear skies up high. Eventually, we make it to the ridgeline on the Pihea Trail that is still loaded with Ohia and native Lobelias – prime nectar sources for Hawaiian honeycreepers, and by working this area repeatedly, we eventually get great looks at our main targets: Anianiau, Apapane, Kauai Amakihi and Kauai Elepaio.
After a relaxing picnic lunch in the park, we make our way back to the hotel in Lihue with a quick stop for the Gray-tailed Tattler at Salt Ponds Beach.
We start our journey around the Big Island from Hilo with our first two nights near Volcanoes National Park. Our first full day is a tour of the park with a pair of local guides that give us a thorough introduction to the geological history, processes and features that continue to transform the surrounding landscape.
After brunch along the rim of Kilauea Crater, we fit in some birding with stops for Hawaiian Black Noddy along the sea cliffs and Omao at Thurston Lava Tube.
Our next full day is spent driving around the southern end of the island to the Kona side. We start the morning back in Volcanoes National Park at Kipuka Puaulu (Kipukas are patches of forest that remain after a lava flow, and essentially become islands for plants and animals), where we look for native birds, plants and butterflies.
We find Hawaii Elepaio, a confiding Omao finally and Blackburn’s Blue Butterfly. We eat lunch at the southernmost restaurant in the United States, and have a nice gelato break before getting to our hotel in Kona.
In the afternoon, we birded the Kealakehe Wastewater Treatment Plant and wracked up our best bird list of the trip, notables include Cackling Goose, Least Tern, Snowy Egret, Eurasian Wigeon, White-faced Ibis and much more.
For the penultimate day of the tour we went with Hawaii Forest & Trail to Hakalau National Wildlife Refuge. Hakalau (meaning “many perches”) NWR was the first refuge created specifically for songbirds, and is one of the few places in Hawaii with a relatively intact native avifauna.
Once again, the weather is perfect during our visit and we end up seeing at least four Akiapolaau! Other notables are Hawaii Akepa, Alawi (Hawaii Creeper), Iiwi, Apapane, Omao, Hawaii Elepaio, and Nene.
Our last day is mostly spent in the dry forests on the slopes of Mauna Kea. These forests are dominated by Mamane and Naio, and the fruits and flowers of these trees are an important food for the critically endangered Palila, our main target for the day. We quickly find a bird on the Palila Discovery Trail that provides excellent views, but only briefly before it flies high and away.
Having struck out on Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse in the morning, we made another effort in the same area before lunch, and this time got very lucky with exceptional views of a flock that nearly flew into us and several birds on the fields below us at close range – an excellent way to end our trip.