Birding Tour USA: Hawaii – ABA & Endemic Birding in the Pacific
Birding Tour USA: Hawaii – ABA & Endemic Birding in the Pacific
Hawaii – commonly referred to as the ‘Aloha State’ with its welcoming atmosphere, is a tropical paradise that is about as unique as they come. Once an independent nation, years ago, Hawaii is now an officially recognized US state, making up one of the 50 US states. Hawaii is comprised of a string of islands known as the Hawaiian Archipelago, located far out in the Pacific Ocean, isolated from the rest of the world. There are eight primary islands that feature in the archipelago, namely – Niʻihau, Kauaʻi, Oʻahu, Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi, Kahoʻolawe, Maui, and Hawaiʻi (Big Island).
Hawaii Akepa is one of the many Hawaiian endemics, and a highly sought-after species.
Hawaii is well known as a prime vacation and wedding destination, and has a great many highlights featuring some of the best surfing in the world and the largest naval command in the world. Hawaii’s biodiversity and in particular its avifauna is somewhat less well-known, and historically hasn’t accounted for much of the tourism boon to the region – but this is steadily changing.
Due to its isolation from the rest of the world, Hawaii has a very high rate of endemism and features a number of strange and peculiar-looking birds, found nowhere else. It is extremely unfortunate that indeed a great number of various Asian and European species were introduced to these islands, as these, together with other introduced taxa, and the spread of mosquitos and malaria, have all had a devastating impact on the local biodiversity, and especially its birdlife. A large number of species have become extinct, with many more species now rare and thinly distributed, and on the precipice of extinction.
This tour targets all three endemic elepaio species including this Kauai Elepaio.
The official recognition of Hawaii and its birds, as countable for the official ABA checklist, has encouraged a great deal of American based birders to venture to these islands, in search of the many unique species found here. Although the region has drawn in ‘world-birders’ seeking to add these endemic species to their world lists, this inclusion has had a widespread positive impact on raising awareness to the plight of Hawaii’s threatened birds. It is thus with a great deal of pride that we have added a birding tour to Hawaii, as we strive to continue help raising awareness of the plight of Hawaii’s endemic birds, and indeed help various conservation bodies throughout the state of Hawaii.
Our birding tour takes in the three main and easily accessible islands, O’ahu, Kauaʻi and Hawaiʻi (the latter more commonly known as Big Island). Here we focus our efforts on getting to the different sections of higher-altitudinal montane forest, in search of the various endemics and specials that still persist, while also ensuring we try and find as many of the various introduced species as possible. Some of the island’s most sought-after endemics include such species as Iiwi, Akiapolaau, Palila, Apapane, Akekee and Anianiau, through to more widely known species such as Nene (Hawaiian Goose) – which is also the official state bird of Hawaii. Other desirable species such as Bristle-thighed Curlew, Hawaiian Petrel, White Tern, and Laysan Albatross also form core targets on our tour.
Hawaii’s blend of highly localized birds, jaw-dropping coastal vistas and the feeling of being in a tropical island paradise – all the while adding species to both your world and ABA lists, make Hawaii a destination not to be missed!
Itinerary (10 days/9 nights)
Day 1. Arrival in Honolulu, O’ahu
Today is your arrival day, and you can arrive at your leisure. Upon arrival in Honolulu (HNL) you will be transferred to our comfortable lodge, where we will spend the next three nights. Should there be time available in the afternoon, we may do some local birding nearby, getting familiar with some of the more regularly occurring species (see under Day 2 below for more details). We will gather in the lobby at 6pm for our welcome dinner.
Overnight: Queen Kapiʻolani Hotel, Waikiki
Day 2. Birding O’ahu – Waikiki to the Koʻolau Range
Our first morning will be spent birding around the Kapiʻolani Regional Park. One of the star species here is White Tern, while Pacific Golden Plover is another sought-after species at this site. A wide array of introduced species can also be sought and include the likes of Rose-ringed Parakeet, Zebra and Spotted Doves, Java Sparrow, Common Waxbill, Red-crested Cardinal and Yellow-fronted Canary. The rest of the day is spent outside of Wakiki in the forests of the Koʻolau Range where we will be primarily searching for the endemic Oahu Amakihi and the Oahu Elepaio. Both of these species are red-listed as per the IUCN Red List (being Vulnerable and Endangered, respectively). Indeed, rather tragically, many of the other endemic species occurring throughout the Hawaiian Islands are also red-listed and many of them Critically Endangered. Further introduced species, such as White-rumped Shama, Warbling White-eye and Red-billed Leiothrix can be seen in this area as well.
Overnight: Queen Kapiʻolani Hotel, Waikiki
Day 3. Birding O’ahu – The north shore
Our day will be spent birding and exploring the coastal region along the north shore of the island. Although perhaps more well-known for its picturesque beaches with world-class surfing, the secluded coves and tracts of shoreline, along with the vast family farms (with crops of coffee, coao and many others) are home to the highly sought-after Bristle-thighed Curlew, along with a wide range of other targets such as Wandering Tattler, an endemic subspecies of Black-necked Stilt and the endemic Hawaiian Coot. Further introduced species such as Saffron Finch and Chestnut Munia can also be found in the area.
Overnight: Queen Kapiʻolani Hotel, Waikiki
Bristle-thighed Curlew can be seen on O’ahu.
Day 4. Flight to Kaua’i and birding Kaua’i
We have the morning at our leisure as we have a mid-morning flight to Lihue on Kaua’i. Following our arrival, we will begin exploring Kaua’i’s beautiful north shore. We will focus our efforts around the rugged cliffs of the coastal Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge and the freshwater-dominated Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge. One of our main targets at Kīlauea Point is the stunning Laysan Albatross – small numbers of which breed here. Other species we’ll be searching for are Red-footed and Brown Boobies, stunning Red-tailed and White-tailed Tropicbirds and Great Frigatebird (a similar, yet different species to the Magnificent Frigatebird occurring on mainland USA). Nene (also known as Hawaiian Goose), which is the state bird of Hawaii, usually provide us with great views throughout the day as well. Hawaiian Duck will be one of our main targets at the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge.
Overnight: Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach Resort, Kapaa
Nene (also known as Hawaiian Goose) is the state bird of Hawaii.
Day 5. Birding Kaua’i – Kōkeʻe State Park
We will dedicate the day to birding and exploring the glorious Kōkeʻe State Park. This lush mountainous park offers the best endemic birding on the island, and we will spend our time birding the rainforests for a wide assortment of difficult-to-pronounce specials such as Kauai Amakihi, Apapane, Anianiau, Kauai Elepaio and even the rare and IUCN Critically Endangered Akekee. This area also plays host to further introduced (yet countable) species such as Red Junglefowl, the difficult-to-see Japanese Bush Warbler, and Chinese Hwamei. Aside from this exciting endemic birding, we are also assured to enjoy incredible vistas of the Waimea Canyon, known as the ‘Grand Canyon of the Pacific’.
Overnight: Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach Resort, Kapaa
Day 6. Birding Kaua’i and flight to Kona, Big Island
We have a full morning available to us to continue birding and exploring Kaua’i. We will search for Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush today in particular, although we will need some luck to see this species, along with any of the island’s specials we may have missed, listed under Days 4 and 5 above. We will undertake an afternoon flight to Kona, on Big Island (also known as Hawai’i) from where we will settle in for the afternoon, and spend the next four nights.
Overnight: Royal Kona Resort, Kona
Day 7. Birding Big Island – Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge
One of the most important birding sites for endemic Hawaiian species, throughout all of the Hawaiian Islands, is the Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge. Dominated by montane cloud forest, with a strong suite of native plants and general wildlife still largely persisting, we will spend the entire day birding this wonderful protected and highly restricted area. Some of our target species here include the likes of Hawaiian Hawk, Omao, Hawaii Creeper, Hawaii Akepa, Akiapolaau, Iiwi, Hawaii Amakihi and Apapane. Whilst exploring the area for these species, and others, the ancient ohia trees that dominate the area will take you to a time period long past, allowing us to better understand the plight of Hawaii’s endemic species.
Overnight: Royal Kona Resort, Kona
Akiapolaau is another highly sought-after Hawaiian endemic – just look at that beak.
Day 8. Birding Big Island – Pu’u La’au, Mauna Kea and surrounds
We have a full day set aside to explore other important birding areas on the island – ranging from the high elevations of Pu’u La’au on the slopes of the dormant volcano, Mauna Kea, along the Saddle Road, to the more coastal Waikōloa area. Two important endemic species that we will focus our efforts on today are the Hawaii Elepaio and the Critically Endangered (IUCN) Palila. Various other new species we are unlikely to have seen yet might include Short-eared Owl, Wild Turkey, California Quail, Erckel’s Spurfowl, Black and Grey Francolins, Chukar Partridge, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Eurasian Skylark and African Silverbill.
Overnight: Royal Kona Resort, Kona
Day 9. Pelagic Birding off Big Island
Today we will undertake a pelagic trip out of Honokohau Harbor. Together with our trusty captain and boat, we will spend most of the day out in the deep. In between the more regularly occurring species, we’ll keep a keen eye open for the likes of a wide range of exciting and fast-flying gadfly Pterodroma petrels, namely Hawaiian, Juan Fernandez, Mottled, White-necked and Black-winged Petrels, Christmas and the Critically Endangered (IUCN) Newell’s Shearwaters, Leach’s and Band-rumped Storm Petrels, Masked Booby, South Polar Skua and more. Indeed, the truly exciting aspect about pelagic birding is that you can never truly predict what you’ll see out there! More regularly occurring species typically seen include Wedge-tailed and Sooty Shearwaters, Bulwer’s Petrel, Great Frigatebird, the stunning White-tailed Tropicbird, Brown Booby, Sooty Tern and both Black and Brown Noddies. Occasional cetacean sightings also feature on these trips.
Following an excellent day out on the water, we will enjoy our final dinner together, and reminisce about the many exciting birds we would have seen.
Overnight: Royal Kona Resort, Kona
We’ll be on the lookout for White-tailed Tropicbird and more on our pelagic day trip.
Day 10. Departure from Kona, Hawaii
The tour comes to an end today, and you can depart home from Kona Airport.
Please note that the itinerary cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides and other factors. In addition, we sometimes have to use a different international guide from the one advertised due to tour scheduling.Download Itinerary
Hawaii: Set Departure Trip Report, January 2022
31 JANUARY – 09 FEBRUARY 2022
By Jacob Roalef
DOWNLOAD TRIP REPORT
The glowing Hawaii Akepa was the unanimous favorite of the trip.
This ten-day set departure tour of Hawaii commenced in Honolulu, Hawaii on the 31st of January 2022 and concluded in Kona, Hawaii on the 09th of February 2022. The tour visited three of the Hawaiian Islands (Oahu, Kauai, and Hawaii) and visited numerous fantastic birding locations including Koke‘e State Park, Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge, the Kuli‘ou‘ou Valley Trail, Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge, and the Pacific Ocean, on a pelagic out of Kona.
This tour connected with many amazing target birds, including endemic, native, and introduced species, giving us a high-quality list for our ten days in this tropical state. Avian highlights included Akiapolaau, Anianiau, Hawaii Akepa, Oahu, Kauai, and Hawaii Amakihi, Oahu, Kauai, and Hawaii Elepaios, Laysan Albatross, Bristle-thighed Curlew, Omao, Nene, Iiwi, Apapane, Red-footed Booby, White-tailed and Red-tailed Tropicbirds, Hawaiian Coot, White-rumped Shama, Eurasian Skylark, Java Sparrow, and Grey Francolin. We also managed to score a rarity for the state of Hawaii in the form of a vagrant, Red-billed Tropicbird, giving us the sweep of all the world’s tropicbird species.
A total of 81 bird species were seen with three additional heard-only species bringing the total recorded to 84. In addition to the birds, some other animals were spotted including Indian Grey Mongoose, Humpback Whale, Spinner Dolphin, (Hawaiian) Green Turtle, and Gold-dust Day Gecko. Full bird and mammal checklists can be found at the end of the report.
Nene were seen on two of the islands during the tour.
Day 1, 31st January 2022. Arrival in Oahu
This evening, the group met up at 6 pm for our first dinner together to catch up for some, and new introductions for others. We discussed our excitement for the upcoming days and birds we would hopefully encounter. While sitting outside, a couple of birds flew by including Black-crowned Night Heron and an amazing, bright American Barn Owl! From here, we headed off to bed to get ready for our first full day of birding.
Day 2, 1st February 2022. Oahu Forest and Coastline Birding
Breakfast at the resort was delicious and we shared it with several of the more common bird species as the sun rose. The trees and grounds around us were filled with Zebra and Spotted Doves, Red-crested Cardinal, Warbling White-eye, Red-whiskered and Red-vented Bulbuls, and Common Myna. A great way to start off our first full day of birding. After breakfast, we headed off into the mountains along the Manoa Cliffs Trail. As soon as we stepped out of the vehicles, we were greeted by an Oahu Amakihi, our target bird for the area! It gave us a fantastic showing filled with views in the sun and even sang for us. As we had scored on this fantastic target so quickly, we worked our way back down and over to Kapiolani Park with a quick detour stop in Honolulu to visit an area with nesting White Terns where we got to see this incredible species up close and even spotted a chick in the trees. The park was full of mostly introduced species such as Rose-ringed Parakeet, Yellow-fronted Canary, House Sparrow, and Common Waxbill. Several Pacific Golden Plovers were roaming the grassy fields, allowing up-close views.
The Oahu Amakihi is one of two endemic targets found on Oahu.
From here we headed off to the Kuli‘ou‘ou Valley Trail to search for the other endemic species on Oahu. While hiking in, we spotted Red-vented Bulbul, White-rumped Shama, and Red-billed Leiothrix, before eventually reaching the first territory for our target. The forest was quiet, but we were patient and diligently searched high and low until eventually an Oahu Elepaio was spotted and gave a few moments of great views for everyone to see! What a score of this Endangered (IUCN) species with estimates of less than 1,300 remaining adults in the wild. We do hope for the recovery of this species as it has been showing some resistance to mosquitoes and avian malaria.
After nailing both Oahu endemic birds, it was time for a tasty lunch by the water at Lana‘i Lookout where we were able to scan and bird. Several Red-tailed Tropicbirds soared around as we ate, and streams of Sooty Terns passed by while Humpback Whales breached in the distant waters. As we wrapped up with lunch, an incredible rarity flew by, Red-billed Tropicbird! This species is a vagrant rarity to Hawaii and as such makes this location the only place to potentially see all three of the world’s tropicbird species. We continued birding and scanning the coast until we made it to our final birding destination of the day, the Ka‘elepulu Wetlands. Here we managed to pick up several more Hawaiian specials including Hawaiian Coot, Black-necked Stilt (Hawaiian subspecies), and Common Gallinule (Hawaiian subspecies). A great way to cap off our first full day of birding this paradise state. We headed back to our hotel and then off to dinner.
Day 3, 2nd February 2022. Oahu – The North Shore
Since we scored the two endemics on the previous day, today we decided to head back to Lana‘i Lookout in the morning to do some more ocean watching and scanning, but first we stopped to experience some delicious malasada. In the parking area next to the malasada truck, a Great Frigatebird flew by in the distance. We made it to the lookout to eat our tasty snacks and do some scanning which yielded more Sooty Terns and Red-tailed Tropicbirds. A few Humpback Whales were spotted again off in the distance as well. We continued to circle around the coastline of Oahu, making stops to scan for anything new, which did produce our first Wandering Tattler. Continuing, we made it to the North Shore, the world–famous surfing destination. As luck would have it, there was a professional surfing competition slated there for this week so many surfer pros were out practicing. The waves were a modest 10-15 feet (3-5 meters), but it was still a neat experience to see people out there surfing. A little further down we stopped at another beach for a restroom and birding check where we spotted the color-bursting Saffron Finch as well as a couple (Hawaiian) Green Turtles taking a mid-morning snooze on the sand.
It was time for a break and a tasty lunch along the North Shore before continuing on to a golf course for our final birding destination of the day. We hiked out along the path, making our way towards to the ocean. Pacific Golden Plovers, Zebra and Spotted Doves, and Common Mynas were foraging in the grasses of the course. House and Saffron Finches were seen in the tree lines as we walked along. Eventually we made it to the ocean and a small post-stamp-sized cemetery hosting our target bird for this location, Bristle-thighed Curlew. What an incredible bird and they showed off well for us, posing nicely in the sun on the tombstones. We headed down towards the water where a few in the group had spotted a Grey Francolin dart into the shrubs. As we were searching for that, a giant Laysan Albatross flew by, right overhead! What a stunning and massive bird! A fantastic end to a great day’s birding.
Nap time along the North Shore for this (Hawaiian) Green Turtle.
Day 4, 3rd February 2022. Flight to Kauai
This morning we enjoyed a relaxing breakfast at the resort with our local avian friends before heading back to our rooms to pack up our stuff and head to the airport to island hop over to Kauai. Upon arrival, we headed to the resort to drop off our things and then head off for lunch and our first taste of Kauai birding. Our first planned stop was in a private area where we were lucky to experience some of the most breathtaking views of Laysan Albatross. In addition to these amazing birds, we noted our first Nene of the trip as well as the stunning Chestnut Munia. From here we headed off to Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge where we managed to spot our other main target for the day, Hawaiian Duck. This wetland habitat played host to other species as well including Hawaiian Coot, Common Gallinule (Hawaiian subspecies), Black-necked Stilt (Hawaiian subspecies), and Black-crowned Night Heron. Our final birding destination of the day was a relaxing sea watch from Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. We enjoyed some drinks and cookies while we watched a few hundred Red-footed Boobies flying around and gathering nesting materials. Out over the water we spotted Great Frigatebird, Laysan Albatross, and Brown Booby, plus a few Humpback Whales breaching. Such beautiful birds and scenery! We then headed back to the resort for dinner.
The group enjoyed close views of Laysan Albatross, to really appreciate their size.
Day 5, 4th February 2022. Full day on Kauai
We began our day at the Waimea Athletic Fields with some breakfast and birding. Many common species were around including Western Cattle Egret, Common Myna, House Finch, and Rose-ringed Parakeet. As we were wrapping up with our meal, we spotted two Erckel’s Spurfowl perched up on a rock outcropping. Then, as we were loading into the vehicles to continue, a White-tailed Tropicbird flew by directly overhead. From here we began our journey up into the mountains of Koke‘e State Park. Full of beautiful scenery and habitats, this huge park proved to be a wonderful birding location. We headed towards the top where a few native plant species remain, and the mosquitoes have not yet reached, in the hopes of finding some of Kauai’s endemic species. We were lucky to spot a Kauai Amakihi quickly upon arrival, which is typically the most difficult to find here! After that, we had great success finding the other target species including Kauai Elepaio, Apapane, and Anianiau. In addition to these native endemics, we managed a few other nice species including Japanese Bush Warbler and White-rumped Shama. After a lovely morning’s birding here, we began our decent and headed towards the lodge. On the way down, we made a few stops in appropriate habitat to search for one more target. Luckily it was calling frequently and finally the Chinese Hwamei made a quick appearance.
We made it to the Koke‘e Lodge and Kanaloahuluhulu Meadow for lunch and to check off a countable Red Junglefowl for our list. Feeling refreshed and energized, we headed out of the mountains and back towards the lowlands and the sea. Our first afternoon stop was at Russian Fort /Fort Elizabeth for restrooms and a quick walk around. Here we managed our first African Silverbill of the trip plus more Scaly-breasted Munia, Northern Cardinal, and Warbling White-eye. From here it was off to the salt ponds and their tidal pools which we scanned thoroughly. We picked up a Ruddy Turnstone which was new for the trip plus Hawaiian Duck, Wandering Tattler, Black-necked Stilt (Hawaiian subspecies) and Great Frigatebird. We also heard a Red Avadavat calling from deep inside the bushes but unfortunately the only appearance it made was when it flew off, never to be seen or heard from again. At this point, we were all feeling hot and tired, so it was time to head back to the resort to clean up, relax, and enjoy dinner after a great day scoring so many target endemics and introduced species!
The Kauai Elepaio is one of the top targets on Kauai.
Day 6, 5th February 2022. Kauai and flight to Kona
After breakfast, we headed off for a morning birding session along the Kuamoo Nounou Trail. Things were a bit muddy after some recent rain and the trail was giving a very Jurassic Park feel as we walked along. We started off with Western Meadowlark and Chestnut Munia in a nearby field before climbing in altitude as the forest thickened. Warbling White-eyes and Zebra Doves were scattered throughout, however things were quiet overall. We arrived at the top for a quick rest and to soak in some fantastic views before heading back down. On the way down the trail, we did manage to hear a Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush giving clear calls several times, but it never made an appearance for a visual, as is often the case with this species. Back near the vehicles we spotted a small group of Scaly-breasted Munias, always a cute bird to see.
From here we headed back to the hotel to pack up our things, but we did make a quick stop at ‘Opaek‘a Falls. In addition to the impressive falls, we saw a beautiful White-tailed Tropicbird circling around and exploring the cliffs for nesting locations. After packing up and leaving the resort, we headed off to Nawiliwili Lighthouse near the airport for a bit of lunch and to enjoy some views while waiting for our afternoon flight. Here we enjoyed gorgeous ocean views on a sunny day, planes flying in low overhead, a close flyby of Brown Booby, and some distant Humpback Whales. On our way out, we spotted a Northern Mockingbird, a first for the trip. It was then off to the Lihue Airport from here to catch our flights to the Big Island where we would finish the tour.
Day 7, 6th February 2022. Palila Discovery Trail and Waikoloa
We started off this morning with our first taste of Big Island birding! Our first stop was the town of Waikoloa to pick up some breakfast. On our way out of the parking lot, a Grey Francolin darted across the road and up a pile of gravel where it began to sound off like a car alarm. From here we headed to the local skate park to enjoy our food with the birds. It is always a treat to eat with species such as Rosy-faced Lovebird, Saffron Finch, African Silverbill, and Java Sparrow. We continued to explore the town, keeping our eyes peeled for new species with no luck so we headed up the dry side of Mauna Kea to the Palila Discovery Trail. On the journey up, we managed to spot a Short-eared Owl (Hawaiian subspecies) hunting over the fields before eventually making it to the trailhead at higher elevation. Here we spent the rest of the morning exploring the trails. It was a great to have Hawaii Amakihi as our default species for the day. We searched and searched for the critically endangered Palila which we managed to hear call a few times but never got a visual. Eventually we headed back to the vehicles to take a break and enjoy a picnic lunch before heading back out to continue our searching. Unfortunately, the wind picked up and the afternoon proved even less successful than the morning. Palila has unfortunately dwindled greatly in numbers and has been increasingly difficult to lay eyes on. We decided to call it a day and head back to town and get ready for dinner after a long day of birding.
The brilliant-red Apapane glowed bright in the sun.
Day 8, 7th February 2022. Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge
We set off early this morning before sunrise as we had a fair bit of distance to travel today. We headed up Saddle Road, splitting the mighty Mauna Lea and Mauna Kea. A quick stop for restrooms and breakfast had us all shivering as we climbed in altitude and the wind was blowing, however, a small covey of California Quails had us feeling a bit warmer. We continued onwards as the sun continued to rise and we began our venture into the highly restricted forest area. Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge located on the wet side of Mauna Kea, is an oasis for native species. Upon arrival, we were treated to a greeting party of nesting Nene. The sun was up now with a few clouds and perfect temperature conditions. Plenty of Apapane and Hawaii Amakihi were singing and flying by overhead as we unloaded and began to prepare for our hike into the forest. It wasn’t long before we managed to score an island endemic, the Hawaiian Creeper! A pair of these amazing birds were working the trees not more than 100 meters from our vehicles. This was a sign for what this gorgeous day had in store for us, and what a day it was!
The I‘iwi were noisy as could be and present throughout our time here. It wasn’t even an hour into our time here that we managed to get amazing views of a pair of Akiapolaau (one adult and one juvenile). These amazing birds were certainly a highlight of the trip for everyone and can be very difficult to find. Continuing onwards we saw a family group of Hawaii Elepaios, the Hilo coast subspecies. A little further up the trail produced maybe the best sighting of the entire tour, eye level views of a male Hawaii Akepa. These little bursts of sunshine typically forage at canopy level, so to see it down low was an incredible treat!
The unique Akiapolaau fills the niche of a woodpecker.
After a splendid picnic lunch, we continued a bit further into the forest as we only had one endemic left to find. The tricky Omao is a thrush that tends to be sneaky in the low brush lines. We managed to hear several of these birds before one finally perched up nicely for us to enjoy. An incredible day at Hakalau, scoring all the endemic species and perhaps the most incredible part, not a single rain drop for the entire day! We said our goodbyes to Hakalau, one of the most amazing birding locations on the planet and began our long journey back to Kona. While driving out, we were scanning and birding. Plenty of Erckel’s Spurfowls and Wild Turkeys were around, and we managed to spot a Ring-necked Pheasant briefly before it flushed. As we approached the end of the gravel road section, we managed to get onto a gorgeous Hawaiian Hawk (Io) that perched nicely for us for several minutes. The rest of the day was spent birding along roads in hopes for a few species we missed on the previous day. We circled around Waikoloa and scored a beautiful Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse right off the road. From here we headed up to a higher elevation for one last effort on some game bird species and it certainly paid off as we spotted a pair of Kalij Pheasants, a species that became a running inside joke during the tour. A fantastic end to an absolutely incredible day of birding!
Day 9, 8th February 2022. Kona Pelagic
Today we set sail for the open ocean of the Pacific! We gathered just before dawn to prep everything needed for a day spent out on the water and to enjoy a bit of breakfast on land first. We met up with the captains and a few other local birders who were a great help with spotting birds. On our way out of the harbor we noticed a few of the more common species hanging around such as Black-crowned Night Heron, Western Cattle Egret, and Spotted Dove. The waters off Hawaii are a bit strange when thinking of a typical pelagic as there are no gulls or terns trailing the boat. We managed to find a few flyby species mostly consisting of Wedge-tailed Shearwater, however a real highlight came in the form of two different Juan Fernandez Petrels, flying low and near the boat allowing everyone to get a look before disappearing again. Overall, the day was a bit slow when it came to birds, which can happen with the unpredictable nature of pelagic trips. Towards the end of our trip, we made a pass by a few buoys and scored a Black Noddy, a Hawaiian subspecies that may be split in the future. Before heading into the harbor, we stopped for a few minutes and allowed for a quick swimming session for those who wanted to jump in.
Once back on land, we headed to a water treatment plant locally dubbed the “Turd N’ Bird”. The name certainly did not disappoint. We managed to locate several new trip birds such as Cackling Goose, Lesser Scaup, and Sanderling. Other species included Common Waxbill, Yellow-billed Cardinal, Wandering Tattler, and Hawaiian Coot. After about 45 minutes or so, we managed all we could bear of this location and headed back to the resort to get ready for dinner. Our last dinner together was full of fun and laughs as we recapped some of our favorite moments, birds, and locations. It is always bittersweet as a trip comes to its conclusion.
Day 10, 9th February 2022. Tour conclusion
The tour concluded after breakfast at the resort. We enjoyed spending one final meal and morning together, eating our breakfast in the presence of Yellow-billed Cardinals and Java Sparrows. The previous evening, I asked everyone to give me their top five birds of the trip, a tough question with so many great species. After tallying them up, the top five for the collective group were Hawaii Akepa (receiving a vote from every person!), Iiwi, Akiapolaau, Hawaii Elepaio, and Laysan Albatross. We all left this tour with loads of great memories, bird sightings, laughs, and full bellies! Certainly, a wonderful tour in all aspects.
Yellow-billed Cardinal was a favorite of the introduced species in Hawaii.
DOWNLOAD TRIP REPORT
Please see the downloadable PDF above with the full species lists included. This is a sample trip report. Please email us ([email protected]) for more trip reports from this destination.
USA: Hawaii – ABA and Endemic Birding in the Pacific
PASSPORT AND VISA
For US citizens, no visas or passports are required. You will need to bring along a government issued ID as they are sometimes required for hotels.
Non-United States citizens will require a valid passport to enter the country, and some may require a tourist visa. Please consult with your local US Embassy for more details and information. You may need to show your ID/passport at various hotels and for the boat departures on this tour.
We strongly encourage you to purchase trip cancellation or interruption insurance in case you have to cancel due to illness or for any other reason, as tour payments are non-refundable as per our terms and conditions. We advise you to get a plan which covers all your medical care and evacuation back to your country of residence, repatriation, and trip cancellation due to illness just prior, or for any other reason.
Hawaii does not pose any major health risks. Its warm and humid climate as well as sometimes muddy terrain are the largest issues. Water will be available throughout the tour and please feel free to bring your own reusable bottle to refill throughout the tour. A good pair of hiking shoes/boots will help with the trails. We also recommend bringing along a walking stick/hiking poles if needed.
Please make sure that you are covered by medical insurance in case of an emergency while on this trip. Without insurance the cost of medical care can be extremely high. Please notify us at the time of registering for this tour of any medical conditions you think we should know about (including allergies, heart conditions, epilepsy, etc.). This will greatly help us to cater to your needs and update emergency services if required.
Daytime temperatures are generally warm 70–80 °F (21–27 °C), however temps will cool off considerably as we climb to higher altitudes on some days. Layers and jackets are a must to help with the wide range of conditions and wind. It is likely to rain at least once while on tour and we will be boarding a pelagic with cool wind blowing off the water. Waterproof and rain gear are essential to ensure comfort while on the tour.
We will be staying at comfortable hotels and resorts, as is the way on Hawaii.
Our hotels should have decent access to Wi-Fi throughout the trip and phone service is typically reasonable near these areas and in the larger more populated cities. There are times throughout the trip where we will be out in the wilderness (on certain islands) so do expect to lose coverage in some places.
PHYSICAL REQUIREMENTS AND PACE OF TOUR
Our tour of Hawaii covers three islands in only ten days however, the pace is more comfortable and relaxed overall with plenty of time to search for all target species. There are two flights involved as we island hop, so we will be dealing with airports which are typically a non-issue. Early morning starts are consistent with other birding tours, typically around 6 am. There are no evening/night birding events scheduled on this tour.
Most of the walking is along either roadsides or well-kept trails, completed at a relaxed pace. Terrain on a few trails can be rocky and muddy depending on the weather conditions so walking sticks/hiking poles are recommended, if needed. The majority of the hiking/walking is two miles/three kilometers or less but does involve some altitude and steeper climbs on certain days as we bird in the mountainous regions searching for endemic species. There will always be options to sit out certain hikes or mornings depending on how you might be feeling and your own personal capabilities.
WHAT TO BRING
Please kindly read the general list of what to bring on a birding tour, here.
Layers and rain gear are always a good idea when preparing for a wide variety of weather conditions, and we consider them essential on this tour. We also do recommend bringing Dramamine or other motion sickness medications, if you need them, as there are a few longer drives in the vehicle and a pelagic trip. Also, please bring along a face mask (or a few) to ensure we are able to follow local guidelines during the Covid-19 pandemic as they will be required in certain areas.
Do not forget – Binoculars, prescription drugs (also bring the generic names for these drugs), toiletries, prescription glasses (and a spare pair), sunglasses, camera, batteries (for electronic equipment and chargers for re-chargeable batteries, if required), alarm clock, money pouch, field guide(s), daypack.
Key documents and cash – Passports, your travel or health insurance cards, photocopies of which can be carried by the tour leader in case of emergency, Covid-19 vaccine card, photos/screenshots of vaccine card, credit cards (see info above). US dollars for drinks, gifts, tips, items of a personal nature, etc., which are not included in the tour cost.
There should be enough space for each participant to bring one medium-sized suitcase as well as a personal bag to keep at their seat with them. Please do be mindful with large cameras or tripods if you choose to bring these along.
‘I would highly recommend this tour for anyone interested in seeing the beautiful endemic birds of Hawaii before they are gone, and enjoying the natural beauty of the islands. Mandy Talpas, the local guide, did an excellent job sharing her vast knowledge of the endemic birds, their habitat, and the diseases that are threatening them. Jacob Roalef, who also shared his vast knowledge of the birds, and Mandy were very attentive to everyone’s needs, which included 8 participants with varying degrees of birding experience. The beauty of the islands and endemic birds, as well as the camaraderie of the participants and guides made this tour one of the best for me! The accommodations and foodwere great too!’
‘I would highly recommend this tour to anyone that is interested in seeing Hawaii’s native birds on these beautiful islands. One of my favorites was the endangered Akiapolaau, referred to as Aki by our guides, which we saw in a restricted area by permit on the island of Hawaii. The Hawaiian name means “hammerhead,” because the Aki uses the shorter, lower half of it’s mandible to drill into tree trunks like a woodpecker for sap or insects, while the extended, curved upper half operates like a hook to extract the food. During our day spent exploring the restricted area for Hawaii’s endemic birds, three non-endemic (two males and one female) Kalij Pheasants walked across the path right in front of me. I also loved the fantastic coastal views where we observed Red-tailed, White-tailed, and Red-billed Tropicbirds, Red-Footed and Brown Boobies, and Great Frigatebirds, as well as spouting and breaching Humpback whales. I also enjoyed the opportunity to see Laysan Albatross nesting and walking around an upscale neighborhood, and Bristle-thighed Curlews perched in the cemetery from the golf course.’