Kauai and Hawaii (and Kauai Seabirds pre-trip), March, 2005 Mar 19—27, 2005

Posted by Bob Sundstrom

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Bob Sundstrom

Bob Sundstrom has led VENT tours since 1989 to many destinations throughout North America, as well as Hawaii, Mexico, Belize, Trinidad & Tobago, Japan, Turkey, Iceland,...

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Our March two-island Hawaii tour was redesigned for 2005, with very nice results. A pre-trip option was for a one-day oceangoing catamaran trip offshore from Kauai, a seven-hour tour that included views offshore of the rugged and beautiful 4,000 ft. Na Pali cliff coastline, and then a cruise to the island of Niihau where one could snorkel over a reef. We birded and watched marine mammals en route: numbers of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and massive Laysan Albatrosses flew by, as did a few scarcer Black-footed Albatrosses; a rare and endangered Hawaiian monk seal watched the boat at Niihau; and we saw perhaps 20 humpback whales as they breached, tail-slapped, fin-slapped, and more.

Our main Kauai and Hawaii tour began with two full days on emerald green Kauai. The first day featured visits to seabird and water bird nesting areas. We had amazingly close views of elegant, glistening white Red-tailed Tropicbirds, right down to the wire-like, red tail feathers that give them their name?undoubtedly one of the highlights of the tour! Laysan Albatrosses with enormous gray chicks sat in the shade of ironwood trees, and Red-footed Boobies, White-tailed Tropicbirds, and Great Frigatebirds flew close by. Several Wedge-tailed Shearwaters in nest burrows uttered their eerie cries, which are typically heard only after dark. Nene (the Hawaiian Goose), Koloa (Hawaiian Duck), and other wetland species were also seen this day. A second day on Kauai took us up along breathtaking Waimea Canyon to Kokee Forest, where the day?s highlights included stunning scenery, and good views of Kauai endemic honeycreeper species, Akekee, Kauai Amakihi, Anianiau, and Kauai's Elepaio, plus our first Apapanes, Pueos (Hawaii?s Short-eared Owl), Japanese Bush-Warbler, Erckel?s Francolin, and?back down along the coastline?downy Hawaiian Black-necked Stilt chicks.

On Day 4 of the main tour we flew in the morning to Hawaii, the Big Island. Quickly boarding a whale-watching boat, we had the immense pleasure of hearing (via a hydrophone) a male humpback whale singing its haunting series of whistles and moans almost right under the boat. Later that day as we headed north to our Kamuela lodgings in the shadow of Kohala peak, we saw a number of new birds?topped by very close views of two scintillating golden, black, and rust-colored male Black Francolins, as they crowed and escorted each other along a dirt road. The following day we searched out our first Big Island endemic?the endangered Palila, looking something like a yellow Pine Grosbeak, as Common Amakihis sang all around, and a family of Elepaios darted from bush to bush. Successive days on Hawaii brought us good views of the endemic Hawaiian Hawk and other species, with the ultimate birding day being a trip into Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge. Here we birded until mid-afternoon under ideal weather conditions, finding loads of Iiwis?a scarlet honeycreeper with a long, down-curved red bill?plus endangered endemics Akepa, Akiapolaau, and Hawaii Creeper, as well as Omao and Elepaio.

 

Our last full day was devoted to exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where we also spent three nights at the renowned Volcano House, the park?s lodge. On this day we walked through an ancient lava tube, stood at the edge of sulphury, mile-wide Halemaumau Crater, and walked the cinder-strewn landscape of Devastation Trail. The same afternoon, we drove down Chain of Craters Road as it wound 4,000 feet down toward the sea. We stopped en route to look at the black and rust expanses of pahoehoe and a'a lava flows from the 1980s, walking out to examine them firsthand. Near the end of the road we watched Black Noddies roosting and flying along the black lava sea cliffs, and then the group walked across the pahoehoe flows of recent years to an overlook. As sunset and then dusk arrived, we had some awe-inspiring views of an active volcanic event, as red lava flowed down an adjacent hillside and emptied brilliantly into the ocean amid enormous steam clouds. We were lucky in the timing, as a visible lava flow?especially one of this magnitude?just can?t be predicted. A fitting ending to a fine tour.