Fall Hawaii Oct 12—20, 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 Fall Hawaii tour visits three of the main islands?Oahu, Kauai, and Hawaii?over a lively nine days. Amenities of nice lodging and excellent food were the rule on each island, and the weather was fair throughout. Each island lays claim to a number of one-island endemic Hawaiian forest birds, among a longer list of more widespread Hawaiian specialties and a nice array of Pacific seabirds (all seen from land). Our 2005 tour began with a full day on Oahu, where in the morning we tracked down the Oahu Amakihi and Oahu's version of the Elepaio (both island endemics) and a number of other birds. We watched sprite-like White Terns (also known as Common Fairy Terns) fluttering overhead and perched in trees. The best was saved for afternoon: near the northeast corner of the island we saw at least 15 Bristle-thighed Curlews, a much sought after shorebird with a small world population. We watched some of the curlews through the spotting scope at close range?plenty close to see their namesake bristles. We saw Bristle-thighed Curlews foraging, flying close by, perched and calling from a fence post. Among them was a single Whimbrel of the Eurasian subspecies, rare for the region.

By the third morning we were birding on the island of Kauai, up close among some of the Pacific's most splendid seabirds. Both Red-tailed and White-tailed tropicbirds flew close by the group, and we marveled at their respective fine, red tail wires and amazingly long, white tail streamers. Red-footed Boobies were on hand by the thousands, a few Brown Boobies among them. Both boobies had to contend with Great Frigatebirds, which hung close overhead in a convincing imitation of pterodactyls. Wedge-tailed Shearwaters close to fledging sat at the mouths of their nest burrows, still a bit downy in spots. Nenes, the Hawaiian endemic goose and state bird, walked nearby; among them was a single Cackling Goose, a recent visiting migrant from Alaska. We took a full day to drive up along scenic Waimea Canyon, a vertiginous fissure more than 3,000 feet deep, en route to birding in the native forest at around 4,000 feet elevation. Here we found more one-island endemic forest honeycreepers with musical Hawaiian names?Akekee, Anianiau, and Kauai Amakihi?as well as Apapanes and Kauai's Elepaio. Closer to sea level, we marveled at the stunning plumage of five male Black Francolins as they foraged in a plowed field.

On the aptly named Big Island we had four days to peruse its natural wonders, birds, and living volcanic processes. Once again, and with special access to a large tract of native forest, we searched out endemic honeycreepers: tangerine orange Akepas, green Hawaii Creepers working trunks and limbs very creeper-like, the solitaire-like Omao (or Hawaiian Thrush), and the fascinating Akiapolaau (the closest thing to a native woodpecker in the islands). All the time, we were surrounded by Iiwis, perhaps Hawaii's most photogenic bird, a bright scarlet honeycreeper with black wings and a long, down-curved reddish bill.

The final two nights of our tour were spent at the Volcano House, the lodge in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park that sits atop a volcano on the edge of Kilauea Caldera. On our last afternoon, we drove down Chain of Craters Road as it wound 4,000 feet down toward the ocean. We stopped near the end of the road to watch Black Noddies roosting and flying along the black lava sea cliffs. Then we walked across the rolling landscape of smooth lava (or pahoehoe) flows of recent years to an overlook, where in the distance an enormous steam cloud issued from where the volcanic sea cliffs meet the ocean. As sunset and then dusk arrived we were able to watch?at a safe distance?an ongoing active volcanic event, as red lava streamed brilliantly from a lava tube into the ocean, lighting the enormous steam clouds an unworldly pink. Another flow on the hillside above reddened the clouds above?an apt ending to a memorable tour.