Kauai & Hawaii Mar 21—29, 2006

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 began with a pre-trip option for a one-day, oceangoing catamaran trip offshore from Kauai. It was a sunny day with surprisingly smooth waters. Our route took us first from Port Allen across an ocean passage to the island Lehua, where the boat anchored for snorkeling. Both Laysan and Black-footed albatrosses flew along the slopes of Lehua, where both species were nesting. An immaculate white Red-tailed Tropicbird flew several times right over the boat, and White-tailed Tropicbirds, Red-footed and Brown boobies, and Great Frigatebirds were also in the air. Small groups of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and Black Noddies glided over the waves. An endangered Hawaiian monk seal swam right alongside the boat, and we had a leisurely study of a pod of pilot whales. By lunchtime we were cruising just offshore along the rugged and beautiful 4,000 ft. Na Pali cliff coastline, on the north side of Kauai. Spinner dolphins swam at the bow, and humpback whales were seen spy-hopping, "mule-kicking," and breaching.

Our main Kauai & Hawaii tour began with two full days on emerald-green Kauai. On our first day we drove up along scenic Waimea Canyon. Red Junglefowl brightened the misty forest edge, Japanese Bush-Warblers sang loudly, and we had good views of both Black and Erckel's francolins. In Kokee State Forest we birded the native forest trails, finding great views of Kauai endemic bird species: Anianiau, Kauai Amakihi, and Kauai's Elepaio, plus our first Apapanes. In the afternoon we worked back down along Waimea Canyon and, at one overlook, the clouds parted miraculously for a moment, revealing the majestic green and rust Waimea Canyon walls, 3,000 feet high. Back at sea level on Kauai's west shore, we watched a Barn Owl chase off a Pueo (Hawaiian Short-eared Owl), a Brant was a surprising rarity in a flooded cane field, and a Laysan Albatross improbably flew back and forth above the fields.

Seabirds were the featured celebrities on our second day on Kauai. At Kilauea Point, an elegant Red-tailed Tropicbird flew repeatedly close by the lighthouse cliffs, later to engage in courtship flight with another. We also had excellent views of Laysan Albatross, White-tailed Tropicbird, Red-footed Booby, and Great Frigatebird. Wedge-tailed Shearwater adults sat at the rim of their nest burrow, and a huge, gray Laysan Albatross chick waited for adults in the shade of ironwood trees. When we first arrived at Kilauea, a Pueo soared over the lighthouse at the same moment as a Laysan Albatross?a very unusual visual pairing.

We flew on to Hawaii, the Big Island, where we stayed for five full days. On the first day we watched the islands' only native hawk species, the I'o or Hawaiian Hawk, as it soared above the slopes of volcanic Hualalai. After lunch with a breathtaking view of Kealakekua Bay and the Pacific, we visited an old-time Macadamia nut roaster and a Kona coffee coop and roaster. The following day on the leeward slopes of 13,000+ ft. Mauna Kea, we had great luck in finding a number of endangered Palila, a Hawaiian endemic honeycreeper closely linked to the native yellow blossoming mamane trees. For three nights we stayed at the Volcano House lodge in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, on the rim of Kilauea volcano. We took one full day to make a four-wheel drive excursion to the east side of Mauna Kea into Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge. There we birded until mid-afternoon under damp skies, but with a great deal of native bird activity all day. Raucous, scarlet Iiwis were seen many times, and we had excellent views of the endangered endemics, Akepa (bright orange males) and Hawaii Creeper (foraging and singing just overhead), as well as Omao and Elepaio.

Our full day in the national park began with breakfast overlooking Kilauea Caldera, and then birding in Bird Park on the Mauna Loa Road, with amazing views of Kalij Pheasants right along the trail, a trio of allo-preening Red-billed Leiothrix, and several Melodious Laughing-Thrushes singing and slinking through the trees. Mid-morning we walked through a huge, extinct lava tube and watched White-tailed Tropicbirds circle the rim of Halemaumau Crater. After lunch near the park and an afternoon break, we stopped at Jaggar Museum before driving down Chain of Craters Road, stopping en route to look at the pahoehoe and a'a flows and "Pele's hair" in the Mauna Ulu lava fields. Near the end of the road we watched Black Noddies roosting and flying along the black lava sea cliffs, and then our group walked across the pahoehoe lava flows of recent years to an overlook. As sunset and then dusk arrived, we had some wonderful views of red lava streaming out of a lava tube into the ocean. Every few minutes a shower of red molten rock shot upwards into air, like volcanic fireworks?an apt finish to a fine tour, featuring many wonders of natural history, many fine restaurants, and lots of fresh, tropical breezes.