Kauai & Hawaii Mar 23—31, 2008
Posted by Bob Sundstrom
Our Kauai and Hawaii tour began on emerald-green Kauai, the oldest geologically and most lush of the main Hawaiian Islands. On our first day, seabirds were the featured celebrities. At Kilauea Point, pairs of glistening Red-tailed Tropicbirds flew in courtship displays along the refuge cliffs. One tropicbird would first hover a few feet above the other, then both would begin to circle one another in a tight, vertical ring—all while flying backwards. The elegant seabirds were close enough to see every detail, right down to their wire-like red tail streamers. Huge Laysan Albatrosses glided by, with rarely a flap of their long, arched wings. In the shade of nearby ironwood trees, an enormous downy albatross chick awaited its parents' return, now and then exercising its stubby gray wings. Wedge-tailed Shearwaters had begun to return to their nest burrows, evidenced by one we watched and photographed at arm's-length. We also had fine views here of White-tailed Tropicbirds, Red-footed Boobies, and Great Frigatebirds.
On our second day, we drove up along scenic Waimea Canyon. Red Junglefowl brightened the dense forest edge, as Japanese Bush-Warblers sang loudly, and husky Erckel's Francolins strode along the roadside. Waimea Canyon was spectacular. At one overlook, at least 15 White-tailed Tropicbirds glided in view at the same time, perhaps 1,000 feet below, along the majestic green and rust canyon walls. While walking native forest trails at 4,000 feet elevation, we watched some of Kauai's endemic bird species: chartreuse male Anianiaus, the curve-billed Kauai Amakihi, and family groups of Elepaio, the islands' endemic monarch flycatcher. A pair of Pueos, the islands' endemic owl, flew slowly just above the forest canopy, their feathers golden-blonde in the tropical sun.
We flew on to Hawaii, the Big Island, with five full days to explore a nice diversity of habitats and take in the geologically youngest island's primal forces at work. We had lunch in prime Hawaiian Hawk-watching country, on a veranda overlooking the famed Kona coffee country and Kealakekua Bay over 1,000 feet below. Mixing birding with local specialties, we visited an old-time Macadamia nut roaster and a Kona coffee grower. The day's birds included our first views of the endemic hawk, plus superb views of tiny Red Avadavats, Gray Francolins, Saffron Finches, and Yellow-billed Cardinals.
Over ensuing days we sought out the Big Island's endemic forest birds in both dry and wet tropical forests, on the lee and windward slopes of 13,000+ft. Mauna Kea. We had great luck in finding the endangered Palila, a Hawaiian endemic honeycreeper closely tied to the native, yellow-blossoming mamane trees. At a unique refuge on the windward side, we watched raucous, scarlet Iiwis—the islands' most charismatic native bird, with its long, curved red bill perfectly designed for nectar-feeding in the native flowers. Here too we had excellent looks at the endangered Akepa—the bright orange males exciting wows of appreciation—as well as a number of other island endemics. And with three nights at the national park lodge, the Volcano House, we took in the amazing sights of an active volcano: a stroll through an ancient lava tube, the sight of Black Noddies nesting on black lava sea cliffs, and an evening lava viewing.
On our final night on Hawaii, just as sunset and the brief tropical twilight gave way to dark, we watched in awe as hot, crimson lava streamed from a lava tube into the ocean, setting off massive steam clouds and sprays of fiery cinders. An apt finish to a fine tour, featuring many wonders of natural history, many exceptional dining experiences, and lots of fresh, tropical breezes.