Spring Hawaii Mar 09—17, 2016

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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The Spring Hawaii tour takes in the best of the natural history of three main Hawaiian islands— Hawaii, Kauai, and Oahu: stunning seabirds, rare one-of-a-kind forest birds in beautiful tropical forests, scenic seacoasts and interior mountain ridges, and massive volcanoes. Hawaii also offers the most accessible volcanic realm in the world, balmy weather, and superb food. Lodging is nice too, and three of the four hotels where we stay back right up to the ocean shoreline.

Our 2016 Spring Hawaii tour, over nine days and across three islands, began on the island of Oahu, in Waikiki, with dinner at sunset, overlooking the Pacific. The next morning found us watching sprightly White Terns, fluttering above nest trees or perched on branches. After breakfast with a view of the ocean and Brown Boobies, we went in search of the island’s endemic forest birds—Oahu Elepaio and Oahu Amakihi. By midafternoon we were watching one of the world’s scarcest shorebirds—the Bristle-thighed Curlew—near the island’s northeast corner, and close enough to see the trademark bristles, as a Great Frigatebird hung in the air overhead. A superb way to round out the day’s birding, before another dinner overlooking the Pacific.

By mid-morning of Day 3 we were standing on a scenic overlook on the island of Kauai, watching spectacular seabirds. Although Kilauea Point refuge was temporarily closed to repair a washed-out walkway, we still had nice views of spectacular seabirds. Lustrous Red-tailed Tropicbirds flapped by again and again, some close enough for us to see the almost wire-like feathers that make up the red tail. Others lay in nest crevices, within good scope view. Laysan Albatrosses arced over the lighthouse and across the waves, as Red-footed Boobies flew by at close range. At nearby Hanalei Refuge we enjoyed close views of the islands’ endangered waterbirds: Nene (Hawaiian Goose), Koloa (Hawaiian Duck), Hawaiian Coot, and the local subspecies of Common Gallinule and Black-necked Stilt.

A second day on Kauai put us alongside majestic Waimea Canyon, rightly known as “Hawaii’s Grand Canyon,” and next to 4,000 foot overlooks onto the sea along the Na Pali coastline. The drive up the canyon turned up our first views of Pueo (Hawaiian Short-eared Owl), as well as Black and Erckel’s francolins. Birding the native forest nearby, we found such Kauai endemic forest birds as Anianiau, Kauai Elepaio, and Kauai Amakihi, as well as Apapane.

On Day #5 we landed at Kona on Hawaii, aka “The Big Island,” where we would spend the next four nights. Lunch found us at a tiny café tucked into the Kona coffee groves on the west slope of Mauna Loa—and overlooking Kealakekua Bay, some 1,500 feet below. The next day led into Hakalau Refuge, the best place anywhere in the islands for native forest birds. Soon after reaching the refuge at 6,000 feet in the rainforest, we began to see Iiwis—unique, scarlet Hawaiian honeycreepers probing the red blossoms of native ohia trees with their long, red, sickle-shaped bills. Soon we saw Hawaii Amakihis and Hawaii Elepaios, often at eye level. A warbled note put our eyes onto a tangerine-orange Akepa, another Big Island endemic, followed by the Big Island’s unique thrush, Omao. A little farther down the trail, an endangered endemic Hawaii Creeper crept over the limbs and trunk of a tree, much like a nuthatch. On the drive out to the forest in the morning, we crossed paths with no less than eight of Hawaii’s native diurnal owl, the Pueo, and had nice views of soaring Hawaiian Hawk—yet another one-island endemic.

The following day we explored mamane/naio forest on the dry, western face of Mauna Kea. Here is the last holdout of the Palila, an island endemic that looks something like a Pine Grosbeak, and a species found only in this forest. Our good luck held, as we soon were treated to nice views of Palila, as well as a distinctive, dry forest form of Hawaii Elepaio and a fancy exotic, the Red-billed Leiothrix.

A final full day at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park gave us a chance to explore the volcanic landscape in the light of day, to look across vast fields of recent lava, to walk through an extinct lava tube, and to gain a closer, more personal sense of how the islands were created. A bit of birding along a forest trail gave us a terrific view of the secretive, loud-voiced Hwamei (formerly known as Melodious Laughing-Thrush) and scope views of Kamehameha Butterfly, one of only two butterflies endemic to the island chain. We had already seen the other, the tiny Blackburn’s Blue.

The Spring Hawaii tour made the most of the natural history and scenic splendor of Hawaii, Kauai, and Oahu, while enjoying its mild climate and superb food.