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Birding Hawaii

14th – 23rd  May 2003

By Jon Hornbuckle


The native birds of Hawaii have been decimated by man, with over half the species extinct and several on the verge. Although protection measures were belatedly put in place, they have not stopped the decline in numbers of some species, possibly due to the inadvertent introduction of avian malaria. Until a couple of years ago it was possible to see Hawaiian Crow, but not any more, there are only three Poo-uli left in the wild on Maui (in an area accessible only to researchers), and now Akikiki  (Kauai Creeper) and Akohekohe (Crested Honeycreeper) are exceptionally difficult to see. Hence the need to visit Hawaii as soon as possible!

On behalf of Ornifolks, the indefatigable Mike Flieg worked on the arrangements for this trip for two years, to ensure we had good local guides and access to areas where the public is restricted. As we aimed to see as many endemics as possible in a short trip, it was necessary to visit four islands. We started with a pelagic, as  there are good sea-birds in the off-shore waters, then birded Oahu, Big Island, Kauai and finally Maui. Laysan and Nihoa islands also have endemic species but are not accessible to birders.  Overall the trip was enjoyable and pretty successful, except on Maui where we were unlucky to miss Crested Honeycreeper, owing to paucity of suitable flowers at the only accessible site, as well as the difficult Maui Parrotbill. We did not specifically try to see any of the many introduced species, although quite a number were spotted as we traveled around.


Joel Abramson, Louise Augustine, Ken Cole, Mike Flieg, Jon Hornbuckle, Graham Metson, Allan Wofchuck.


We used fairly comfortable hire-vehicles throughout and flew between the islands on the inter-connecting Aloha and Hawaiian Airline flights. No problems were experienced.

Accommodation was mostly pre-booked and varied between the luxury Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel to a cabin in Kokee State Park, Kauai, and was entirely satisfactory. Meals were mainly at fast food outlets, supplemented with food from stores.


Parts of Hawaii are some of the wettest places on earth but although we had rain or low cloud on most days in the mountains, it was rarely heavy and only a problem with visibility at Waikamoi Preserve. The timing was chosen for being both relatively dry and in the breeding season, although  we learnt later that Feb/March is a better time for vocalization, on Maui at least.

Birding Sites

All the sites visited are covered in either Wheatley or the Birding Hawaii web site. Some useful additional information is given in Talbot and Campion's report – see below.


The Birds of Hawaii and the Tropical Pacific – Pratt, Bruner and Berrett.

Where to watch birds in Australia and Oceania – Nigel Wheatley.

Birding Hawaii web site.

Enjoying birds and other wildlife in Hawaii, 3rd ed. 2002 – Pratt

There are several trip reports on the net; the best, issued after our visit, is Hawaii: 11th April – 20th April 2003 by Graham Talbot and Chris Campion.


Several people were very helpful to us, most notably Kurt Pohlman on Oahu, Jack Jeffrey on Big Island, David Kuhn on Kauai, and especially Chuck Probst on Maui, while Robert L. Pyle, Chris Steeman and Graham Talbot provided JH with pre-tour advice and information – we are very grateful to all.


May 14: Assemble in Honolulu, Oahu, some birding around Waikiki. Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel.

May 15: Pelagic trip  on the “Maggie Joe”, visit James Campbell Reserve.

May 16: Visit Kaneohe Marine Corps Base, Aiea Loop and Kuliouou Valley Trail.

May 17: Revisit Kuliouou Valley Trail, then Tantalus Loop. Afternoon flight to Hilo, Big Island, birding near Hilo. Arnott's Lodge.

May 18: Visit Hakalau Forest NWR a.m., Mauna Kea for Palila, and a kipuka.

May 19: Puu Oo Trail a.m., Stainback Highway p.m. then Volcano National Park till dusk.

May 20: Early flight to Lihue, Kauai,  Kilauea Point NWR lighthouse for seabirds, then to Kokee State Park. Night in cabin at Kokee Lodge.

May 21: Alakai Swamp, Kokee State Park till 3 p.m. with David Kuhn, flight to Kahului,  Maui Aston Maui Banyan Hotel.

May 22: Hosmer Grove and into Waikamoi Preserve (Nature Conservancy) with Chuck Probst. Haleakala crater at dusk.

May 23: Drive around Maui, Haleakala crater till after nightfall.

Daily Log

May 14

We assembled at the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel, some having chance to bird along the sea-front and observe the delightful White Terns, a few of which were breeding in the nearby park. JH was the last arrival, reaching the hotel at 10 p.m., 25 hours after leaving home, with two flights totalling 16h 10min.

May 15 

Up at 05.00 for breakfast of blueberry cakes, bagels, juice and coffee, then departed for Kewalo Boat Basin with local birder Kurt Pohlman. We left at 06.20 on a good sports-fishing boat. There was quite a swell but birds were surprisingly scarce, apart from the numerous Wedge–tailed Shearwaters and Sooty Terns, with no albatrosses, Pterodromas or storm-petrels. Sooty Shearwater, Red-footed and Brown Boobies, Great Frigatebird, Red-tailed and White-tailed Tropicbirds, White Tern and noddies, which were difficult to identify, were seen. The highlights were a Bulwer's Petrel, which gave good views as it flew alongside the boat, single Christmas and Newell's Shearwaters, which were fly-byes, and a breaching Humpback Whale, seen well. There was nothing of note on the return journey and most of us were not feeling in the best of health! We returned to harbour at 2 p.m.

Mike collected the rental van and drove to James Campbell Reserve on the north of the island. We walked along the dunes that overlook the reserve and were rewarded with excellent views of a party of 6 Bristle-thighed Curlews on short grass and sand, jumping and flapping like displaying cranes for a few minutes, then 2 more flew in. The wetland held agitated Stilts, and distant Hawaiian Duck and Coot. Leaving at 6.00, we stopped at a suburban restaurant for a tasty teriyaki and French fries. Reached the hotel at 9 p.m.

May 16

After breakfast we left at 07.00 for Kaneohe Marine Corps Base. During the hour wait for our guide, who arrived at 09.00, we watched both Black and Brown Noddies flying past, to and from a breeding colony. We were taken to the shooting range below Ulupau Head where large numbers of Red-footed Booby were nesting, all white phase birds. A distant Laysan Albatross was seen in flight. Then to a Wedge-tailed Shearwater colony, where several corpses were evident, victims to feral cats. One adult flew from an open nest site but most birds were in the nest holes/ burrows. Later in the morning we drove to the Aiea Loop Trail.  Here we saw our target Oahu Amakihi, after some effort, but the Oahu Elepaio, a likely split, was elusive for most. We drove back down to Honolulu and hit heavy traffic as we continued through the city towards Koko Head to Anolani Street (off Halamaumau St), to the Pia Valley, said to be the best site for the Elepaio. The track was overgrown but we eventually reached mature native trees along a dry stream bed. However, despite some time here, little was seen, so we continued to the nearby Kuliouou Valley Trail which again looked promising but was unrewarding. Back to the Aston Waikiki Beach and a popular live music restaurant with good fish and chips, and hamburgers for the heathen ex-colonists.

May 17

A relatively late breakfast at 06.30 gave the opportunity to either visit the nearby Kapiolani Park to see the White Terns or have a bit of a lie-in. After breakfast we returned to the Kuliouou Valley Trail to look again for the elusive Elepaio. No sign until we reached the end of the trail where one was taped in. It eventually showed quite well but called only once. After this we drove back through Honolulu to the Tantalus Loop road around the Punchbowl. We stopped for some time at the third overlook on the left, where several birds were seen including an obliging pair of Oahu Amakihi. After checking out of the hotel, we drove to the airport and caught the 2.55 flight to Hilo on the Big Island (Hawaii), arriving at 3:45 p.m. We drove to Arnott Lodge and took an apartment with 4 beds and 3 mattresses. We looked unsuccessfully for Wandering Tattler on nearby pools, seeing Hawaiian Coot, then called it a day as it continued to rain heavily. Pleasantly surprised to get free pizza and beer at Arnott Lodge - an anniversary celebration.

May 18

We left at 04.50 to drive to Pua Akala Tract, Hakalau Forest NWR, on the slope of Mauna Loa, where we had planned to meet with Jack Jeffrey, the wildlife biologist. He was unavailable but gave Mike instructions on how to get to the forest from Mile 27. We arrived at 06.30 and walked down the track through open forest, soon finding the target Hawaiian Creeper, Elepaio, and Omao, but no Akiapolaau or Akepa. Apapane, Iiwi and Amakihi were common. Two young researchers showed us an active Akepa nest; the invisible male called the female off the nest occasionally to feed her, but she was so quick that no detail of her plumage could be seen. Eventually another pair was found, with the male a cock-of-the-rock orange. A pair of Hawaiian Hawk was also said to be active in the area but we could not find them despite the good weather.

We continued along the track to the research station where we found a party of Nene. We met the horticulturalist who gave us a tour of the greenhouses, which contained some of the world's rarest plants, endemic to the volcano's slopes. We made our way out along the dirt track back to Saddle Road, then continued to Mile 43, after the military training camp, turning up Mauna Kea road to the Puu Laau Dry Forest Reserve. It took a long time to find a Palila, which was not very cooperative, singing mainly from inside a large bush. A single Elepaio of the pale-headed race was also seen. On the way back down Saddle Road, we stopped at Mile 21.5 to look in the Koa trees in a huge old lava field to look for Akiapolaau, but only saw Amakihi and Creeper. After eating supper at Ken's Diner, we returned to Arnott Lodge for the night. Amazingly, it had remained dry until the evening when it did rain.

May 19

After breakfast at Ken's at 06.00, we returned to Saddle Road and stopped at Mile 23 to do the lovely Puu Oo Trail. After a walk of 1.5 miles to the kipuka, with Omao on the way, we eventually had two views of the elusive Akiapolaau, which was almost silent. It was particularly difficult to get good views of its bill, the very thin down-curved upper mandible in contrast to the short lower mandible.

We drove down to the airport in the rain, to change to an earlier flight for Kauai. LA and JH spent an hour looking for Hawaiian Hawk while the others took lunch. Then we all drove up past the zoo towards the prison on Stainback Road, the road reputed to be the best for the hawk. By then the rain had stopped and a Hawk obligingly soared over the forest, to our relief. It eventually flew low over us, with rapid shallow flaps, possibly a display flight.

Returning to the main road, we drove to Kilauea Crater in Volcano National Park, then on to the coast where some of us walked out to the active lava flow, across a good two miles of recent lava  – quite a sight. We returned to Hilo at 8 p.m., stopping for food at McDonalds.

May 20

After an early check-out, we flew to Lihue, Kauai with a plane change in Honolulu, arriving at 10ish. We drove the 30 miles to the lighthouse at Kilauea Point NWR to observe the seabirds. Red-tailed Tropicbirds put on a magnificent show, displaying directly overhead, and there were frequent fly-pasts of Red-footed Boobies and small numbers of other species including Laysan Albatross. At 1.30 we left for Kokee State Park, stopping at a couple of beaches to scan for Newell's Shearwaters and Monk Seals, without success. We drove up the spectacular Waimea Canyon to the cabins at Kokee Lodge, where we eventually took possession of our 5-bed cabin and saw a few Kauai Amakihi and Elepaio. Then we drove back down to the coast for food-shopping and dinner, as there was no food in the Park, so it was late by the time we returned to the cabin.

May 21

Up at 04.30 for 05.00 departure for Alakai with David Kuhn and Chuck Probst on what turned out to be a mostly warm and sunny day. It took 45 min to drive on a poor dirt road to our intended trail but the researchers' van was there which meant that the area was out-of-bounds even to David. This was unfortunate to say the least as this trail was the best one for the Puaiohi (Lesser Hawaiian Thrush) and Akikiki (Kauai Creeper). Hence we had to go back to the public Alakai Swamp trail. After walking a mile or so down many steps to the small river, crossing it to the left, we walked along it, with difficulty, for c.100m. Stayed in that area for 3 hours, getting brief views of Puaiohi and good views of Elepaio, Kauai Amakihi, Apapane, Iiwi and Anianiau, but not a sniff of Akikiki. Then walked along the ridge beyond the river and back to the Pihea Vista trail, said to be good for the creeper, but nothing doing. Returned to the vehicle at 2.30, seeing Short-eared Owl in the process, drove to the main road and stopped after a bit at a breeding site for Akekee (the Kauai Akepa). We saw a female and a juv but no male.

We left David and proceeded down the canyon to Waimea, where we checked the river for Hawaiian Duck, without success, and on to Lihue airport for the 6:12 flight to Honolulu. We connected with the 6:41 flight to Kahului, Maui, where there was a long wait while Mike collected the vehicle. After driving to Kihei, the pre-booked Aston Maui Banyan Hotel was found with difficulty and only 4 beds were available, which took some sorting. Then we went for a quick meal and collapsed into bed at 11 p.m.

May 22

Left the hotel at 05.00, stopped to buy food and drove up the volcano in Haleakala NP, reaching Hosmer Grove at 6.30 where Chuck Probst waiting. A Short-eared Owl hunted nearby as we entered the Waikamoi Preserve where our targets were Akohekohe (Crested Honeycreeper) and Maui Parrotbill. We walked through a conifer plantation of many different species before entering beautiful mature natural forest of mainly ohia and koa trees. Maui Creeper and Amakihi were common here but we spent the following 7 hours patrolling the half-mile long boardwalk, mostly in poor visibility due to low cloud and intermittent mist, looking for the two specialities. There were very few flowering trees, so the normally not uncommon Crested Honeycreeper was not apparent, although heard on two occasions. There was no sign at all of the Parrotbill, the only new bird being Japanese Bush-warbler. At 3 p.m. we drove down to the shopping area and had something to eat, before driving up to the spectacular crater, with its Chukars and rather smart Silver Sword plants. After a lovely sunset, we expected the first Hawaiian Petrels to come in at about 7.30pm, but there was no sight or sound of them. JH had to leave at 8.00, with Chuck, to catch his 10.00 flight home, via San Francisco. The others stayed at the windy crater rim until about 9:00, rewarded only by hearing a few petrel, and then returned to the Aston Maui Banyan.

May 23

The last day was pretty laid back.  We drove all the way around the island, with stops, eg at Kealia Pond where 5 Stilts were seen, then went back to Haleakala NP. On the way up the volcano to the crater we noticed white markings that turned out to be numbers, on checking, evidently marking the burrows of the Hawaiian Petrels. We sat near the burrows and as it got dark could hear moaning sounds from all around. We probably heard upwards of 20 birds, and actually saw 3 or 4, a successful ending to a great trip.

Jon Hornbuckle (with help from Ken Cole). Email

Systematic List

Laysan Albatross Phoebastria immutabilis

1 distant bird over Red-footed Booby colony at Kanahoe Marine Base, Oahu on 16th; an adult in flight seen well, and a couple of large youngsters at Kilauea Point NWR, Kauai on 20th.

Bulwer's Petrel Bulweria bulwerii

1 on Honolulu, Oahu pelagic 15th.

Hawaiian Petrel Pterodroma phaeopygia

3 or 4 seen and 20+ heard at Haleakala Crater, Maui on 23rd.

Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus

A few on Honolulu pelagic.

Wedge-tailed Shearwater Puffinus pacificus

Very common on Honolulu pelagic and 8 at breeding holes at Kanahoe Marine Base, Oahu and 1 seen at hole at Kilauea Point NWR, Kauai on 20th.

Christmas Shearwater Puffinus navitatus

1 on Honolulu pelagic.

Newell's Shearwater Puffinus newelli

A single of the many shearwaters on the Honolulu pelagic was thought to be this species by at least one observer.

Red-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon rubricauda 

5+ on Honolulu pelagic, 1 at Kanahoe Marine Base, Oahu, numerous at Kilauea Point NWR, Kauai on 20th.

White-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon lepturus

2+ on Honolulu pelagic, and small numbers at Kilauea Point NWR, Kauai on 20th.

Brown Booby Sula leucogaster

A few on Honolulu pelagic and at Kilauea Point NWR, Kauai.

Red-footed Booby Sula sula

25 on Honolulu pelagic, large nesting colonies at Kanahoe Marine Base, Oahu and Kilauea Point NWR, Kauai.

Great Frigatebird Fregata minor

5 on Honolulu pelagic, c.20 Kilauea Point NWR, Kauai on 20th.

Black-crowned Night-heron Nycticorax nycticorax

A few at James Campbell reserve, Oahu on 15th and 1 on Big Island on 19th.

Hawaiian Goose (Nene) Branta sandvicensis

6 at Hakalau Forest, Big Island on 18th, 2 or 3 introduced birds Kilauea Point NWR, Kauai.

Hawaiian Duck (Koloa) Anas wyvilliana

2 at James Campbell reserve, Oahu on 15th.

Hawaiian Hawk Buteo solitarius

Only a single sighting of 1 in flight at 2.20 p.m. on the prison road beyond the zoo, Big Island on 19th.

Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus

2 at James Campbell reserve, Oahu on 15th.

Hawaiian Coot Fulica alai

2 at James Campbell reserve on 15th and near Hilo, Big Island on 17th.

Black-necked Stilt Himantopus mexicanus

10 at James Campbell reserve on 15th, a few at Kanahoe Marine Base, Oahu on 16th, and 5 at Kealia Pond, Maui on 23rd.  This is a potential split.

Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva

Singles at James Campbell reserve on 15th and at Kanahoe Marine Base, Oahu on 16th.

Bristle-thighed Curlew Numenius tahitiensis

8 at James Campbell reserve, Oahu on 15th.

Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres

3 at James Campbell reserve, Oahu on 15th.

Sooty Tern Sterna fuscata

Common on Honolulu pelagic.

Brown Noddy Anous stolidus

Several on Honolulu pelagic and at Kanahoe Marine Base, Oahu on 16th.

Black Noddy Anous minutus

Several on Honolulu pelagic and at Kanahoe Marine Base, Oahu on 16th.

White Tern Gygis alba

A few nesting in Kapioleni Park, Waikiki, Oahu and on the Honolulu pelagic.

Short-eared Owl Asio flammeus

1 at Hakalau Forest, Big Island on 18th, 2 at Kokee State Park, Kauai 21st and 1 Haleakala National Park, Maui on 22nd.

Elepaio Chasiempis sandwichensis

2 of the dark form (sandwichensis) at Hakalau Forest, Big Island on 18th and 1 at Puu Oo Trail, Big Island on 19th; 1 pale-headed form (bryani) Puu Laau Dry Forest Reserve, Big Island 18th.

Kauai Elepaio Chasiempis sandwichensis sclateri

2 at Kokee State Park, Kauai on 20th and common on 21st. A likely split.

Oahu Elepaio Chasiempis sandwichensis ibidis

Singles at Alea Ridge Trail on 16th and Kuliouou Valley Trail, Oahu on 17th. A likely split. 

Puaiohi Myadestes palmeri

1 elusive bird at Alakai Swamp, Kauai on 21st.

Omao Myadestes obscurus

At least 2 at Hakalau Forest, Big Island 18th and 1 at Puu Oo Trail, Big Island  on 19th.

Palila Loxioides bailleui

Only 1, but seen well, at Puu Laau dry forest reserve, Big Island on 18th.

Maui Creeper/ Alauahio Paroreomyza montana

10+ Waikamoi Preserve, Maui on 22nd.

Hawaii Amakihi Hemignathus virens

Common (virens) in Hakalau Forest and Puu Laau Reserve, Big Island on 18th, and on Puu Oo Trail, Big Island on 19th. Fairly common (wilsoni) at Waikamoi Preserve, Maui on 22nd.

Oahu Amakihi Hemignathus flavus

1 seen and 5 heard at Aiea Ridge Trail Oahu on 16th and a pair on the Tantalus Loop road on 17th.

Kauai Amakihi Hemignathus kauaiensis

A few on 20th at Kokee State Park, Kauai and common 21st at Alakai Swamp.

Anianiau Hemignathus parvus

A few at Alakai Swamp, Kauai on 21st.

Akiapolaau Hemignathus munroi

1 or 2 in a large forest patch along Puu Oo Trail, Big Island on 19th.

Hawaii Creeper Oreomystis mana

4 at Hakalau Forest, Big Island on 18th.

Akekee Loxops caerulirostris

2 at Kokee State Park, Kauai on 21st.

Akepa Loxops coccineus

3 at Hakalau Forest, Big Island on 18th.

Iiwi Vestiaria coccinea

Up to 8 at Hakalau Forest and Puu Oo Trail, Big Island, Alakai Swamp, Kauai, and Waikamoi Preserve, Maui.

Akohekohe (Crested Honeycreeper) Palmeria dolei

1 heard at Waikamoi Preserve, Maui on 22nd.

Apapane Himatione sanguinea

The commonest endemic, especially at Kokee State Park, Kauai, and at Hakalau Forest and Puu Oo Trail, Big Island, and Waikamoi Preserve, Maui.

Introduced Species

Cattle Egret, Mallard, Common Turkey, Common Peafowl, California Quail, Chukar, Erkel's Francolin, Red Junglefowl, Kalij Pheasant, Common Pheasant, Zebra Dove, Spotted Dove, Western Meadow Lark, Eurasian Skylark, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Red-vented Bulbul, Northern Mockingbird, Red-billed Leiothrix, Hwamei, White-rumped Shama, Japanese Bush Warbler, Japanese White-eye, Northern Cardinal, Red-crested Cardinal, House Finch, Yellow-fronted Canary, Common Waxbill, Chestnut Munia, Nutmeg Munia, House Sparrow, Java Sparrow, Common Myna.


Hawaiian (Band-rumped) Storm-Petrel Oceanodroma (castro)

Maui or Kauai pelagic.

Crested Honeycreeper (Akohekohe) Palmeria dolei

Waikamoi Preserve, Maui.

Maui Parrotbill Pseudonestor xanthophrys

Waikamoi Preserve, Maui.

Akikiki Oreomystis bairdi

Alakai Swamp, Kauai.

Copyright © 1992-2012 John Wall