Hawaii: America with a Polynesian Twist
Finding some of the world's rarest birds.
Hawaii has both the distinction of having the most endemic birds of any state in the United States, but also the highest number of threatened birds in the country. Adding to its lure, it also has a much sought-after endemic bird family, the Hawaiian Honeycreepers. This tour will focus on the archipelago’s endemics, with special efforts focused on the most endangered of these. Along the way, expect to be wowed with spectacular scenery, awed by the volcanic forces that sculpted these magnificent islands, and absorbed by Polynesian influences quite unlike anywhere else in the US.
Day 1: Arrival on O‘ahu. We will transfer you from Honolulu International Airport to our hotel, where we will spend two nights. Hawaii has more introduced species than anywhere else in the US, giving you a taste of the avifauna from many parts of the world in between looking for the native species. The menagerie of urban birds you may encounter on O‘ahu includes White Tern, Ring-necked Parakeet, Zebra Dove, Common Waxbill, Java Sparrow, Red-crested Cardinal, and Red-vented and Red-whiskered Bulbuls.
Day 2: O‘ahu. We’ll concentrate on the island’s two endemic land birds this morning: the O‘ahu ‘Amakihi and the O‘ahu ‘Elepaio. We should also come across a few White-rumped Shamas, a Southeast Asian species. Though introduced, their song is still hauntingly beautiful, and one of the great songs of the Far East. Depending on our luck, we may have time to visit a wetland site for Hawaiian Duck and the Hawaiian subspecies of Black-necked Stilt and Common Moorhen.
Day 3: Kilauea Point, Kaua‘i. After our morning flight to Kaua‘i, the westernmost of the islands visited, we’ll spend the afternoon at Kilauea Point, the site of an impressive seabird colony. Opalescent Red-tailed Tropicbirds fly in circles as they display to their mates. Below we’ll find a Laysan Albatross colony, where will be able to watch the amusing antics of these giant, ocean-wandering birds. Wedge-tailed Shearwater and Red-footed and Brown Boobies are also expected. On top of all of this, we also have a chance to see Hawaii’s state bird, the Nene (Hawaiian Goose). We will spend three nights on the island.
Days 4–5: Alaka‘i Swamp, Kaua‘i. We have two full days to bird the very top of Kaua‘i in the amazing Alaka‘i Swamp. This is both the oldest and lushest of the Hawaiian islands with a diverse avifauna. Kaua‘i also has more endemics than any other island other than the “Big Island”, with up to eight of these rare specialties possible. The sickle-billed, sunbird-like ‘I‘iwi is found here in good numbers and endemic “honeycreepers” include the siskin-like ‘Akeke‘e, the nuthatch-like ‘Akikiki, and the warbler-like ‘Anianiau and Kaua‘i ‘Amakihi. The Kaua‘i ‘Elepaio (a species of monarch) and the Puaiohi (a species of solitaire) are other endemics that we’ll be searching for.
Day 6: Kaua‘I to Maui. Today we fly to Maui, the second largest of the islands, where we will spend two nights, here we have another chance to view the endangered Hawaiian Petrels as they fly around their borrows at dusk. Getting close-up views of the distinctive endemic “Silver Sword” plants will be a highlight for many with a botanical bent.
Day 7–8: Waikamoi, Maui. Maui has some of the rarest birds on the planet, and with such incredible birds as Maui Parrotbill and ‘Akohekohe (Crested Honeycreeper) to see, we’ve given ourselves two full days at this unique location in order to find them. Protected by large fences and an extensive boardwalk system, this Nature Conservancy Reserve is undoubtedly the most pristine part of the islands we’ll visit. We have renewed chances to see Nene, as well as the nuthatch-like Maui ‘Alauahio.
Day 9: Mauna Kea, Hawai‘i. After a brief flight to the southeast, we’ll find ourselves on the “Big Island”, Hawai‘i. Hawai‘i has more endemics than any of the other islands, so we’ll spend three nights on the island. We’ll head directly up to dry forest in the higher elevations to search for some of the island’s harder endemics. Hawaiian Hawk is seen here with regularity, as is the grosbeak-like Palila and the “Mauna Kea” ‘Elepaio. Kalij Pheasant (from the Himalayan foothills) and Erckel’s Francolin (from Ethiopia) also live here. In wetter forest we’ll keep our fingers crossed for a sighting of the incredible ‘Akiapola‘au. This odd bird, with stout, chisel-like lower mandible (for pecking open wood) and a long, thin, flexible hook of an upper mandible (for extracting food) must be seen to be believed.
Days 10-11: Hawai‘i. Again, we’ve given ourselves two days in order to maximize our chances of seeing all of the endemics. We may visit Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge, which includes a nice patch of high-elevation cloudforest. Island endemics await in the form of Hawai‘i ‘Amakihi, Hawai‘i Creeper, and ‘Oma‘o. Though the island endemics may be patterned in subdued shades of yellow, green, and brown, the vibrant crimson and vermilion shades of the ‘I‘iwi, the ‘Apapane, and the ‘Akepa should help to brighten things up. Don’t expect them to jump out at you though—they’re amazingly camouflaged among the red blossoms of the native ‘Ohi‘a lehua trees. Depending on our luck with the birds, we may have time to explore the island’s geological wonders; Hawai‘i has some of the most active volcanoes on earth, and volcano watching here is second to none.
Day 12: Departure. The tour ends this morning in Kona, where you will meet your departing flights.
CLIMATE: Warm and humid in the lowlands, cool in the highlands. Rain is not unexpected.
DIFFICULTY: Moderate. There will be some mildly challenging hikes in the Alaka‘i, but these are necessary to get to the harder endemics. They are, however, optional. Most other birding is from roads or well-traveled and maintained trails.
ACCOMMODATION: Very good to excellent.