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Sunbird – Itinerary

Hawaii: Rainbow of Birds

Sunday 29 August to Wednesday 8 September 2021
with Gavin Bieber and Mandy Talpas as leaders
Wednesday 16 February to Saturday 26 February 2022
with Gavin Bieber and Mandy Talpas as leaders

Maximum group size: 11 with 2 leaders

2021 Tour Price : £5,070

  • Single Room Supplement : £1,020
  • Plus flights estimated at : £930

Just one of these islands’ many fascinating endemics, the peculiar Nene or Hawaiian Goose stalks the lava flows on partially webbed feet. Photo: Narca Moore-Craig

It might be the 50th state, but birding in Hawaii feels totally unlike being in the United States. Without vagrancy, no remote islands would have landbirds. Here, on one of the world’s most remote archipelagos, the chance arrival of far-flung waifs – a finch, a solitaire, and a monarch flycatcher – led to mind-blowing adaptive radiation that resulted in the evolution of some very unique species. The ancestral finch, for example, gave rise to the Hawaiian Honeycreepers which have developed a huge range of shapes, sizes, and especially bills – from curlew-like curves for probing cavities to grosbeak-like seed-smashers. Some argue the honeycreepers even put “Darwin’s Finches” to shame.

This evolution, fueled by ‘island biogeography’ where species evolved to fill open niches thanks to the pressures of isolation, has led to some truly unique birds that can be found nowhere else in the world. Unfortunately, the one variable that these species have had a tough time adapting to is Man. Since the first Polynesians arrived in the islands, introduced species, diseases, hunting, and habitat loss have only increased. This tour will celebrate those species that continue to survive despite the myriad of threats. We hope to raise awareness and spur more support for conservation, and to marvel at some of the most unique species in the world. And let’s be brutally honest here – we may simply not have time to wait much longer to see some of these amazing creatures.

On the other hand, by working to reduce threats of introduced predators such as cats, mongoose, rats, these seabirds and waterbirds are not only surviving but, in some areas, thriving too! From the once critically-endangered Nene (Hawaiian Goose), this state’s bird has staged a dramatic comeback. In some areas, native waterbirds such as the endemic Hawaiian Duck (Koloa Maoli) and Hawaiian Coot (‘Alae Ke’oke’o), endemic subspecies of Black-necked (Hawaiian) Stilt (‘Ae’o), Black-crowned Night-Heron (‘Auku’u), and Common (Hawaiian) Gallinule (‘Alae ‘Ula) are numerous. Thanks to fencing and conservation efforts some of the pelagic species, that return only to the Hawaiian Islands to nest, are recovering. While we will not shy away from understanding and discussing the problems for native birds, we will also relish in the hope of promising new efforts and strategies.

Meanwhile, the developed lowlands, full of introduced vegetation from around the world, is teeming with a host of introduced birds from all corners of the globe. Despite the unnatural state of these areas and their new avian denizens, we will enjoy them – from the smallest waxbills and finches to the largest francolins. 

We’ll further our exploration and understanding of an area through its food. From quick and convenient “plate-lunches” to fine dining and the international fusion that makes up modern Hawaiian cuisine.

Day 1: The trip begins on Oahu this evening at 5:00pm in the lobby of our group hotel where we will have an introductory meeting and dinner. Night in Waikiki. 

Day 2: We’ll begin our birding from right out the front door of our hotel, where White Terns (Manu-o-Ku) will be wheeling over Queen Kapiolani Park. Pacific Golden-Plovers should be patrolling the field edges, and everywhere we look there will be a wealth of introduced birds, such as Common Myna, Red-crested Cardinal, Red-vented Bulbul, Yellow-fronted Canary, Java Sparrow, Common Waxbill, Spotted Dove, Zebra Dove, and Rose-ringed Parakeet. After the park we will leave the city behind and head a bit inland for our first taste of forest birding.  We’ll first seek out Oahu’s only endemic species of honeycreeper, the Oahu Amakihi.  Later in the day we’ll concentrate in a coastal forested valley, where along a short but somewhat steep trail we will hopefully encounter the engaging (and endangered) Oahu Elepaio, a species of Monarch Flycatcher.  Not all of the introduced species on the island prefer city parks, and while on our endemic bird adventure we should also encounter Whtie-rumped Shama, noisy flocks of Red-billed Leiothrix, an occasional Red-whiskered Bulbul, or chattering Warbling White-eyes.  Night in Waikiki.

Day 3: Today we’ll journey up the picturesque windward side to experience the serenity of Oahu’s Northern Shore in search of visiting shorebirds, such as the Wandering Tattler and sought-after Bristle-thighed Curlew (Kioea). While cruising the coastline, famous for world class surf beaches and secluded coves with basking sea turtles, we are sure to find some flashy finches, such as the Saffron Finch and Chestnut Munia. The North Shore is also home to some of the last family farms on Oahu with crops of coffee, cacao, eggplant, papaya, pineapple, apple banana, and even scattered shrimp farms with endemic Hawaiian Coot (‘Alae Ke‘oke‘o) and three endemic subspecies: Common (Hawaiian) Gallinule (‘Alae ‘Ula), Black-necked (Hawaiian) Stilt (‘Ae‘o), and Black-crowned Night-Heron (‘Auku‘u).  Depending on our timing, we may spend the evening seawatching for the likes of Wedge-tailed Shearwater (‘Ua‘u Kani), Brown Noddy (Noio Koha), and Brown and Red-footed Boobies (‘A). We’ll keep a close eye on the Rare Bird Alerts for any exciting vagrants, which can come from either side of the vast Pacific!  Night in Waikiki.

Day 4: Following breakfast we will head to the airport for a mid-morning flight to Lihue, on the Garden Isle of Kauai. We’ll immediately be struck by the contrast between the urban Honolulu area and this lush and mostly rural island with its small population and extensive forests. Along Kauai’s North Shore we will stop at the famous Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, where the stunning coastline should host Red-footed and Brown Boobies, spectacular Red-tailed and White-tailed tropicbirds, leisurely soaring Great Frigatebirds and the majestic Laysan Albatross. Because Kauai is miraculously free of mongooses, native waterbirds are much more abundant here than on any other of the main Hawaiian Islands and we should enjoy up close views of Hawaii’s state bird, the Nene, and the more subdued Hawaiian Duck. Night in Lihue

Day 5: Today we’ll get an early start to drive up the challenging two-tracks into the rainforest. Soon enough we will arrive in the lush jade valleys of Koke‘e State Park, surely one of the most breathtaking landscapes in all of Hawai‘i.  Here we’ll spend much of the day on a moderate hike (a few short challenging stretches but mostly level) where Kauai ‘Elepaio, Kauai ‘Amakihi, and ‘Apapane are likely, and the increasingly scarce ‘Anianiau still a possibility. Unfortunately there is now only a remote chance of the truly rare ‘Akeke‘e due to the continuing collapse of Kauai’s forest birds. Some non-native forest birds should be about as well, such as wild Red Junglefowl, Erkel’s Francolin, the skulky Japanese Bush Warbler and melodious Chinese Hwamei. Night in Lihue.

Day 6: This morning will offer a second chance to head into the forest for any accessible missing Kauai endemics and perhaps the rare and beautiful Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush. We’ll search a few waterbird refuges for residents and migrants, and perhaps even have a few hours of R&R (you are on vacation, after all!).  In the afternoon we’ll take a flight over to the Big Island’s west coast and the town of Kona.  It’s really amazing how different each Hawaiian island is, and as we find ourselves traveling from one of the oldest of the main islands to the youngest in the archipelago, we’ll see another contrast. In fact, it’s so young that it’s still being built, with near-constant activity from one volcano.  Night in Kona.

Day 7: We’ll awake for our first morning on the big island and head inland to the incomparable Hakalau Forest Reserve, truly the mecca for Hawaiian Honeycreeper diversity.  We’ll spend the day exploring the reserve, a publicly restricted site that is home to many of Hawaii’s endangered plants, native arthropods, and endemic birds. Some of the particularly noteworthy birds here include Hawaii Creepers, gorgeous day-glow orange Akepas, stunning long billed Akiapolaau, Hawaiian Hawk, and Omao (Hawaii Island’s endemic thrush).  Our visit should coincide with the blooming period of the ancient Ohia trees, with beautiful I’iwi, Hawaii Amakihi, and Apapane all foraging over the bright red blossoms.  Night in Kona.

Day 8: For our second day on the big island we will concentrate on a quest for Hawaii Elepaio and the critically endangered Palila.  On our way up to the sub-alpine dry forests of Mamanae and Sandalwood, we will bird along Saddle Road, keeping a lookout for the endemic subspecies of Short-eared Owl, and introduced Eurasian Skylark, Chukar, California Quail, Wild Turkey, and Black and Gray francolins. After some time seeking out our two endemic targets we will head down the slopes of Mauna Kea and drive to Waikoloa in search of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse.  The Kona area is also home to a variety of introduced species such as Red-masked Parakeet, African Silverbill, Saffron Finch, and Yellow-billed Cardinals.  Night in Kona

Day 9: Today will bring a change of pace, as we embark on a pelagic birding trip from Honokohau Harbour.   While onboard we will keep watch for a wide array of seabirds including Black and Brown Noddies, Sooty Tern, Wedge-tailed and Sooty Shearwaters, and Bulwer’s Petrel.  Along with this nice suite of expected birds we may encounter some of the rarer local species such as Masked Booby, Hawaiian, Black-winged, Mottled, White-necked and Juan Fernandez Petrels, Newell’s and Christmas Shearwaters, Leach’s or Band-rumped Storm Petrel, all three jaegar species, South Polar Skua, and a array of possible cetacean species.  Night in Kona

Day 10: Today will be a relaxing one, with the day spent leisurely checking several spots around the southwest coast of the big island.  There will likely still be a few introduced birds to look for, such as Black Francolin, Indian Peafowl, Red Avadavat and Lavender Waxbill.  We’ll likely stop at the Aimakapa Ponds and the Kealakehe Wastewater Treatment Plant where we should encounter a nice mix of wading birds and waterfowl. It’s hard to predict what species might be here, with recent records of vagrants including Tufted Duck and Garganey.  After a picnic lunch near the coast we might take a stroll along the Kaloko-Honokahua coastline at low tide, where amongst the tidepools we might spot passing Green Sea Turtles, a fitting end to our week and a half long journey across the wonderland that is Hawaii.  Night in Kona.

Day 11: Flights home.

Note: Although there are endemic landbirds on the island of Maui, there is not – at this time – any opportunity for commercial tours to take birders into the forest reserves.  All the endemic waterbirds and landbirds can be seen on other islands, and therefore this tour does not include a visit here.

Updated: 17 November 2020