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Iiwi at Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge. © Jonathan Slifkin

Birding Oahu, Kauai, and Hawaii

March 6–15, 2023

Leader: Mandy Talpas

Participants: David & Betsy Lang, Jeff & Carol Sole, Hal & Kirsten Snyder, Jonathan Slifkin

In what was surely one of the most successful Hawaiian birding tours ever operated, our group
of eight managed to see and photograph every Hawaiian endemic that still occurs on the three
islands we visited. The details of this success are very historically specific. As of now, some birders
still remember seeing such species as Hawaiian Crow, Kamao, and Ou in the wild, none of which
appear on our trip list. In years to come, seeing Puaiohi, Akikiki, and Palila in the wild, as our
group did, will likewise prove to be an irreproducible achievement. For my part, the prospect of
a “last chance” to see the world’s most endangered birds was both sobering to contemplate and
thrilling to realize. To see the birds of Hawaii is not just to add a handful of ticks to a lifelist. It is
to witness the world’s most remarkable adaptive radiations in still living reality, and it is a
privilege which I hope more birders will seize the opportunity to experience for themselves.

Many thanks are due to Mandy Talpas, who designed, organized, and operated our tour almost
singlehandedly. Our birding successes were a product of her experience, resourcefulness, hard
work, and superhuman hearing. Mandy is also to be credited for her extensive work in Hawaiian
bird conservation. It is a great boon to visiting birders that Mandy does not regard birding as
inimical to bird conservation but, on the contrary, works committedly that each pursuit might
support the other. It is also my hope that this commitment eventually comes to prevail in Hawaii
as it does in much of the world, to the benefit of its birds and all of us who value their existence.

March 7, 2023. The first birding stop of the tour was Kapiolani Park across from our hotel in
Honolulu, the only active breeding site in the main Hawaiian Islands for White Tern. We saw two
individuals perching in a tree, plus additional birds flying over. Other species included wintering
Pacific Golden-Plovers and introduced Java Sparrows and Rose-ringed Parakeets.

We next headed up to the road near the Manoa Cliffs trailhead to see our first Hawaiian
honeycreeper and our first of Oahu’s two surviving single-island endemics, the Oahu Amakihi.
The amakihis were vocally conspicuous amidst the similarly colored Warbling White-eyes, and
one individual descended from the misty canopy to low flowers at least twice for better views.
Back down at the coast, we stopped at Paiko Lagoon to see waders and waterfowl including our
first “Hawaiian” Black-necked Stilts and “Hawaiian” Common Gallinule, then took poke lunches
to Lanai Lookout. Here the top attraction was the Red-tailed Tropicbirds that breed at and around
this location, which were joined by Sooty Terns, a Brown Booby, and some wintering shorebirds.

Breeding seabirds of Oahu, White Terns and Red-tailed Tropicbird. © Mandy Talpas


Oahu’s two surviving endemics, Oahu Amakihi and Oahu Elepaio. © Hal & Kirsten Snyder.

Finally, we were off to see the second of Oahu’s endemics and the species prominently featured on Mandy’s t-shirt and earrings, the Oahu Elepaio. Although elepaios (a Hawaiian endemic genus of monarch flycatcher) are not as threatened by habitat loss and avian diseases as many Hawaiian honeycreepers, the species on Oahu is nonetheless endangered primarily due to nest predation by rats. We were fortunate enough to be able to visit a nest at a secret site known to Mandy from her conservation work with this species. Once we located the nest, we quickly spotted the pair—a long-monitored male with multiple leg bands and a young female—flitting around and visiting the nest at regular intervals. We even confirmed from Kirsten’s photographs the presence of two young nestlings. On the way out, we had good views of Red-billed Leiothrix as heavier rain set in. Dinner in Honolulu featured beignets and a rare sighting of Mandy’s partner Jethro.

March 8, 2023. Our top target for the day was the Bristle-thighed Curlew, a species whose most accessible wintering site is on Oahu’s north shore. On our way there, we counted hundreds of Sooty Terns among other seabirds and introduced species along the coast, and we stopped at a very sunny and windy Kaelepulu Wetland to see our first endemic Hawaiian Coots, resident Black-crowned Night-Herons, migrant Lesser Scaup, and more gallinules and stilts. At the overgrown Kahuku Golf Course we found multiple curlews, including one that sat up on a post and seemed to fall asleep as we approached it. We continued walking to the old Japanese cemetery adjacent to James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge, where we saw more curlews at a greater distance.

A Bristle-thighed Curlew strolls across the golf course. © Mandy Talpas

As our curlew quest involved a decent amount of walking, Mandy was impressed by the fitness level of our group and started to devise an ambitious new plan for our next few days on Kauai. Our existing itinerary did not give us a realistic chance to see the three rarest of Kauai’s endemic birds, the Puaiohi, Akikiki, and Akekee, which at this point in history were only seen with any regularity along the steep and muddy Mohihi–Waialae Trail into the Alakai Swamp. On the one hand, Mandy had never taken a group into this trail, nor was it officially open for commercial tourism. On the other hand, these species were sure to be the next entries in a long series of Hawaiian extinctions—indeed, we had good reason to believe, based on efforts by the Kauai Forest Bird Recovery Project (KFBRP) to take all surviving Akikiki into captivity, that the Akikiki would be extinct in the wild within the year—making this trip our literal last chance to see them. Having weighed these considerations, the group agreed to reschedule birding plans and suspend normal tour operations for our one full day on Kauai, in exchange for a visit to the Mohihi trail.

Apapane at Kokee State Park. © Jonathan Slifkin

March 9, 2023. We flew to Kauai in the morning, where Mandy’s new hire Maria picked us up. In accordance with our newly redesigned itinerary, instead of starting on the north shore, we dropped our bags at the hotel and drove to Kokee State Park for forest birding. We made one stop at a Waimea Canyon lookout point for the view, as well as distant White-tailed Tropicbirds and dubiously countable Red Junglefowl. Once we arrived at Kokee, flowering ohia trees in the parking lot attracted numerous Apapane and the Kauai endemic Anianiau, although we managed only a brief view of Kauai Elepaio. Forays down the road and along a couple of side trails produced more encounters with the inquisitive and still fairly common elepaio, and our first views of Erckel’s Spurfowl far from its natural habitat in the Horn of Africa, but no sign of the Kauai Amakihi for the time being.

March 10, 2023. While Betsy and Carol decided to take a more relaxed day at the resort, the rest of us set off for the Mohihi–Waialae trail early in the morning. Upon arriving at the trailhead we noticed two official-looking vehicles parked there, a likely indication that, just as we had feared, conservationists were at that very moment attempting to capture the few remaining Akikiki along the trail and intentiona

Intrepidly fording the stream at the start of the Mohihi trail. © Jeffery Sole

The trail started off with a stream crossing and a series of uphill switchbacks. David and Kirsten decided to hang back as the remaining four of us maintained a rapid pace in order to reach the prime birding areas further along the trail in good time. As we walked we heard Kauai Amakihi and saw more Kauai Elepaio, Apapane, and Anianiau. We also heard Chinese Hwamei and Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush, and we wondered if the presence of these two introduced species in this remote area was another symptom of the disappearance of Kauai’s native birds.

The two most common Kauai endemics, Kauai Elepaio and Anianiau. © Mandy Talpas and Jeffery Sole

A clearing with two rain gauges just shy of the 2-mile marker served as a convenient resting point. Here we were stunned to find an Akekee calling and feeding in low canopy adjacent to the clearing. It emerged repeatedly for photographic opportunities before flying off. This species is critically endangered—the latest (and possibly optimistic) estimates placing its global population at 600—and arguably more difficult to see even than the rarer Akikiki due to its nomadic habits. Mandy herself had not seen one in four years and was very moved by our sighting. Further along, the trail grew steeper, narrower, and muddier. We heard our first Puaiohi calling down a nearly vertical ravine which we did not attempt to access. Thankfully the trail soon leveled off and after a bit of frantic chasing we caught up with two Puaiohi feeding low on ohia fruit.

Two of the world’s most endangered birds, Akekee and Puaiohi. © Mandy Talpas and Jonathan Slifkin


The Iiwi, nearly extirpated from Kauai, and the endemic Kauai Amakihi. © Jonathan Slifkin


One of the last surviving Akikiki. © Jonathan Slifkin


Energized by our sweeping success, we raced back down the trail, stopping only to Facetime
Mandy’s mentor Reggie David on the Big Island to share our news. Near the bottom, we met up
again with David and Kirsten, who had made it up to the rain gauge clearing and had also had
good views of Kauai Amakihi. We arrived back at the hotel in time for dinner.

Mandy considered hiding our eBird checklist but decided against it. The birds we saw were not
locked away in a restricted area, nor had we received or used any information from KFBRP or
anyone else that we were bound to keep secret. If the doom of the Akikiki had already been
pronounced, the least we could do was to provide information and encouragement to other
birders who might still be able to experience this bird in the wild just as we had done.


Endemic waterfowl, Hawaiian Duck, and Hawaiian Goose. © Jonathan Slifkin and David Lang

March 11, 2023. In the early morning, part of the group visited the Kuamoo–Nounou Trail for
improved views of Chinese Hwamei and Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush. Afterward, we all
checked out of our hotel and continued to Kauai’s north shore. Our first stop was a road into
Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge, where the star bird was the endangered endemic Hawaiian
Duck. The last natural (i.e., non-reintroduced) and genetically intact populations of this species
occur on Kauai; otherwise, the species is facing destruction from rampant hybridization with feral
mallards, as evidenced by the intermediate-looking birds that we had already seen on Oahu. We
also saw our first of many reintroduced Hawaiian Goose (Nene) among other wetland species.


Breeding seabirds of Kauai, Laysan Albatross, and Red-footed Booby. © Mandy Talpas and Hal & Kirsten Snyder

Our next stop was the resort town of Princeville to visit the Laysan Albatrosses who nest in this
unlikely-looking suburban setting. We found multiple individuals sitting in lawns and driveways.
We also saw one chick with signs of avian pox infection, but based on Mandy’s experience with
this species we were optimistic that it would recover and survive to adulthood.

Our final birding stop of the day was Kilauea Point, where we were entertained by an abundance
of breeding Red-footed Boobies, more albatrosses, Great Frigatebirds, both Red-tailed and
White-tailed Tropicbirds, and even a Hawaiian Monk Seal lazing on the shoreline below us.
We stopped briefly for our first Ring-necked Pheasant on the way out, then drove to the airport
in Lihue and flew to Kona on the Big Island.

March 12, 2023. Our Big Island birding began at the Kealakehe Wastewater Treatment Plant
where we saw some more wintering waders and waterfowl, including shovelers, pintails, both
American and Eurasian Wigeons, and White-faced Ibis. We spent more time along the road and
at a few other sites looking for exotic species, including Black and Gray Francolins, African
Silverbill, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse (spotted by Hal at the Waikoloa Skatepark), and Red
Avadavat. We also had two distant Short-eared Owls along Saddle Road.

However, the real priority of the day was the critically endangered Palila, a distinctive thick-billed
honeycreeper specialized for foraging on mamane seeds in Hawaii’s nearly vanished dry forests.
The Palila Discovery Trail at Puu Laau was once home to multiple family groups of Palila which
were readily observed by visiting birders. Then, in the last few years, drought conditions led to
the near total disappearance of Palila from this area, an especially concerning development given
how little suitable habitat for this species remained in the first place. In the week or two before
our group’s arrival, however, small numbers of Palila had once again been repeatedly observed
along the trail, so we were hopeful that this recent spate of sightings would continue.



Hawaiian Hawk. © David Lang Hawaii Amakihi. © Jonathan Slifkin

As we arrived at the trail, we spotted a Hawaiian Hawk flying by with a piece of nesting material,

and along the trail, we found Hawaii Amakihis and a pair of Hawaii Elepaios of the white-marked
Mauna Kea form. Although Mandy heard what sounded like the calls of a Palila at least three
times, she explained that an influx of introduced House Finches to this area, which have been
observed to mimic Palila, had compromised the reliability of her auditory birding methods.

After hours of searching, we were about ready to give up, and it was only once we started
trying for Japanese Bush Warbler instead, near the trailhead, that a Palila decided to fly over
us and pose on a bare branch. After lunch, most of us returned to the trail to try again for the
warbler, and even good views (and photos for Jeff) of this skulking introduced species were overshadowed
by two more Palila encounters, including spectacular views of one showing off its distinctive
foraging method, picking and stripping a mamane seedpod, and then delivering its full song.

Our Palila with a bit of green mamane seedpod on its bill. © Jonathan Slifkin



Mandy before Palila. © Jeffery Sole Mandy after Palila. © Jonathan Slifkin

March 13, 2023. Our destination for the day was the Pua Akala tract of Hakalau Forest National
Wildlife Refuge, where entry is by permit only. A confluence of factors, including Hakalau’s
elevation (too high for the introduced mosquitoes that transmit avian malaria) and effective
forest conservation (featuring a huge diversity of native plants amidst some centuries-old ohia
trees), make Hakalau the only site in Hawaii where native bird populations are on the rise.

As usual in Hawaii, before getting to the good birds there were plenty of ridiculous introduced
species to be found. Along the road we had Chukar, Kalij Pheasant, and California Quail.



Akiapolaau. © Jonathan Slifkin Hawaii Creeper. © Jonathan Slifkin

After passing through two access gates and sanitizing our gear, we parked in a sunny, Nene-filled
field and headed for the forest. At the forest edge, amidst an abundance of Hawaii Amakihi,
Mandy recognized the loud call of a young Akiapolaau and led us (carefully, so as not to step on
any native plants) to a family group of three, showing off their bizarrely decurved mandibles.
Here we also had our first Hawaii Creepers, doing their best nuthatch impressions at close range.


Hawaii Akepa. © Jonathan Slifkin Omao. © Hal & Kirsten Snyder

Along the trail, Mandy continued to pick out the sounds of our target birds over the din of Iiwis
and Apapanes, including a skittish Omao and several Hawaii Akepas, one showing relatively low
and then more in the canopy. We were also glad to run into Jack Jeffrey, Mandy’s mentor and a
veteran biologist who is responsible for much of Hakalau’s conservation success.


Iiwi. © Mandy Talpas Hawaii Elepaio. © Jonathan Slifkin

We had lunch at some sitting logs where we were joined
by two more Omaos. As we headed back
up the trail, an Iiwi finally decided to visit some low-down ohia flowers for good photo
opportunities. We also found a showy pair of Hawaii Elepaios of the brown and rufous-toned Hilo
coast form. Having finished off our final endemic targets, we returned to our vehicle and
departed just as the afternoon rain started to set in.

Birding at Hakalau on the east slope of Mauna Kea. © Jeffery Sole

March 14, 2023. We headed to Honokohau harbor for our pelagic trip with Bite Me Sportfishing
Charters, joined there by Mandy’s mentor Reggie, friend and local birder Ron, deckhand Connor,
and a new boat captain.

After a slightly late start, essentially the first two birds we saw were a booby—originally called
Red-footed, then Masked, but eventually revealed by our photographs to be an orange-billed
Nazca Booby—and a petrel, determined after back-of-the-camera analysis to be a pale-morph
Kermadec Petrel, with a mostly white head and diagnostic white shafts on the upper surface of
the primaries. Both species are notably rare off of Kona, with one Nazca Booby recorded here in
2019 and one Kermadec Petrel recorded by Reggie back in 1993.


Two Big Island rarities, Nazca Booby and Kermadec Petrel. © Jonathan Slifkin


Seasonal visitors to Hawaiian waters, Leach’s Storm-Petrel and Mottled Petrel. © Jonathan Slifkin

We continued offshore into choppy sea conditions for a while but were unable to get out as far
as we had hoped due to a conspicuous stormfront. Our good luck with Hawaii’s endemics finally
ran out and we didn’t see either of our dream targets, Newell’s Shearwater or Hawaiian Petrel,
which, while not endemic in the strictest sense given their wide, poorly-known ranges at sea,
breed only in Hawaii and are rarely seen elsewhere. However, we did see plenty of the Hawaiian
endemic form of Black Noddy, a possible future split. Other species included Leach’s StormPetrel, Bulwer’s Petrel, a sneaky Mottled Petrel that escaped our notice until photographic
review, Sooty Shearwater, and several pale-morph Wedge-tailed Shearwaters.

Cetaceans included “Hawaiian” Spinner Dolphins returning to the bay in the morning, Humpback
Whales, Short-finned Pilot Whales, and a large pod of rarely seen Melon-headed Whales.

Melon-headed Whales. © Jonathan Slifkin


Mandy had more excitement in store for us before dinner, smashing her taillight against a truck
while parking, but luckily the truck’s owner was more interested in asking her out than pursuing
an insurance claim. At our group’s last supper, we formally approved our pelagic identifications
and voted the Palila the bird of the trip.


Hawaiian Goose Branta sandvicensis (reintroduced birds on Kauai and at Hakalau)
Northern Shoveler Spatula clypeata
Eurasian Wigeon Mareca penelope
American Wigeon Mareca americana
Hawaiian Duck Anas wyvilliana
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos* (mix of domestic birds and Hawaiian Duck hybrids)
Northern Pintail Anas acuta
Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris
Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis
California Quail Callipepla californica*
Wild Turkey Meleagris gallopavo*
Ring-necked Pheasant Phasianus colchicus*
Kalij Pheasant Lophura leucomelanos*
Indian Peafowl Pavo cristatus*
Red Junglefowl Gallus gallus*
Gray Francolin Ortygornis pondicerianus*
Black Francolin Francolinus francolinus*
Chukar Alectoris chukar*
Erckel’s Spurfowl Pternistis erckelii*
Rock Pigeon Columba livia*
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis chinensis*
Zebra Dove Geopelia striata*
Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse Pterocles exustus*
Common Gallinule Gallinula galeata sandvicensis (endemic form, seen on Oahu and Kauai)
Hawaiian Coot Fulica alai
Black-necked Stilt Himantopus mexicanus knudseni (endemic form, extensively black-necked)
Pacific Golden-Plover Pluvialis fulva
Bristle-thighed Curlew Numenius tahitiensis
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres interpres
Sanderling Calidris alba (race uncertain)
Wandering Tattler Tringa incana
Black Noddy Anous minutus melanogenys (endemic form, with orange legs)
White Tern Gygis alba candida
Sooty Tern Onychoprion fuscatus oahuensis
White-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon lepturus dorotheae
Red-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon rubricauda melanorhynchos
Laysan Albatross Phoebastria immutabilis
Leach’s Storm-Petrel Hydrobates leucorhous leucorhous
Kermadec Petrel Pterodroma neglecta neglecta (one pale-morph bird, likely of nominate race)
Mottled Petrel Pterodroma inexpectata
Bulwer’s Petrel Bulweria bulwerii
Wedge-tailed Shearwater Ardenna pacifica chlororhyncha
Sooty Shearwater Ardenna grisea
Great Frigatebird Fregata minor palmerstoni
Nazca Booby Sula granti
Brown Booby Sula leucogaster plotus
Red-footed Booby Sula sula rubripes
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis*
Black-crowned Night-Heron Nycticorax nycticorax hoactli
White-faced Ibis Plegadis chihi
Hawaiian Hawk Buteo solitarius
Short-eared Owl Asio flammeus sandwichensis (endemic form, seen on Kauai and Hawaii)
Rose-ringed Parakeet Psittacula krameri*
Hawaii Elepaio Chasiempis sandwichensis bryani (Mauna Kea form, seen at Puu Laau)
Hawaii Elepaio Chasiempis sandwichensis ridgwayi (Hilo coast form, seen at Hakalau)
Kauai Elepaio Chasiempis sclateri
Oahu Elepaio Chasiempis ibidis
Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis*
Red-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus cafer*
Red-whiskered Bulbul Pycnonotus jocosus*
Japanese Bush Warbler Horornis diphone*
Warbling White-eye Zosterops japonicus*
Red-billed Leiothrix Leiothrix lutea*
Chinese Hwamei Garrulax canorus*
Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush Pterorhinus pectoralis*
Common Myna Acridotheres tristis*
Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos*
Omao Myadestes obscurus
Puaiohi Myadestes palmeri
White-rumped Shama Copsychus malabaricus*
African Silverbill Euodice cantans*
Java Sparrow Padda oryzivora*
Scaly-breasted Munia Lonchura punctulata*
Chestnut Munia Lonchura atricapilla*
Common Waxbill Estrilda astrild*
Red Avadavat Amandava amandava*
House Sparrow Passer domesticus*
Akikiki Oreomystis bairdi
Palila Loxioides bailleui
Apapane Himatione sanguinea
Iiwi Drepanis coccinea
Akiapolaau Hemignathus wilsoni
Anianiau Magumma parva
Hawaii Amakihi Chlorodrepanis virens virens
Oahu Amakihi Chlorodrepanis flava
Kauai Amakihi Chlorodrepanis stejnegeri
Hawaii Creeper Loxops mana
Akekee Loxops caeruleirostris
Hawaii Akepa Loxops coccineus
House Finch Haemorhous mexicanus*
Yellow-fronted Canary Crithagra mozambica*
Western Meadowlark Sturnella neglecta*
Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis*
Red-crested Cardinal Paroaria coronata*
Yellow-billed Cardinal Paroaria capitata*
Saffron Finch Sicalis flaveola*
* = introduced species
Hawaiian Monk Seal Neomonachus schauinslandi
Humpback Whale Megaptera novaeangliae
Short-finned Pilot Whale Globicephala macrorhynchus
Melon-headed Whale Peponocephala electra
Spinner Dolphin Stenella longirostris longirostris