Wednesday 15 November 2023

Oahu - Day 3

Anyone who has been to Hawaii will know that it is for the most parts a zoo as far as the birds are concered, with the majority of the species you see having been introduced. The real birding spots are few and far between, with the endemic Honeycreepers confined to higher elevations where native forests still cling on and mosquitoes can't (yet) reach. Oahu has a couple of these endemics left, and the best place to see them is the 'Aiea Loop trail, which is reached by travelling east from Honolulu more or less opposite Pearl Harbour. The area is gated, a National Park, and opens at 7am so a little bit after first light - you can expect a short queue of vehicles filled with hikers and joggers, but very few birders. We birded as we waited, with our first Red-crowned Parrots of the trip on their morning commute at around 6.40am, and some relatively tame White-rumped Shama around the nearby gardens. Once open you continue in your car up the slope on a one way loop. We parked as close to the trailhead as we could, so at about 1pm on a clockface, but on reflection it would better to have left it at one of the lower car parks at, say, 3pm, so that we were not faced with a final climb at the very end.

White-rumped Shama. Another introduction.

It's a long walk! We covered nearly five miles doing the whole loop and there is fair amount of up and down to cope with. I am not as young as I once was! The big target here is the Oahu Elepaio, a type of Flycatcher, which has endemic status on Kauai as well as Big Island (Hawaii) - this would be my third and final one. Also present in this area of native habitat are Oahu Amakihi, which also has a cousin on Hawaii, and Apapane which has a wider distribution across the chain. There was also an outside chance of Mariana Swiflet, although this is an introduction from Guam. I had researched this fairly thoroughly and marked several specific spots along the trail that prior ebirders had noted with coordinates. Remarkably  this came good at only the second such spot, with a showy pair feeding a fledged juvenile. I had been expecting to dip so this was seriously good news and a big relief. Unfortunately it was very dark making photographing them pretty difficult.

Oahu Elepaio

Oahu Amakihi

The rest of the trail saw us pick up numerous Oahu Amakihi, but strangely we only heard Apapane and could never track them down. I guess of the three native birds these were the two I wanted, but the missing one would have been a tick for Mick. Non-native birds included Chestnut Munia, Warbling White-eye, Red-billed Leiothrix and Red-whiskered and Red-vented Bulbul. At around the halfway stage it is worth noting that there is a magnificent view over the Halawa Valley, the raised section of the Freeway is particularly striking as it curves into the distance. From my perspective the plants were almost as exciting as the birds, especially as the final stages of the loop were pure Araucaria forest with trees in all stages of development from tiny saplings just growing their first leaves to slender giants a hundred feet tall - again not native but regardless one of my favourite trees on the planet. We arrived at the end of the loop exhausted, hot and dehydrated, and the had to slog it uphill and back to the super-heated car!

Once we had recovered we wound our way down to Honolulu and picked up the H3 road we had been gazing down upon to take us to the east side of the island. Here we visited the Nu-upia Ponds just outside the Marine Corps Base and successfully picked up Black Noddy (the best place on the island to do so) as well as Wandering Tattler which was new for the trip. Hamakua Marsh and the Ka'elepulu Wetlands were a litlle uninspiring as access wasn't really possible, or not that we could work out, but we stoof as the edge to see what we could find - mostly Hawaiian Coot, Cattle Egret, American Moorhen and then all the usual introduced suspects.

Red-crested Cardinal from.....South America!

We then enjoyed a great seawatch from Sandy Beach Dunes Park, with thousands of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters passing at a hundred a minute, Brown Noddy, the three Booby species (Red-footed, Brown and Masked), and several Sooty Tern including a possibly unwell juvenile that landed right next to us in the car park. A scope would have made this final hour truly epic, but packing light we had not brought one - I must buy a travel scope one of these days, it would be transformative. As it was we had to use the cameras to take photos of distant specks, and by then studying the back of the camera through inverted binoculars we could confirm that we had indeed seen Masked BoobyA fairly long drive back to the North Shore for our establised food truck and one small beer routine ended a great and very successful day.

Sooty Tern

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