Thirteen hours, State Forest Permits, National Wildlife Refuge Permits, and keys to private property all add up to an epic day of island adventuring. The pre-dawn to dusk day came about from a client request for a full day of private birding. He wanted to see as many of the native birds as possible and only had one day. A few minutes into the trip a Barn Owl flew across the road in front of us—a good birding omen. The sun was just beginning to lighten up the Hāmākua sky and we already had a bird on our day list.
Our first stop was at 7400’ elevation on Mauna Kea. A beautiful hoar frost squeaked underfoot as we searched for Palila and the Mauna Kea race of ‘Elepaio. My guest was amazed to be freezing and walking through frost in Hawai‘i. I bent down to rub some in my hands, a rare frosty treat. The birds didn’t disappoint, we found both birds quickly along with dozens of mewing ‘Amakihi. After a quick bit of breakfast, we travelled back down to the Saddle Road and made our way to Hakalau NWR.
When I left HFT headquarters a little before five a.m. that morning, I wasn’t sure about the weather. There was a chance strong trades would bring mauka showers. But, what greeted at us Keanakolu Road was one of the most brilliantly clear days I can ever remember on the windward side. The air had a clarity and crispness to it that made it seem possible to view individual homes in Hilo twenty miles below. Most spectacular though, was the scene across Mauna Loa’s east rift towards Kīlauea. From right to left, rising into a completely cloudless horizon where three great plumes of fume. At the far right was the great mass of gas emitting from the vent in Halema‘uma‘u, the middle plume rose as magma continues to degas from Pu‘u Ō‘ō crater on its way down rift, and finally, the large laze cloud climbed from the ocean as lava explosively collided with the sea. Pele’s impressive display stretched over a dozen miles across Kīlauea’s flank. Watching all three columns of volcanic gas rising up and carried away by the trade winds made it very, very obvious why we’ve had such voggy days in Kona over the last few months.
Seduced only for a few minutes by Pele’s sulfuric show, we quickly pressed on to the wet Koa/Ohia forest of Hakalau. Greeting us at the barn parking area was a lone Nēnē who was soon joined by five others who circled us twice before settling into the kikuyu grass. And before we had loaded our packs with lunch and water, a dark phase ‘I‘o glided through the eucalypts. We slowly made our way down Pua Akala meadow ticking off birds and enjoying the perfect weather and spellbinding forest of Hakalau. I‘iwi, ‘Apapane, ‘Ākepa, Hawai‘i Creeper, ‘Amakihi, ‘Elepaio and ‘Ōma‘o all paid us very kind visits with great viewing. It was just a little after 11 a.m. when a male ‘Ākiapōlā‘au sang. Soon we were watching a pair of Aki’s up close, completing our task at Hakalau. Figuring we could eat lunch on the road, we hiked back uphill to the truck and our next destination. I locked the gate on our way out at noon exactly, the earliest departure I’ve ever made out of the refuge. Next stop, Pu’u ‘Anahulu home to the Big Island Country Club.
The water features at the Big Island Country Club are always a productive birding stop. Five minutes out of the truck and we’d picked up ten new species including the native Hawaiian Coot who was paddling around the dreaded 17th island green. From there we travelled makai to Kīholo Bay hoping to find that the Bristle-thighed Curlews had returned for the season from the arctic. We didn’t see any curlews but the walk was redeemed by the gorgeous setting and no less than 25 Green Sea Turtles along the beach.
We finished our day in North Kohala. First at the staggering viewpoint known as Moku Lani Kila where commanding views from Pololū to Waipi‘o are had by those with keys to the private lands. And finally, with the last light of day, at Keokea Beach park we were treated to dozens of Black Noddys skimming the water on their way home for the night, and far out at sea the unmistakable flight patterns of Hawaiian Petrel and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters.
It was a great day of sightseeing, birdwatching, conversation, and walking. My guest was very excited and appreciative about his list for the day. A satisfied customer always makes me feel great, but the long day finally hit me once alone. As I headed back into Kona and saw the great gauze of vog enveloping the coast, I remembered that tremendous sight of Pele’s exhortations from earlier in the day. I think it’s the only time the sight of vog has brought a great smile to my face.
Tired yet content,
Posted by Rob Pacheco at 3:26:26 AM in Blogs by Rob Pacheco, HFT Founder (16) | Comments (1)
1. Lisa said…
Keanakolu, Halemaumau, Kiholo, & Moku Lani Kila What a day, I haven’t thought about or missed Hawaii until I read your blog. Enjoy for us who are no longer on island.