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Birding Oahu

posted by Jeff Bilsky at
on Sunday, July 27, 2014 

Recently I had the opportunity to vacation on Oahu Island (Hawaii) and wasn't about to spend all my time sitting at a pool or on the beach; I wanted to go birding of course.

This was my first planned visit there and I really knew very little. My first step was to reach out to Ubird to see who knew what in terms of where to go and what to see. Many thanks to the multitudes of people who helped me out with tips and suggestions.

I soon gathered that Oahu and the rest of the Hawaiian islands were rampant with introduced species. I also found out that sadly, the endemics of the islands are almost all declining with many extinct or presumed extinct just in recent years. Knowing that I would only be on Oahu, I focused primarily on learning what I could about that specific island.

I divided my opportunities for birding into two different arenas. There were the ocean/shore birds and then there were the passerines. I had about a week to try to find the time to go after both while also having to balance time with family and relaxing. But I had a car and some spare time so I had to explore.

I ordered books called The Hikers Guide to O'Ahu as well as Hawaii's Birds, which became my essential study and planning tools. While on the island, I also picked up this pocket guide to Hawaii's birds and habitats - which also was of great interest to me and complemented the other two nicely. I strongly recommended all 3 for any birding trip to the island. 

I stayed in the southwest corner of the island, which put me away from the hustle and bustle of Honolulu and Waikiki Beach, which I later discovered was a good thing. Honolulu is insanely crowded and filled with traffic; it reminded me very much of when I lived in New York City. Worth checking out but nice to get away from as well.

My first bird sightings on Oahu were on the shuttle bus from the Airport to the rental car facility. I soon learned that Common Mynas were the Starlings of this island. They were everywhere! I also saw a pair of yellow birds feeding on the grass - which I identified as Saffron Finches. My birding was underway and just like that - 2 new lifers.

Common Mynas are indeed common on Oahu

On the drive to the hotel, I saw birds all over the place, zipping through the trees and over the freeway. As I was driving and had family members in the car, I wasn't able to do the normal crazy drive-birding I sometimes do so many were left as "unidentified". However, I was able to gather that there were a lot of Cattle Egrets around. At the hotel, as we unloaded the car, I saw many Zebra Doves, Spotted Doves and Red-vented Bulbuls. All were quite ubiquitous during my stay.

The next day, I wanted to get out and do my first exploring. My hiking guide book showed me that Ka'ena Point State Park and trail wasn't that far away. It also promised the possibility of sea birds and incredible views. This is the westernmost point on the island and a "legendary entrance to the underworld". Sounded perfect for a solo adventure.

The trail I chose lead me along the west shore of the island and out to the Northwest "point". Along the way, I started seeing some great sights and birds as shown below.

Ka'ena offered stunning views

Japanese white-eye - the name makes it a pretty quick ID

A sea arch 

A sign that I was on the right track for nesting sea birds

Northern Mockingbirds are another introduced species on the island

On my way to the point, I came across an ocean shore phenomenon called a blowhole. I was able to capture a video of it; you can hear what sounds like a whale surfacing but in fact it is just the water/air rushing through the rocks. Good thing I read about it or I might've spent some time looking for a large marine mammal.

As I got to the point, there was a predator proof fence running all the way down to the water and around the area in front of me. Later, I found out that Ka'ena's efforts with this fence are highly reknowned. I walked through the gate and began exploring, picking up several White-tailed Tropicbirds, a couple of Hawaiian Monk Seals, several Laysan Albatross, and a couple of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters. The area supports growing colonies of the Shearwaters and Albatross.

The predator-proof fence

This part reminded me of Jurassic Park 

The endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal; one of around 1,100 remaining 

Juvenile Laysan Albatross

White-tailed Tropicbird

Juvenile Laysan Albatross

I was able to get some video of a juvenile Albatross practicing at least the concept of flying.

I was lucky to spend another day birding with a friend (Sherry Liguori) and her coworkers who happened to be on the island as well for a work conference. We drove around the perimeter of most of the island, starting at Waikiki. Some highlights below which reflect a mix between native and introduced species.

A Red-tailed Tropicbird at Halona Blowhole

The Hawaiian Stilt (a subspecies of our Black-necked version) was cooperative at the Marine Corps Base of Hawaii

Red-crested Cardinal

The only Java Sparrows I saw on the trip

Zebra Doves were everywhere as well

The islands offshore here (Manana) served as Shearwater and Red-footed Booby colonies

Common Waxbill at Malaekahana State Rec Area

Cattle Egrets were pretty common 

I didn't get a photo of the following, but we got nice looks at a Black Noddy at the Marine Corp Base of Hawaii and a Hawaiian Coot at James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge - both good spots worth checking out.

Another recommendation I would make on a visit here, would be to hire a guide to take you kayaking. On another day, my family and I hired the good people at kailua sailboards to take us out for a paddle to an offshore island known as "Flat Island" which happened to hold a Wedge-tailed Shearwater colony as well. I was amazed at the very tame Shearwaters and their use of every nook, cranny, and bush on the small island to hide a nest and an egg.

Wedge-tailed Shearwaters were all over the small island

Unafraid Shearwaters

A Wedge-tailed Shearwater egg

So I had gotten a good view of the shoreline and the ocean birds, but I still needed to head to the mountain forests and look for some endemic passerines. I picked one of my last days on Oahu and found a good place to go in the 'Aiea Loop .  It was the highlight of my trip; thick forests, majestic views, and of course amazing bird life made it a hike to remember.

My main hope was to find the endemic songbirds that realistically could be found. Those included the endangered Oahu Elepaio and the more common Amakihi of the Hawaiian Honeycreeper family.  I also hoped to see the Apapane which is found on more than one island and I had the dream of rediscovering the thought-to-be-extinct Oahu Creeper. Below are photos/videos of what I found in the forest.

White-rumped Shama

Red Jungle Fowl

Oahu Elepaio

The unique song of the Oahu Elepaio can be heard at the beginning of this video

Oahu Amakihi

Amazing views on this trail

Red-billed Leiothrix

The 'Aiea Loop Trail

The Hawaiian forest 

To see more pictures and videos from my trip click here. In the end, I ended up with 24 lifers and lots of great memories. I can't wait to go back.

And finally, what recap of mine would be complete without a highlight video set to music? Good birding all...

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