Monday, April 8th, 2019.
Getting to Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge was not an easy task. First, you have to board a late night flight to Los Angeles from Austin, wake up early the next morning and get on a flight to Maui, make a connecting flight to the Big Island, take a few breaths, drive and meet your guide at the Mauna Kea Recreation Area, drive another hour through the fog on a very bumpy winding road up the windward slope of Mauna Kea, all for a chance to hear and see Hawaiian forest birds.
The refuge was established back in 1985 to protect and manage rainforest habitat and endangered forest birds. Hiring a guide is the only way to get up there due to concerns over Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death, which has killed thousands of acres of mature ʻōhiʻa trees. We went with Lance Tanino who was a huge help in spotting the birds and the most difficult to photograph. Trying to remember the Hawaiian names of the birds was also very challenging.
We started our day at 7:30am and were back at our cars by 3:00pm. It takes a lot of time to find the birds well enough to see, but we also had plenty of time to just relax and take in the scenery up there. The weather conditions were great. We ran into another couple on a tour led by Jack Jeffrey, who takes some amazing photos of forest birds and makes me appreciate a good photograph after trying to capture ones for myself.
My favorite bird that we saw was the rare ‘aki that feeds on insect larva living under the bark of trees. The lower bill is short and straight while the upper bill is long and curved and while its mouth is opened it chisels holes into the tree bark, almost like the style of a woodpecker.
A list of birds we saw is as follows:
Hawaiian Goose (Nene) – endemic, endangered
Hawai’i ‘Elepaio – island endemic
‘Omao – island endemic
‘Apapane – endemic
I’iwi – endemic
‘Akiapola’au – island endemic, endangered
Hawai’i ‘Amakihi – island endemic
Hawai’i Creeper – island endemic, endangered
Hawai’i ‘Akepa island endemic, endangered
Other species we saw on our trip were the Hawaiian Hawk, Erckel’s Fracolin, Kalij Pheasant, Wild Turkey, Japanese White-eye, and the Red-billed Leiothrix.