The Day Before and the Day After the “Big Day” in Hawaii

The main reason for the trip to Hawaii was to spend time with my Grandson, Daughter, Son-in-Law and Sister in Maui.  Knowing I was going to be there, I planned a try to get my 25th state of 50 species in a single day.  Research suggested that it would be a challenge and the best way to do it would be to go with a guide on the Big Island of Hawaii.  After 4 fun days in Maui which included only some incidental birding, we were all heading off to different destinations.  My sister was going back to Seattle.  Grandson and parents were off to Honolulu where mom and dad were attending a medical conference, and I would be off to the Big Island.

Our flights were all scheduled for different times so my sister and I had a couple of hours to kill.  Top priority was to return to the Cowboy Town of Makawao where we remembered fabulous donuts from a visit 35 years ago.  The Komoda Store and Bakery was still in business – going on 104 years and the donuts were even better than remembered.  [Being snowed in in Edmonds today for who knows how long with Snowpocalypse 2019, a dozen or two of those donuts would be very welcomed!!]  Truly the best donuts anywhere…


Komoda Store


The Kanaha Pond is a great birding spot very close to the airport in Maui.  We had been there once before and returned for a last look before returning the rental car.  It is best known as a preserve for the Hawaiian Stilt – an endemic race of the Black Necked Stilt but is also a good place for the Hawaiian Coot and other birds.  The Hawaiian Stilt or Ae’o is readily identified by the extensive black on the side of the neck and face compared to our mainland version.  Many of the birds at the preserve are approachable and photo friendly.

Hawaiian Stilt — Ae’o

Hawaiian Stilt Head

Hawaian Stilt Flight

Also numerous and approachable are the Black Crowned Night Herons (Auk’u) and  Hawaiian Goose (Nene).  The latter were near extinction in 1951 due to predation by Mongoose and feral cats when a captive breeding program was started that has been very successful and the geese are now found in their original open country habitats as well as in city parks.

Black Crowned Night Heron (Auk’u)

Black Crowned Night Heron

Hawaiian Goose (Nene)

Nene Kanaha

There had been no intensive birding on Maui and I did not even visit birding hotspots and thus had only 22 species for the whole time there.  One of the most striking was the Red Crested or Brazilian Cardinal.  I saw one on this last day in Maui, but the much better photo is from the previous day at the I’ao Needle Monument.

Red Crested or Brazilian Cardinal

Red Crested Cardinal

Then it was back to the airport to drop off the rental car and catch my flight to the Big Island.  I think there was more time taxiing, ascending and descending than in level flight.  I arrived on Hawaii around 12:30 and by 1:00 p.m. I was on my way to Aimakapa Pond only about 5 miles south of the airport.  I had seen great reports from this Hotspot during my preliminary research and it was a planned stop on the actual Big Day on Thursday, but I wanted to test the waters so to speak.  It was a fabulous place.

In just over an hour at the Pond much of which was spent walking out from the visitor parking area, I had 23 species including four that were considered rare by Ebird.  Although much of the area is birdless black lava, there was some brush and there was both saltwater beach and the fresh or brackish water pond.  One of the rarities was a Black Bellied Plover that had been seen often but was still a lucky find.  It was one of 5 shorebird species there – a lot for Hawaii.  Others were Pacific Golden Plovers (which are abundant throughout the islands), Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone and Wandering Tattler.  Most of the birds were not people shy and the great light helped with photography.

Black Bellied Plover

Black Bellied Plover

Pacific Golden Plover

Pacific Golden Plover



Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone1

Wandering Tattler

Wandering Tattler

On the way out to the Pond I found my first Yellow Billed Cardinal.  It looked very much like a crestless Red Crested Cardinal but the yellow bill certainly jumps out and the red extends down onto the top of the chest on the latter which is black on this little beauty.

Yellow Billed Cardinal

Yellow Billed Cardinal1

Green Sea Turtles rest on the lava outcroppings at the ocean beach and are protected there.  They were the main attraction for the other visitors and hard to pass up for observation and photos for me as well.  One had been a highlight for my daughter when we snorkeled in Maui.  I had missed that one.  At one point the Wandering Tattler foraged within a foot or two of one of the turtles.  It moved on before I could get a picture.

Green Sea Turtle

Green Sea Turtle

As I was scanning the pond looking for ducks – rare in Hawaii – a pair of large birds flew by.  One landed and the other continued on.  These were the second of my rarities for the visit, a pair of White Faced Ibis.

White Faced Ibis

White Faced Ibis Flyiover1

White Faced Ibis1

I managed to find a Northern Shoveler and some Lesser Scaup but did not find the American Wigeon that had been reported off and on recently.  There were no Stilts but there were several Hawaiian Coots and a third rarity was a Laughing Gull that was resting in the shade.  This would be the only gull that I saw on my entire trip.  I read a comment somewhere that visitors are always surprised to not find gulls with all the water around, but the reality is that most gulls are found on or near large land masses and not islands far out at sea.

Hawaiian Coot

Hawaiian Coot

Laughing Gull

Laughing Gull1

No pictures, but another common bird here and throughout the trip was the Cattle Egret.  When I first arrived on Maui and saw one in flight I mistook it for a Snowy Egret and then realized that they are not found on the Islands although often misreported by mainlanders like me.  Not nearly as common as the Cattle Egrets, Black Crowned Night Herons are seen often and there were both adults and juveniles at this location.

Black Crowned Night Herons

Black Crowned Night Heron  Black Crowned Night Heron Juvenile

On the way back to the parking area I found two new birds for the trip – Yellow Fronted Canary and Common Waxbill.  I would see both later that day and on the next days as well.  A photo of the Canary comes later but as poor as it is, this is the best I could do for the Waxbill.

Common Waxbill

Common Waxbill1

As I was trying to get a photo of the Waxbills, I heard a raucous call that sure sounded like a parrot or parakeet.  None had been reported at this location, so I was quite surprised when I easily found a parakeet on top of a snag.  It was shortly joined by another.  The only species that came up on the Ebird list was a Red Fronted Parrot and at first I mistakenly reported them as that.  They were Red Masked Parakeets – as in many parts of the Continental U.S. fairly numerous but not yet recognized as a sustaining species.

Red Masked Parakeets

Red Fronted Parrots

It was barely 2:30 and my lodging in Waimea was less than an hour north.  Now what?  Including ones from earlier in the day, I had seen 31 species.  I wondered if I knew the area better if it would be possible to get to my magic 50 species…but I did not know it better so abandoned that idea.  I considered a seawatch.  Instead I decided to get some lunch (oh yeah, I had forgotten that) and head to Waimea.  My guide for the big day tomorrow had suggested a good birding area very near where I would be staying in Waimea and so I headed north.

I checked into the somewhat inaptly named Waimea Country Lodge.  Definitely adequate but no “Hawaii” to it except for the Red Junglefowl constantly crowing.  This is the predecessor/progenitor species for all domestic chickens.  It was brought to the Islands by the Polynesians many centuries ago.  There a few wild ones in a couple of forest parks on Kauai.  All others are feral – similar to the situation in the Florida Keys.  They call throughout the day and start very early.

Red Junglefowl


I then went to the Ulu La’au (Waimea Nature Park) – or tried to.  My Google Maps GPS took me close by but on the wrong side of a small stream.  With some local help, I figured it out and arrived at a lovely preserved area with a good trail.  There were lots of birds and lots of bird song but I had no idea what I was listening to except for the frequent calls of Spotted Doves, Zebra Doves and Northern Cardinals.   I am sure I missed lots of birds, and added only Java Sparrow, African Silverbill and Scaly Breasted Munia for the day.  I also had a much better look at Yellow Fronted Canaries.

I had seen all but the Munia earlier on Maui.  There were hundreds if not thousands of doves everywhere there.  I still have not seen a Spotted Dove in the ABA area – having just missed one at a Los Angeles park last year.  They are very attractive as is the much smaller Zebra Dove which fooled me into thinking it was a Mourning Dove on many occasions.

Scaly Breasted Munia

Scaly Breasted Munia3

Spotted Dove

Spotted Dove 2

Java Sparrow


Zebra Dove

Zebra Dove

Yellow Fronted Canary

Yellow Fronted Canary

At the end of the day I had seen 34 species.  Applying what I learned during the next two days, looking back now, I think it may have been possible to get an earlier flight from Maui and visit several other places to get 50 species in that day – but it would have been hard and the rarities I saw at Aimakapa Pond may have been missed.  In any even that would be the task the following day and will get covered in a separate blog post.  This one continues with the day after the Big Day – a short day before catching my flight back to Seattle in the afternoon.

During the Big Day, we started again at Ulu La’au Park and this time with expert eyes and ears and knowledge in the form of my guide, Lance Tanino, there had been many more species.  But we missed one that Lance thought was a given and that was high on my “wish list” – the Red Billed Leiothorix.  Proving that sometimes it is better to be lucky than good, when I returned to the same trees where Lance had expected it the day before, I heard a scolding chatter call that I was pretty sure was my bird.  It was very low light and difficult to see the tiny and fast moving birds, but I got a good binocular look to confirm the ID and then as light improved I was finally able to get some nice photos.  A very cute little guy indeed.

Red Billed Leiothorix


Red Billed Leiothorix

I wondered if maybe I had seen one before in low light and confused it with the somewhat similar, much more common, and equally as quick moving Japanese White Eye.  There were many in the park and some in the adjacent trees. It is easy to see from the picture how it gets its name.

Japanese White Eye

Japanese White Eye in Cherry Tree

Finding the Leiothorix on my own was a highlight.  Feeling lucky, I thought I would go after another miss from the day before.  We had gone to the South Golf Course at the beautiful Maunu Lani Resort looking for a Bristle Thighed Curlew.  They nest in Nome and then fly 2400 miles nonstop to winter on South Pacific Islands.  They were regular at the golf course but eluded us.  We had seen MANY Pacific Golden Plovers and a number of Ruddy Turnstones.  I returned to the same exact spot and again saw many of those two shorebirds.  On my third scan of the area I saw a larger bird with a long decurved bill.  Reminiscent of the Whimbrels we see in the Northwest and possible but very rare in Hawaii, it was a single Bristle Thighed Curlew and I could even see the bristles on the “thighs”.  A highly magnified and very distant photo but I was thrilled to get it.

Bristle Thighed Curlew

Bristle Thighed Curlew

Now I was feeling very lucky indeed.  There was time for one more stop so I returned to an area near Waikoloa where we had seen Chestnut Bellied Sandgrouse the previous day.  They had flown off before I could reposition the car for a photo and it was a big “want”.  No luck this time, so I went to the playfield at Paniolo another place where they had often been seen.  There are two fields.  On the lower field I saw 5 large birds that I thought might be the Sandgrouse.  Nope – all were Gray Francolin.  There were also a number of Eurasian Skylarks on the grass and flying and singing above the field.  Also in a wet spot where we had found Silverbills the day before there was a small flock of Rosy Faced Lovebirds and some Saffron Finches.

Eurasian Skylark

Eurasian Skylark 2

Rosy Faced Lovebirds

Rosy Faced Lovebird 2

I headed to the upper field and in the distance again saw birds that I thought could well be the Sandgrouse.  Unfortunately I arrived at the same time as a woman with her off leash dog.  The park is signed as not allowing any animals.  I later found out she knew that but could care less.  I also learned she voted for Trump.  Figures…  In any event the possible Sandgrouse flew off as soon as she arrived.  No photos…

It had been a great morning and a great trip  The weather had been fantastic with no rain on the Big Island at all even though it had been forecast.  I will leave totals for the blog post on the Big Day.  Somehow it seems fitting to end with a bird that was found everywhere on both Maui and Hawaii, was probably the most numerous species seen and was the last bird I saw as I returned the car to to airport – the Common Myna.  There are no Robins, or Starlings on the Islands and I think this species fills both of those niches to some degree.  This is the same species found and countable in South Florida.  They are loud and gregarious and very striking especially in flight with large white wing patches.  They truly were everywhere and now end this report.

Common Mynas

Common Mynas


Mahalo Hawaii!!!


2 thoughts on “The Day Before and the Day After the “Big Day” in Hawaii

  1. Had to laugh about your encounter with the trump supporter but very sad she caused you to miss the sandgrouse photo. Very glad you had such a nice family and birding trip and congrats on 50 species in a day that’s no easy feat in Hawaii! I’m looking forward to reading the blog post on it. Red Billed Leiothorix Is so darn cute great pic!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s