A Field Guides Birding Tours Report

Hawaii II 2023

March 20-29, 2023 with Tom Johnson & Mandy Talpas guiding

On this introduction to the birds of the Hawaiian Islands, we took the opportunity to explore three of the main islands: Oahu, Kauai, and the Big Island. We dined very well, enjoyed nice seaside lodging, and took in the varied landscapes of this storied archipelago—oh, and we BIRDED, quite successfully. On each island, we looked for all of the "available" remaining landbird endemics while also considering the vast numbers of introduced landbirds here and the recent declines of native bird populations from threats like mosquito-borne avian malaria. When we did track down those special elepaios and amakihis and other native songbirds, it was indeed very exciting and underscored the distinctness of this remote island chain's bird life.

Spending time with the seabirds of the Hawaiian Islands was quite exciting, too. The Red-tailed Tropicbirds coursing over the cliffs east of Honolulu, Laysan Albatrosses displaying on a golf course, the afternoon booby and frigatebird watch at Kilauea Point, and our birdy pelagic trip from Kona all brought us into close contact with scores of native seabirds. Many seabirds here are getting help from ongoing conservation efforts to protect nesting habitat, and it's really great to know that many of these populations have bright futures.

Upon arrival in Honolulu, we were immediately impressed by the White Terns flying by our Waikiki hotel while we enjoyed a patio breakfast. Here on Oahu, we jumped right into our search for endemics by tracking down Oahu Amakihi and Oahu Elepaio in the mountains just outside Honolulu. We also took a bit of time to become acquainted with the many exotic species of the island ranging from Yellow-fronted Canaries and Java Sparrows to Red-whiskered Bulbuls and Rose-ringed Parakeets. Along the coast of Oahu, we admired nesting Red-tailed Tropicbirds, watched wintering Bristle-thighed Curlews feeding, and were gobsmacked by the close courtship display of a pair of Laysan Albatrosses.

The "garden island" of Kauai offered more spectacular places like Waimea Canyon and Kilauea Point. We ventured up to Koke'e State Park where we found native songbirds like Kauai Amakihi, Apapane, Anianiau, and Kauai Elepaio. The Hawaiian Ducks, Nene, and Laysan Albatrosses of the Princeville area showed off up close, and our late afternoon watch at Kilauea Point's seabird colony was fantastic, too. With a bit of time left on the island, we managed to track down a few Greater Necklaced Laughingthrushes and loafing Green Sea Turtles.

Flying over to the Big Island, we took two full day field trips into the volcanic highlands of Mauna Kea. We explored the western "dry side" in search of the rare Palila, which unfortunately didn't show in the fog, but we did see Hawaiian Hawks, Hawaii Elepaio, and Hawaii Amakihi in addition to Short-eared Owls. Our day at Hakalau Forest was just amazing. In this restored, protected patch on the east side of Mauna Kea, we had a glimpse into a beautiful Koa and 'Ohi'a lehua woodland and had the good fortune to track down a whole suite of native songbirds: Iiwi, Apapane, Hawaii Creeper, Akiapolaau, Hawaii Akepa, Hawaii Amakihi, and Omao. Wow. We finished off the tour with a pelagic trip out of Kona. Though it was a bit bumpy out there in the deep, we did come across some exciting pelagic highlights like Hawaiian Petrels, Bulwer's Petrels, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, Leach's Storm-Petrel, Black and Brown noddies, Sooty Terns, Brown Boobies and some curious Pantropical Spotted Dolphins.

Mahalo to Mandy Talpas for sharing her birding skills, cultural and natural history knowledge, and general love for Hawaii with us. And also thanks to Reg David for joining us and driving for a couple days on the Big Island.

Good birding, and I hope to see you in the field again soon!


One of the following keys may be shown in brackets for individual species as appropriate: * = heard only, I = introduced, E = endemic, N = nesting, a = austral migrant, b = boreal migrant

Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, and Waterfowl)

SNOW GOOSE (Anser caerulescens)

This white goose was walking around with Nene on a golf course at Princeville on Kauai. It did not appear to be aware of its rarity here.

CACKLING GOOSE (Branta hutchinsii)

This small, stub-billed goose continued at the Kealakehe Wastewater Treatment Plant on the Big Island.

HAWAIIAN GOOSE (Branta sandvicensis) [E]

We found these rare, Hawaiian endemic geese on Kauai and on the Big Island. Our biggest count was a whopping 120 in a small area of the Princeville golf course on Kauai.

BLUE-WINGED TEAL (Spatula discors)

A female-plumaged bird continued in a small pond at James Campbell NWR on the North Shore of Oahu.

NORTHERN SHOVELER (Spatula clypeata)

Several flocks of these wintering ducks on Oahu and the Big Island.

HAWAIIAN DUCK (Anas wyvilliana) [E]

Our best experience with pure-looking birds came at Hanalei NWR on Kauai. These endemic waterfowl face the threat of hybridization from Mallards.

MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos)

Plenty of feral types.

RING-NECKED DUCK (Aythya collaris)

Eight were at the Kealakehe Wastewater Treatment Plant near Kona.

GREATER SCAUP (Aythya marila)

A rarity here. We studied a female in a flock of Lesser Scaup at Kealakehe Wastewater Treatment Plant near Kona.

LESSER SCAUP (Aythya affinis)

At least four were at Kealakehe Wastewater Treatment Plant near Kona.

Odontophoridae (New World Quail)

CALIFORNIA QUAIL (Callipepla californica) [I]

We heard one at the Palila Discovery Trail on the Big Island.

Phasianidae (Pheasants, Grouse, and Allies)

WILD TURKEY (Meleagris gallopavo) [I]

Scattered sightings in grassland and savannah habitats west of Mauna Kea.

RING-NECKED PHEASANT (Phasianus colchicus) [I]

We saw small numbers of these familiar exotic pheasants on all three islands we visited.

KALIJ PHEASANT (Lophura leucomelanos) [I]

Big Island. We had a spectacular male approach us closely at Hakalau Forest while a female stayed a bit farther off in the woods.

RED JUNGLEFOWL (Gallus gallus) [I]

Fairly widespread in the islands, with most of our sightings in Kauai.

GRAY FRANCOLIN (Ortygornis pondicerianus) [I]

A few showed nicely in the lava scrub at Kealakehe Wastewater Treatment Plant near Kona.

BLACK FRANCOLIN (Francolinus francolinus) [I]

These very handsome introduced chickens were at Kealakehe Wastewater Treatment Plant and along the Old Saddle Road on the Big Island (though we'd previously heard them calling unseen at Waimea Canyon on Kauai).

ERCKEL'S SPURFOWL (Pternistis erckelii) [I]

Our first sightings were along the road at Koke'e State Park, but we saw them and heard them more regularly in the uplands of the Big Island.

Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)

ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]

Particularly common around Honolulu.

SPOTTED DOVE (Spilopelia chinensis) [I]

The widespread and common mid-sized dove here.

ZEBRA DOVE (Geopelia striata) [I]

This small dove was common on all three islands visited.

MOURNING DOVE (Zenaida macroura) [I]

One flyby at the Waikoloa Skatepark on the Big Island.

Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules, and Coots)

COMMON GALLINULE (HAWAIIAN) (Gallinula galeata sandvicensis) [E]

We enjoyed this endemic subspecies in wetlands on Oahu and Kauai.

HAWAIIAN COOT (Fulica alai) [E]

We tracked down this endemic waterbird on all three islands we visited.

Recurvirostridae (Stilts and Avocets)

BLACK-NECKED STILT (HAWAIIAN) (Himantopus mexicanus knudseni) [E]

These very dark stilts showed off particularly well at the Ka'elepulu Wetland on Oahu, though we did find them on each island we visited.

Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)


Called "Kolea" in Hawaiian. These long distance migrants winter in numbers here, sometimes in very odd habitats. For example, a few hunted the mowed grass next to our hotel in highly developed Waikiki Beach.

Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)

BRISTLE-THIGHED CURLEW (Numenius tahitiensis)

We took a stroll on the Kahuku Golf Course on Oahu and managed to see eight of these rare, wintering shorebirds. It helped that a Laysan Albatross cruised by and flushed the curlews closer to where we were standing!

RUDDY TURNSTONE (Arenaria interpres)

These widespread shorebirds were on all three islands.

SANDERLING (Calidris alba)

Small numbers were on Oahu and the Big Island.

GRAY-TAILED TATTLER (Tringa brevipes)

One in basic plumage was a continuing rarity in southwestern Kauai. We heard its plover-like "tu-wee" calls and were fortunate to compare it to a nearby Wandering Tattler, too!


We found these odd shorebirds commonly along the shorelines on all three islands. Some birds were beginning to assume nice bar-bellied breeding plumage.

Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)

BROWN NODDY (Anous stolidus)

We studied a few of these offshore from Kona.

BLACK NODDY (MELANOGENYS) (Anous minutus melanogenys)

Far more common than Brown Noddy off Kona on our pelagic trip. We were excited to find a big flock of about 435 birds rafting and then feeding fairly close to shore. This is the unusual Hawaiian subspecies.

WHITE TERN (Gygis alba)

The welcoming party! We enjoyed watching these from our first hotel at Waikiki, and later checked out some nesting birds on the city streets of Honolulu.

SOOTY TERN (Onychoprion fuscatus)

Plenty were moving by offshore during our coastal birding on Oahu; later, on our Kona pelagic trip, we saw several more close up.

LEAST TERN (Sternula antillarum)

One showed off its white forehead, yellow bill, and "all wings" look over the cells at Kealakehe Wastewater Treatment Plant near Kona.

Phaethontidae (Tropicbirds)


We enjoyed seeing these amazing seabirds at a distance at Waimea Canyon, but the close views at Opaeka'a Falls on Kauai were particularly great. Later, we did see another on our Kona pelagic.

RED-TAILED TROPICBIRD (Phaethon rubricauda)

Superb, close views of these stunning, white seabirds from the coast east of Honolulu where they nest. Later, we saw more flying by at Kilauea Point.

Diomedeidae (Albatrosses)

LAYSAN ALBATROSS (Phoebastria immutabilis)

Our first sighting was of a close displaying pair at the Kahuku Golf Course on Oahu. Later, we saw nesting birds in a neighborhood on Kauai (including a fuzzy brown chick) and found more adults cruising by the viewpoint at Kilauea Point. We all enjoyed affirming our spot in Robert Cushman Murphy's "higher cult of mortals."

Hydrobatidae (Northern Storm-Petrels)

LEACH'S STORM-PETREL (Hydrobates leucorhous)

We saw two of these seabird migrants during our Kona pelagic.

Procellariidae (Shearwaters and Petrels)

MOTTLED PETREL (Pterodroma inexpectata)

Two distant singles arced up over the horizon during our Kona pelagic but they didn't offer much in the way of views.

HAWAIIAN PETREL (Pterodroma sandwichensis) [E]

We had at least five sightings of this endangered endemic breeding Pterodroma petrel - one of the big highlights of our Kona pelagic.

BULWER'S PETREL (Bulweria bulwerii)

These dark tubenoses appear something like a mix between a storm-petrel and a shearwater. We saw around 8 coursing over the waves during our pelagic trip.


We scoped about 400 offshore from Kilauea Point; later, on our pelagic trip, we saw dozens more at close range including both light and dark morph birds.

SOOTY SHEARWATER (Ardenna grisea)

Single digits of these widespread tubenoses during the pelagic trip.

Fregatidae (Frigatebirds)


Our only sightings were from Kilauea Point where they hung like flags over the coastline and gave chase to a few tropicbirds.

Sulidae (Boobies and Gannets)

MASKED BOOBY (Sula dactylatra)

Four sightings of this scarce-for-here seabird: 2 scoped from shore on Oahu, 1 off Kilauea Point, and one offshore during our Kona pelagic.

BROWN BOOBY (Sula leucogaster)

These widespread tropical seabirds were close to shore along all three islands; our best views came from the buoys positioned near the Kona airport.


The nesting colony at Kilauea Point is extraordinary to watch. From the overlook, we had perched birds & flying birds just beyond arm's reach. The adults that breed here are light morphs (black and white).

Ardeidae (Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns)

CATTLE EGRET (Bubulcus ibis)

A common roadside sight on each island we visited. These were introduced in the late 1950s to help with pest control in Hawaii.

BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nycticorax nycticorax)

We had regular encounters with this widespread heron.

Threskiornithidae (Ibises and Spoonbills)

WHITE-FACED IBIS (Plegadis chihi)

Two were foraging along the edge of the ponds at the Kealakehe Wastewater Treatment Plant near Kona.

Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)

HAWAIIAN HAWK (Buteo solitarius) [E]

Big Island. At the Palila Discovery Trail, we saw a light and a dark bird flying together in the fog. The very next day, we saw another flying by at Hakalau Forest.

Strigidae (Owls)

SHORT-EARED OWL (HAWAIIAN) (Asio flammeus sandwichensis)

It was exciting to see four of these diurnal owls perched and flying around over the grasslands west of Mauna Kea.

Psittaculidae (Old World Parrots)

ROSE-RINGED PARAKEET (Psittacula krameri) [I]

We found these big, noisy parakeets on Oahu and Kauai, but not on the Big Island.

Psittacidae (New World and African Parrots)

RED-MASKED PARAKEET (Psittacara erythrogenys) [I]

A few sightings on the Big Island including about 10 birds in a roadside tree outside Kona.

Monarchidae (Monarch Flycatchers)

HAWAII ELEPAIO (Chasiempis sandwichensis) [E]

We enjoyed these delightful little songbirds on both sides of Mauna Kea on the Big Island (therefore seeing both plumage types that occur on the island).

KAUAI ELEPAIO (Chasiempis sclateri) [E]

After a bit of patient waiting, we were treated to an elepaio foraging just above our heads along the road in Koke'e State Park.

OAHU ELEPAIO (Chasiempis ibidis) [E]

A hike up a valley on the outskirts of Honolulu took us into a territory of this rare monarch flycatcher. We waited around and got to see both the male and the female of this well-studied pair foraging around a forest clearing.

Alaudidae (Larks)

EURASIAN SKYLARK (Alauda arvensis) [I]

These introduced songbirds were in grassland areas at middle and higher elevations on the Big Island.

Pycnonotidae (Bulbuls)

RED-VENTED BULBUL (Pycnonotus cafer) [I]

We saw plenty on Oahu, including right in Waikiki where the tour started.

RED-WHISKERED BULBUL (Pycnonotus jocosus) [I]

Small numbers at widely scattered locations on Oahu.

Scotocercidae (Bush Warblers and Allies)

JAPANESE BUSH WARBLER (Horornis diphone) [I]

The loud song of this one is the major clue to its presence. Heard and seen by a few folks at Koke'e State Park on Kauai and then eventually seen pretty well on the Palila Discovery Trail on the Big Island.

Zosteropidae (White-eyes, Yuhinas, and Allies)

WARBLING WHITE-EYE (Zosterops japonicus) [I]

Very common and widespread in most habitats with taller vegetation on all three islands we visited.

Leiothrichidae (Laughingthrushes and Allies)

RED-BILLED LEIOTHRIX (Leiothrix lutea) [I]

These chatty songbirds were in small, tough-to-see flocks on Oahu and the Big Island.

CHINESE HWAMEI (Garrulax canorus) [I]

One crossed the road in front of Mandy's van at Waimea Canyon; we eventually caught up to a talkative bird later on Kauai.


At least three moved together and foraged by dead-leafing in a forest patch on Kauai.

Sturnidae (Starlings)

COMMON MYNA (Acridotheres tristis) [I]

These were common on all three islands.

Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)

OMAO (Myadestes obscurus) [E]

These native thrushes were a bit tough to find at Hakalau Forest on the Big Island, but we eventually tracked them down for some good views.

Muscicapidae (Old World Flycatchers)

WHITE-RUMPED SHAMA (Copsychus malabaricus) [I]

These flycatchers were noisy and occasionally quite tame in the forests on Oahu and Kauai.

Estrildidae (Waxbills and Allies)

AFRICAN SILVERBILL (Euodice cantans) [I]

We saw a few of these small Estrildids at Waimea Canyon, and then more flew over us at Waikoloa on the Big Island.

JAVA SPARROW (Padda oryzivora) [I]

Quite common at Kapiolani Park in Waikiki; there were also impressive evening roosts at our hotels on Kauai and on the Big Island.

SCALY-BREASTED MUNIA (Lonchura punctulata) [I]

Small flocks at a few sites on Kauai and the Big Island.

CHESTNUT MUNIA (Lonchura atricapilla) [I]

These striking Estrildids were on Oahu and Kauai in small groups.

LAVENDER WAXBILL (Glaucestrilda caerulescens) [I]

Two were together south of Kona on the Big Island, where this exotic species appears to have established a small population.

COMMON WAXBILL (Estrilda astrild) [I]

Seen regularly, especially foraging in mown grassy patches.

RED AVADAVAT (Amandava amandava) [I]

About 50 made a racket as they moved around a grassy swale on the Big Island.

Passeridae (Old World Sparrows)

HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus) [I]


Fringillidae (Finches, Euphonias, and Allies)

APAPANE (Himatione sanguinea) [E]

These Hawaiian honeycreepers were fairly common in flowering trees at the upper elevations of Koke'e State Park on Kauai and also at Hakalau Forest on the Big Island. It was refreshing to hear the wandering songs of these delightful, red Apapanes ringing out from the canopy.

IIWI (Drepanis coccinea) [E]

Perhaps the most iconic of the extant Hawaiian honeycreepers. We really enjoyed seeing these sickle-billed red beauties dashing around the woodland at Hakalau Forest.

AKIAPOLAAU (Hemignathus wilsoni) [E]

Wow - this was a perfect sighting. We spent a while enjoying the native landbirds at Hakalau Forest, tromping back and forth on the trails, keeping an ear out for the "Aki"... but we just weren't having much luck on that front. Then, all of a sudden, our luck changed and we were face to face with a juvenile Akiapolaau attended by its parents! Game on! The long, skinny, arched maxilla and the stout lower mandible are used in foraging in a most unusual way by this Hawaiian honeycreeper - check out the video above.

ANIANIAU (Magumma parva) [E]

Though the fog conspired against us, we stuck it out and managed to find a pair of these small yellow honeycreepers in the upper reaches of Koke'e State Park.

HAWAII AMAKIHI (Chlorodrepanis virens) [E]

Big Island. These honeycreepers were very common at the Palila Discovery Trail and at Hakalau Forest.

OAHU AMAKIHI (Chlorodrepanis flava) [E]

Just outside of Honolulu, we were mesmerized as a couple of these little guys dropped down near ground level to feed at roadside flowers.

KAUAI AMAKIHI (Chlorodrepanis stejnegeri) [E]

The amakihis are really struggling in the highlands of Kauai, so we were lucky to find a pair foraging with Apapanes at the very highest stretch of road in Koke'e State Park. These have a stout bill compared to the amakihis we saw on Oahu and the Big Island.

HAWAII CREEPER (Loxops mana) [E]

Wow - super views of these fairly plain-plumaged honeycreepers as they nuthatched their way around the trees at Hakalau Forest. We estimated 8 individuals, a great count for recent years.

HAWAII AKEPA (Loxops coccineus) [E]

It took a while to get a good look at our first akepa in the canopy at Hakalau Forest, but after that, it just kept getting better and better! These orange beauties actually showed off really well.

HOUSE FINCH (Haemorhous mexicanus) [I]

Widespread sightings of small groups on all three islands.

YELLOW-FRONTED CANARY (Crithagra mozambica) [I]

Just a few around Honolulu.

Icteridae (Troupials and Allies)

WESTERN MEADOWLARK (Sturnella neglecta) [I]

It was odd to see these familiar mainland birds walking around grassy patches on Kauai.

Cardinalidae (Cardinals and Allies)

NORTHERN CARDINAL (Cardinalis cardinalis) [I]

Scattered sightings of this familiar eastern North American species.

Thraupidae (Tanagers and Allies)

RED-CRESTED CARDINAL (Paroaria coronata) [I]

These introduced tanagers were conspicuous and approachable on Oahu and Kauai.

YELLOW-BILLED CARDINAL (Paroaria capitata) [I]

Several sightings of this fine-looking songbird on the Big Island.

SAFFRON FINCH (Sicalis flaveola) [I]

Seen at Kahuku on Oahu plus at several sites on the Big Island.


SPINNER DOLPHIN (Stenella longirostris)

We watched these dolphins moving past Sandy Beach on Oahu.


A fun group came in to bow-ride during our pelagic trip out of Kona.

HUMPBACK WHALE (Megaptera novaeangliae)

Scattered sightings relatively close to shore, mostly from Oahu and Kauai.

SMALL INDIAN MONGOOSE (Herpestes auropunctatus) [I]

Just a few sightings of these terrestrial menaces.

HAWAIIAN MONK SEAL (Neomonachus schauinslandi)

This big critter was hauled out on the rocks below us at Kilauea Point NWR. Endemic to the Hawaiian Islands!


Additional animals of interest included:

Gold Dust Day Gecko - introduced

Brown Anole - introduced

Green Anole - introduced

Green Turtle (resting on beaches on Oahu and Kauai)

Totals for the tour: 94 bird taxa and 5 mammal taxa