Hawaii Forest & Trail guide Garry Dean helps a group of birdwatchers track a Hawaiian honeycreeper on the Puu Oo Trail. // © 2016 Hawaii Forest & Trail
Feature image (above): The small, endangered akepa is found only on Hawaii Island. // © 2016 Don Coons
With names as musical as their songs, birds such as the amakihi, apapane and elepaio are brightening the scenery of Hawaii Island. The destination is home to some of Hawaii’s most precious endemic birds, along with a bevy of imported beauties.
Seasoned birders and casual nature lovers alike can spot and study the island’s many distinctive fliers thanks to a number of efforts, including the creation of a new birding trail and festival and regularly scheduled guided tours.
“Hawaii Island’s ecological diversity in natural habitats creates amazing opportunities for visitors to see, hear and learn about the birds of Hawaii, including rare native species,” said Ross Birch, executive director of the Big Island Visitors Bureau.
Making recent headlines is the new Hawaii Island Coast to Coast Birding Trail (HICCBT), which runs between Kona on the west side of the island and Hilo on the east side. Showcasing a broad range of local birds, history, geology, nature and views, the 90-mile route — which will officially open later this year — has been modeled after successful trails across the U.S.
“We want to make sure people have the tools and information to experience Hawaii Island’s birdlife in a way that is safe and culturally and environmentally appropriate,” said Rob Pacheco, a member of the HICCBT steering committee and owner of ecotour company Hawaii Forest & Trail.
The HICCBT will appeal to independent travelers and repeat Hawaii Island visitors who are looking for something new to explore, he says.
Pacheco’s favorite stop along the HICCBT is the Puu Oo Trail, which weaves through native forests surrounded by lava fields.
“On the Puu Oo Trail, you get really good opportunities to see the iiwi, which is one of the most beautiful native honeycreepers,” Pacheco said.
A website with information about HICCBT is in the works.
Hawaii Island Festival of Birds
Timed with the opening of the trail, the inaugural Hawaii Island Festival of Birds will take place Sept. 24-25. Participating experts will include The Nature Conservancy’s Sam Ohu Gon III; biologist and photographer Jack Jeffrey; wildlife artist Gretchen Grove; and American Bird Conservancy’s Chris Farmer.
Based at Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay, the festival will kick off Saturday morning with a guided bird walk. The day will also feature a trade show, a panel discussion, hands-on workshops in art and photography, activities for the kids, an arts and crafts fair, an auction and a gala dinner.
The festival’s Sunday agenda will include an all-day sneak peek at the new birding trail, with guests and experts exploring various sites by van. Come evening, participants can swap stories and share photos during an informal dinner at the upcountry Waikii Ranch Clubhouse. Each festival activity requires tickets, which range from $10 to $120 per person.
Any time of year, Hawaii Island offers bird-watching tours.
For example, Hawaii Forest & Trail’s Rainforest and Dryforest Birding Adventure takes clients to exceptional avian habitats on the slopes of two volcanoes. First, they explore a cloud forest on Mauna Loa, then continue to a sub-alpine dry forest on Mauna Kea. Highlights include views of the endangered akiapolaau, a yellow-green honeycreeper that lives only on Hawaii Island.
Another company, Native Guide Hawaii, offers bird-watching outings in the Hilo district with a guide born and raised on Hawaii Island. Clients learn about science, history and local lore while seeking out native waterbirds in the wetlands and endemic species in the forests.
Pacheco recommends that those who wish to strike out on their own to see the island’s winged wonders use binoculars if possible.
“It’s always best to use binoculars to see and experience the detail of Hawaii Island’s incredible birds and their habitats,” he said.