In Search Of Honeycreepers

2922 miles from my home resides an island many of my readers may be familiar with, Kauai Hawaii. This island is famous for beaches, hot bods, landscapes and movie sets. Featured films produced here include the Jurassic Park movies, Indiana Jones, and most recently Disney's Jungle Cruise. Though the backdrops of Kauai are famous for their looks, the reality is, they are home to so much more. They are in fact home to some of the most endangered birds on Earth, and I was hoping to find some while I visited.

Nestled in the peaks and swamps at the top of Kauai's famous mountains is a small state park dedicated to protecting the habitat of a group of birds collectively known as the Honey Creepers. These birds are endemic (found only in) Hawaii, with most only being found on the Island of Kauai itself. Of the original 16 birds, eight have gone extinct leaving eight that are still present. Of these eight birds, three are critically endangered, four are declining and on track for extinction and only one is increasing in numbers.

Because of their declining status, I made it a part of my schedule when visiting the island to see if I could find any of these birds. I knew my chances were small as some species number in the low hundreds and many are restricted to small patches of extremely dense rainforest at the tops of the mountains of Kauai, but I figured why not, let's give it a try.

So on day one of my trip to Kauai we headed up the mountain. The road is long and windy and very slow with speed limits mostly maxing out at 25mph. The views along the way were phenomenal with Waimea Canyon providing stunning views.

Near the end of the long windy road is a small state park called Koke'e. It covers primarily the top of the mountain, but its purpose is to protect this little patch of heaven with its stunning views and its spectacular array of wildlife. Here was my target area to explore.

But first I needed to rest.

If you have never been to Hawaii, you will know that it's a long flight to the island. We arrived around 8PM local time, which is actually midnight my time, making me very tired. After doing some shopping we headed to our location of sleep, a beach on the north shore of Kauai, arriving around 9:30 local time (1:30 my bodies time). Around 10PM local time (2AM my bodies time) we fell asleep hoping to have a good start to a vacation. Well, mother nature had other plans in mind.

The first wake-up of the night was the heavy humidity of camping in a tent in Hawaii. I am not use to muggy weather, so soon after going to bed, I was opening the rain flies of our tent trying to cool it down. The second wake-up of the night came like a drummer parade as a rain squall came in off the ocean and dumped rain on us. The tree above our head gave us about 30 seconds before the rain dripped through its canopy and soaked us. So I scrambled to close the tent and thus returned to the hot muggy air inside our two person tent. The moment the train stopped, the tent was opened to cool us down. Then the most troublesome alarm began to go off, the roosters.

If you are familiar with Kauai, the island is covered with chickens. Hundreds and thousands of chickens everywhere. These chickens are ubiquitous in Hawaiian life (as I came to learn after talking to locals for a week) and everyone just has to deal with them. Well, I learned on our first night a rooster had decided to fly up in the tree above us and began to croon at 3AM. And whenever anyone or anything disturbed said rooster he called. So for the next three hours, the rooster called and called and called.

No rest for the wicked I guess.

So sitting back at Koke'e State park, we settled into a grassy field, relaxed and listened to the chickens call in the distance, and tried to get a few more minutes of sleep. And here we listened and waited. After an hour or so of waiting (and slightly birding on the side), we head up the mountain to find the honeycreepers.

The primary trail for finding the honeycreepers is the Swamp Trail located at the top of the mountain. The main access we used begins at the stunning Pu'u o Kila lookout. After 10 minutes of walking, the poor night of sleep caught up with us and we slowly moved along the trail looking for birds. Brian foggy and eyes blurry we did our best to find the birds I flew across the ocean to see. Along the way, we found some of the specific trees they primarily utilize, the ōhi’a trees, and they were in bloom too.

And birds we saw and heard, but none long enough to identify. Maybe if I were in a better state of mind I could have done better, but I was tired... so very tired. After a mile and a half of walking, we came across a guy with binoculars. I figured he might be a birder and after a few minutes of chatting, my suspicion was confirmed and he said he had been up there for five days and seen only one of the honeycreepers. My hopes were pretty much smashed with that and my long-time goal to find the honeycreepers before they go extinct came to an end. With that, I turned my attention to the sunset and did what I do best, landscape photography.

As I think back on my trip and the animals I saw, there was one small chance I did end up seeing a honeycreeper while in Kauai. Near the end of the road and at the top of the mountain I saw a flash of red fly across the road. A heart beats worth of time to observe this brightly colored bird about the size of a robin. Only a few birds on the island are bright red like that and two of them are the Honeycreepers of Kauai.

Maybe not in vain after all.

If you want to help the birds of Hawaii, donations can be made through Kauai Forest Bird Recovery Project website. Your funds will go towards research and mosquito mitigation projects, the primary killer of these small birds.


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