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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Hawaii: Rainbow of Birds

Saturday 20 February to Wednesday 3 March 2021
with Derek Lovitch and Lance Tanino as leaders

Price Pending

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The Apapane is just one of these islands’ many fascinating endemics. Photo: Derek Lovitch

It might be the 50th state, but birding Hawai‘i feels like a world away. Without vagrancy, no remote islands would have land birds. Here, on one of the world’s most remote archipelagos, the chance arrival of far-flung waifs—a finch, a solitaire, and a monarch flycatcher—led to mind-blowing adaptive radiation that resulted in the evolution of unique species. The ancestral finch, for example, gave rise to the Hawaiian Honeycreepers, which have developed such a huge range of shapes, sizes, and especially bills, from curlew-like curves for probing cavities to grosbeak-like seed-smashers, that some argue the honeycreepers even put “Darwin’s Finches” to shame.

This evolution, fueled by “island biogeography,” in which species evolved to fill open niches thanks to the pressures of isolation, has led to birds that can be found nowhere else in the world. Unfortunately, the one variable that these species have had a tough time adapting to is humanity. Since the first Polynesians arrived in the islands, hunting, habitat loss, diseases, and introduced species have only increased. This tour will celebrate those species that continue to persist despite the myriad of threats. We hope not only to raise awareness and spur more support for conservation, but to marvel at some of the most unique species in the world. And let’s be brutally honest here—we may simply not have time to wait much longer to see some of these amazing creatures.

On the other hand, because of efforts to reduce threats of introduced predators—such as cats, mongooses, and rats—seabirds and waterbirds are not only surviving but, in some areas, thriving. The state bird, the once critically endangered Nene (Hawaiian Goose), has staged quite the comeback. In some areas native waterbirds such as the endemic Hawaiian Duck (Koloa Maoli) and Hawaiian Coot (‘Alae Ke‘oke‘o), endemic subspecies of Black-necked (Hawaiian) Stilt (‘Ae‘o), Black-crowned Night-Heron (‘Auku‘u), and Common (Hawaiian) Gallinule (‘Alae ‘Ula) are common. Thanks to fencing and conservation, some of the pelagic species that return only to the Hawaiian Islands to nest are recovering. While we will not shy away from understanding and discussing the problems for native birds, we’ll also relish the hope of promising new efforts and strategies.

Meanwhile, the developed lowlands, full of introduced vegetation from around the world, are teeming with a host of introduced birds from all corners of the globe. Despite the “unnatural” state of these areas and their new avian denizens, we’ll enjoy them—from the smallest waxbills and finches to the largest francolins. 

And let us not forget that, as of 2017, Hawai‘i has been added to the “ABA Area”! A wealth of species, from endemic landbirds, remote seabirds, and established introductions from across the globe, have virtually no chance of being seen on the mainland—there’s a whole suite of new additions to your list to be found in one place, right here in the United States! Furthermore, it is our hope that the addition of Hawai‘i to the ABA Area will bring awareness of and conservation support to the plight of some of the most endangered species in the world. Perhaps this tour will be one small part of the effort to get more funding for this important cause, one that transcends our listing goals.

And as with all tours with Derek, we’ll further our exploration and understanding of an area through its food. From quick and convenient “plate-lunches” to fine dining, the international fusion that makes up modern Hawaiian cuisines reflects almost as much of the globe as the wide array of introduced bird species!

Day 1: The trip begins on Oahu this evening at 5:00pm in the lobby of our group hotel. Night in Waikiki. 

Day 2: We’ll begin our birding from right out the front door of our hotel, where White Terns (Manu-o-Ku) will be wheeling over QueenKapiolaniPark. Spotted and Zebra Doves, Common Mynas, and other long-ago introduced birds will help us usher in the sunrise before we depart for our first trip into the forest for endemic landbirds. A moderate hike will take us into the edges of the remaining native forest in the mountains of Oahu in search of the two endemic landbirds, the O‘ahu Elepaio and the O‘ahu ‘Amakihi. Chestnut Munia, Red-billed Leiothrix, and White-rumped Shama are among the species to enjoy as we slowly mosey up the trail. 

After lunch we’ll head to the NorthShore. While most famous for its surfing, it is better known by birders for Bristled-thighed Curlew (Kioea). We’ll continue our birding, searching for overwintering shorebirds and native resident waterbirds, including the endemic Hawaiian Coot (‘Alae Ke‘oke‘o) and three endemic subspecies: Common (Hawaiian) Gallinule (‘Alae ‘Ula), Black-necked (Hawaiian) Stilt (‘Ae‘o), and Black-crowned Night-Heron (‘Auku‘u). Night in Waikiki.

Day 3: If we are still looking for the island endemics O‘ahu ‘Elepaio and O‘ahu ‘Amakihi, we’ll start the day by heading back into the woods at one location or another. Afterward we’ll have a lovely, relaxing day of enjoying Red-tailed Tropicbirds (Koa‘e ‘Ula), Great Frigatebirds (‘Iwa), White Terns (the official bird of the city and county of Honolulu), Pacific Golden-Plovers (Kolea), and a host of “new ABA-Area birds” from Rose-ringed Parakeets to Red-vented Bulbuls and Java Sparrows. Depending on our timing, we may spend the evening seawatching for the likes of Wedge-tailed Shearwater (‘Ua‘u Kani), Brown Noddy (Noio Koha), and Brown and Red-footed Boobies (‘A). We’ll keep a close eye on the Rare Bird Alerts for any exciting vagrants, which can come from either side of the vast Pacific! Night in Waikiki.

Day 4: Following a couple of hours in QueenKapolianiPark looking at the wide variety of introduced species, if necessary, we’ll take a short flight over to the Garden Isle of Kauai early in the morning. We’ll be struck by the contrast between the urban Honolulu area and this rural island with its small population and extensive forests. Because Kauai is miraculously free of mongooses, native waterbirds are much more abundant here than on any other of the main Hawaiian Islands. Depending on flight times and weather, we may head up the island’s eastern shore for them, including Hawaiian Duck and the state bird, the Nene. Night in Lihue

Day 5: If weather and road conditions allow, we’ll get an early start to drive up the challenging two-tracks into the rainforest. We’ll get as high and as deep as we can. Once we arrive, we’ll likely have the chance for a a moderate hike (a few short challenging stretches but we’ll be on our feet for most of the day on a narrow boardwalk) where Kauai ‘Elepaio, Kauai ‘Amakihi, ‘I‘iwi, and ‘Apapane are likely, with ‘Anianiau still possible. There’s now only a remot chance of‘ Akeke‘e due to the continuing collapse of Kauai’s forest birds. Night in Lihue.

Day 6: This morning will offer a second chance to head into the forest for any accessible missing endemics and to take in the stunning scenery of Koke‘e State Park. White-tailed Tropicbirds (Koa‘e Kea) will be swirling above and through lush jade valleys in some of the most breathtaking landscapes in all of Hawai‘i. We’ll search a few waterbird refuges for residents and migrants, and perhaps even have a few hours of R&R (you are on vacation, after all!) Night in Lihue.

Day 7: Kilauea Point NWR is the highlight for many birders and nonbirders alike. We’ll see nesting Laysan Albatrosses that will be hard at work. Great Frigatebirds (‘Iwa) will be pursuing Red-tailed Tropicbirds (Koa‘e ‘Ula) overhead, and Red-footed Boobies (‘A) will be nesting in trees on the cliffs. Expect to get to know Nenes on a very personal level.

We’ll look for wintering shorebirds and more waterbirds, and we’ll make sure everyone has seen enough (countable!) Red Junglefowl (Moa). We may have time to search for some elusive introductions, such as the Greater Necklaced Laughing-Thrush, and perhaps chase down a vagrant or two. An evening seawatch could yield a few newly arrived Wedge-tailed Shearwaters or a Black-footed Albatross if we are really lucky. Night in Lihue

Day 8: We’ll take an early morning flight to the Big Island for our final four days. It’s really amazing how different each Hawaiian island is, and as we find ourselves traveling from one of the oldest of the main islands to the youngest in the archipelago, we’ll see another contrast. In fact, it’s so young that it’s still being built, with near-constant activity from one volcano.

We’ll begin our explorations by birding our way to our final hotel, checking some of the productive locales of the Kona Coast, known for a wide array of migrants and vagrants. We’ll also add to our list of introduced species, starting with Yellow-billed Cardinals at the airport. The Kona area is also home to a variety of introduced species such as Lavender Waxbill, Red-masked Parakeet, African Silverbill, Saffron Finch, Red Avadavat, and Yellow-fronted Canary. Night in Kona.

Day 9: Today’s tour will be to the breathtaking Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. We’ll seek out ‘Omao (Hawaiian Thrush), Hawaii (Volcano) ‘Elepaio, and Nene. We’ll scan for cliff-nesting “Hawaiian” Black Noddies and enjoy lava tubes and mind-boggling geology to round out the day if time allows. Birding may even at times take a back seat to a tour of one of the most active volcanoes in the world. We’ll break up our long drive to the park with a good stop for shorebirds and waterbirds. On the way back, we’ll spend the late afternoon in Hilo, birding the city’s productive parks that can host a wide range of migrant and vagrant waterfowl. Night in Kona.

Day 10: Perhaps descendants of just one single vagrant species (an Asian rosefinch seems to be the leading theory at the moment), the honeycreepers of Hawai‘i are one of the most remarkable instances of evolutionary radiation, and there’s no better example these days than what we’ll find in the rainforests of Hakalau NWR. from the ridiculous dual-purpose bill of the ‘Akiapola‘au to the massive, decurved bill of the ‘I‘iwi, we’ll see island biogeography at its finest. Hawaii Creeper and ‘Akepa will be our other honeycreeper targets today, along with a host of other endemics: ‘Omao, Hawaii (Volcano) ‘Elepaio, and Hawaiian Hawk (‘Io). Night in Kona.

Day 11: As with all of the main Hawaiian Islands, there’s a wet, windward side and a dry—often desert-like—leeward side. The wet side of the mountains produces the precipitation that creates the rainforests we visited yesterday, while the rain shadows of the tallest mountains (don’t be shocked to see snow at the summit of Mauna Kea!) yield extensive dry-forest habitats. We’ll be in the rain shadow of the mountains today as we seek the remaining dry-forest endemics, the finch-billed Palila and the Hawaii (Kona) ‘Elepaio. 

In the afternoon we’ll meander our way across the famous, new and improved, Saddle Road that traverses the island between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, looking for the endemic subspecies of Short-eared (Hawaiian) Owl (Pueo) and an interesting variety of introduced gamebirds (such as Erckel’s, Gray, and Black Francolins and Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse); we’ll be padding those newly-expanded “ABA Area lists” as we work our way downhill back to Kona. While we are birding along Old Saddle Road, we’ll have incredible views of the Kohala Mountains (with the only extinct volcano on the island) and a couple of famous ranches—Parker Ranch (one of the largest privately owned cattle ranches in the US) and Waikii Ranch. We’ll spend a lot of time on the slopes of Mauna Kea. Technically originating on the seafloor, the “White Mountain” is the tallest mountain on the planet (yes, much taller than Mount Everest and home to Poliahu, the Icy Goddess). Looking across the saddle, we’ll take in the gentle slopes of Mauna Loa (Long Mountain), the largest (in mass) volcano/mountain on the planet and second-tallest mountain on the planet, only a few hundred feet shorter than Mauna Kea. And we’ll finish up our culinary tour with one last delectable oceanfront meal. Night in Kona.

Day 12: The tour ends this morning with departures from Kona. 


Updated: 21 March 2020


  • 2021 Price Not Yet Available
  • (2020 Price $6,350)


Questions? The Tour Manager for this tour is Sara Pike. Call 1-866-547-9868 or 520-320-9868 or click here to email.

* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

Maximum group size 11 with two leaders.  Both leaders will accompany the group regardless of group size. Second leader varies on different islands.

Note: Although there are endemic landbirds on the island of Maui, there is not – at this time – any opportunity for commercial tours to bring birders into the forest reserves.  All of the endemic waterbirds and landbirds can be seen on other islands, and therefore this tour does not include a visit here. 

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