This will be the last column (I promise) about my trip to Hawaii, and my pursuit of the unusual scarlet honeycreeper, aka ‘I’iwi. When I left off last week I was on the Big Island where I had gotten some advice from, Travis, a ranger at Hawaii Volcano National Park. Travis told me to try three trails (with funky Hawaiian names) that are located on a plateau near the Mauna Loa volcano, which is where macadamia nuts come from. So even if we didn’t find any birds, we would at least have a delicious snack.
On the first two trails we did see some cool birds, but, alas, no ‘I’iwi. We then headed over to the third trail (located at mile marker 21 on Saddle Road if you’re keeping score at home). I was looking forward to this trail the most, as it runs through a “kipuka,” which is an oasis in the middle of a lava field. During the eruption the flowing lava somehow missed this area and thus life continues to thrive. It’s like the house that is still standing after a tornado levels a town (only with a kipuka there’s no talk of divine intervention). Also, it’s the only usable habitat for miles, so birds tend to pack kipukas. This is where I was sure I’d finally find an ‘I’iwi.
Well, I can tell you right now I didn’t see one, or any other bird on the trail. Due to tree work the trail was closed. Son of a @#&! Why does this stuff keep happening? Are the birding gods mad at me for some reason? Are my birdseed prices too high? (Nobody answer that.) I stared at the gate. On my side of the fence was nothing but barren lava, while inches away was lush vegetation. I felt like a cow yearning for the green grass just on the other side of the barbed wire fence. After angrily kicking a big chunk of lava (bad idea), I limped back to the rental car and drove to the seaside town of Kona, where I drowned my sorrow in a thick, juicy taro burger. (Yes, that’s a real thing, and believe it or not, it’s pretty good…sort of.)
As I sat there, savoring my last bite of taro, I decided to contact Wendy. Wendy is the friend who had given me that ‘I’iwi magnet that started this whole trip in the first place (well, that and some anniversary thing). Wendy told me that she had seen an ‘I’iwi in Haleakala National Park, on the island of Maui. She said I should drive up to the 7,000-foot altitude marker, find the Hosmer campground parking lot and take the nature trail. That is where I should see ‘I’iwi. (Now she tells me.) We headed for the airport.
On Maui we decided to stay with friends (mostly because I had already spent too much money on plane tickets and oceanfront accommodations (plus a designer coconut bra for my wife). Friends or no friends, the first thing we did upon arriving was rent a car and set the GPS for Haleakala National Park. The drive up to the park was awesome. The sky was blue and the scenery was stunning. We even saw several Short-eared Owls that were hunting…and it was daytime. (Things sure are different in Hawaii.) When we arrived at the park entrance I flashed my old man pass, got in for free and asked the ranger for directions to the Hosmer campground. She said to take the next left. I could feel my mood lighten as things were finally going my way. But the euphoric feeling only lasted about fourteen seconds because the minute we turned the corner the wind picked up, clouds appeared over the mountains and it began to rain. Undeterred, I parked the car and hopped out, but my wife had had enough. She opted to stay dry in the car and read her book. Not me. I had gone too far to wimp out now. I buried my binoculars and camera under my jacket and headed down the trail.
I quickly came to an overlook where I could hear birds singing, but it was too foggy to see birds or anything else. I wondered: Does just hearing an ‘I’iwi count? Probably not since I didn’t even know what they sounded like. (Some birder I am.) As I watched and waited, I began to see flashes of red through the fog. Then one red bird flew over my head and I could clearly see it had a hooked beak, meaning it was indeed an ‘I’iwi. Sweet! Another one flew past me and then another. Suddenly I was surrounded by them. Wendy was right. This was the place to go. (Why didn’t I talk to her in the first place instead of that stupid Travis?) Then, to make things even better, the rain stopped and the fog lifted. I dug my camera out from under my jacket just in time to snap an image of two ‘I’iwi sitting on a bush five feet in front of me. I was so ecstatic that I ran over and high-fived a confused passing hiker. After watching the birds for an hour I headed back to the car to dry off and to tell my wife the good news. I just knew she’d be excited. (She’s real good at faking interest in my stories.)
After leaving the park we headed to the coast where I saw a Wandering Tattler (which is a highly migratory shorebird, not the WikiLeaks guy) and a Japanese White-eye (which is a cute little songbird, not an obscure racial slur). But at this point I was sort of done birding for this trip. While Hawaii is truly beautiful and has some unique birds, its birding options are limited. In less than two weeks I had seen most of the common birds and a few not-so-common ones. It was now time for me to relax and enjoy the island and its daily rainbows (Hawaii is like an endless Skittles ad). It was also my wife’s turn to do the things she wanted to do, such as snorkel, bodysurf and dine in nice restaurants…and find a store where she could return that designer coconut bra. After forty years of dealing with me, she at least deserves that much. (Although I really wish she had kept the bra.)