Oahu Part 7 – Forest Endemics

January 29, 2017 2 By Audrey

When thinking about Hawaii, beaches probably first come to mind. But the forests have a few special gems to offer as well. During our time I made a point to look for endemic forest birds. Because how often does that opportunity come around? I had a limited amount of time and I aimed to make the most of it.

Luckily, many hikes are only about a 20-30 min drive from Honolulu. So late one afternoon while Tomas napped after the marathon, I went to ‘Aiea Loop Trail.

Hawaii’s forests are no joke. The trees are tall and thick. And birds are experts at hiding under the top leaves. It was reminiscent of searching for warblers in the spring.

Prior to the trip I studied the Hawaiian Audubon Society’s Guide to Birding the Hawaiian Islands so I had some idea of where to look. Basically you have to get to higher elevation ridges.

Habitat loss in lower elevations and avian malaria carried by introduced mosquitoes are the major threats to these birds (there were no mosquitos on Hawaii before Europeans arrived!). As well as wild pigs that create wallows for mosquitoes. And mongoose, rats and cats that feed on eggs and adult birds. It’s a wonder there are any left.

Face of an endemic-killer

And they are not easy to find. I realized I wouldn’t have time to do the entire 4 mile loop before dark, and I had unwittingly parked about a mile from the official trailhead parking lot, but I covered as much ground as I could.

I found Red-whiskered Bulbul and Scaly-breasted Munia.

And this heavy billed, long-notched tail, still yet to be identified bird, Munia? Mannikin? Mania?


It was challenging. I heard many birds, but couldn’t catch sight of them until finally just before sundown as I was leaving and the light was fading I captured a glimpse of my first endemic Hawaiian Honeycreeper, the ‘Apapane!

‘Apapane (left), Japanese White-Eye (right)

I watched this one sing and forage along the Koa tree leaves until the light was gone. Hawaiian honeycreepers have the coolest specialized beaks ever. Additional honeycreeper info here.

Figure 1: Hawaiian honeycreepers in peril. Extant species are in color; extinct and possibly extinct species are in grayscale. Five of the extant species shown (alauahio, Kauai amakihi, Oahu amakihi, anianiau, and iiwi) are IUCN-listed species that are unrecognized by the ESA. Numbers in parentheses specify how many species appear similar to the illustration. Note that akikiki is extant. Paintings and labels © H. Douglas Pratt, revised from Pratt (2005, Plate 7), used by permission.

Paintings and labels © H. Douglas Pratt

Walking back to the car, listening to the (mostly introduced) dusk bird chorus, for the first time I realized how different the native birdsong chorus would have been before people populated the islands and changed everything. Before I felt too sad about it I remembered the Albatross. My new happy place, and evidence of hope that we can fix this. Or at least make steps towards something better.

Another morning, after kona coffee and before the ukulele tour, I squeezed in another quick forest trip. This time we took a local’s advice to visit Waʻahila Ridge State Recreation Area.

Dreaming of endemics in Cook Pine trees

In the pines we found a few lovely non-natives like the White-rumped Shama.

Japanese White-eye.

And I literally slipped in the mud when I saw this Red-billed Leiothrix.

It doesn’t even look real, but this species was introduced from China in 1918.

After searching for a while I finally heard a trill I’d hoped for:

The Oahu ‘Amakihi! To me it sounds similar to a Yellow Warbler, minus the ascent. It is a “flat trill” or as someone mentioned, like the sound of a sewing machine (do people still get that reference?). I heard many ‘Amakihi singing before I finally spotted one way high up in the pines.

Cleverly disguised as a pine cone. I was lucky enough to see two more ‘Amakihi.

Not the greatest looks, but I was still pleased.

It was a side of Hawaii I’d never seen before.

Tweets and chirps,