Birding the Big Island is always exciting. You get to see a good mix of endemics and introduced species. Cynthia and I spent four days here and saw most of the species we expected to see, missing only the Nene and some of the forest-dwelling endemics (it usually requires some amount of hiking to see them, something our bodies are not conditioned to do).
There are almost hourly flights from Honolulu Airport via Hawaiian Airlines and Go! Airlines to Hilo Airport (and vice versa).
On our first night we stayed at Aaron's Cottage, a mom-and-pop B&B. It is a very friendly, cozy place. It offers free wi-fi, has a refrigerator and airconditioning (which you probably won't use - the air is fresh and cool, especially in the evening). Breakfast is free and offers a wide array of choices. You can even ask Penne, the owner, to cook something for you. The room we got was $70 a night. We would have wanted to stay longer but they were already fully booked the rest of the week we were staying in Hilo.
For the next three nights we stayed at Uncle Billy's Hilo Bay Hotel. This hotel had seen its glory days perhaps 20 years ago. It is now a sad shadow of what it used to be. Carpeting are all worn out. The in-house restaurant/bar is no longer in operation except to offer the complimentary continental breakfast (toast bread, butter, muffins and coffee). The rooms are still comfortable though and be prepared to be lulled (or disturbed, depending on how you take it) by the constant chirping of coqui frogs at night. Our room had a partial (very partial) ocean view. However, our balcony also overlooks a tiny stream surrounded by pretty plants which is nice. The hotel staff are very friendly and very helpful. Our room was at $85 a night. They offer free room coffee and wi-fi as well.
It is best that a rental car is used. Public transportation is not that plentiful in Hilo. We got a mid-sized sedan from Alamo and costed us $500+ for four days (inclusive of taxes, insurance and all that jazz). I admit it was a mistake getting a mid-sized sedan when an economy car would have sufficed. It's just that we planned on driving on Saddle Road, and the way I remembered it back in 2005, a big car would definitely be an advantage. Little did I know that the new Saddle Road is just like any other highway in the continental U.S.A. - wide and well-paved.
Never a problem. From the ubiquitous fast-food places (McDonalds, KFC, etc) to the fine dining restaurants, Hilo has them. One of the, if not THE, most popular place to eat is Kens House of Pancakes. It is open 24 hours and offers a wide variety of meals. We had breakfast and dinner there and I must say the food and the service are well worth the price.
The places we went to go birding are the following (please see my previous blogs for a more detailed report):
Bird park (Kipuka Pua'ulu) is located in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, about 30 miles from Hilo. This is not really a "park" but more of a trail looping through a forest. Kalij Pheasants are guaranteed to be seen here. You may also see some endemics like the Apapane, Elepaio and Oma'o. Northern Cardinal, Red-billed Leiothrix, Saffron Finch and Japanese White-eye also inhabit this place.
Saddle Road is the highway connecting Hilo to Kona. At its highest point, it is over 6000 feet above sea level as it traverses between two volcanoes: Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. Birding is best between miles 43 and 47 (mile 1 starts at Hilo). Short-eared Owls (aka Pueo) and Eurasian Skylarks fly near the highway while Ring-necked Pheasants and Erckel's Francolins are on the grassy areas by the road.
The Mauna Lani hotel grounds at Kona will yield Grey Francolin, Japanese White-eye, Yellow-billed Cardinal, Saffron Finch and African Silverbill.
The beaches and ponds in Hilo will have Black-crowned Night Heron, Hawaiian Coot, Wandering Tattler and Ruddy Turnstone.
Birds that you will see almost everywhere are Common Myna, Spotted Dove, Zebra Dove, Nutmeg Mannikin and Pacific Golden Plover (absent in summer).