Saturday, April 07, 2012

Up, Up and Hawaii, Part III

Back on the Saddle again

Back in September, 2005, Cynthia and I joined a birding tour with Hawaii Forest and Trails. Basically it was a drive via Saddle Road, a badly maintained 50-odd mile passageway connecting the cities of Hilo and Kona with various stops along the way to explore the nearby kipukas (a tract of land surrounded by hardened lava flows, literally, "opening"). Birding was great then and we saw a good number of endemics, albeit involving a considerable amount of hiking.

We have no intention of repeating that strenuous hike we did almost 7 years ago, but the idea of going through Saddle Road once again excited us. This time we will be starting from Hilo and go to Kona unlike the reverse direction we did in 2005.

The very first thing we noticed as we entered Saddle Road was that it was a lot wider and very nicely paved! And the second thing we noticed was the lack of birds! We have traveled over 40 miles and the only birds we saw were the Common Mynas as we were leaving the city of Hilo. At mile 45, we finally saw some Eurasian Skylarks flying overhead. At mile 47, we saw a small structure which was actually a booth where prospective hunters register. A seemingly out-of-place male House Finch greeted us as we checked out the area. 

Across the road, about 100 feet further up was an open area. We parked here and observed a Short-eared Owl, known locally as the Pueo, gliding in the distance. We got excited as it flew towards us and then alighted somewhere beyond our line of vision. We crossed the road and searched and searched. We gasped simultaneously when we discovered the Pueo perched on the wire fence staring fiercely at us. Having fulfilled its obligation to be photographed by me, the owl then flew off and resumed its hunting duties.

As we continued our drive towards Kona, there were no longer a dearth of birds. We saw Ring-necked Pheasants and Erckel's Francolins along the road, not to mention the super-skittish Skylarks. 

Our destination in Kona was the 5-star Mauna Lani Hotel. This was where we stayed in 2005 and I still remember seeing a lot of birds on the hotel grounds. We hoped to see those birds once again. We first stopped at the hotel's shopping center. The ubiquitous Common Mynas and House Sparrows were there, of course. What got my attention was a limping bird foraging on the lawn. It was a juvenile Yellow-billed Cardinal. 

The Pacific Golden Plovers were quite plentiful here in various stages of molting into their more colorful breeding plumage. 

At the hotel grounds, just by the parking lot, we saw what we came for, the Grey Francolin. Saffron Finches and adult Yellow-billed Cardinals populated the nearby trees.

Since it was close to noon, we decided to have lunch at the King's Shopping Center in Waikoloa. While enjoying our food from the Island Fish and Chips, I noticed a tiny light brown bird perch on the store's roof. This was another of those bonus bird, serendipitous sightings happening again. It was an African Silverbill! The last time I saw this species was inside the atrium of the Mauna Lani hotel in 2005. Not wanting to go inside the hotel this time without presenting ourselves to the concierge as non-guests, I decided to forego the search for the silverbill there. And now here they were (it was a pair!) busily trying to build a nest inside the eaves of the store's thatched roof.

The silverbills were nesting under this roof!
The drive back to Hilo again via Saddle Road was pretty much uneventful except we had better looks at the Erckel's Francolin and finally got a really bad shot of the Eurasian Skylark. 

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