Hawaii - Paul’s 200th Tour for Greentours

A remarkable variety characterised the tour, from lush forests on the lower slopes of Mauna Loa and Haleakala, impressive craters and fumaroles, the dry beaches of the leeward coasts, cinder deserts of the Haleakala summit, wetlands, the stunning Waimea Canyon on Kau’ai, beautiful botanic gardens, characterful towns and villages on each island, and fine hotels. The three islands we spent time on were each notably distinct from each other, a character of such archepelagos anywhere. Vanessa had compiled a superb tour, and we saw much of interest.

Endemic birds frequented the remaining pristine forests at higher altitudes, lower down the disturbed habitat supporting a rich non-native avifauna. Soon after arriving on Big Island, my first sighting of Hawaii Amakihi was an early highlight, for me the first member of a new family, the Hawaiian Honeycreepers. This would be a common species during the tour, as was the red Apapane, seen shortly afterwards. No less stunning was the Iiwi, startlingly red with a long decurved bill. Omao (an endemic solitaire) was not uncommon on Hawaii, where Akiapolaau, Hawaii Creeper, and Akepa continued the honeycreepers. Maui Creeper and Kauai Amakihi were seen on their eponymous islands, and the characterful Elepaio, named after its call, in various colour forms, we saw on both Hawai’i and Kau’ai.


Hawaiian Hawk was a highlight on Big Island, rather elusive, but seen on our last day there. At wetlands on Maui we enjoyed close views of endemic Hawaiian Stilts and Hawaiian Coot. Rather aptly, albatross being a golfing term, Laysan Albatross frequented a golf course on Kau’ai. We also saw this fine bird on the east coast of that island, in wilder habitat, where Red-footed Booby nested, and beautiful Red-tailed Tropicbirds glided along the coast. Elsewhere White-tailed Tropicbirds flew gracefully over craters and canyons. Hawaiian Goose and Hawaiian Duck were also golf course birds, and Short-eared Owl and Barn Owl were both seen superbly. On the east coast of Maui Great Frigatebirds hung in the air, and there was a fine Black Noddy colony, near the village of Hana, one of the more traditional Hawaiian settlements on the islands, reached from our base at Wailuku via the lush scenic Hana road, with its many waterfalls.


Unlike perhaps anywhere I can remember not only were alien plants many and varied, but in the lowlands the common birds had a worldwide origin. Grey Francolin, Kalij Pheasant, Japanese White-eye, Red-billed Leiothrix, White-rumped Shama, Hwamei, and Japanese Bush Warblers were among those from Asia. Erckel’s Francolin, African Silverbill, and Yellow-fronted Canary represented Africa. California Quail and Northern Cardinal were from North America, and Red-crested Cardinal, Yellow-billed Cardinal, and Saffron Finch were native to South America. Red Junglefowl was quite a feature, most notably on Kau’ai where they were numerous.


Only two butterflies are endemic to Hawaii and we saw both. Hawaiian Blue flew at several sites, associated with the foodplant, Koa, and Kamehameha, the Hawaiian Lady, we saw on Kau’ai. Otherwise we saw almost all the fifteen or so non native species that are now established on the islands.


It was the flora that really stood out. A very high degree of endemism characterises the flora of the archipelago, although many species are highly endangered with remaining wild populations of just a few plants. Particularly characteristic are the endemic lobelioid Campanulaceae. Blooming at Volcanoes was Clermontia parviflora, with its tubular purplish flowers. Clermontia arborescens we found on Maui, where a protected area on the northern slopes of Haleakala had Cyanea horrida with beautiful blackish purple flowers, and, although probably extinct in the wild, the remarkable Brighamia insignis was in flower in Limahuli gardens on Kau’ai.


Widespread and very variable was Metrosideros polymorpha, ‘Ohi’a Lehua, its red flowers especially frequented by Hawaiian Honeycreepers. The endemic acacia, Koa, formed natural forests, the endemic Mamane, Sophora chrysophylla, was locally dominant in the subalpine zone of Hawai’i and Maui, and the native Myoporum sandwicense was widespread.


Among the many plants in the varied habitats of Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park were Charpentiera ovata, an endemic amaranth tree, Maile, Alyxia oliviformis, and Ilex anomala. On lava was the endemic composite shrub Dubautia ciliolata, with yellow flowers. Leptecophylla tameiameiae, belonging to the Epacridaceae, was a feature, and Vaccinium calycinum and Vaccinium reticulatum, both endemic, were in flower. Xylosma hawaiiense, another endemic, represented the Flacourtiaceae, and Cyrtandra platyphylla, an endemic Gesneriacean, had tubular greenish flowers. Among several species of Coprosma was Coprosma ernodeoides, with distinctive black fruits.


Of course the silverswords were a highlight, on Haleakala being stunning even though not even in flower! This was Argyroxiphium sandwicense growing in the summit alpine cinder desert where we also found endemic Dubautia menziesii, with yellow flowers, and hybrids between the two. We were pleased to also find the yellow flowered endemic Sisyrinchium acre.


Hibiscadelphus giffardianus, although extinct in the wild, we saw in flower in Volcanoes Natural Park. The beautiful Geranium cuneatum hololeucum flowered on the slopes of Mauna Loa, and on Maui were Geranium arboreum and Geranium multiflorum. Jacquemontia sandwicensis formed attractive flowering mats along the south coast of Maui. Superb Wilkesia gymnoxiphium in flower in Waimea Canyon was a highlight, where we also found Viola chamissoniana. The beautiful white poppy Argemone glauca was in fine flower, and Rubus hawaiiensis had impressively large fruits.


Armed with the superb fern flora we were especially keen on the pteridophytes and ended up with an impressive list, which will however surely be added to next year as we learn more about the ferns. Tree Ferns were a feature on all islands.


Rock pools on the west coast of Big Island had Green Turtles approachable very closely, fine invertebrates such as sea cucumbers and brittle stars, and quite a selection of fish including the stunning Moorish Idol. None of our group were snorkelers this year but Vanessa knows some excellent sites and she amassed a great list of stunning reef fish this year.


Vanessa had chosen excellent characterful hotels, each having its own merits, and very comfortable rooms. We enjoyed many excellent meals, the islands boasting a fine selection of cuisines. Flights between the islands were short, and Hawaiian Airlines gave a prompt and effecient service.


This was a milestone tour for me after twenty years of leading Greentours trips. Part of my North American Trilogy this year, sandwiched between California and the Canadian Rockies, this was a superb and memorable 200th tour, and I very much look forward to returning next year and working further on the flora.              

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