The Hawaiian Isles and the West
Dates of the trip: from 12 July to 13 August 1993.
12 July 1993. We took off from Brussels heading towards San Francisco with a stop-over in London. In California, we took a plane for Honolulu and tasted our first "Macademia nuts" which were delicious. After a 25-hour long journey, 16 of which aboard planes, we at long last reached Honolulu where we had booked a room at the "Outrigger Coral Seas" hotel which offers garage facilities and that's something in a large city.
13 July 1993. It was moist and hot in Honolulu, the capital city of Oahu and I was woken up by a Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis), singing on the balcony railing. Besides this, I saw House Sparrows (Passer domesticus), Rock Doves (Columba livia) and Spotted Doves (Streptopelia chinensis). Just like many other birds, the latter species was introduced on the island and is now very common. Endemic birds, on the contrary, are very rare. We took a walk up "Diamond Head" from which you have a very nice view of the city. While driving, or in the Park, we spotted Zebra Doves (Geopelia striata), a Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), a Red-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer), a Red-crested Cardinal (Paroaria coronata) and the beautiful Great Frigatebird (Fregata minor). We made up our minds to go and see a tourist show at the "Polynesian Cultural Center" where we also tasted the local cuisine. The show, combining dances, songs and customs of all the peoples of the Pacific isles was marvelous. As we had not had much sleep, we were very tired in the evening when we came back to the hotel under the rain.
14 July 1993. After a solid breakfast in an " All-you-can eat " we said goodbye to the House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) which was singing on our balcony and left the city to have a quick look at the historic site of "Pearl Harbor", visited a pineapple plantation and went to "Waimea Falls Canyon". The vegetation is lush on the island because of the high temperatures and heavy rainfalls. I observed a White-rumped Shama (Copsychus malabaricus) in the undergrowth, a few Small Indian Mongooses (Herpestes javanicus) which have been introduced to fight off rats, some Japanese White-Eyes (Zosterops japonicus), a Hawaiian Common Moorhen, (Gallinula chloropus sandvicensis) and Orange-cheeked Waxbills (Astrilda melpoda). We then decided to take a dip in the Pacific at the famous "Waikiki" beach. The water was warm, the waves powerful, the surfers muscular and the girls pretty!
15 July 1993. The Aloha Airlines Boeing 737 took us to the Big Island, as Hawaii is called. The countryside came as a shock to us as soon as we left the airport which was built bang in the middle of a lava field. We were accommodated at the "Kona Seasite Hotel" in Kona, on the West coast, which is drier than the East coast. Curiously enough, this is where you find the biggest American ranches. This was also where I twitched the Erckel's Francolin (Francolinus erckelli) and a whole family of Black Francolins (Francolinus francolinus).
16 July 1993. We cruised on the island, going as far as the "Hawaii Volcanoes National Park". We soon grew accustomed to the A'a lava, which turns the ground into a ploughed field and to the pahoehoe lava, which solidified into cords. The scenery was overwhelming. You could see smoke, solfataras and erupted rocks all around you. The craziest place was where the lava flew into the ocean thus building up a black beach and emitting a hissing cloud of steam that was visible miles away. Awestruck, we watched the lava slowly flow from crater Pu'u'O'o, a few feet away. It was impossible to get nearer because of the intense heat and yet, we ran no risks. If you decide to go there, be sure you have a full tank. There are very few petrol stations and not many people live inside the island. If this place is devoid of people in certain places, you have numerous flowers growing everywhere and Hawaiian girls are expert at making nice collars with them, which they call leis.
Where fire meets water
While travelling around, I spotted my first White-tailed Tropicbirds (Phaeton lepturus) on the Halemaumau trail which crosses the Kilauea caldera, a Hawaiian Hawk (Buteo solitarius), a Red-billed Leiothrix (Leiothrix lutea), the famous Nene Geese (Nesochen sandvicensis), which were saved from extinction just in time, Black Noddies (Anous minutus) and a Saffron Finch (Sicalis flaveola).
17 July 1993. We drove around the isle northwards as far as Hilo which had been swept over by a huge tidal wave a few years before. We couldn't go all the way round the island of Hawaii because the road had been cut off by a lava flow. We didn't see anything new as far as birds were concerned.
18 July 1993. We did a lot of sightseeing, visiting Kailua, Kona and "Pu' uhonna O Honaunau" (the Place of Refuge) where those who had broken taboos at the time of Hawaiian kings could escape the death penalty. We also went to a coffee plantation and saw a beautifully painted church and an ethnological museum. We had little time for birdwatching, but I nevertheless saw a Yellow-billed Cardinal (Paroaria capitata).
19 July 1993. After seeing yet another Mongoose, we left Hawaii for the isle of Maui and headed for Kahului. It was raining a lot on the pineapple and sugar-cane fields but we still thought we could make it to Haua. This meant 617 bends along 80 km of a narrow road and as many on the return trip. Because of this we arrived at "Aston Maui" hotel at Kaanapali villas late in the evening. Although I had called the hotel keeper to inform him, our room had been let to someone else. No problem, they gave me the same type of suite on the ground floor and a bottle of (American!) champagne for the inconvenience.
20 July 1993. We visited a sugar cane museum and then drove up to the top of the dormant "Haleakala" volcano, 3055 m high. I felt a little dizzy because of the altitude but the sight was worth it. The colors or the rocks beat any description. On our way down, I saw a Scaly-breasted Munia (Lonchura punctulata) and, in the plain, some Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibis). To overcome the effects of our high trip, we had dinner at the Maui "Hyatt Regency". According to the advertisements we saw on the spot, it's one of the nicest hotels in the world and I believe it.
21 July 1993. We went on with our discovery of the Hawaiian archipelago and left Maui for Lihue on the island of Kauai. This island was badly hit by hurricane Iniki in 1992 and you could still see the damage on the trees and buildings. The mountains are covered with luxuriant vegetation because it rains a lot there. I think this is the best place for birdwatching in Hawaii. We saw a big colony of Red-footed Boobies (Sula sula) near the Kilauea lighthouse. In the Hanalei neighborhood, besides the birds I had already viewed, I saw Hawaiian Coots (Fulica alai), Hawaiian Ducks (Anas wyvilliana), a Long-eared Owl (Asio otus) and a Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax). This is also the place where they grow taro, whose root is used to make poi, served with a lot of traditional meals on these islands. Outside the two reserves, I saw Common Mynas (Acridotheres tristis), Spotted Doves (Streptopelia chinensis), Zebra Doves (Geopelia striata), a Red-crested Cardinal (Paroaria coronata) and even a Common Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus). We then drove on to "Waimea Canyon", which is to the Hawaiian Islands what the Grand Canyon is to the Continental USA. The mountains, cut up with many gullies, are beautiful, even under the torrential rains which pour down every now and then. It is in "Waimea Park" that they have introduced the ancestor of the French cockerel, the Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus). I saw some of them, followed by chicks, and also a Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) and another Long-eared Owl.
23 July 1993. We had travelled 2500 km on these heavenly isles but in spite of this, we felt we had spent too little time there and, much to our regret, we took the plane for San Francisco, which was only a stopover on our way to Salt Lake City, the capital of Utah and that of all Mormons by the way.
24 July 1993. We left the city to drive along the Great Salt Lake which doesn't smell nice at times but which enabled me to see a lot of new bird species like California Gulls (Larus californicus), Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica), Brown-headed Cowbirds (Molothrus ater), Kentish Plovers (Charadrius alexandrinus), Violet-green Swallows (Tachycineta thalassina), Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus), Caspian Terns (Hydroprogne caspia) and Black-necked Stilts (Himantopus mexicanus). On our way to Idaho, we cruised up the beautiful regions of Logan and Bear Lake where I added other species to the ones I had already seen, like White-faced Ibises (Plegadis chihi), Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus), American Avocets (Recurvirostra americana), Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors), Long-billed Curlews (Numenius americanus), Snowy Egrets (Egretta thula), American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos), American Coot (Fulica americana), Yellow-headed Blackbirds (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus), Wilson's Phalaropes (Phalaropus tricolor), Franklin's Gulls (Larus pipixcan), Swainson's Hawks (Buteo swainsoni), American Kestrels (Falco sparverius), Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis), Common Nighthawks (Chordeiles minor) and Brewer's Blackbirds (Euphagus cyanocephalus). For a reason unknown to me, some French people must have immigrated there in the past because we went through cities bearing French names like Paris and we even slept in a village called Montpellier.
25 July 1993. We left Idaho on our way to Wyoming and "Grand Teton National Park". The hills turned into mountains and we watched many American Kestrels, American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos), Black-billed Magpies (Pica hudsonia) and American Robins (Turdus migratorius). When I observed Grey Jays (Perisoreus canadensis) I felt we had made a step further north. The road climbed up and when we had reached the "Salt River Pass", we were 2600 m high, not far from the "Palesades Reservoir". I made new observations such as Canada Geese (Branta canadensis), Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) and Common Ravens (Corvus corax). Tourists were having fun rafting on the Snake River while I saw Common Merganser (Mergus merganser), Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), Gadwall (Anas strepera) and Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum). After some time we reached the "Grand Teton National Park" and even if was chilly and raining, we feasted our eyes on the beautiful mountains and the abundant wildlife. I saw 6 Pronghorns (Antilocapra americana), a male Moose (Alces alces), a Uinta Ground-Squirrel (Spermophilus armatus) and a White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys). We spent the night in a "Motel 6" in Jackson Hole, a nice little cow-boy town.
26 July 1993. We spent the day in the Park and I saw two bevies of 13 and 7 Elk (Cervus elaphus). The first Bison (Bison bison), which was to be followed by many others, came to us as a shock because I didn't imagine it was such a huge animal. We were now in the "Yellowstone National Park" and it was still chilly. The wildlife was abundant and I was surprised at the millions of acres which had been burnt down. Here, forest fire is viewed as something natural which must be accepted as such and people intervene only in exceptional circumstances, as they did in 1988. I was lucky enough to spot 3 Trumpeter Swans (Cygnus buccinator) and a few Uinta Chipmunks (Eutamias umbria). I was amazed at the sight of the many noisy geysers spitting out water and steam, while solfatars filled the air with a sulphurous stench. The numerous trophies that were visible everywhere in stores were proof that many people go hunting there. I added a few species to my wildlife list like the Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus lateralis), a few Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis), American Wigeon (Anas americana), a Broad-tailed Hummingbird, (Selasphorus platycercus), a Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus), Northern Rough-winged Swallows (Stelgidopteryx serripennis), Cliff Swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonata), Clark's Nutcrackers (Nucifraga columbiana), a Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) and a few Mountain Bluebirds (Sialia currucoides). In the evening, it was impossible for us to book a room inside the Park so we had to go out and we found a log cabin in the best pioneer style at some distance.
27 July 1993. We took another day visiting Yellowstone upon which the sun was now shining. The lakes surrounded with forests were lovely and the wildlife still as abundant. We saw more and more large mammals among which Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus) and there were also 40 Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula), some Trumpeter Swans and Ring-necked Ducks (Aythya collaris). After we had had a look at the very picturesque Colorado Falls in one of the canyons, we were again unable to find accommodation inside the Park and had to drive as far as Red Lodge, Montana, 110 km from there. On the way, we saw a female Moose with her calf and she looked ready to defend it if need be. We arrived pretty late in the evening but we had had much pleasure driving on one of the most beautiful roads in the USA which took us at an elevation of 3400 m.
28 July 1993. We drove the same way back in broad daylight this time. The weather was gorgeous and the scenery in the vicinity of Bear Tooth Pass was breath-taking. We saw several herds of Bison and many other animals. As for birds, I noted 4 White-throated Swifts (Aeronautes saxatalis), 2 Black-necked Grebes (Podiceps nigricollis) and a female Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis) with 4 chicks. What surprised us most, however, was the number and variety of geysers. The most famous of them is "Old Faithful" which spouts at regular intervals, but in my mind, the most spectacular is "Norris Geyser". We booked a room in a motel in West Yellowstone, outside the Park of course.
29 July 1993. After a solid breakfast, we first saw 2 Coyotes (Canis latrans), then a Moose, 2 Caspian Terns, 2 Savannah Sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis), 50 Canada Geese and a Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularia). Later on we drove to the Buffalo Bill Dam and booked a room in Cody, the town William Cody aka Buffalo Bill founded and spent the evening at a rodeo. If you want to go there, book a seat in the "Buzzard's roost", just above the "chute ", where the cow-boys get on the horses.
30 July 1993. You can't go to Cody and not visit Buffalo Bill's museum. If you're interested in learning anything about the times of the frontier and the Indians, that's the place to go. After this visit, we slowly moved southwards without seeing anything worth reporting.
31 July 1993. We went through the Indian "Wind River" Reservation and came across numerous Pronghorns and some Western Meadowlarks (Sturnella neglecta) in the desolate prairie, a Yellow-rumped Warbler (Dendroica coronata) in "South Pass", not far from the "Oregon Trail" where you can still see the ruts cut by the pioneers' canvas-covered wagons. We then left Wyoming and came back to Utah driving through the magnificent "Flaming Gorge" and "Sheep Canyon" which was just as beautiful. There were more and more Turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) and even a few Common Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris). We stopped in Vernal for the night.
1 August 1993 We cruised still farther down South in a Western movie type of countryside. The weather was scorching hot and reached 40°C in the shade in Moab. We saw various birds we had already observed, the only new one being the Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura). We took a fairly long drive in "Arches National Monument Park" where I found the rocky steeples just as impressive as the very arches which have been carved by the wind.
2 August 1993. We spent a whole day driving about "Canyonland" in a 4-wheel drive car we rented in Moab. As we hadn't booked anything in advance the only vehicle we could find was a huge pick-up about 6 m long with which we intended to roam in the vast stretches of rocks and sand. The tracks climbing up the mountain sides were so narrow that I sometimes had to back in the hairpin bends to be able to turn. This trip is something I will remember all my life and I understand why film makers chose this place to shoot films like "Geronimo" and "Thelma and Louise". We didn't make any new wildlife observation with the exception of a Least Chipmunk. (Eutamias minimus).
3 August 1993. We left Moab and drove across the southern part of "Canyonland" before heading for Colorado. We booked a room at the "Sand Canyon Inn" in Cortez and went out to watch an Indian family perform traditional dances. Although we found this was not very natural and made only to please tourists like us, we still found the performance very colorful and the atmosphere of the whole show very easy-going.
4 August 1993. We went on with our visit of the "Mesa Verde" Plateau and were shown round "Cliff Palace", a series of Anasazi cave dwellings. Everything was nicely organized and well documented as usual. While standing in the long queue, we observed a few Pinyon Jays (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus) and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds.
5 August 1993. We spent an extra day in Cortez to have a look at another Anasazi site called "Balcony House". That visit was very spectacular and we had to queue up for 2 hours before we could get inside. After that, we drove to Durango, right in the middle of a mining region where people looking for gold or other minerals made and lost fortunes a long time ago.
6 August 1993. We were now in the middle of the mountains and we took a series of passes which often reached altitudes around 3300 m, among them "Coal Bank Pass" and "Molass Pass". I made a few more twitches like the American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) or the Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon). I felt a little disappointed because I had seen quite a number of birds which I couldn't identify for various reasons. We spent the night in Gunnison, another cow-boy town. The radio played only country music by the way.
7 August 1993. I didn't note anything to write home about while driving across the mountains to the very posh winter resort of Aspen, except that we reached an altitude of 3750 m at "Independence Pass" and that I saw a Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris) and a Western Wood-Pewee (Contopus sordidulus). We booked a pleasant room at the "Tipple Lodge".
8 August 1993. We liked Aspen so much that we decided to stay an extra day there, just to have a closer look at the city. It was raining anyway.
9 August 1993. We left Aspen and Colorado behind us to go back to Utah. The countryside was still fascinating even though we got somewhat tired of seeing red rocks and canyons all around us. A young Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) flew over us before we arrived at the "Motel 6" south of Gunnison.
10 and 11 August 1993. We were back in Salt Lake City and took time enough to visit this very special city. The capital city of the state was built by the Mormons and we found its atmosphere a little peculiar. Everything is neat and tidy, almost sanitized. It smells of hard work and self-righteousness. I saw a child, 3 or 4 years old, dressed up to the nines in a grey suit and to me, this summed up the prevailing atmosphere. Of course our guides proselytized a little during the visits of the main sites in town but not to the point we might have felt they were trying to recruit us into a sect. We tried to find details about our ancestors in the huge data base they have in the city and we were somewhat surprised at the results.
12 August 1993. After we had travelled 8000 km by car and spent 35 hours on board different planes, it was time for us to come back to France. We took off from Salt Lake City, stopped over in Denver and Washington, D.C. and landed in Brussels.
To identify unknown birds, I consulted "A Field Guide to the Birds of North America" published by the National Geographic Society and "A Field Guide to the Birds of Hawaii and the Tropical Pacific", Pratt, Bruner et Berrett, Publisher Princeton University Press.