Hawaii: Fall 2020

Fall 2020: 1 Aug–30 Nov

Alex Wang

Jennifer Rothe

Recommended citation:

Wang, A. and J. Rothe. 2021. Fall 2020: Hawaii. <https://wp.me/p8iY2g-aes> North American Birds.

La Niña conditions drove above-average amounts of rainfall, especially in November. August was hot and humid, at least along the windward sides of the islands. As usual, precipitation was driven by the predominant northeast trade winds. Notable storms were absent until mid October but arrived intermittently through November. The passage of these storms often coincided with arrivals of migrant shorebirds and waterfowl, which sometimes stayed only long enough to refuel and continue (as was the case with most Calidris sandpipers), while others stayed into winter. This latter circumstance was the case for the 14th state record of Red-breasted Merganser, which was discovered post-storm at the Kealakehe Wastewater Treatment Plant in Hawaiʻi County. Other rarity highlights include the 4th state record of Sora, the 5th state record of Stilt Sandpiper, and the 6th state record of Solitary Sandpiper. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic significantly decreased the number of visiting birders in the islands and also severely restricted the movement of resident birders, particularly as related to interisland travel. Very few pelagic trips went out and those which did were limited to small, noncommercial excursions.


Alex Moore, Ann Tanimoto-Johnson, Alex Wang (Hawaiʻi Co), Art Wang (ArW), A. Sullivan-Haskins, Bobby Brittingham, Bill Brynteson, Britany Clements, Ben Hoffmann, Bret Mossman, Bow Tyler, Ben Vizzachero, Cynthia F, Caleb Hancock, Cody Lane, Christopher Warren, David Brock, Doug Weidemann, Elliot Carter, Eric Kershner, Eric VanderWerf, Jason Gregg, Julie Harris, Judy Jordan, John Lynch, Jonathan Plissner, Jennifer Rothe (Kauaʻi Co), James Yeskett, Kellen Apuna, Keeley Lopez, Kurt Pohlman, Lainie Berry, Leah Miller, Lance Tanino, Matthew Chauvin, Mandy Talpas, Marion Weidemann (MWe), Michael Young, Michael Walther (MWa), Nathan Zimmerly, Paige Mino, Peter Rigsbee, Rebecca Dewhirst (RDe), Reginald David (RD), Ron Pozzi, Richard May, Sam Preer, Stephen Rossiter, Sherman Wing, Tom Mann, Thane Pratt, Viviana Wolinsky, Walter Oshiro, Zach Pezzillo

Geese through Ducks

Snow Geese are regular winter vagrants in the islands and in 2020 exhibited a strong early presence; they were detected on four of the main islands this fall. Hawaiʻi Island saw the first: an adult bird 8–10 Aug at Kealakehe Wastewater Treatment Plant (SP, RD). Four more individuals were later reported 23 Nov at Liliʻuokalani Gardens (TM, CF), followed by an immature bird at Whittington Beach Park the next day (LT). One Snow Goose was reportedly killed by a dog at Haʻena (Shipman’s Beach Park). Maui saw one adult at Kanahā Pond State Wildlife Sanctuary 11 Sep–15 Nov (CW, m. ob.). Oʻahu hosted at least five individuals. One adult accompanied two juveniles at James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge 8 Oct–24 Nov (RM, EV). A lone adult Snow Goose was also photographed on a sand beach (18 Oct), followed by sightings of four birds at Pearl Harbor NWR (19 Oct, BH) and Royal Kunia Country Club (5 Nov, MY). A lone juvenile Snow Goose was found napping on the airstrip at Salt Ponds Beach Park on Kauaʻi 17 Oct (JR); it stayed for only a few hours, presumably departing after the brunt of the storm had passed (17 Oct).

Greater White-fronted Goose was reported on three islands this period. The Hawaiʻi Island individual first arrived as a juvenile in the fall of 2017 and has remained a faithful resident of Wailoa River State Park ever since. The bird on Maui was detected only on 12 Nov, at Kanahā Pond SWS (ZP). Pearl Harbor NWR on Oʻahu hosted a Greater White-fronted Goose 13 Oct–25 Nov (KP, m. ob.). On Kauaʻi, a lone, banded Cackling Goose has periodically appeared in and around Kīlauea Point NWR since 2008, and this fall was no exception; the bird was noted on 31 Aug, 11 Sep, and 20 Nov (SR, JG, LM), with an additional observation on 11 Nov from Hanalei NWR (LM). Kealakehe WTP on Hawaiʻi also consistently hosted a single long-staying bird, resident since 2011, throughout the season (m. ob.); there was an additional single record of a bird in Hilo (4 Aug, BB). Oʻahu had at least two Cackling Geese: a pair seen at Hoakalei Golf Course (21 Aug, AM) and one near Pearl Harbor NWR (17 Oct, BC). The Fort Shafter bird, seen on 13 and 17 Oct (DB, KA), was never accompanied.

On Hawaiʻi, a Garganey was at Kealakehe WTP (4–27 Nov, AW, SW, m. ob.), which also hosted up to two Blue-winged Teal (RD, 4 Oct–18 Nov, m. ob.). Westside Kauaʻi had at least three Blue-winged Teal: a hen at Kawaiʻele State Waterbird Sanctuary on 19 Sep (SR, JR) followed by two drakes and a hen at Salt Ponds BP (10 Nov, VW). A single Eurasian Wigeon was sporadically mixed in with American Wigeon at Kawaiʻele SWS 24 Oct–16 Nov (JR, BV, JG). Lone Eurasian Wigeon also occurred on Oʻahu at James Campbell NWR (15–24 Nov, EV) and Lokowaka Pond on Hawaiʻi (6–24 Nov, SW). Up to five Eurasian Wigeon were counted at Kealakehe WTP 11–28 Nov (AW, SW, m. ob.).

A female Greater Scaup appeared at Salt Ponds BP on Kauaʻi on 9 Nov and continued through the end of the season (JR, EV, m. ob.). Lone Greater Scaup were observed at two locations on Oʻahu: at James Campbell NWR on 15 and 24 Nov (EV) and (a male) at Lokoea Pond on 6 and 15 Nov (EV). On the Big Island, a pair of Greater Scaup spent 2024 Nov at Whittington BP (LT, JH). There were regular sightings of one to two Greater Scaup at Kealakehe WTP 11–28 Nov (AW, SW).

Lesser Scaup and Ring-necked Ducks were commonly detected on Oʻahu and the Big Island but were conspicuously absent from the other islands. Buffleheads were reported only on Kauaʻi this fall. A lone bird appeared at Salt Ponds BP 6 Nov (CL). It was later joined by a second individual 14 Nov (JR, CL, BT), and at least one bird continued through the end of the season. A Red-breasted Merganser at Kealakehe WTP on 11 Nov (RD) continued through at least 28 Nov and was seen by many birders on the Big Island.

Grebes through Rails

Pied-billed Grebes turned up at two different locations on Hawaiʻi: one continuing at Wailoa River SP (4 Aug–13 Nov, SW, SP, AW) on the Hilo side and one at the Hōkūliʻa Shoreline Park (9–19 Nov, LT, JH) on the Kona side of the island.

Individual Mariana Swiftlets were detected in Oʻahu’s Keaīwa Heiau State Recreation Area on three occasions. Two encounters occurred on the upper Aiea Ridge Trail (2 Aug, MT; 27 Sep, KA). One was also documented on the lower ʻAiea Loop Trail 14 Nov (KA).

The fourth state record of Sora was discovered on 14 Nov (LT) at Kukio Beach on the Big Island, where it continued through the end of the period (m. ob.). This small, secretive rail frequented a small, ~20-foot restored pond and, to the chagrin of many, often remained hidden for hours, becoming shy at the smallest noise. It then became more brazen over time, and later in the season could be seen out in the open, indifferent to passersby on the adjacent boardwalk and beach access.


One or two Black-bellied Plovers were seen on the Kona side of the Big Island: one at the Kealakehe Wastewater Treatment Plant 10–12 Oct (AW, TP, RD) and one about 10 miles north at Keāhole Point 14 Nov to the end of the period (LT). A one-day wonder Semipalmated Plover was photographed at Kawaiʻele Waterbird Sanctuary, Kauaʻi 8 Aug (BT). Another Semipalmated Plover was at Pouhala Marsh, Oʻahu 26 Aug–31 Aug (KP, RM, MY, LB, MT), and one was seen 28 Aug on Midway Atoll (JP). The banded and long-time resident Whimbrel of Molokaʻi decided to jump islands and was at James Campbell NWR 11 Aug–15 Nov (EV). Another Whimbrel was noted on Midway 6 Sep (JP). Also on Midway, a Bar-tailed Godwit that had been present since winter was last seen on 13 Aug (JP).

Two Ruffs, both juveniles, were seen this fall. One was discovered on 6 Sep on Midway (JP, EK, KL); it proceeded to winter there. The other occurred on north Oʻahu at the Kahuku Ponds of James Campbell NWR 9–17 Aug (MY, KP); it was then seen for one day on the south side of the island at Pouhala Marsh on 18 Aug (EV).

Sharp-tailed Sandpipers had a strong showing on only Kauaʻi and Oʻahu. A single bird was encountered on 22 Sep and 17 Oct at Kawaiʻele SWS (JR, SR). Later, three birds showed up at Salt Ponds BP on 19 Oct (JR, JG), and at least one individual was consistently seen there until 10 Nov (m. ob.). On Oʻahu, a lone Sharp-tailed Sandpiper was at Ewa Beach 17 Oct (BC). James Campbell NWR hosted two on 21 Oct and a single individual on 6 Nov (EV). Hawaiʻi Prince Golf Club hosted a pair on 25 Oct (EV); one bird continued until 27 Oct (KP, MY, KA). In the Northwesterns, two birds were on Midway at the water catchment area 18 Sep–9 Nov (JP). Notably, and felt more dramatically due to the interisland travel shutdown, there was not a single record of this often-annual migrant reported for Hawaiʻi Island—the first time since 2015.

On Kauaʻi the fifth state record of Stilt Sandpiper was discovered at Salt Ponds BP around dusk on 18 Oct (JR, BT); the ID was clinched the following morning with better light. The bird was documented daily until 22 Oct, when heavy rains swamped all remaining wadeable spots in the immediate area.

Dunlin were seen on Maui, Oʻahu, Kauaʻi and Midway. The first, on Oʻahu, frequented the highway side of James Campbell NWR, from Kahuku Aqua Ponds through Fumi’s shrimp farm, from 20–24 Oct (MY, KP, EV, AM, CH, BH). Then one (possibly the same) individual was seen at the Waiawa unit of Pearl Harbor NWR on 10 Nov (MY). Next, one was found on 12 Nov at Kanahā Pond SWS on Maui (ZP) and seen there until 18 Nov (EC, JY). One Dunlin was found on Kauaʻi at Salt Ponds BP 13 Nov (JG) and was seen by many though 24 Nov. And, lastly, one was on Midway 19–22 Nov (EK).

The first of many Pectoral Sandpipers of the fall was seen on 6 Sep at Midway (JP). The Big Island’s first two were both found on 26 Nov: one at Kealakehe WTP (AW) and one at ʻAimakapā Pond (TP). Up to four individuals were seen at once the Kealakehe WTP (9 Oct) before departing by 31 Oct (m. ob.). One was seen in south Kona at Hōkulia Shoreline Park on 10 Oct (LT), and another was reported on the Hilo side at the Bayfront Soccer Fields on 19 Nov (AW, ArW, AT, BM). On Oʻahu up to three individuals were seen in the vicinity of James Campbell NWR, mostly at Kahuku Aqua Ponds, from 3–22 Oct (m. ob). Two individuals were seen at the Hawaiʻi Prince Golf Club on 26 Oct (MY). Only one Pectoral Sandpiper was reported on Kauaʻi; it was seen just once at Salt Ponds BP on 22 Oct (JJ).

A Semipalmated Sandpiper was found at the Kealakehe WTP on 7 Sep (RD) and seen by many observers thereafter until 21 Sep. This was not only a first Hawaiʻi Co record, and the 14th for the state, but it represents the furthest south this species has ever been documented in the Pacific. The first Long-billed Dowitcher of the season was found at Pouhala Marsh on Oʻahu 31 Aug (LB, PM). At least two were seen on the north shore near James Campbell NWR 21 Oct–24 Nov (m. ob.). On the Big Island, a Long-billed Dowitcher was at the Kealakehe WTP 26 Sep–14 Oct (m. ob). Another three were found at ʻOpaeʻula Pond in North Kona on 10 Oct (AW, TP); they continued into winter. On Kauaʻi possibly as many as four Long-billed Dowitchers were at Salt Ponds BP on the evening of 18 Oct (JR, BT), and at least one continued through 23 Oct (m. ob.). A Wilson’s Snipe was seen and well-photographed in flight (EV) over its 6–24 Nov stay at James Campbell. Another was observed at Radar Hill on Midway on 3 Nov (JP).

The state’s sixth record of Solitary Sandpiper was found on 2 Oct at Kahuku Aqua Ponds (MY) and seen by many Oʻahu observers through 12 Oct. It was refound in south Oʻahu at the Hawaiʻi Prince Golf Club on 25 Oct (EV) and not seen again. An extra-pale tattler at Pearl Harbor NWR 12 Oct was identified by call as Gray-tailed Tattler (MY). While Wandering Tattler is abundant in the Hawaiian Islands, Gray-tailed remains a rare vagrant and is fairly elusive, though its similarity to Wandering Tattlers may cause it to be often overlooked. Numbers of Lesser Yellowlegs seemed low this season; the only location that hosted more than a single individual was Pouhala Marsh, where on 18 Sep there were two (EV). The season’s first Lesser Yellowlegs was at the Kealakehe WTP on 10 Aug (RD); it was seen there by many observers until 5 Oct, and in addition, it was twice seen at ʻAimakapā Pond (21 Aug, PR; 1 Sep, RP). On Oʻahu, individual Lesser Yellowlegs were observed at Kahuku Aqua Ponds 24 Aug–18 Sep (KP, m. ob.) and later at Pearl Harbor NWR 17–19 Oct (LB, MC, MY). Another was seen on 10 Sep on Midway (JP).

Gulls through Seabirds

On the Big Island, a first-cycle Ring-billed Gull was at Kealakehe WTP on 20 Nov (RD), and it remained through the end of season (m. ob.). One Glaucous-winged Gull was documented on Hawaiʻi island 115 Nov; it hopped among Kealakehe WTP, Lokowaka, and Keāhole Point (PR). On Oʻahu, at least three juvenile Glaucous-winged Gulls frequented Ka’ena Point Natural Area Reserve from 20 Nov onwards (DW, MW, NZ, m. ob.). One of these was a rehabilitated bird from the prior winter; it was banded at the Hawaiʻi Wildlife Center and since has been noted moving among islands, from western Oʻahu to both the Kona and Hilo sides of the Big Island.

On Midway at the water catchment area, the Little Tern that had been frequenting a Least Tern breeding colony since July was last reported on 21 Aug (JP). Notably for the main Hawaiian Islands, a Gray-backed Tern was reported from Lānaʻi Lookout, Oʻahu 6 Aug (EV); it was mixed in with a group of Sooty Terns. Of similar note, Least Terns bred in the main Hawaiian Islands this year at Oʻahu’s James Campbell NWR, where up to seven individuals were observed 28 Aug (EV). Sightings away from this nexus included one individual at Pearl Harbor NWR 6–7 Aug (KP, MY) and as many as six individuals regularly occurring throughout the period on the Big Island at Kealakehe WTP (SP, m. ob.).

On 1 Aug, two Laysan Albatross were yet to fledge from Kīlauea Point NWR on Kauaʻi (LB). The Short-tailed Albatross pair continued on Midway and hatched a chick on 23 Oct (JP, KL). A Kermadec Petrel was observed landing on the ground on seven occasions at the NAF Hangar on Midway 3 Sep–17 Oct; audio recordings were obtained (JP). A seawatch on 10 Oct at Keokea BP on the Big Island (LT) tallied three Mottled Petrels, one Juan Fernández Petrel (also reported near Miloliʻi on 16 Sep by RP), two Black-winged Petrels, three Cook’s Petrels (also observed north of Oʻahu on 28 Sep by RM and MT), and two Buller’s Shearwaters (also observed 29 Oct at Keāhole Pt. (LT)). The first Sooty Shearwaters of the season were reported on 28 Aug from Oʻahu waters (RM, MT) and from the Big Island at Honolulu Landing (SW). Reports continued with regularity from multiple seawatching sites on Oʻahu and the Big Island, and the last sighting was on 2 Nov at Keāhole Pt. (BB).

White-faced Ibis was reported on four of the main islands this season: on Kauaʻi at Hanalei NWR on 28 Aug (CL, JG), on Oʻahu at Pearl Harbor NWR from 2027 Nov (KP, m. ob.), on Maui at Kealia Pond NWR on 1 Nov (LB), and on Hawaiʻi at Hokulia Shoreline Park from 819 Nov (JL, RDe, JH, LT).

Raptors through passerines

A juvenile Northern Harrier was at Frigate Point on Midway 9 Oct–5 Nov (JP). A Peregrine Falcon was there 6–29 Nov (JP). Waikiki on Oʻahu also had three Peregrine Falcon sightings from 23–30 Nov (MWa).

A Eurasian Skylark was on Midway 14–17 Oct (AS, JP). While the species is a common introduced bird in grasslands of the main Hawaiian Islands, this was an exceptional vagrant for Midway, about 1,200 miles away. Native and endemic forest birds were reported with far less regularity due to the pandemic and travel shutdown. Notably, tours to Hakalau NWR on the Big Island were not running, and thus relatively few endangered forest birds were being reported. The few reports available were consistent with numbers of birds that would be expected under normal recent times. Yellow-faced Grassquit was reported on Oʻahu almost every month during this period: from Kuliʻouʻu Ridge Trail on 1 Aug (KP, MY), Wiliwilinui Ridge Trail on 11 Oct (MT), and Koolau Summit Trail on 4 Nov (EV). Detections of this species seem to be increasing, though it’s difficult to say whether this is due to increasing populations, increased effort, or some combination thereof.

Report processed by Michael Retter, 19 Mar 2021

Photos–Hawaii: Fall 2020

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