Hawaii: Fall 2023

Fall 2023: 1 Aug–30 Nov

Alex Wang

Jennifer Rothe

Recommended citation:

Wang, A. and J. Rothe. 2023. Fall 2023: Hawaii. <https://wp.me/p8iY2g-h7J> North American Birds.

While the Hawaii Region lacks some of the more obvious seasonal cues found elsewhere in the ABA area, the shift into fall is nonetheless perceptible and excitedly awaited by local birders. In addition to the return of the expected overwintering birds like Pacific Golden-Plover, Bristle-thighed Curlew, and other migrants, autumn ushers in a time where almost anything is possible. In contrast to 2022’s gull-depauperate fall, this autumn had respectable diversity, with Bonaparte’s, Franklin’s, Ring-billed, and Short-billed Gulls making appearances alongside the more expected Laughing and Glaucous-winged Gulls. Passerines do not commonly make their way to the islands, but this season saw at least two Barn Swallows in Hawaii as well as the region’s first-ever White Wagtails. Magnificent Frigatebird was another regional first which caused a stir in the birding community. Midway’s one-day-wonder Whiskered Tern was only the region’s second confirmed individual. The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands also saw their first living Long-tailed Duck, second Red Knot (the first in 58 years), and third-ever Siberian Sand-Plover. The Main Hawaiian Islands’ first-ever Harlequin Duck showed up near the southern tip of Hawaiʻi Island, and a Kona pelagic turned up the region’s fourth-ever Streaked Shearwater. There were multiple Hudsonian and Bar-tailed Godwits.

The crowning gems of Hawaii’s avifauna, however, are the native honeycreepers. Diminished from a stunning array of over 50 original species, several of the remaining 17 species—namely Kiwikiu, ʻAkekeʻe, ʻĀkohekohe, and ʻAkikiki—are also tilting dangerously towards extinction. Going into the fall season, there were only five ʻAkikiki left in the wild, victims of avian malaria carried to ever higher elevations by shifting mosquito lines. From foreign diseases and stowaway insects, to introduced vertebrates and sweeping monocultures of invasive plants, much of the contemporary Hawaiian landscape is dominated by non-native species from all corners of the world.

The impacts of a changing world combined this fall into disaster of another variety. While the Hawaiian Islands sustained no direct hits from hurricanes this season, the passage of Hurricane Dora to the south sent sustained winds of 80mph screaming over a landscape parched from months of below-average precipitation. Fires broke out on several islands, but Maui was hit hardest of all. The Makawao fire came within a hair’s breadth of taking out the Maui Bird Conservation Center, an aviary which houses some of the last living ʻAkikiki on the face of the earth. A larger fire ignited in western Maui and, carried by a flammable sea of non-native vegetation, quickly swept through the historic town of Lahaina, turning the quaint establishment into a hellscape and destroying everything in its path. The fire claimed one hundred lives and displaced five thousand residents from their homes. Burnt pages and singed family photographs were lifted high into the air column and deposited on the neighbor island of Lānaʻi, some 20 miles away. West Maui ground to a halt as locals were left reeling from the deadliest fire in recent US history.

Jennifer Rothe (Kaua’I Co), Alex Wang (Hawai’I Co).

Waterfowl through Swiftlet

Locally famous Snow Goose “Aflac,” resident on Kauaʻi since 2018, continued in its usual haunt at Princeville Makai Golf Course (m. ob.), as did the individual present at Hilo’s Waiākea Pond since Oct 2022 (m. ob.). On Maui, a Snow Goose flew by ʻUalapuʻe Fish Pond on 14 Nov, heading east (Brian Glynn). On Midway Atoll, a Greater White-fronted Goose was mobbed by White Terns as it flew over the cargo pier on 6 Oct (Jonathan Plissner, Nicholas Minnich, Anna Vallery, Calvin Grigal, Nereus Rankin). Oversummering Cackling Geese continued on Kauaʻi’s south shore at Mahaʻulepu Heritage Trail on 4 Oct (Keane Sammon, Isaac Fournier) and at Oʻahu’s Pearl Harbor NWR on 4 Oct (Kurt Pohlman). On Hawaiʻi Island, Kealakehe Wastewater Treatment Plant extended its decade-plus streak of continuous Cackling Goose presence (m. ob.).

A female Garganey was at Midway’s Eastern Island 22 Sep–11 Oct (Emily Onderbeke, Jonathan Plissner, Nicholas Minnich, Calvin Grigal) and Sand Island 12 29–Oct (Nereus Rankin, Jonathan Plissner, Nicholas Minnich, Anna Vallery). A Blue-winged Teal was at Oʻahu’s Pearl Harbor NWR on 29 Oct (Alexandria Sinker, Nathaniel Watkins) and up to three were observed at Hawaiʻi Island’s Kealakehe WTP 23 Oct–20 Nov (Reginald David, Joel Strafelda, John Lynch, Roxie Fu, Yuancheng Yang, Hanyang Ye). A female Eurasian Wigeon was found at Hōkūala on Kauaʻi on 27 Nov (Benjamin Vizzachero, Laurel Smith). On Oʻahu, two Eurasian Wigeon were at Nuʻupia Ponds 10–23 Nov (Peter Donaldson, Richard May). Three were seen there on 25 Nov (Kurt Pohlman), but only one was found the following day (Mona Clayton). A lone Eurasian Wigeon was also observed along the north shore at James Campbell NWR 3 Nov and 22 Nov (Eric VanderWerf, Robby Kohley). Two Eurasian Wigeon were relatively reliably observed at Kealakehe WTP on Hawaiʻi Island 9 Oct–26 Nov (m. ob.).

Canvasback was found on two islands this fall. A female was photographed at Waiākea Pond on Hawaiʻi Island on 22 Nov (Kaiden Bosch). On Oʻahu, a Canvasback was spotted 22 Nov at the Honouliuli Unit of Pearl Harbor NWR (DD Kido, Howard Kido) and a female was at Kaʻelepulu Wetland 23–25 Nov (Peter Donaldson, Richard May, Alexander Christensen, DD Kido, Michael Young, Walter Oshiro, Kyle Klotz, Kurt Pohlman). Elsewhere on island, a male and female Canvasback were observed at James Campbell NWR 18–25 Nov (Peter Donaldson, Richard May, Peter Lewis, Amanda Lewis, Debra Hurlbut, Caleb Hancock, Robby Kohley, Eric VanderWerf, Vikas Nagarajan, Ian Ghows, Judy Brunner). This site also hosted a Redhead on 19 and 22 Nov (Robby Kohley, Eric VanderWerf).

Greater Scaup was found 2 Nov at Kanahā Pond Wildlife Sanctuary on Maui (Lance Tanino, Markian Jaworsky). It continued through 12 Nov (Kyle Klotz, Nathaniel Watkins, David Hanna). On Hawaiʻi Island, an individual was at Kealakehe WTP 17–26 Nov (Benjamin Hack, Matthew Janson, Adrianna Nelson, Lance Tanino, Roxie Fu, Yuancheng Yang, Hanyang Ye, Kyle Klotz, Joel Strafelda, Nicole Carion, Michael Carion, Reginald David). On the Hilo side of the island, two Greater Scaup were reported at Waiākea Pond on 6 Nov (Mick Greene), while only one individual was noted on 24 and 27 Nov (Sherman Wing). One Greater Scaup was also reported from nearby Lokowaka Pond 10 and 20 Nov (Sherman Wing). An out-of-season Lesser Scaup was photographed at Kauaʻi’s Hanalei NWR on 16 August during the biannual waterbird survey (Jennifer Rothe, Laurel Smith). Oversummering records of the species are exceedingly rare in the Hawaiian Islands, and fall migrants don’t typically show up until Oct (Pyle & Pyle 2017).

A Harlequin Duck—more commonly associated with arctic and subarctic biomes—was photographed 10m from the shore of Midway’s Eastern Island on 28 Oct (Dan Rapp). Prior to this fall, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands had boasted six records involving a total of nine individuals of this handsome sea duck. Midway itself had claim to five of those, with the most recent Midway sighting being in 2006 (Pyle & Pyle 2017). Even more remarkably, a Harlequin Duck was also reported swimming along the shoreline at Honuʻapo near the southeastern tip of Hawaiʻi Island on 25 Nov (Jodie Rosam). Not only was this the first Harlequin Duck ever recorded in the Main Hawaiian Islands; it appeared to be the southernmost record of the species to date anywhere in the world.

Long-tailed Duck was photographed at Midway Atoll’s Kalaumanu (Eastern Island) 25 Oct (Nicholas Minnich, Calvin Grigal, Jonathan Plissner) and last observed the following day (Calvin Grigal). This marked the first time that a living Long-tailed Duck was observed in the Northwesterns; the only other record was of a deceased male which washed up on Midway Atoll on 23 Nov 1958 (Pyle & Pyle 2017). This fall’s bird was only the sixth live Long-tailed Duck ever documented in the Hawaii Region.

A Bufflehead was observed at Kauaʻi’s Kawaiʻele State Waterbird Sanctuary on 22 Nov (Jennifer Rothe, Stephen Rossiter, David Hanna). Another individual was at Oʻahu’s Pearl Harbor NWR 16 Nov and continued through the end of fall (Richard May, Peter Donaldson, m. ob.). On Maui, two Buffleheads were swimming in the Kahului Wastewater Treatment Pond on 27 Nov (Matt M.). On Hawaiʻi Island, two Buffleheads were at Hilo’s Waiākea Pond on 22 Nov (Kyle Klotz), while on the Kona side, a lone bird was observed at Kealakehe WTP 24–28 Nov (Kyle Klotz, Joel Strafelda, Nicole Carion, Michael Carion, John Lynch, Reginald David, Sherman Wing).

Hilo’s Pied-billed Grebe continued at Waiākea Pond, where it has been resident since 2015 (m. ob.). Another bird was reported from Hōkūliʻa Shoreline Park on 11 Nov (John Lynch, Susan Bonney). Mariana Swiftlet, introduced to Oʻahu in the 1960s, persists in low numbers on the island and was detected on the ʻAiea Ridge Trail a handful of occasions this fall: two birds were noted on 4 and 30 Aug (Lucas Lombardo, Michael Young), while single birds were reported on 13 Aug (Richard May, Bryan Shirota) and 6 Oct (Bill Hubick, Edward Boyd, Jim Stasz).


Black-bellied Plover was on Midway Atoll 7–19 Oct (Jonathan Plissner, Anna Vallery, Nicholas Minnich, Nereus Rankin). On nearby Eastern Island, one Black-bellied Plover was noted on 13 Oct (Jonathan Plissner), two on 2 Nov (Nicholas Minnich, Calvin Grigal), and four on 6 Nov (Nicholas Minnich). In the Main Hawaiian Islands, Black-bellied Plover was reported at Oʻahu’s Pearl Harbor NWR (Michael Young) and at Hawaiʻi Island’s Opaeʻula Pond (Joel Strafelda), both on 27 Sep.

Siberian Sand-Plover was seen with a flock of Pacific Golden-Plover on Midway Atoll’s runway on 17 Sep (Emily Onderbeke). It was photographed at the water catchment on 26 Sep (Jonathan Plissner) and observed there again on 9 Oct (Jonathan Plissner), 10 Oct (Jonathan Plissner, Chris Forster), and 23 Oct (Calvin Grigal, Nicholas Minnich). Siberian Sand-Plover, considered conspecific with Tibetan Sand-Plover under the name “Lesser Sand-Plover” until 2010, breeds in the Siberian steppe and tundra (Mlodinow & Boesman 2023). There have only been two prior records anywhere in the Hawaii Region, both of which also occurred in the Northwesterns: Lisianski Sep 1967 and Midway’s Sand Island Jul 1997 (Pyle & Pyle 2017). These observations predated the taxonomic split; however, records of Siberian Sand-Plover dot the western Pacific, while records of Tibetan Sand-Plover in the same area are relatively sparse.

A Bristle-thighed Curlew flew over Salt Pond Beach Park on Kauaʻi on 27 Aug (Leah Miller, Bow Tyler). A common migrant elsewhere in the state, the birds largely bypass Kauaʻi. The long-visiting, banded Whimbrel returned to Molokaʻi’s Koheo Wetland and was observed on 11 Oct (Eric VanderWerf). Two flyby “Hudsonian” Whimbrels were reported from the Royal Kona Resort on Hawaiʻi Island on 10 Aug (David Sibley). One Whimbrel was also reported from Oʻahu’s James Campbell NWR on 7 Oct (Peter Donaldson, Richard May, Danielle K), 18 Nov (Debra Hurlbut, Peter Donaldson, Richard May, Peter Lewis, Amanda Lewis, Caleb Hancock), and 25 Nov (Peter Donaldson, Judy Brunner, Ian Ghows). Midway Atoll also had a “Siberian” Whimbrel 24–28 Sep (Jonathan Plissner, Nereus Rankin).

This autumn was a notable one for godwits in the Hawaii Region. A Bar-tailed Godwit was on Midway Atoll 21–23 Oct (Nereus Rankin, Nicholas Minnich, Anna Vallery, Jonathan Plissner, Calvin Grigal). While the species shows up on Midway every other year or so, only four individuals have been found in the Southeastern Islands over the last decade, including the one photographed at Oʻahu’s James Campbell NWR on 20 Oct this fall (Eric VanderWerf). Elsewhere on Oʻahu, a Hudsonian Godwit showed up at the Honouliuli Unit of Pearl Harbor NWR. It was observed daily 28–30 Sep (Michael Young, Kurt Pohlman, Peter Donaldson, Eric VanderWerf), noted on 3 Oct (Michael Young), and photographed again on 18 Oct (J Joseph), 20 Oct (Michael Young), and 21 Oct (Eli Martin, Ben Hoffmann). There are only four prior confirmed records of Hudsonian Godwit in the Southeastern Hawaiian Islands, the most recent of which was in 2019.

Red Knot breeds Holarctically and undergoes an impressive long-distance migration, with records scattered across the globe. This fall, a juvenile Red Knot was seen at the Honouliuli Unit of Pearl Harbor NWR on Oʻahu 26 Sep–20 Oct (Michael Young, Kurt Pohlman, Chris Brown, Eric VanderWerf, Peter Donaldson, Tim Waters, Richard May, Mario Farr, Dave Staab, Peter Lewis, Amanda Lewis, Eli Martin). An individual—possibly the same—stayed at James Campbell NWR 3–22 Nov (Eric VanderWerf, Robby Kohley). The breeding-plumaged Red Knot on Midway Atoll 22–27 Sep was only Midway’s second-ever record of the species—the last being from Aug 1965 (Jonathan Plissner, Chris Forster, Nicholas Minnich, Nereus Rankin, Anna Vallery).

Elsewhere on Midway, a Ruff was observed at the water catchment area on 24 Aug, 6 Sep, and 9 Sep (Jonathan Plissner). Dunlin was on Midway’s Sand Island 23 Oct–1 Nov (Nicholas Minnich, Chris Forster, Jonathan Plissner, Nereus Rankin) and was seen again on Eastern Island 6 Nov (Nicholas Minnich). In the Main Hawaiian Islands, Dunlin occurred only on Maui: at Keālia Pond NWR 14–15 Nov (Nathaniel Watkins, Alexandria Sinker, David Hanna, Hope Caliendo) and at Kanahā Pond Wildlife Sanctuary/ Kahului WTP 6 Oct–28 Nov (Nathaniel Watkins, Alexandria Sinker, Eric VanderWerf, Lance Tanino, Markian Jaworsky, Randy Schietzelt).

Least Sandpiper was at Salt Pond Beach Park on Kauaʻi 7–20 Sep (Brendan Wang, Alexandria Sinker, David Hanna, Jennifer Rothe, Stephen Rossiter, Adrian Burke, Keane Sammon, Reginald David, Peter Donaldson, Richard May, Benjamin Vizzachero, Martin Allen). Short-billed Dowitcher was also noted at this location 12–26 Sep (Adrian Burke, David Hanna, Reginald David, Jennifer Rothe, Stephen Rossiter, Richard May, Peter Donaldson, Ryan Gallagher, Benjamin Vizzachero, Martin Allen, Isaac Fournier, Bobby Brittingham).

On Hawaiʻi Island, Spotted Sandpiper hung around Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park 6–15 Sep (Ron Pozzi, Sherman Wing, Joel Strafelda, John Lynch, Reginald David, Lance Tanino, Brooke Ross). Solitary Sandpiper was reported from James Campbell NWR 28 Oct (Richard May, Peter Donaldson). This was only the seventh occurrence of the species in the Hawaii Region, unless the bird seen at Pearl Harbor and James Campbell NWR on non-overlapping dates in Oct 2020 was actually two different individuals (Pyle & Pyle 2017).

Wilson’s Snipe was encountered on Midway Atoll on 4 Oct (Nereus Rankin, Calvin Grigal), 19 Oct (Nicholas Minnich), 25 Oct (Jonathan Plissner), and 21 Nov (Jonathan Plissner). On Kauaʻi, a Wilson’s Snipe was scoped from the Hanalei NWR overlook (Adrian Burke, Keane Sammon) and confirmed on the ground (Laurel Smith) on 7 Oct. At least one Wilson’s Snipe was at James Campbell NWR on Oʻahu 8 Oct–22 Nov (Eric VanderWerf, Mandy Talpas, Richard May, Peter Donaldson, Paul Rodriguez, Debra Hurlbut, Robby Kohley, Maurice DeMille, JoAnn Potter Riggle, Jeorg Graf), with as many as three individuals seen simultaneously on 4 Nov (Kyle Klotz, Peter Donaldson, Richard May, Marc Better).

Gray-tailed Tattler is perhaps more expected in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, given their relative proximity to its breeding grounds in Siberia. At least one bird was present and reported regularly on Midway Atoll 19 Aug– 29 Nov (Jonathan Plissner, Nicholas Minnich, Calvin Grigal, Nereus Rankin, Chris Forster, Anna Vallery, Emily Onderbeke). A Red Phalarope was discovered resting on Midway’s runway on 25 Oct (Lisa Brouellette).

Skua through Tropicbird

In the Main Hawaiian Islands, at least two–possibly three–South Polar Skuas were encountered during Cascadia Research Collective’s cetacean fieldwork between Kauaʻi and Niʻihau on 13 Aug (Robin Baird, Jennifer Rothe, Jordan Lerma, Colin Cornforth, Jana Phipps, Mark Mohler). An individual was photographed sitting on the water in the same area—near Lehua Islet—on 18 Aug (Steve Hodges). A pelagic out of Kona, Hawaiʻi Island also encountered a skua on 2 Sep (Lance Tanino). Pomarine Jaeger and Long-tailed Jaeger were both photographed during a 11 Sep pelagic trip, also out of Kona (Mandy Talpas, David McQuade, Tammy McQuade, Jonathan Slifkin, Reginald David, Linus Blomqvist, Ron Pozzi, Daniel Leifheit).

A Bonaparte’s Gull hung around the Mauna Lani Golf Course on Hawaiʻi Island 12–19 Oct (Susan McAdams, Joe Strafelda, Sherman Wing, Lance Tanino, Jeff Waters, Reginald David, Sam Preer, John Lynch). This was Hawaii’s first Bonaparte’s Gull since Feb 2020, which coincidentally was also observed at the Mauna Lani Golf Courses.

The Laughing Gull which oversummered at Oʻahu’s Nuʻupia Ponds continued throughout the fall season (Dain Christensen, Alexander Christensen, Peter Donaldson, Richard May, Russ Namitz, Leisyka Parrott, Peggy Horton, JoAnn Riggle, Mona Clayton). On Maui, the individual at Kanahā Pond from 12–20 Nov (Nathaniel Watkins, Alexandria Sinker, David Hanna, Eric Gustafson, Karl Gustafson, Jeff Zuckerman) was joined by up to two others by the end of the fall quarter (Karen Burns, Claudia Jamilla Nathaniel Watkins, Alexandria Sinker, Bill Crepps, Sandy Crepps, Josh Warren). A Laughing Gull was also reported at Waipouli Beach on Kauaʻi on 24 Oct (Tom Behnfield, Debbie Behnfield).

Franklin’s Gull was seen at three different locations along the northwest coast of Hawaiʻi Island: at Hualalai on 11 Nov (Tom Reeve), at Keāhole Point on 19 Nov (Lance Tanino), and on 23 Nov at Hāpuna Beach SP (Max Rabinowitz). Up to two individuals were seen at Kanahā Pond on Maui 12–30 Nov (Nathaniel Watkins, Alexandria Sinker, David Hanna, Eric Gustafson, Karl Gustafson, Claudia Jamilla, Joel Moore, Jeff Zuckerman, Matt M., Bill Crepps, Sandy Crepps, Josh Warren). Short-billed Gull was seen along the same stretch of coastline, at Waikoloa Beach on 20 and 29 Nov (Nene Research and Conservation) and at Mauna Lani Golf Course on 24 Nov (Peter Rigsbee), where a Ring-billed Gull was also observed that same day (Peter Rigsbee, Joel Strafelda).

Glaucous-winged Gull is typically one of the more common gulls to visit the islands; however, sightings this fall were limited to an individual at James Campbell NWR on Oʻahu on 21 Oct (Peter Donaldson, Richard May, Jeff Hayes) and a flyby off the Holei Sea Arch on Hawaiʻi Island on 22 Nov (Oliver Huang).

White Tern, rare near Kauaʻi, was seen on 26 Aug at Kīlauea Point NWR (Kathleen Viernes, Laurel Smith) and just east of Niʻihau during 5 Aug cetacean fieldwork (Robin Baird, Jennifer Rothe, Jordan Lerma, Colin Cornforth, Jana Phipps, Mark Mohler). The Cascadia Research Collective team also encountered a Gray-backed Tern in the same area that day. Gray-backed Tern was also reported during a 1 Sep Kēōkea BP seawatch on Hawaiʻi Island (Lance Tanino, Steve Colwell). In the Hawaii Region, Least Tern breeds on Midway Atoll and on Hawaiʻi Island, and sightings of the species in the immediate vicinity of those locations is to be expected. However, three birds also showed up at Pearl Harbor NWR on Oʻahu 24–27 Aug (Michael Young, Richard May, Kurt Pohlman). Only one bird was seen on 29 Aug (Kurt Pohlman).

A Whiskered Tern spent one day—24 Sep—at the water catchment on Midway Atoll (Chris Forster, Nereus Rankin, Anna Vallery, Nicholas Minnich). This individual is only the second ever confirmed in the Hawaii Region. The first was observed both on Midway on 29 Oct and later on Kure Atoll 9–26 Nov 2013 (Pyle & Pyle 2017). A Red-billed Tropicbird was reported during a 17 Sep seawatch from Makapuʻu Point (Amanda Yee). While this section of Oʻahu’s coastline is a well-known hotspot of activity for this long-recurring rarity, this sighting is only the fourth known fall occurrence anywhere in the Hawaii Region (the others being Aug 1998 at Kauaʻi’s Kīlauea Point NWR, Nov 1999 at French Frigate Shoals, and Aug 2018 at Oʻahu’s Lānaʻi Lookout).

Seabirds through Falcons

Midway Atoll’s famed Short-tailed Albatross pair was first sighted on 16 Oct (Calvin Grigal, Nicholas Minnich, Nereus Rankin, Anna Vallery, Jonathan Plissner). Both birds were seen again on 21 Oct (Lisa Brouellette), while only one was noted on 23 Oct (Calvin Grigal) and 13 Nov (Nicholas Minnich). A late Laysan Albatross chick was still present at Kīlauea Point NWR as of 17 Aug (Dean Hester). The majority of its conspecifics tend to have fledged by the end of July.

Kermadec Petrel was reported from a Kahala Point seawatch on Kauaʻi on 23 Sep (Adrian Burke). While the north shore has hosted the species for many years, the birds are typically gone from the area by the end of Aug. A Kermadec Petrel was also photographed during a 20 Sep seawatch from South Point, Hawaiʻi Island (Ron Pozzi).

Murphy’s Petrel breeds in the south-central Pacific Ocean but transits through Hawaiian waters and is occasionally observed at sea, as was the individual reported 140km southwest of Hawaiʻi Island on 9 Nov (David Pereksta). On the other end of the archipelago, on Midway Atoll, a Murphy’s Petrel landed on the ground near the power plant generator on 21 Oct and proceeded to pick at rocks and vegetation with its bill (Heather Fairlamb, Nicholas Minnich, Anna Vallery, Jonathan Plissner, Calvin Grigal, Nereus Rankin). The bird was photographed wheeling over the same area the following evening (Chris Forster). While rare; this behavior is not unprecedented on Midway; an individual—possibly the same—had also been observed engaging in similar activities in the same location in Aug 2014 (Robby Kohley), Aug–Oct 2015, Oct 2016 (Pyle & Pyle 2017), Apr 2017 (Kristina McOmber), and May 2018 (Jonathan Plissner).

Streaked Shearwater was photographed during a 11 Sep pelagic out of Kona, Hawaiʻi Island (Mandy Talpas, Daniel Leifheit, David McQuade, Tammy McQuade, Jonathan Slifkin, Linus Blomqvist, Reginald David, Ron Pozzi). Streaked Shearwater breeds in the western Pacific, but the species has been observed on only three prior occasions in the Hawaii Region: once in the Northwesterns (Laysan 1 Aug 1989) and twice in the vicinity of Kauaʻi (south of Hanapēpē 22 Apr 2000 and in the Kaulakahi Channel 22 Mar 2002; Pyle & Pyle 2017).

Buller’s Shearwater migrates through Hawaiian waters but records from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are few and far between, though possibly commensurate with lower survey effort. One Buller’s Shearwater was observed from a boat offshore of Kure Atoll on 27 Oct (Helen Fairlamb). Christmas Shearwater flushed from the water amidst a bait ball just north of Niʻihau on 14 Sep (Mandy Talpas, Reginald David, David McQuade, Tammy McQuade, Jonathan Slifkis). Another individual was photographed about 140km west of Hawaiʻi Island on 8 Nov (David Pereksta).

A Lesser Frigatebird flew west past Midway Atoll on 31 Oct (Nereus Rankin, Jonathan Plissner, Nicholas Minnich). Though Lesser Frigatebird breeds widely in the tropical and subtropical Pacific, records in the Hawaiian Islands are sparse, though slightly less so in the Northwesterns. Given their overall similarity to the ubiquitous Great Frigatebird, however, it is likely that many individuals go undetected.

Magnificent Frigatebird, on the other hand, had never before been reported in the Hawaiian Archipelago, making the adult female at Kauaʻi’s Kīlauea Point NWR on 17 Aug (David Sibley) a regional first. The species breeds almost exclusively in the tropical and subtropical Americas, save for a possibly extirpated Cape Verde population in the eastern Atlantic (López Suárez et al. 2013). Aside from a 15 Aug 1985 record of a juvenile from Belkofski Bay, in the Aleutian Peninsula (Gibson & Kessel 1992), the Kīlauea Point bird is the first individual to be documented farther west than the West Coast of the United States. The bird continued to be reported through 10 Nov (David Sibley, Dean Hester, Reginald David, Adrian Burke, Bobby Figarotta, Benjamin Vizzachero, Chris Brown, William Scott, Eric VanderWerf, Keane Sammon, Kevin Scaldeferri).

Nazca Booby was observed sporadically on Eastern Island in Midway Atoll NWR 14 Sep–29 Oct (Emily Onderbeke, Chris Forster, Nereus Rankin, Jonathan Plissner, Nicholas Minnich, Calvin Grigal). Pelagics out of Kona, Hawaiʻi Island also encountered Nazca Booby on 22 Oct (Thane Pratt, Sherman Wing, Jay Robinson, Babette Stubbs, Nick Komar) and 23 Oct (Mandy Talpas, William Younts), with an additional bird being encountered on 11 Nov (Dave Pereksta) and 13 Nov (Jane Rudebusch) as E/V “Nautilus” passed to the west of Hawaiʻi Island.

White-faced Ibis continued from summer at Kauaʻi’s Hanalei NWR 3 Sep–17 Nov (Jennifer Rothe, Stephen Rossiter, Adrian Burke, Keane Sammon, Kyle Klotz) and Maui’s Kanahā Pond 9 Aug–27 Nov (Priscilla Millam, Anna Lemon, Nathaniel Watkins, Alexandria Sinker, Kyle Klotz, David Hanna, Matt M.). Oʻahu’s first ibis of the fall was reported 25 Sep (Peter Donaldson, Richard May, Michael Young) and at least one bird was regularly reported through 29 Nov (Kurt Pohlman), with a high of five individuals on 4 Oct (Richard May) and 16 Nov (Kristen Tanski).

An Osprey was seen flying along the shoreline at Mākena SP on Maui on 17 Sep (Nathaniel Watkins). A male Belted Kingfisher was photographed at Hawaiʻi Island’s Lokowaka Pond on 4 Nov (Ichi Tanaka). A Peregrine Falcon was spotted on 25 Aug at the Waikīkī Hilton Kalia Tower, a hotspot of falcon activity in recent years. It was observed regularly through 31 Oct (Michael Walther). Peregrines were seen elsewhere on Oʻahu over Hauʻula Forest Reserve on 13 Oct (Charlene Quinlan) and at Kaʻena Point on 18 Nov (Roxie Fu, Yuancheng Yang, Hanyang Ye, Li Siqi). On Kauaʻi, a Peregrine Falcon cruised over Salt Pond BP on 10 Nov (Jim Denny, Joe Nirschl).


As far as vagrant taxons in the Hawaii Region go, passerines are particularly uncommon. However, Barn Swallow breeds Holarctically and undergoes a lengthy migration to the southern hemisphere and middle latitudes. It has been documented in the Hawaii Region on four, possibly five previous occasions, all but one of which occurred in the Northwesterns during early spring and fall migration windows in the 1960s (Pyle & Pyle 2017). Remarkably, Barn Swallow showed up on both Midway and Kure Atolls this fall. The Midway bird was first detected the evening of 3 Oct in the vicinity of the water catchment area (Chris Forster) and subsequently photographed (albeit in tough lighting conditions) the following day (Jonathan Plissner, Anna Vallery, Chris Forster, Nicholas Minnich). The bird—apparently of the “white-bellied” subspecies—was studied more thoroughly while it hunted insects above the cargo pier 6–7 Oct (Nicholas Minnich, Anna Vallery, Calvin Grigal, Nereus Rankin, Jonathan Plissner, Chris Forster). A Barn Swallow was also detected on Kure on 2 and 6 Oct (Bri Bishop). Given the 55 mile distance between the two atolls, it is likely that these sightings pertained to two individuals.

The introduced Chinese Hwamei is well-established on Kauaʻi, Maui, and Hawaiʻi Island but has declined on Oʻahu. However, one bird was heard singing on the Manana Trail 13 Aug (Kellen Apuna) and on ʻAiea Loop Trail 18 Nov (Yuancheng Yang, Hanyang Ye, Li Siqi). While infrequently encountered, this non-native bird nonetheless persists on the island.

This fall ushered in a regional first when a White Wagtail was found at the harbor on Midway Atoll on 22 Oct (Jonathan Plissner, Chris Forster, Nicholas Minnich, Anna Vallery, Nereus Rankin). This species breeds across wide swaths of Eurasia and occurs as a vagrant on the North American continent, particularly along the Pacific Coast (though occasionally much farther in the interior). However, while wagtails have been documented on Iwo Jima and the Northern Mariana Islands, records of the species in the remote Pacific islands are virtually nonexistent. The Midway bird—of the “ocularis” subspecies—continued through the end of the fall period (Nicholas Minnich, Calvin Grigal, Jonathan Plissner, Chris Forster, Anna Vallery, Nereus Rankin). Meanwhile, In the Southeastern Hawaiian Islands, a “lugens” White Wagtail was photographed catching flies and other insects atop mud drying at the Honouliuli Unit of Oʻahu’s Pearl Harbor NWR on 14 Nov (Eric VanderWerf). These observations represent the first and second records, respectively, of the species in the Hawaii Region.

Much has been written in recent years about the plight of the Hawaiian honeycreepers, marvelous in their diversity but—as is often the case with island endemics—also highly vulnerable to introduced threats. Mosquito-borne avian malaria has dealt a particularly devastating blow to several species as the non-native insects encroached upon higher-elevation refugia formerly too cold to harbor them. The precipitous decline of Kauaʻi-endemic ʻAkikiki over the span of the past few years was particularly alarming. By the conclusion of the summer season, only five individuals were known to persist in the wild (Dennison 2023). Following that announcement, two birds were observed on 28 Aug along Kauaʻi’s Mōhihi-Waiʻalae Trail (Brendan Wang, Nathaniel Watkins). Thereafter, there were a handful of sightings involving only one individual, on 29 Aug (Brendan Wang, Nathaniel Watkins), 2 Sep (Bobby Figarotta), and 15 Oct (Adam Byrne, Scott Terry, Brad Murphy). Efforts to establish a captive ʻAkikiki breeding population started in 2015 but switched to more of an all-out rescue mission in recent years as it became obvious just how quickly the birds were vanishing. By design, captive individuals are held in aviaries on two separate islands to avoid putting all the eggs in a single basket (or aviary). The wisdom of adhering to the old adage was illustrated this fall when the Maui Bird Conservation Center was seriously threatened by the outbreak of fires which also included the deadly Lahaina blaze. In the screaming winds, a tree fell on the bird barn, but fortunately the Makawao fire was stopped before it demolished the facility. The close call was just one more illustration of the myriad ways climate change can impact species.

Hawaiʻi Island’s distinctive Palila, last extant member of the original 16 “finch-billed” Hawaiian honeycreepers, is largely tied to the green seed pods of the māmane. Following a summer of blooming māmane at the relatively low elevation Palila Discovery Trail, there was a flurry of reports in Aug (Alex Jones, Joel Strafelda, Bow Tyler), starting off with a group of ten individuals on 1 Aug (Lucas Lombardo). Sightings at the discovery trail tapered off and were sporadic Sep through Nov (Nick Schleissmann, Benjamin Hack, Matthew Janson, Adrianna Nelson, Li Siqi, Hanyang Ye, Kyle Klotz, D Newell). Upslope encounters typically involved detections of multiple birds: eight on 17 Sep (Bret Mossman, Jack Bechtel), two on 26 Sep (Kean Oh), one on 28 Sep (Alexander Teodorescu), and up to seven on 23 Oct (Mike Thompson, Karmen King).

Maui’s iconic “crested honeycreeper,” ʻĀkohekohe, declined by 78% between 2001 and 2017, with the current population estimated at around 1657 individuals (Paxton et al., 2022). Three ʻĀkohekohe were found in Maui’s Waikamoi Preserve on 9 Sep, along with one Kiwikiu (Mandy Talpas, David McQuade, Jonathan Slifkin, Tammy McQuade, Sav Saville). Kiwikiu, whose current global population is estimated at around 135 individuals, is highly susceptible to mosquito-borne avian malaria (Paxton et al., 2022).

Kauaʻi endemic ʻAkekeʻe is also highly endangered, with a global population last estimated at 638 individuals following a 98% decline 2000–2012 (Paxton et al., 2022). Notoriously difficult to detect, given the converging similarity of its calls to other more common Kauaʻi forest birds (Paxton et al., 2019) as well as its penchant for hanging out high in the canopy, ʻAkekeʻe was nonetheless detected once in the ʻAlakaʻi Wilderness preserve on 22 Aug (Steve Hodges). Along with ʻAkikiki, Kiwikiu, and ʻĀkohekohe, ʻAkekeʻe is forecast to be extinct in the wild within the next decade (Paxton et al., 2022). Landscape-level suppression of mosquitoes via the Wolbachia incompatible insect technique will be an important cornerstone in conservation strategy for ensuring the future of these species (Paxton et al. 2022, Birds Not Mosquitoes).

Red-crested Cardinal was photographed outside the lobby of the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort on Hawaiʻi Island on 7 Sep (Sam Preer). While this South American species is well-established on all the other islands, it is still incipient on the big island. Yellow-faced Grassquit, native to eastern Mexico and the Caribbean, was introduced to Oʻahu at some point prior to 1974. Range expansions continued through 2005, though Waipiʻo Christmas Bird Count data strongly suggested population declines 1990-2014, with recent reports relegated almost exclusively to remote ridgeline trails. However, reliable summer reports of the species in a lowland residential neighborhood on the windward side bled into the autumn season; two were observed in this location on 8 Aug (Alex Jones).


Birds Not Mosquitoes. Accessed 3 Mar 2024. https://www.birdsnotmosquitoes.org/

Dennison, D. “Only Five ʻAkikiki Left in Mountains of Kauaʻi and Their Chances of Survival are Slim.” Department of Land and Natural Resources. 13 Jul 2023. https://dlnr.hawaii.gov/blog/2023/07/13/nr23-114/

Gibson, D. D. and B. Kessel. Seventy-four new avian taxa documented in Alaska 1976-1991. The Condor 94:454-461.

López Suárez, P, C. J. Hazevoet, & L. Palma. 2013. Has the magnificent frigatebird Fregata magnificens in the Cape Verde Islands reached the end of the road? Zoologia Caboverdiana 3 (2): 82-86. https://www.africanbirdclub.org/sites/default/files/CV_Magnificent_Frigatebird.pdf

Mlodinow, S. G. and P. F. D. Boesman. 2023. Siberian Sand-Plover (Anarhynchus mongolus), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (N. D. Sly, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.lessap2.01

Paxton, K. L., E. Sebastián-González, J. M. Hite, L. H. Crampton, D. Kuhn, P. J. Hart. 2019. Loss of cultural song diversity and the convergence of songs in a declining Hawaiian forest bird community. R Soc Open Sci. 14:6(8):190719. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31598249/

Paxton, E. H., M. Laut, S. Enomoto, M. Bogardus. 2022. Hawaiian forest bird conservation strategies for minimizing the risk of extinction: Biological and biocultural considerations. Hawai‘i Cooperative Studies Unit Technical Report HCSU-103. University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, Hawaii, USA. 125 pages. http://hdl.handle.net/10790/5386

Pyle, R. L., and P. Pyle. 2017. The Birds of the Hawaiian Islands: Occurrence, History, Distribution, and Status. B. P. Bishop Museum, Honolulu, HI, U.S.A. Version 2 (1 January 2017). http://hbs.bishopmuseum.org/birds/rlp-monograph

Report processed by Andrew Keaveney, 14 Jun 2024.

Photos–Hawaii: Fall 2023

The drabness of nonbreeding plumage belies the rusty orange color this Siberian Sand-Plover will sport on its breeding grounds. Photographed on Midway Atoll on 26 Sep 2023, this was only the third Anarhynchus ever documented in the Hawaii Region. Photo © Jonathan Plissner.

This breeding-plumaged Red Knot was the first individual of its species observed on Midway Atoll, in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, since 1965. 22 Sep 2023. Photo © Jonathan Plissner.

Murphy’s Petrel transits through Hawaiian waters but was observed calling on the ground on Midway Atoll. 21 Oct 2023. Photo © Nicholas Minnich.

The Streaked Shearwater encountered during an 11 Sep pelagic out of Kona was a Hawaiʻi Co first, and only the fourth individual ever documented in the Hawaiʻi Region. 2023. Photo © Linus Blomqvist.

The Magnificent Frigatebird at Kauaʻi’s Kīlauea Point NWR was a first for the Hawaii Region. A pointed black throat and belly, white extending to the sides of the neck, and bluish-grey orbital ring and bill helped distinguish this individual from the scores of Great Frigatebirds. 23 Aug 2023. Photo © David Sibley.

Barn Swallow had not been detected within the Hawaii Region since 1984. This individual, photographed on 7 Oct 2023 on Midway Atoll, was one of up to three individuals present this fall. Photo © Jonathan Plissner.

The Hawaii Region’s first White Wagtail was found at Midway Atoll’s harbor on 22 Oct 2023. The bird—which belonged to the “ocularis” subspecies—was still present at the conclusion of fall. Photo © Nicholas Minnich.

Remarkably, the Hawaii Region’s second White Wagtail—of the lugens subspecies—was discovered at Pearl Harbor NWR on Oʻahu mere weeks after the first. 14 Nov 2023. Photo © Eric VanderWerf.