The next morning, Tom and I flew back to Honolulu to look at Pearl Harbor. Afterwards, Tom had to return to work, so I dropped him off at the airport, and checked in to the hotel that I had reserved. A few days before we were supposed to leave, I decided to pay Kauai a little visit on my own, to see if I couldn't scare up some more of these wonderful birds.
Unfortunately, my airline tickets still hadn't arrived. They were supposed to have been delivered in Kona, but they hadn't shown up. Now I was trying to call the airline and find out how I was going to fly without tickets, and they were a little less than cooperative. They finally told me that they would credit me for the $55 roundtrip Honolulu-Lihue, and I should just buy my tickets at the airport.
Turns out, the counter only wanted $45 for the same tickets!
Relieved to have that over with, I drove up to Diamond Head to see if I could find anything interesting. I saw a few things: Red-vented Bulbuls, a Nutmeg Munia, and several other kinds of waxbills along the main trail. Afterwards, I tried to find the spot where the Oahu Creeper is sighted, but was unable to. I think I had gone the wrong way. But whereever I was, the view from that spot was awesome!
The next morning, I flew to Lihue and rented yet another car. I went to the north coast in the afternoon, spotting Red-footed Boobies and White-tailed Tropicbirds off the ocean, a Hawaiian Monk Seal on the beach, and lots of neat non-native birds, like Cardinals and Shama Thrushes. Early the next morning, I drove to Waimea Canyon, since beyond that point is the famed Alakai Swamp: a place renowned for many kinds of native birds, many endemic to that one place. The bird I was after was one that hadn't been sighted since 1986, and may be extinct: the Kauai O'o.
Along the road to Waimea Canyon, I spotted an Erckel's Francolin, and took this as a good omen. I was very excited, equipped with my camera and binoculars, and my trusty book! I was somewhat surprised when I got there at around 9am, and found the parking lot was empty except for flock of (possibly feral) Nenes . This was the best birding place in the Hawaiian Islands, so where was everyone?
I began to walk along the main trail, which follows a ridge between the ocean and a forested valley. There were a few of the little red Apapanes along that stretch, but little else. Then, the trail suddenly sloped downwards, and I found myself surrounded by very thick undergrowth. That's when I began to hear the echoing whistle of a Puiaohi - a small brown thrush. It was frustrating, because everytime I thought I had locked on to its sound, it suddenly seemed to be coming from behind me! I was able to finally catch a glimpse of the bird, but it was a wonderful glimpse.
As I continued on, I began to see more birds: especially yellowish Kauai Amakihis, bright red Iiwis and Apapanes. Once in a very dark stretch, I sighted what I was positive was an Akialoa, a brownish creeper extinct not confirmed 1895: It seemed dark, had a long, sickle-shaped bill, and was clinging to the bark like a creeper. But it flew off, and I wasn't able to relocate it.
I really wanted to find a Kauai O'o. It was a native honeyeater, almost completely black, and was reputed to have a hauntingly beautiful song. I kept pushing deeper and deeper into the wilderness, not finding much except for little brown-and-white Elepaios and greenish-yellow Anianiaus . I spent so much time looking up, I didn't even notice that the very nicely-maintained boardwalk trail had turned into a couple of two-by-fours laid over a very muddy swamp.
Turn back? Well, a sane person would have. I don't think I qualify for that description. With expensive camera and binoculars in hand, I took another step and...
The plank gave way, and I was up to my neck in mud. I had noticed the mud, and imagined it was no more than a few inches deep - but here I was, suspended in five feet of the stuff, and not able to touch bottom!! All I had managed to salvage was my camera, by holding it over my head, but the poor thing had also gotten splashed right across the lens!
My camera bag... soaked.
My binoculars... useless.
My wallet? Thankfully accounted for. My car keys... Thank goodness, they were still in my pocket! Had they fallen out, I would have been in a lot of trouble.
I was able to grab onto the wooden plank and climb out of the mud. That was lucky, since I was around 4 miles from the parking lot, and hadn't passed another human being in at least two miles. I started to head back, dejectedly, thinking this was the perfect time for the rare birds and great photo opportunities to present themselves: now that I didn't have a working camera. After a mile or so, I finally came to a stream, and rinsed myself off in the icy-cold water. You wouldn't think streams in Hawai'i would be cold, but let me tell you, this one was freezing.
As I reached the summit of the trail again, there were other tourists passing me, mumbling something about "Man! It must get muddy up ahead!" That's when I turned back to see a medium-sized, black bird with a long tail, white eyering, and a patch of white on its wing. It called once (I don't remember the call), and flew down. I grabbed for my camera, but it was covered with mud! Aaargh!!! I couldn't even relocate the bird.
As I poured over the field guide, I was positive that this was either an O'o, or an O'o's ghost. There simply are no other long-tailed black birds that size in the area. Even the call matched. It was impossible to validate, though, and considering my state of mind, I wouldn't even trust my senses at that point.
I returned home the next day. I couldn't help but feel, oh, just a little discouraged by the whole episode. Still, what could be better than birding in paradise? Even if you do end up drenched in mud!