Photographing in areas where birds are habituated to people is always very productive. Scenic overlooks in or near native forests are few, but those there are offer excellent opportunities to get great images.
The Kalalau Valley Overlook on Kauai is one of my favorites spots. When the Ohia trees are in bloom, the common Honeycreepers like Apapane and Anianiau visit blossoms 5 feet from the guardrail and the visitors. The same situation happens at Thurston Lava Tube at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island. For sea birds try Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge on Kauai. At all of these sites, the birds are habituated and provide wonderful photo opportunities. Don’t get so engrossed with photographing birds that you forget to look and photograph the wonderful views.
Although tourist sites and scenic overviews provide wonderful opportunities, as with any good site, there are some drawbacks. Definitely try to get to these public areas early in the morning in order to avoid the crowds. Once the tour buses arrive, you will become the resident guide and interpretation specialist and be the target of every tourist that visits the site, being inundated with questions and directions. It can be a little distracting, but with the birds spending only 1 minute every 20 at the flowers, it will keep you from getting bored. Keep in mind that this is also a great opportunity to educate tourists about native forest birds and habitat conservation issues. Here’s your opportunity to spread the word.
I once complained to my wife about this situation, as almost every tourist at the overlook asks me what I am photographing. Later, my wife made me a T-shirt. On the back it has my name and says “Today I am photographing……”, I fill in the blank with a hand written bird name on masking tape. It works!
Forest trails also provide great opportunities for bird photography. Trails provide a corridor through the forest vegetation allowing easy tripod setup, good sight distance, and a good way to move noiselessly through the forest. My favorite trails on the Big Island are the Pu’u O’o Trail (off the Saddle Road), and any of the forest trails at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The Pu’u O’o trail has a good solid lava surface and winds it’s way through open forest and through some old Koa kipuka (old forest fragments surrounded by newer lava flows) where many of the Big Island’s endangered bird species frequent. On Maui, the Hosmer Grove Trail, although short, can be very productive. On Kauai, the Awa Awa Puhi Trail is easily accessible and good for common bird species. Also on Kauai, the Pihea and Akakai Swamp Trails are great, but these two trails are only for the physically fit. They can be very muddy, narrow, with lots of ups and downs. Carrying a heavy rig, as well as other gear, on a 4 -5 mile round trip, can be taxing.