Although a variety of birds can be seen throughout Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, one trail in particular leads to the center of avian action. Nicknamed the "Bird Park Trail,'' Kipuka Puaulu Trail leads into the area's volcanic forests where the environs are especially attractive to native birds.
In the Hawaiian language, "kipuka'' refers to any area that features older vegetation than its surroundings. Lava flows from the Mauna Loa volcano have covered the region surrounding Kipuka Puaulu but, by sparing its vegetation and mature woodlands, a natural "island'' of sorts has been created here as a habitat for a variety of local species.
The trail entrance can be found just off the Kipuka Puaulu parking lot on Strip Road. A fence has been installed to keep grazing animals from entering the protected environs of Kipuka Puaulu and disturbing the vegetation, but a large sign bearing interpretive information marks the trail head and entry point through the fence.
A major fire destroyed a considerable expanse of vegetation along the trail in 2000. The foliage that has filled in is therefore not as lush as might be expected. Dodonaea shrubs, morning glory vines, bracken fern and clumps of bushy beardgrass dominate. There is also Styphelia, with its pink and white berries evident most of the year.
The first noticeable difference along the trail is the size of the surviving trees. Outside the kipuka, the Ohia are rather young and small, but the soil of Kipuka Puaulu is comprised of ash that is both old and deep. Koa and Ohia are both abundant, along with soapberry trees.
Heading off to the left, the trail forms a 0.7-mile loop that leads to and from a giant Koa tree, which has survived here for more than 100 years. There is bee's nest in a hole up high in the tree. Kalij pheasants are almost always present, and they are so tame they often accost visitors to be fed.
Benches have been provided for bird watchers to sit and search the area for rare and interesting avifauna. The Nene, Hawaii's state bird, makes its home here. It is immediately recognizable, with its black head and feet, brownish red wings with white tips, tan cheeks, and a tan or red chest. As an endangered species, only about 800 Nene are left and the Bird Park Trail is one of the few places in the islands where they can be observed in their natural environment.
Another local attraction is the Hawksbill turtle. These marine animals are native to the shores of Kipuka Puaulu, which contains three of their five remaining nesting sites in the Hawaiian Islands. Turtle eggs are continually threatened by the mongoose and feral cats, so protecting them has become a special duty of the park rangers here.
Palila birds can often been seen along the trail as they seek out the indigenous berries they seem to favor. Other exotic species often seen here include the laughing-thrush, house finch, northern cardinal, Japanese white-eye, and red-billed leiothrix. The singing of the birds in the trees and brush can often been heard long before a single one makes an appearance.
The address of the Kipuka Puaulu (Bird Park) Trail is Strip Road, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Big Island of Hawaii, Hawaii 96785. It takes about an hour to make the circuit with pauses for seeing the sights.