holoholo photo

For the Birds

While I do not know how many times I’ve been to Hosmer’s Grove to photograph native Hawaiian birds, I do know that I usually leave there disappointed in the lack of birds I saw, or the lack of in-focus pictures I took (usually the latter of the two). Today was a bit different…in a good way.

Named after the Territory of Hawaii’s first forester, Hosmer’s Grove is a drive-up campground located just inside the main entrance to Haleakala National Park at just under seven-thousand feet in elevation. There is a restroom, some parking spaces, charcoal grills, picnic tables, drinking water, and a self-guided half-mile hiking loop that works its way through invasive trees and native Hawaiian shrublands. Hosmer’s is right where the clouds form below the base of Haleakala, so more often than not, it is misty, damp, and night-time temperatures can drop to near freezing.

Photographers are drawn to Hosmer’s Grove for the chance to catch native Hawaiian birds feeding on native Hawaiian trees and plants. The fact that the half-mile hiking trail has numerous spots to look down on tree canopies makes it a safe and easy option to spot birds. There is even a bench at a lookout point, so you can use a flat surface to change equipment or rest between feathered visitors.

Today was a beautiful sunny day when I arrived at the park. I showed my Hawai’i Tri-Park annual pass (a bargain at $25 a year) at the gate and went right to Hosmer’s Grove to look for birds. I brought my 70-200mm zoom lens with a 2x teleconverter on it in the hopes that if I couldn’t get close to the birds I could photograph them from a distance and crop the picture when I got back home. I had my monopod, my hat, and a rain jacket with me from all my previous experiences at Hosmer’s.

In the beginning, the invasive whirly-bird was the only bird I could see or hear, but once it flew over the horizon, I began to hear the calls of the ‘I’iwi (ee-ee-vee), and the ‘Apapane (ah-pah-pah-nee).


I positioned myself under a sandalwood tree that had a few noticeable blossoms on it and I did not have to wait long before I had my first visitors. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a bird, just two tourists enjoying the beautiful weather and a nice leisurely stroll through the woods. As we said our good mornings to each other, an ‘Apapane showed up. I pointed the bird out to the older couple and jokingly said, “I’ll keep my camera in my bag until after you’ve seen it, because once I take my camera out the birds usually disappear.” I am definitely not going to be remembered for my predictions, like the late Nostradamus, although I do still think disco will have its day again.

Eventually, an ‘Amakihi (ah-mah-key-hee) made a brief appearance (thank you to David Schoonover, Mike Neal, Laura Berthold, and Tom Savidge for helping to identify this particular bird).



Followed by an ‘Apapane.


An ‘I’iwi spent the most time with me this afternoon. It did not flinch when I moved to get a better shot, or tried to get as close as I could to it. It just hopped from branch to branch, drinking the sweet nectar from the sandalwood blossoms, looking at me occasionally with inquisitive head tilts. I spent so much time with this particular ‘I’iwi, that when it finally flew away, I was relieved to be able to rest my arm from holding the lens.

VSL_0715 VSL_0841 VSL_0861 VSL_0873 VSL_0901 VSL_0917

As the ‘I’iwi flew away, these two non-native finches caught my eye.


Then I turned around and found another ‘I’iwi waiting for their picture to be taken.


The two hours I spent up in Hosmer’s Grove today produced more usable pictures of native birds (in focus) than all my other visits in the past ten years combined. Now I can’t wait to go back to see if I can recreate the magic.