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Watching albatrosses, boobies, and an old lighthouse on Kauai.

Watching albatrosses, boobies, and an old lighthouse on Kauai Rookery for thousands of sea birds, including the rarely seen Laysan albatross, Kauai's Kilauea Point is one of Hawaii's most important--and most accessible--national wildlife refuges. At barely 31 acres, it's also one of the state's smallest. Modest size hasn't discouraged visitors: some 450,000 wildlife-watchers stopped here last year. But scarcity of habitat could eventually have a drastic effect on nesting bird populations. Barely a 10th of the birds you'll see roosting on sheer cliffs across the bay from the visitor center are actually within the refuge's boundaries. The most critical nesting areas, including those for the colonies of red-footed boobies and tropicbirds on the opposite point, are on lands owned by two large private development companies.

Through the efforts of local volunteer groups and the nonprofit Trust for Public Land, two key parcels may soon be acquired, adding 138 acres of critical shoreline habitat to the tiny refuge.

At our deadline, the 101-acre Crater Hill area (including the booby colony on the point) was in the process of being donated to the refuge by one developer,

who received some concessions from the country on nearby subdivision plans. And in Washington, D.C., Senator Daniel Inouye spearheaded the effort to acquire 38 acres of Mokolea Point (you can see it to the east from the tip of Kilauea Point). It should be part of the refuge by March.

Access to new refuge lands won't be possible until transfers are completed Crater Hill could possibly be open within a few months), but you can see the lands in question--and the bird and marine life that depends on them--from the high, windswept bluffs of Kilauea Point.

Seabirds, whales, and a rare monk seal

Remnants of the rim of an ancient volcanic crater, the cliffs along this stretch of coast form protected nesting sites for the red-footed booby, wedge-tailed shear-water, red- and white-tailed tropicbirds, and (in recent years) increasing numbers of the Laysan albatross--one of Hawaii's largest and rarest sea birds.

Although birding is good here year-round, now into May is when more species are visiting; April brings the most.

In February and March, the Laysan albatross goes through an elaborate mating display, then finds a protected sandy area to lay its single egg. The great frigate bird is also courting this time of year; watch the males inflate their red throat pouches. The frigate bird is nicknamed "man-of-war," a moniker that seems to fit when you watch one dive-bomb a wedge-tailed shearwater or red-footed booby bringing food back to a nest.

Humpback whales frequent the deep waters just off the point from December into May. Spinner dolphins and Pacific green sea turtles are regular visitors year-round. For the last several summers, endangered Hawaiian monk seals have been spotted along the shore; one male spent several months last summer lounging just off-shore on a small island.

Kilauea Point light... 75 this year

and ready for weekday visits

In the excitement of watching the birds, don't overlook the 52-foot-high lighthouse near the tip of the point. Built in 1913, it once kept boats from these treacherous shoals with its million-candlepower light. Today a smaller but brighter automatic light does the job; nearby, a one-room building houses a museum, bookstore, and interpretive center.

At the center, volunteers of the Kilauea Natural History Association will answer questions and help you spot nesting birds and other marine life. If you don't have binoculars, check out (free) one of the dozen pairs available at the counter.

Hours are 10 to 4 weekdays. Admission is $2 per family. From the Kuhio Highway (State 56), take Kolo Road 2 blocks to Kilauea Road, turn left, and continue about 2 miles to the refuge.
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Date:Mar 1, 1988
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