Guided walks offered at Kealia Pond

A pair of Hawaiian stilts, or ae‘o, each stand on one leg Thursday afternoon at Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge will offer visitors new programs early next year, including free hourlong guided walks to view birds on Tuesday mornings beginning in January and continuing through March. - The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

A Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge naturalist will offer free hourlong guided walks to view birds beginning at 9 a.m. Tuesdays in January, February and March, according to an announcement.

Visitors should meet at the Kealia Pond Visitor Center, located at Milepost 6 off of the Maui Veterans Highway, formerly known as Mokulele Highway, in Kihei.

“It’s a great time to learn more about the refuge and the migratory and native birds,” the announcement says.

Visitors are encouraged to bring binoculars, water and sturdy walking shoes.

Also, on Jan. 6, Feb. 3 and March 3, the refuge and visitor center will be open for a family-friendly guided wetland walk with wildlife viewing opportunities and crafts for keiki.

Spokane, Wash., bird-watcher Jon Isacoff shows a photo he took of a laughing gull Thursday morning at Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge. The avid bird-watcher said that while the gulls are common on the East Coast and southwestern United States, they are rare visitors to Maui. “In the Eastern U.S., you could fall backwards and hit one,” he said. “They’re like pigeons, but they are rare for Maui.” By the markings on its wings, Isacoff estimated it to be a year old and guessed it may have flown in from California. - The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

The wetland walk is at 10 a.m. The center is open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is free.

Kealia Pond hosts more than 30 species of birds, including the endangered Hawaiian stilt and Hawaiian coot and migratory waterfowl. The refuge has walking trails and a coastal boardwalk in Maui’s largest wetland area. Established in 1992, the wildlife refuge covers more than 700 acres between Kihei and Maalaea.

Regular refuge hours are from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday. Visitor center hours are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. The center is closed on federal holidays.

The Kealia Coastal Boardwalk is open seven days a week from sunrise until 7 p.m., including federal holidays.

A Hawaiian coot, or ‘alea kea, surfaces Thursday after foraging for food on the bottom of Kealia Pond. - The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo