Celebrating National Wildlife Refuge Week: A Retrospective

Last Sunday (Oct 14) was just the first day of a fun, eventful, and informative National Wildlife Refuge Week.

KauaiThe USFWS (US Fish and Wildlife Service) rangers organized several guided hikes for the public to see parts of the Kaua’i wildlife refuge lands that are very rarely open to anyone outside the Service.

The groups were limited, with reservations required, and the places were all filled very quickly. So the rangers also provided additional guided hikes for the volunteers. Lucky us! 🙂

For the first of the two hikes, last Tuesday, my friend Alice and I planned to carpool ‘down south’ to join a kayak/hike group on the latter hike portion of their Hule’ia National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) tour.

Newell's shearwater at Lydgate ParkFortunately, Alice (thank you so much, Alice!) had learned that the Save Our Shearwaters team, with the help of a class from a local school, were planning to release a number of Newell’s shearwaters. Typically, at this time of year, these are injured or disorientated fledglings that have been rescued and nursed back to health.

Local school children helped release the shearwatersSo, we left Princeville early and headed to Lydgate Park on the East shore, arriving just in time to see the last of seven birds that day sitting on the release platform and surveying its surroundings (we would have been a tad-plus-a-smidgeon earlier, but yours truly remembered she’d forgotten her hiking shoes, which resulted in a 10+ minute round-trip delay – sorry, Alice).

Less than a couple of minutes after our arrival, we witnessed Newell’s shearwater #7 spread its wings, take off and confidently head out to sea – what a cool sight!

Lydgate ParkLydgate Park itself is also pretty cool. There’s a huge great maze-like structure, several stories high, that’s been built for kids (small and not-so!) with numerous decorative plaques dotted throughout the walkways.

Lydgate Park

So, of course we had to check that out before heading to the meeting point at Nawiliwili small boat harbor (with just a minor detour to Costco for a restock of alcohol as requested by ‘him indoors’)! 😉

Hule'ia NWR

The hike took us through the wetland area that was once a network of Hawaiian taro fields, but is now maintained for the endangered wetland birds, as well as to preserve the Hawaiian cultural history.

Mike Mitchell, Deputy Project Leader at the US Fish and Wildlife Service, ‘talked story’ as we wandered through the refuge, pointing out native and invasive plants and detailing the effort that was required to restore the wetlands after many years of disuse, as well as the ongoing maintenance.

Hule'ia NWRThe refuge is tucked away inland to the west of Nawiliwili Harbor and the Menehune Fishpond, with the Hule’ia river bordering the refuge to the south.

It was a wonderfully serene, quiet area, with the only outside noise coming from an occasional and distant helicopter…oh, and one microlight (which Alice told me she’d once experienced, which made me rather envious).

On Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, I was back at the lighthouse for my regular volunteer sessions. Although many of the visitors were unaware that it was NWR week when they first arrived, there were plenty of large posters and additional information for them to learn about all the refuges throughout Kaua’i, Hawai’i, and the other States.

Crater HillOn Friday afternoon, we were treated to a final volunteer-only hike to Crater Hill, part of the Kilauea NWR that includes KÄ«lauea Point, with its lighthouse, then spreads to the east along the coast.

We saw the colony of red-footed boobies from a completely different angle than we usually observe from the lighthouse, and were able to get much closer to them.

Juvenile red-footed boobieWe sat for ages on the hill, watching the adults and juveniles soar around us, and learning fascinating details about our Kaua’i seabirds from Beth Flint, FWS SeaBird Biologist. Boy! She was a wealth of knowledge, and so entertaining with it! She’s based in O’ahu, but I do hope she’ll return to us for future hikes.

Then we wandered across the cliff top, with fabulous views along the coastline, as well as across Kilauea.

We saw wedge-tailed shearwater chicks nestled in their cliffside burrows, loads of red-footed boobies, white tailed tropic birds, and great frigatebirds, including a large group of males (surprisingly, since at the lighthouse we see predominantly females and very few males) soaring around the cliffs.

Oh, and we were thrilled to spot a stingray, way down below us in the ocean close to shore. I snapped a photo of that too, but you wouldn’t thank me for subjecting you to it…it just looks like a small black dot; still, I know that dot’s a stingray!

Stingray, honest it is!…On second thoughts…

…you see, like I said…just a black dot!

After the hike, I helped Sheri, one of the rangers, set up for the free movie night that the USFWS had organized for the entire community at the old KÄ«lauea Theatre (now home to the Calvary Chapel). I grabbed a tasty pannini (to go) from KÄ«lauea Bakery (love love love their website!), and then enjoyed the show with the rest of the crowd.

The first of two movies was a recent short documentary called ‘Endangered Hawaii’, narrated by Richard Chamberlain and highlighting the plight of Hawaii’s endangered birds, including many species that are sadly already extinct. It was particularly interesting for me to see several familiar faces from the USFWS who were interviewed for the documentary, with many shots of Kaua’i including the refuges we visited earlier in the week. If you’re interested in the demise, but more importantly in supporting the protection, of these species, please purchase and encourage others to enjoy the DVD.

The feature film was ‘Oceans’; a Disneynature film released in 2010 (enjoy some spectacular clips in this trailer on YouTube). This movie was narrated by Pierce Brosnan. The narration was a tad slow-moving at times, but the underwater cinematography was truly remarkable, and left me utterly bewildered as to how they were able to capture many of the shots (that is, when I even remembered that a camera was there)!

Well, that’s another week of my life gone – kaput! Still, it was certainly interesting and thought-provoking, and one that left me with many impressions and fabulous memories, so I guess I shouldn’t complain too much at the speed of its passing!

Celebrating National Wildlife Refuge Week

KPNWR entranceOctober 14-20 is National Wildlife Refuge Week in the U.S and, to celebrate the first day, Kilauea Point NWR held another fee-free day on Sunday.

For anyone reading this who is local, there are many other interesting events planned for the week, including hikes to areas that are rarely open to the public. Check out the activities here.

The Refuge has kindly organized separate sessions, for volunteers only, for us to enjoy two of the guided hikes (Hule’ia to the south of the island, and Crater Hill which overlooks Kilauea Point). I haven’t yet had the opportunity to explore either, so I’m very much looking forward to both, on Tuesday and Friday.

Puddles the Mascot

Similar to the recently Nene Awareness Day, Sunday provided plenty of activities for the young-in-age and young-at-heart, as well as another appearance by Puddles the NWR Mascot.

Rumor has it that the rangers draw straws to determine the poor s*d who has to endure that costume in the Hawaiian heat! 😉

Wedgie chick

The oldest of our (visible) Wedge-tailed Shearwater chicks made a special effort to welcome the visitors by venturing out from the comfort of its nest behind a tree.

He (or she) is changing daily now, losing its grey fluff-ball appearance and gaining its flight (wing and tail) feathers, ready for fledging around mid-late November.

It was a beautifully sunny day at the Point, which encouraged a good number of visitors early in the day. After the recent lack of rain and trade winds, we had had a welcome dump of rain overnight, which freshened the ground and the atmosphere.

View from Kilauea Point

The sea was once again a pristine turquoise in the bay, and a pod of spinner dolphin made an appearance, to the delight of the crowd!


The Mango Tree Project

Mango prior to its near-death experienceIn our back yard stands a large mango tree.

Correction!

The effects of a chain saw massacreIn our back yard stood a large mango tree.

Today, that mango tree is a mere skeleton of its former self.

Weep not, however, as we have a cunning plan!

The huge mango-tree-that-was overshadowed much of the back yard, and with little benefit as we’ve not seen a single mango on it in the year+ that we’ve owned the house. It cost us a fortune to have it trimmed last November, and it was already back to its previous size.

Turns out that Steve’s massage therapist Pete (yes, Steve found an excellent chap who’s managing to keep Steve’s poor old damaged body ticking over with regular deep tissue massage) is something of a horticulturist/landscape gardener in his spare time. An odd combo perhaps, but we’re beginning to realize odd combos are pretty much the norm on this island.

Pete has another friend who’s an expert in growing different varieties of mango, and Pete has experience in grafting mangoes, to provide one tree that will fruit at different times of the year. (Heck, if we end up with mangoes of any damn type at one time of the year, we’ll be happy! Different types at different times? Clover!)

Pete and his victim

Hence our mango tree project!

Step 1: Pete (for a very reasonable fee) chain saws our existing tree to near-death.

Hanalei transfer (recycling) station

Step 2: Steve and I haul the debris from the back yard, up a wicked slope in searing heat to the front yard, and borrow a friend’s truck to take it to the local tip. (Anything to save a few bucks on haulage!)


[Steps 1 & 2 achieved!
]

Step 3: We wait and watch for some new shoots to appear.

Step 4: Pete grafts new varieties to existing shoots.

Step 5: We step back, wait, and pray.

Step 6 (in theory): We harvest tons of mangoes, and have a tree that we can ourselves keep trimmed to a manageable size!

Coconut AveBehind the mango, in fact across the whole back border of the property, is a row of coconut palms. Steve has been ‘negotiating’ with me for months, trying to persuade me that we should have the majority of them removed to let more light into the property. The theory (there’s that word ‘theory’ again!) being that this should encourage more growth of our sickly looking citrus trees, or more precisely our pathetic, mangled citrus bushes, and also (with luck) reduce our mosquito population.

I know he’s right (of course), but I’ve been resisting the demise of so many trees, following hard on the heels of the two attractive but admittedly useless pink tacomas that were removed last year to reduce the shade on our solar panels, as well as the enormous almost-barren avocado tree that had been planted as little more than a seedling 20 years ago in a totally inappropriate location.

We had finally come to a relatively amicable agreement, to conduct a 50% coconut cull but, thankfully, my tenacious negotiations had delayed that massacre. So, thanks to me, we still have a screen at the back border while our mango tree recovers.

Once we’re assured of some growth on the mango tree, we’ll start the coconut tree project, but that could be months away. Meantime, we are enjoying plenty of our home-grown coconut juice, fresh off the trees!

Saturday’s free-for-all at the Refuge

Free admission to the KÄ«lauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, that is!

KPNWR

KPNWR entranceIn case it escaped your notice(!), last Saturday was National Public Lands Day (NPLD), as so eloquently proclaimed by our President. In recognition of the occasion, the KÄ«lauea Point National Wildlife Refuge offered a fee-free day.

While kids age 15 or under have free admission every day, our fee-free days are a big deal for all the bigger kids, no age limit.

Nene - Hawaiian State BirdNPLD also coincided with our Nēnē Awareness Day. So, this was an opportunity to showcase our State Bird, the nēnē (Hawaiian Goose) , and educate and entertain our visitors with relevant information and activities.

The rangers did a great job of preparing for the event.

Nene walkOne of my favorite features was the NÄ“nÄ“ Walk. (OK, it doesn’t look quite so great in my photo, what with the fencing and poop, and the fact you can’t read the cards…perhaps you had to be there!)

As visitors wandered from the entrance along the pathway to the lighthouse, the rangers had laid a number of nÄ“nÄ“ cards, each with a snippet of information. For example, I was shocked to discover that in 1949 the nÄ“nÄ“ population was down to a mere 30! Today? Somewhere around 2,500! They are still endangered, but it’s a remarkable success story so far. [For those friends in California, the nÄ“nÄ“ is not the same as the pesky canada goose. The nÄ“nÄ“ is protected and revered, as opposed to being regarded as a noisy, messy pest!]

Matt, Forestry and WildilfeMatt, from the State Division of Forestry and Wildlife was on-site to provide nÄ“nÄ“ banding information. Kids were ‘banded’ in the same way…well, not quite…they were given a temporary paper band around their wrist, rather than a permanent plastic band around their ankle; still, like the nÄ“nÄ“, girls were banded on the left wrist, and boys on the right.

The ‘tattoo’ station was also very popular, and not just with the children. Many adults proudly displayed their temporary tattoos to me as they left.

Save our ShearwatersVolunteers also manned an exhibit highlighting the Save our Shearwaters campaign. On Kauai, there is particular concern at this time of year for the Newell’s shearwater fledglings who are often disorientated by lights, particularly bright lights pointing upwards. The wedge-tailed shearwaters fledge a little later, in November. With increased awareness of the plight of these endangered seabirds, and to avoid violating the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), night-time roadworks and other floodlight activities cease each year between September 15 and December 15.

Another reason for celebration on Saturday, was the $25,000 check that KÄ«lauea Point Natural History Association and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service received from Hampton Hotels, as part of their Save-A-Landmark program. The donation will be used for the ongoing KÄ«lauea Lighthouse Restoration.

The Kīlauea Lighthouse is the 60th site to be acknowledged by the company since Save-A-Landmark was launched in 2000, and was selected in 2011 for the award through a national voting campaign in which Hawai‘i residents and lighthouse supporters from around the world cast more than 25,000 votes on its behalf. A pretty impressive feat by such a tiny state!

Kilauea LighthouseThe lighthouse is in full renovation mode at the moment, with its body covered for lead-based paint removal and installation of new windows (the original openings having been bricked up in the 1930’s). The plan is to have it completed, and returned to its original splendor, prior to its centennial celebration on May 1, 2013 (which coincidentally is my brother’s birthday…think about it, bro, that could be quite a birthday party for you!)

* Thanks to US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for the nÄ“nÄ“ photo, and KÄ«lauea Point Natural History Association (KPNHA) for many of the details above. ‘Like’ them on Facebook to keep track of future activities.