A typically atypical week at the Refuge

I do thoroughly enjoy my volunteer sessions at the Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge (KPNWR). The less informed might imagine it a somewhat repetitive, uneventful role: hang at ‘the Point’, chat with visitors, explain about our seabirds, talk story about the lighthouse history and restoration, occasionally politely ask someone not to eat, drink, smoke (or whatever else they’re doing that they’re not allowed to do at the refuge), watch for birds, dolphins, and whales…

However, the routine is never quite routine. Take last week, for instance:

The annual bird count:

IMG_4784The annual Christmas bird count is held across the States. Our contribution was to walk around Kīlauea Point on Sunday morning (Dec 16), counting any birds (not just seabirds) that we saw or heard.

IMG_4774As you might imagine, birds being birds, this is not a precise, scientific process!

In the case of the nēnē, it’s not so difficult. Many of them tend to hang out in pairs at this time of year, grazing in a few open areas, and it’s easy to read their band codes without disturbing them, with the help of binoculars.

On the other hand, the Japanese White-eyes and the Kōlea aren’t so cooperative; they don’t stay still for long and aren’t banded, so there’s no way of knowing if we’ve counted the same bird twice (or 10 times)!

IMG_2319Then there’s the colony of red-footed boobies that roost on Crater Hill. Try counting hundreds of distant white dots on a hillside as they constantly take to the air, swoop and land again. In this case, we learned the accepted method was for each individual to pick a small area and count, say, 25 birds, then estimate the number of similar sized areas across the entire hillside and multiply the two. Finally, we took an average of all the counts. Our individual counts ranged roughly from 800 to 1000 birds, so I was relieved we weren’t expected to count every one!

Even though not precise, the annual bird count is a useful, long-established, exercise that indicates trends in bird populations. It’s a regular event on the refuge’s calendar that provides an enjoyable morning for volunteers to get together with rangers and other experts to cover parts of the refuge that we otherwise don’t frequent. You might think about finding a bird count near you next year!

The great escape:

img4813-copyThe following Wednesday, on an extremely windy afternoon, a visitor’s baseball cap was whisked off his head and settled on top of a high bank of naupaka. The cap had significant sentimental value, having belonged to a deceased relative, so the poor chap was desperate to retrieve it.

We made several attempts to hook the cap on the end of a very long pole (what a pity I was too involved in the whole process to think about snapping a photo), but neither the wind nor the cap would cooperate and it finally dropped further into the deep shrubbery, out of reach.  So we called in the cavalry, one of our rangers eventually clambered to the rescue, and man and cap were happily reunited!


The gosling photoshoot:

Proud nēnē parents and their brood of four newly-hatched goslings were one of the main attractions last week.

They emerged from their nest under the naupaka and gradually worked their way along the west edge of the refuge behind the protective fence, nibbling at the grass.

IMG_4834A number of visitors went to extraordinary lengths to capture a photo of these tiny youngsters at the closest possible range!

Smoke without fire:

IMG_4824At the northern-most tip of Kīlauea Point is the islet of Moku’ae’ae, and on the east side of the islet is a fork in the rock with a hidden lava tube that occasionally spouts a plume of sea spray high into the air. This event is neither frequent nor regular; it depends on the swells hitting the cleft at precisely the right angle and height.

Unlike the more famous Spouting Horn near Po’ipū, we can go many days without seeing this spout, but we were treated to repeated displays last Thursday.

Every day is different – different conversations with visitors, different weather conditions, different sea swells, different number of bird and whale sightings – so I’m looking forward to many more entertaining, illuminating and unexpected events at the refuge in the new year!

All Creatures Great and Small

IMG_4769Yesterday, a neighbor had to take her cat to her vet, urgently, and was in need of a ride.

The surgery is tucked away down country lanes in the hills, mauka (inland) of Kapa’a. Not an area I’d yet explored, so I was interested to visit new ground.

IMG_4768Dr Basko runs All Creatures Great and Small, with the practice apparently occupying the ground floor of his home.

The staff are all delightful, and I was particularly impressed by Dr Basko’s ‘bedside manner’ with my neighbor, who was naturally concerned about her beloved persian, Lelani  (sorry, I didn’t take a photo of her, but she’s utterly adorable), who has the biggest roundest eyes I’ve ever seen in a cat, except maybe Simon Fry’s Cheshire Cat in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.

IMG_4766Dr B, as his staff refer to him, was very caring to Lelani, as well as to my neighbor, and was patiently matter-of-fact as he stepped through the diagnosis and dietary regime that he recommended for the next few days.

This post is an unapologetic excuse to share with friends a few entertaining photos I took around the premises. However, if anyone is looking for a vet in the Kapa’a area I would, on my brief experience of his sincere caring of one sick cat, certainly recommend you check out All Creatures Great and Small.


The Mango Tree Project [continued]

Since my first post about our Mango Tree Project, we’ve completed Steps 3 and 4, and are now on Step 5 (waiting and praying…dum-di-dum-di-dummmm).

IMG_6512Step 3: We wait and watch for some new shoots to appear.
We didn’t have to wait too long. Pete gave the mango tree its dramatic haircut on October 1; we noticed the beginnings of tiny shoots within just a week or two, and after a month there was plenty of healthy growth noticeable from the lanai [photo, Nov 2].

IMG_7379Step 4: Pete grafts new varieties to existing shoots.
Once the shoots are large enough, about the thickness of his finger, a similar sized shoot of a different variety can be grafted. For us, after another three weeks of growth [photo], Pete decided our tree was ready.

IMG_7401So, on November 22, Pete gave us four initial grafts, and we’ll see how those take. He can repeat as necessary, when newer shoots grow to a suitable size.

Tools of the trade: A selection of potential grafts, tape, and a very sharp knife (which it appears he had already tested on his thumb!) 😉IMG_7386

Step 5: We step back, wait, and pray.
This will be a longer wait. Though I assume we’ll be able to tell pretty quickly if the grafts have not taken (if they wither and die!), we’ll have to be patient until next year to see if we have any fruit to harvest.

For those who read the original Mango Tree Project post to the end, I’m sorry to say my stand-out against the coconut palm cull didn’t last as long as I’d hoped. Two palms have met their demise since that post.

However, while the exposed green belt at the bottom of our yard is currently rather straggly and unsightly (mostly caused, insists Steve, by lack of sunlight due to those palms), I have to admit that the increased light across the yard, together with a tiny peak of the mountains that we didn’t realize we’d be able to see, have probably justified this latest mini-massacre.

First trip to (the island of) Hawai’i

I’ve been slacking on the blog-posting, so am trying to make time to catch up on the past few weeks, but it’s difficult! This retirement lark, on a beautiful island in a warm temperate climate with albatross and whales now arriving for another season, is a full time job. 🙂

IMG_6641Mid-November, I made my first trip to the island of Hawai’i (aka the Big Island), and spent a long weekend on the west side. I’m already looking forward to a return trip with Steve sometime, to explore Hilo to the east and the Kilauea Volcano – I hear that a night visit to watch the lava flowing into the sea is spectacular.

The Keauhou Lavaman triathlon was taking place just south of Kona, and our friend, Erich, was Head Coach for the Team in Training tri team this season.


So, I ‘bunked with’ with Erich, Ellen and baby Gabrielle in their hotel room. It was a pretty cool ‘squat’, as we had an ocean view at the Sheraton, with nightly entertainment from the huge manta rays that come to feed in the bay immediately below our room.

The lava-rock cliff by that bay is also used for private (well, maybe not so private) torch-lit dinners. Personally, I’d prefer a rather more secluded spot, as opposed to being overlooked by a hundred-plus balconies.

The four of us had united at Kona airport on Thursday – with me making the island hop from Kauai, via Honolulu, and the three of them flying in direct from San Francisco.

IMG_4451There are plenty of places to grab a meal at any hour in downtown Kailua-Kona, including Humpy’s, a lively sports bar/grill where we ended up in the middle of Thursday afternoon.

Exploring the North West

On Friday, we all took the opportunity to drive north together, in search of King Kamehameha I’s birthplace. There is no sign from the main road, so we crisscrossed very close to the site several times without actually seeing it.

IMG_6691During our meanderings we did, however, happen upon the Hawi Renewable Wind Farm and Upolu Airport, at the end of a narrow country road (imaginatively named Upolu Airport Road). By the time we discovered the birth site was merely a short hike from the airport, we were already some miles away and it was pouring with rain, so there wasn’t much support for retracing our wheel-treads for the umpteenth time.


We were pleased we continued to the end of Akoni Pule Highway (Hwy 270), as we were rewarded with an amazing view (even on a foggy windy wet day) across Pololu Valley, and, as we backtracked through Kapa’au, we found the impressive statue of Kamehameha I at the North Kohala civic center. Throughout our search, we were indebted to Ellen and her iPhone apps for shedding historical light on the area as we traveled. So the trip wasn’t a complete cultural failure.

IMG_6709Kamehameha I’s statue in particular has a fascinating story. The Wikipedia page is definitely worth a read. However, in brief, the full-size brass statue was initially commissioned and intended for Honolulu, but was lost when the ship transporting it sank near the Falkland Islands. A second statue was cast, but the original was unexpectedly retrieved, and ended up at Kapa’au.

IMG_6722We took a different route for the return to Kona, along Kohala Mountain Road (Hwy 250) to Waimea.


The landscape quickly changed to hills and farmland, with extensive views to Mauna Kea.

As we headed south, we experienced large exposed stretches of windswept terrain, including at one point a surprising patch of cactus.

I should give a shout out to the Red Water Cafe, in Kamuela, for a delicious lunch (and an additional shout out to Ellen for finding it with her Yelp app).


Coffee, Critters, and Culture

On Saturday, Erich had Head Coach duties back at base, so Ellen, Gabi and I headed south without him.

We started with an excellent breakfast at The Coffee Shack. The cafe is positioned high above the valley, overlooking Kealakekua Bay. From the lanai we had delightful views of the bay and the cafe’s garden.

IMG_6789We also discovered a large number of the most attractive geckos I’ve ever seen, the gold dust day gecko. Although, our delight was somewhat tempered by the discovery that they are an invasive species that are killing off the indigenous population!

Next stop, St. Benedict’s Roman Catholic Church, the Painted Church.

IMG_6802This church was originally built in 1842 and located near the shore of Honaunau, but gradually the villagers moved further inland to cooler, more fertile area; in 1899, the priest at that time decided the church should move too. So the church was dismantled and relocated higher up the slopes of Honaunau.

IMG_6809The Belgian priest, John Velghe, was a self-taught artist and single-handedly painted murals on almost every interior surface. Sadly, he died before the project was completed, so some panels remain blank.

Apparently the paintwork has never been retouched, which is remarkable considering it dates back to the late 1800’s and he used ordinary house paint.

IMG_6819The cemetery is surrounded by attractive tropical plants and flowers, overlooking the ocean. I can think of worse places to be dead!

IMG_6836From there we headed to Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park (The City of Refuge). This was a treat mainly for me, since Ellen had visited on a previous trip, and so spent most of our stop twiddling her fingers (I assume) while Gabi enjoyed her afternoon nap in the car.

IMG_6840It’s a fascinating site that’s been restored to show the layout and buildings in what were once royal grounds (for the chiefs of Kona) and the dividing wall that separated it from the Pu’uhonua, where people found refuge after war or breaking a kapu (religious law).

It took me well over an hour to complete the excellent and very detailed self-guided audio tour; there was so much information to absorb and views to enjoy.

IMG_6874From there, we drove north along City of Refuge Road. The map warns it’s a single-track beach road, so I’m not sure I would have attempted it without 4-wheel drive; however, we were surprised to find a well-paved stretch of straight road, with views on either side to ocean and hills.

We stopped at Napo’opo’o Beach Park, which has an impressive Hawaiian temple, Hikiau Heiau, and a distant view to Captain Cook’s monument (accessible only by kayak).

IMG_6908Our final visit (apart from a brief stop in the little town of Captain Cook, to purchase some Donkey Balls!) was to Greenwell Farms.

The way coffee is grown on the slopes of Kona is very different from in Kauai. In Kauai, the coffee trees stretch for many acres across flat lands, and the ripe cherries can be picked by large machinery. In Kona, however, coffee is grown in small hillside lots, five acres or less, among residential areas, and the trees are hand-picked.

IMG_6919Individual farmers then either process their own coffee manually, using a small hand-cranked press, or sell their sacks of coffee ‘cherries’ to larger enterprises, such as Greenwell’s.

IMG_6922They were in the middle of their harvest, and we joined a 20 minute tour of the grounds, including the processing plant where we saw large sacks of cherries being processed, and coffee beans spread out across huge racks to dry.

Team in Training rocks the Keauhou Lavaman

IMG_6970The big event was on Sunday, November 18. The participants were up at 5.30am, setting up their bikes and other equipment/clothing at the transition point.

At 7am I joined them as they entered the water at Keauhou Harbor and headed out to the water start (among the rest of the colorful bobbing heads you see in the photo). Erich and I cheered from the harbor wall.


Several of the Team in Training participants were taking part in their first triathlon and it was inspiring to watch them cope so well with the three disciplines.


We were at the finish line to cheer them in and help them celebrate. They deservedly enjoyed a big party in the Sheraton grounds.

So, that was my first visit to the island of Hawai’i. Too brief to experience the whole island, but that’s OK, as it leaves plenty to enjoy on future trips, and happily we’re only a couple of island hops away.