Our albatross girls

I must have compiled half a dozen or more posts since my last of December 28. Unfortunately, they were all composed in my head, either while driving around the island (plenty of time for contemplation at a maximum of 50mph), or during one of my frequent bouts of insomnia (which I attribute to age, not location!) So, apologies for the extended absence and, obscenely belatedly, Happy New Year…or, rather less belatedly, Gung Hay Fat Choy!

One of the most frequent topics for my mental musings is our local population of laysan albatross. I briefly mentioned some weeks ago that they were/are back on Kauai.

Nov 2012: returning albatrosses find their mates

Nov 2012: returning albatrosses find their mates

They started returning mid- November. Once one appears, it seems they all stream in. After courting and mating, all the nesting pairs concentrate on incubating their (single) egg and raising their chick.

Each parent takes it in turn to fly all the way back to Alaska to feed (yes, seriously, a round-trip of roughly 6,000 miles), while the other is dedicated to sitting full-time on the egg. They swap every two or three weeks until the egg is hatched, then more frequently as the chick grows, often covering the round-trip in only four or five days. Not surprisingly, the nesting bird is too hungry to hang about for long once its mate returns to relieve it.

So, during this incubation stage, the neighborhood goes a little quiet for a while.

IMG_5386However, the activity level picks up considerably early in the new year, when the non-nesters start appearing.

"If I stand really still, perhaps they won't notice me."

“If I stand really still, perhaps they won’t notice me.”

Non-nesters include those adults who for one reason or another do not have a partner this year, as well as the three to seven year old juveniles who are not yet old enough to mate, some of whom have returned to the island for the first time since they fledged (they usually spend the first three years at sea).

Each chick is banded before it leaves the nest; Kīlauea Point and Princeville chicks are given a ‘KP’ prefix. Last year, KP338 and KP643 nested on the border between our home and our neighbor. I learned a little about this pair at that time, but, since we only visited our new ‘vacation’ home for a week or two in February 2012 and again that April, we didn’t see the whole process through all the stages. However, we did find out that they are both females.

We were surprised to discover that female pairs are quite common. It’s not known why this happens, but they are definitely as dedicated as their male/female counterparts in incubating the egg. When both females lay an egg, one of the eggs has to be removed, as they only have the resources to incubate and raise one chick. Of course, the chances of them having a fertilized egg are somewhat limited…but not impossible, since there’s sometimes a randy male hanging around the neighborhood ready to jump their bones when they first return to the area!

Sadly, last year’s egg was not fertile. In some cases, an adoptive egg can be given to an all-female pairing. A program was instigated some years ago to replace infertile eggs with proven fertile eggs from pairs nesting on PMRF (Pacific Missile Range Facility) land. The idea was to reduce the PMRF colony of laysan albatross to avoid collisions with aircraft by relocating the eggs prior to hatching, since an albatross will typically return to the area where it hatched.

Initially, adoptive eggs were relocated to the KPNWR (Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge) only, but it was later extended to those birds nesting on private lands (such as Princeville).

This wasn’t an option for our pair last year as, for some reason known only to herself, 643 decided to move two doors down to lay and incubate her own egg, while 338 was left alone at the original nest site. Without two adults to incubate an egg, there’s no hope of success, since, as I already mentioned, they must take it in turns to leave the nest to feed.

KP338 and KP643 (with 643's egg)

KP338 and KP643 (with 643’s egg) at the top of the slope

This season, the same pair returned, and this time ended up with their nest just a few feet from our garage, on the edge of the driveway. Not that that was their original intention! They started off tucked behind a sago palm and a bird of paradise plant, at the top of a small slope.

643 laid her egg first, on December 4, and left 338 to incubate it.

KP338 followed her egg after it rolled down the slope

KP338 followed her egg after it rolled down the slope

338 laid her own egg the following day, slightly to one side … unfortunately, it was closer to the slope and at some point during the day, presumably while 338 was shuffling around and beginning to pull some grass around her to form a nest, the egg rolled down the slope.

KP338 on the eventual nest site, admiring her reflection in the car!

KP338 on the eventual nest site, admiring her reflection in the car!

At least, 338 had the sense to follow her egg and sit on it! (An albatross will often ignore an egg that has accidentally rolled out of the nest, and will stubbornly remain on the nest while the egg goes cold – not the sharpest tool in the box!)

On the positive side, since 338 was by now nesting some distance from the sago palm, it was easy to remove 643’s egg without causing 338 any grief.

To avoid disturbance, the ideal is to keep at least 15 feet away from nesting birds but, given their location, that’s simply not feasible for us, or at least for the car, this year. Thankfully, neither 338 nor 643 seem too bothered by our comings and goings (though, of course, we don’t open the passenger door right next to them). At the risk of imposing human characteristics on these beautiful creatures, our pair do now seem to recognize our voices and appear quite comfortable on their accidental nesting site.

We had hoped that their infertile egg would be replaced with a PMRF egg, but sadly this year the State has decided not to extend the adoption permit to private lands. 😦 So, for now, our pair continue to incubate their egg, with no hope of hatching a chick. At some stage either the egg will break or the pair will simply give up hope and abandon the nest. They have been particularly faithful to each other and to their nest this time, despite the egg relocating itself, so we’re hoping they will have another go next year.

This chick (less than a week old) was hatched on a neighbor's front yard

This chick (less than a week old in the photo) was hatched on a neighbor’s front yard

Meanwhile, the happier news is that we now have 18 chicks in Princeville.

We’re enjoying watching the little balls of gray fluff grow, day by day, in our neighborhood.

Once again, I highly recommend Cathy’s blog, My Albatross Diary, as an excellent and entertaining source for more detailed updates on our Princeville chicks, an insight into albatross parenting, and many more great photos and videos.

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!

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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.

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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.

P.S.
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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

Striptease at Kīlauea Point

It been an exciting week at Kīlauea Point!

After almost 4 months of extensive ‘undercover’ renovations, the lighthouse has been disrobed.

It was tough having to mollify numerous visitors, many of whom had traveled thousands of miles hoping to view the lighthouse only to find it shrouded from railing to grass.

Of course, we have had our various seabirds to distract them, and in particular the wedge-tailed shearwater chicks that have featured in more than one recent post; but, for just a few of the most curmudgeonly, even those weren’t sufficient diversion.

This week, however, all that’s changed!

The lighthouse has been stripped naked, and it’s looking glorious!

As we watched the scaffolding being removed on Wednesday afternoon, bit by laborious bit, I was surprised how elated I felt.

When I returned the following afternoon, all the scaffolding was down and being cleared from the site. There is still some work left inside before the week-long centennial celebrations that start on May 1, 2013, but the renovations are currently comfortably ahead of schedule.

The added bonus this week is the return of the albatross.

The first arrived on Sunday, and we currently have four birds on Albatross Hill, to the west of Kīlauea Point.

They’re not easy to see, even with binoculars, from the Point, but I was treated to a brief hike over the hill with one of the staff on Thursday, before I went ‘on duty’.

KP184 was the most accessible of the four, though we were careful to keep our distance, so I was grateful for my zoom lens. Interesting how she it settled down in a semi-seated position. Still, it’s perhaps not surprising if she it was a tad weary after her long journey from Alaska.

Why ‘she’ and ‘her’? Because she’s banded on the left leg. Females are banded on the left, males on the right (except when the rangers very occasionally get it wrong!) 🙂  (see correction below)

Stop Press: Knowing that several albatross had arrived at the refuge, I’d been excitedly anticipating the return of our Princeville ‘residents’; today we had news of the first arrival. My neighbor and fellow Refuge volunteer, Cathy Granholm, has studied our local albatross for many years; she regularly checks the nests in yards and golf courses throughout Princeville, keeping detailed notes, and her blog is full of wit and wisdom. She takes a rest from blogging while the albatross are away, from August to November, so I was delighted to read her first post of the season today, and am looking forward to many more informative and entertaining posts over the next few months.

*CORRECTION*

I’m indebted to Cathy, not only because she bothered to read my post ;), but also because she quickly set me right about the banding. It seems that they can’t band albatross females and males differently, because the only definitive way to confirm the sex is by taking a feather and doing a DNA test. Apparently, all their ‘personal bits’ are very well hidden, on both genders!

It is true that the nēnē (Hawaiian geese) are banded left-leg for females, right-leg for males, and I had been reliably (I thought) informed the same method was used for the albatross. However, in the interests of retaining good relations, I will refrain from disclosing my source; suffice to say that, at the time, I was confident the information was accurate. Now I’m beginning to understand how the Beeb and Newsnight got themselves into such deep doodoo! 😦

Returning roosters at Kilauea Point

…and, by roosters, I do not mean the omnipresent Kauai chicken!

At the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge (KPNWR) the Wedge-tailed Shearwater chicks (‘Wedgies’) are getting close to fledging. The oldest of the visible chicks will probably be gone within the next couple of weeks. Which means the adults will no longer return to feed them. Adults and fledglings will all (individually) fly south to the Gulf of Panama for their winter vacation.

So, Steve and I headed out to the overlook at Kilauea Point just before sunset one evening last week, hoping to catch a glimpse of the adult Wedgies returning to their burrows and their chicks dotted around the Point.

If they did, we missed them! However, while we were waiting, we were treated to the marvelous sights and sounds of the Red-footed Boobies returning to their roosts.

The adults have bright red feet (I guess their name gave that away, didn’t it!), and also a very blue bill – a bizarrely beautiful color scheme.

These boobies stay with us year-round, and the evening ritual is evidently a popular sight, as we were joined by a number of visitors while we were there.

Our next ornithological treat will be the return of the Laysan Albatross from their Summer break in Alaska which should be any day now! During the three-month break between last seasons fledglings in July and the anticipated adult arrivals, I’ve been enjoying some local albatross stories and photos posted by Bob Waid, a neighbor and fellow volunteer at KPNWR.

Fledging Wedgies

I’ve been cataloging the progress of our Wedge-tailed Shearwater chicks over the past three months (mostly the same one near the lighthouse building), as it is the most accessible, having been laid and hatched above ground instead of in a more typical burrow).

I’ve snapped at least one photo a week since it was a couple of weeks old.

I’ve watched it grow from a tiny ball of almost white cotton wool, through various stages of grey fluff and the appearance of its flight feathers.

It has morphed into an adult as I’ve watched. Its chest is now whiter, with only patches of the grey chick-fluff remaining, and it is far more active, though still not moving more than a yard or two from its nest.

One day soon, I’ll arrive for my afternoon volunteer stint, to find an empty nest. I’ll be disappointed not to see the chick, or to share it with visitors, but delighted to know it’s fledged safely and is on its way down south.

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 Kīlauea 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 Kīlauea Theatre (now home to the Calvary Chapel). I grabbed a tasty pannini (to go) from Kīlauea 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!