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!

IMG_4817

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!

Advertisements

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.

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!


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!