2012 Kauai IN STEP Children’s Science Show

Volunteering at the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge (here’s a previous post if you missed it), is already opening all sorts of unexpected and enjoyable opportunities to me, in addition to simply chatting with and informing visitors at Kilauea Point.

Last week I was at the Kauai IN STEP Children’s Science Show in Lihue. It’s a two-day science and technology fair, where businesses/groups explain to kids (from 4th, 6th, and 8th grades) how they use technology in their day-to-day work. This year KPNWR were one of five groups invited to participate – the others being the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF), Kauai Utility Cooperatie (KIUC), Hawaiian Telecom, and the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Association (NOAA) which manages the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.

The kids were split up into groups and were shuttled between the five stations for a mere 10 minute presentation at each.

Myself and another volunteer were there with a Ranger (Sheri), ostensibly to talk about the various technologies that help us at the Refuge, but at the same time to enthuse them about conservation, and maybe light a fire in them that might lead to a future career, or at least foster another caring volunteer.

The kids were tremendous. They came to us in groups of anything from 10 to 25 or more, and had to deal with a great deal of noise and chaos around them, as we were all in a large conference hall. They sat on the floor and were (mostly) fascinated to listen to Sheri, as she explained how the birds were here long before us, and talked of the responsibility we have to safeguard them. We fielded a remarkable number of thoughtful questions from genuinely interested minds.

Sheri’s pitch was guaranteed to peak their interest. Many of these kids go hunting with their dads, and have some familiarity with, for example, the remote scout cameras that we use to keep track of birds and also their predators. So, she pointed out a camera that was ‘watching’ them from the moment they arrived.

Garmin GPSThe idea of using technology as a form of ‘spying’ appealed to that age group. 😉 So their eyes opened even wider as we demo’d the ‘burrow-cam’ (a car mechanic’s flexible inspection camera), as well as the handheld GPS gizmo that rangers use to record the position of the remote cameras.

One of the most successful visual aids was the brief video clip we had set up on a continuous loop in the center of our display table. Recorded by an infra-red remote camera, it captured a cat scaring a Nene (Hawaiian goose) from its nest and attempting to grab an egg.

That story had a happy ending: after repeated attempts, the cat was unsuccessful, the Nene returned, and the chick eventually hatched. Since we had the GPS location of that specific camera, the rangers were able to trap the cat a few days later; it was neutered by the Kauai Humane Society and relocated.

On the lookout for mongooses and other invasive species on Kauai

I previously mentioned that I’m now volunteering at the KPNWR (Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge).

I thoroughly enjoy working being there. I’m learning so much from the rangers, and have such fun conveying all that I learn to the visitors.

One of the privileges of being a volunteer is that we get to attend the monthly meeting…a couple of hours on a Friday morning.

The first half of the agenda is an established sequence of updates, to keep us all up-to-date with what’s going on at the refuge, including a biological report…whatever’s happening depending on the time of year (currently, the wedge-tailed shearwaters have hatched a few weeks ago and are growing, and the Newell Shearwaters are approaching their fledging season); followed by, among others, an update from the KPNHA (Kilauea Point Natural History Association) which runs the Visitor’s Center.

After those various reports, for the second half of the meeting we’re treated to a “Featured Nature Nugget” speaker. Today, three members of KISC (Kauai Invasive Species Committee) joined us, to discuss the invasive species on Kauai and how to recognize them. Tiffani Keanini fascinated us with her talk and samples.

MongooseOur main interest was the mongoose (a truly vicious looking b*stard), since we’ve been hearing of several sightings and a couple of captures in recent months, and they would be a particular threat to our ground nesting birds and hatchlings if they were to establish a colony on this island.

However, we also learned of several plants that threaten the environment in a number of ways.

Ivy Gourd

The Ivy Gourd is the vine standing on the far right behind the speaker. Its flower and seed pod are shown in the slide.

For example, Pampas Grass (well known to my California friends) is a big no-no here. Apparently, some well-meaning but naïve homeowners have tried to plant them in their yards. However, I’m now on the case … looking for any further PG occurrences.

Other examples were the Ivy Gourd (“regarded as very invasive and on the Hawaii State Noxious Weed List”), plus another vicious, but teeny critter, the Little Fire Ant, which was inadvertently transported from South America and made its way to the North Shore of Kauai via a landscaping company working on an individual homeowner’s yard in the area.

A good reminder for me was how seeds can be spread inadvertently by hikers. KISC pleaded with us to brush off our boots whenever we’ve been for a hike, to avoid spreading the seeds of one species (particularly an invasive species) from one part of the island to another (which reminded me of a trip to the Galapagos Islands with a good friend back in 2002, when we diligently washed off our boots, snorkel equipment, etc., whenever we left one island to go to another).

Gotta love the KISC guys who provided us all with free boot brushes, as well as key rings and fridge magnets, to try to spread the word.

Heads up, any keen hikers who comes to visit us! From now on you will definitely be subjected to the boot brush!

KPNWR’s newest recruit at Kilauea Point

Tuesday marked my first day on the ‘job’, as a volunteer at the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge (KPNWR).

I had a brief orientation with Jennifer Waipa who’s the park ranger responsible for the volunteers. Then, for the afternoon shift from 1 to 4pm, I shadowed a long-time, very experienced and equally entertaining volunteer named Bruce Parsil.

Bruce Parsil, knowledgeable and entertaining mentorI felt like a new kid on the first day at school, and the afternoon was a great experience: perfect weather, with sufficient wind for the birds to be constantly playing and drifting all around us, and a ton of fascinating information to absorb from Bruce.

The main residents at this time of year are the frigate birds, shearwaters, red-footed boobies, and tropic birds (both white-tailed and red-tailed). The Laysan albatross have already bred, the youngsters have fledged, and all have returned to sea.

Btw, if you caught my previous post about the late-bloomer albie in our neighboring street, I’m delighted to report it fledged Monday morning, sometime between 7:30am when the owner went to work and noticed the youngster was still hanging out, and 8:15 when I walked Freya and it was gone…oh and, Nan, I admit my biased gender assumption was wrong, apparently it was a ‘she’! 😉

Here are just a few of the many facts I learned from Bruce and Jennifer (these notes are as much for a memory for myself as for any reader’s edification): 

  • ‘Our’ frigates are female only. No breeding occurs here; they just seem to hang out and chill. Either they are non-breeding females, or they are stopping off on their way to or from their breeding grounds. So, sadly, not much chance of the glorious sight of a male frigate with his huge engorged red throat.
  • There are two species of shearwater on the island, the Wedge-tailed Shearwater and the smaller Newell’s Shearwater. The ‘wedgies’ are not endangered, and breed in burrows around the bluff including close to pathways (so close that sometimes the chicks fall out and roll down the path). The Newell shearwaters, on the other hand, are endangered, and usually breed further inland…high in the mountains. However, a recent program seems to have been successful in establishing a number of Newells on refuge land.
  • The shearwaters are now hatching. The first wedgie on the refuge hatched three weeks ago and, surprisingly, is situated in one of the most public, exposed areas, immediately outside the interpretation center beside the lighthouse. The parents return year after year to nest in that spot, so evidently the human activity doesn’t bother them too much. The chick is currently a cute pale gray/white fluffball which attracted a great deal of visitor interest and gave me several opportunities to regurgitate Bruce’s words of wisdom.
  • There is a hybrid tropic bird. The traditional white-tails have a pale beak, and the red-tails have a red beak…then there’s the hybrid that has a white tail and a red beak! I know, I’ve seen them!

I’ve omitted any details about the red-footed boobies…they will probably have a dedicated post in the future.

There were some other entertaining sights as well as the birds. We spotted a large number of spinner dolphins, who often hang out in the bay to the west of the Point until mid-afternoon, and we had just one sighting of a green turtle. No monk seals that afternoon, but I’ve seen one near the Point in the past.

Moku’ae’ae islet off Kilauea Point