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!

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.

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