Saturday’s free-for-all at the Refuge

Free admission to the Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, that is!

KPNWR

KPNWR entranceIn case it escaped your notice(!), last Saturday was National Public Lands Day (NPLD), as so eloquently proclaimed by our President. In recognition of the occasion, the Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge offered a fee-free day.

While kids age 15 or under have free admission every day, our fee-free days are a big deal for all the bigger kids, no age limit.

Nene - Hawaiian State BirdNPLD also coincided with our Nēnē Awareness Day. So, this was an opportunity to showcase our State Bird, the nēnē (Hawaiian Goose) , and educate and entertain our visitors with relevant information and activities.

The rangers did a great job of preparing for the event.

Nene walkOne of my favorite features was the Nēnē Walk. (OK, it doesn’t look quite so great in my photo, what with the fencing and poop, and the fact you can’t read the cards…perhaps you had to be there!)

As visitors wandered from the entrance along the pathway to the lighthouse, the rangers had laid a number of nēnē cards, each with a snippet of information. For example, I was shocked to discover that in 1949 the nēnē population was down to a mere 30! Today? Somewhere around 2,500! They are still endangered, but it’s a remarkable success story so far. [For those friends in California, the nēnē is not the same as the pesky canada goose. The nēnē is protected and revered, as opposed to being regarded as a noisy, messy pest!]

Matt, Forestry and WildilfeMatt, from the State Division of Forestry and Wildlife was on-site to provide nēnē banding information. Kids were ‘banded’ in the same way…well, not quite…they were given a temporary paper band around their wrist, rather than a permanent plastic band around their ankle; still, like the nēnē, girls were banded on the left wrist, and boys on the right.

The ‘tattoo’ station was also very popular, and not just with the children. Many adults proudly displayed their temporary tattoos to me as they left.

Save our ShearwatersVolunteers also manned an exhibit highlighting the Save our Shearwaters campaign. On Kauai, there is particular concern at this time of year for the Newell’s shearwater fledglings who are often disorientated by lights, particularly bright lights pointing upwards. The wedge-tailed shearwaters fledge a little later, in November. With increased awareness of the plight of these endangered seabirds, and to avoid violating the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), night-time roadworks and other floodlight activities cease each year between September 15 and December 15.

Another reason for celebration on Saturday, was the $25,000 check that Kīlauea Point Natural History Association and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service received from Hampton Hotels, as part of their Save-A-Landmark program. The donation will be used for the ongoing Kīlauea Lighthouse Restoration.

The Kīlauea Lighthouse is the 60th site to be acknowledged by the company since Save-A-Landmark was launched in 2000, and was selected in 2011 for the award through a national voting campaign in which Hawai‘i residents and lighthouse supporters from around the world cast more than 25,000 votes on its behalf. A pretty impressive feat by such a tiny state!

Kilauea LighthouseThe lighthouse is in full renovation mode at the moment, with its body covered for lead-based paint removal and installation of new windows (the original openings having been bricked up in the 1930’s). The plan is to have it completed, and returned to its original splendor, prior to its centennial celebration on May 1, 2013 (which coincidentally is my brother’s birthday…think about it, bro, that could be quite a birthday party for you!)

* Thanks to US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for the nēnē photo, and Kīlauea Point Natural History Association (KPNHA) for many of the details above. ‘Like’ them on Facebook to keep track of future activities.

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