Sunday, March 18, 2018

Holy Moli!

The last place I might expect to find the Laysan Albatross nesting is on a golf course in an upscale resort community on Kauai, but that's where we found a small colony of birds today. Of course, the public isn't allowed on the course, but since we are staying at the Makai Club, associated with the Makai Golf Course in Princeville, we could join a caravan of about 20 golf carts for a sunset tour of the course. The holes all looked the same to me, green with sand traps, but in 2 or 3 places, a hole overlooked the ocean.
 The threatened Nene goose seems quite happy to live on the course, grazing on the short grass.
I was astounded to find a small breeding colony of albatross at Ocean Hole 6 and 7. (Moli is their Hawaiian name). They are a large bird, with a wingspan of six feet or more, and can weigh up to 22 pounds, although the male is bigger than the female.The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (meaning Midway and Laysan) are home to 99.7% of the population.The Laysan albatross is colonial, nesting on scattered small islands and atolls, often in huge numbers, and builds different styles of nests depending on the surroundings, ranging from simple scoops in the sand to nests using vegetation. Laysan albatrosses have a protracted breeding cycle. They breed annually, although some birds skip years. They eat fish and squid, usually at night when the food rises to the surface, flying to Alaska to feed after the breeding season.
Juvenile birds return to the colony three years after fledging, but do not mate for the first time until seven or eight years old. During these four or five years they form pair bonds with a mate that they will keep for life. Courtship entails especially elaborate 'dances' that have up to 25 ritualized movements.
The breeding season is from November to June, and the rest of the year they spend at sea. The albatross can take advantage of air currents just above the ocean waves to soar for hours or days without flapping its wings. They do rest on the water to feed or sleep, but have been know to sleep while flying to avoid predators.
Both parents take turns incubating their single egg for almost two months before it hatches. As we gathered around the birds, this adult stared us squarely in the eyes and boldly walked through the crowd of admiring people, headed to his chick hidden under a tree behind us. When you only get one chick at a  time, you have to take extra good care of it.
We watched this chick tapping his parent's beak until she finally opened her mouth and regurgitated something for it to eat. An albatross named Wisdom hatched in or around 1951. In 1956, at the estimated age of five, she was tagged by scientists at Midway Atoll. The USGS have tracked Wisdom since she was tagged, and they have logged that Wisdom has flown over three million miles since 1956. To accommodate her increasing longevity, the USGS has replaced her tag a total of six times. In December, 2016, Wisdom (at the approximate age of 66) hatched and reared another chick. In December 2017, she was breeding again. Most albatrosses lay every other year, but Wisdom has successfully hatched a chick every year since 2006.

Blue Skies of Hawaii

After the luau last night, we spent an hour and a half stuck in traffic in our shuttle because of a rock slide on the road home. This morning, we checked early and thought the problem was fixed. However, we ended up sitting in traffic again for an hour when we should have been arriving at Lihue Airport for our small plane tour of the island. The good news was that the other couple scheduled for our flight was also stuck in traffic, so they held the flight for all of us.
After so much rain earlier in the week, we had a perfect sunny day to fly. The airbus held six passengers, all with a guaranteed window seat for taking photographs.
Our boat trip up the coast didn't give anything close to the views from the plane. Of course, it helped that we had sunshine. Look at the coral beds - we saw them on every coast.

We flew up the famous Waimea Canyon, known as the Grand Canyon of the Islands. Kauai is the oldest island, and has eroded into weird cliffs and promontories over millions of years. The soil is bright red from oxidation of the iron in the soil.
When Hawaii went out of the sugar growing business, some farmers got smart and discovered that coffee grows very well in Kauai. You have probably heard of Kona coffee, but they have larger coffee fields here in Kauai.
The Na Pali coast has no roads or resorts on it, and is particularly known for its sharp cliffs and steep canyons. Yet, the early Polynesians often lived in valleys in this part of the island.
Many waterfalls are double or triple falls. This one was used in the movie Jurassic Park. The first Indiana Jones  movie was filmed here in part as well as South Pacific and Blue Hawaii. The resort office keeps a collection of movies filmed in Hawaii, and we have watched several this week. It's fun to recognize a landmark you just saw in a movie!
The clouds built up as the afternoon progressed, but that didn't bother us. By 4:30, it was raining though, which is common here. If you ever get a chance, take a flight around the islands. It's the best view you will find!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Dodging the Rain-Kileaua Light House

We had a sunset boat trip scheduled for Tuesday afternoon on the other end of the island. What should we do in the morning, given the fact that rain was in the forecast?
Of the many National Wildlife Refuges on Kauai, one of the easiest to find is at Kileaua Light House. It stands on a short peninsula, and is home to many nesting sea birds. It also happens to miss the showers building up over the mountains, making it the perfect place to spend the morning.
The cliffs surrounding the Refuge are home to scores of nesting Red-footed Boobies - a life bird for us, since we did not see them in he Galapagos.
Nene Crossing signs are on both sides of the road, and the Nenes don't seem to be afraid of people. We have seen more of them on golf courses than anywhere else. Nēnē are extremely vulnerable to predation by introduced animals like rats, dogs, cats, mongooses, and pigs. Some studies, show that low productivity, perhaps caused by the poor available nutrition in their habitat and droughts also impact nēnē populations. Approximately 1,950 nēnē exist in the wild today with 416 on Maui, 165 on Moloka‘i, 850-900 on Kaua‘i, and 457 on the island of Hawai‘i. As of 2009, over 2,700 captive-bred nēnē have been released statewide either on public lands or private lands managed under cooperative agreements with State and Federal resource agencies. Nēnē have been raised in captivity by the Zoological Society of San Diego at the Maui Bird Conservation Center at Olinda and the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center on the Big Island .Nēnē was listed as an endangered species in 1967 under the Federal Endangered Species Act.

All these cliff dwelling birds provide a challenge to amateur photographers like me. I used burst mode on my camera, taking 5-6 quick photos in succession, hoping to get one good one of a flying bird, but the birds can still fly faster than I can find and focus! Of over 1,000 files, I finally reduced it down to 300 or so after several hours of serious editing. The Red-footed Booby ('A in Hawaiian) is a year round resident at the point. They really do have red feet! It is nesting season, and they were gathering sticks to take back to the nest site. We also found a few Brown Boobies, but no photos of them.
If you look up and think you see a Bald Eagle flying by, you are mistaken. The Laysan Albatross  navigates across thousands of miles of open ocean to return to their nesting grounds, mostly on remote Pacific islands. They are famous for their elaborate courtship rituals, which include sky-pointing, bill-clapping, and bowing. Moli can be seen November – July at Kīlauea Point. Wisdom, the oldest known banded bird in the wild, is a female Laysan albatross that nests within the world's largest albatross colony on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. She is at least 66-years old and a world renowned symbol of hope for all species that depend upon the health of the ocean to survive.These albatross can both fly and sleep while flying, which is handy if you spend months and months at sea.
Just as we asked ourselves where the Frigatebirds were, they showed up, chasing a Red-footed Booby. ‘Iwa roost near Kīlauea Point but no nesting has been documented. Lacking the ability to take off from water, ‘iwa snatch prey from the ocean surface using their long, hooked bills. Their prey primarily consist of fish and squid. Juveniles and adults often obtain food by piracy from boobies, tropicbirds, and shearwaters. ‘Iwa often supplement their diet by this type of harassment. 'Iwas means pirate we were told, making it a good name for them.
Hawaii has both the Red-tailed and White-tailed Tropicbird, but I thought we were seeing only the White-tails. The tails of either bird are long, skinny, and hard to see in the air. To my surprise, I learned that the Red-tails also have bright red beaks as well, so I may have seen more of them than the others. In Hawaiian they are called Koa‘e‘ula. Hawaii has no gulls, even though many birds resemble them here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Wet and Windy Kauai

The weather forecast for Kauai this week in NOT encouraging. They are predicting 80 - 90% chance of rain each day this week. Today, it was light, intermittent rain. You had to turn on the windshield wipers to see, but didn't need them a few minutes later. The clouds are low and heavier over the mountains than the sea. Not sure if I'll be able to get much in the way of photos of the mountains, but I'll try.
Today we signed up for a few activities (optimistically including an airplane ride later in the week), then drove around Princeville to get oriented. The brochures say that Princeville is named for the young son of one of the Hawaiian kings. I think it means you have to have a Prince's ransom to be here for any length of time. The St Regis Hotel is at the end of the street, so we thought we would check it out. However, there was no place to park a car without a code from the hotel. By law, anyone can have access to the water, but it is often only a dirt track between two buildings. On Kauai, there aren't as many lava rocks, just nice sandy beaches. The brochures talk about the best beaches, but don't say how you are supposed to access them. Hmmm. The beach in Hanalei is long and sandy with plenty of parking space, but because of the high surf warnings, it was closed for swimming.
Wow! Watch the spray coming in the air as the waves crest and come crashing down! Lightweight windbreakers let us walk around and stay mostly dry, while my camera and binoculars could snuggle in the dry under the jacket.
The Hanalei National Wildlife Reserve is just over a one-lane bridge going into town. We hope to explore it and another botanical garden while we are here. If we can find a place to park the car, of course.
Two new birds today - this Red-crested Cardinal is surprisingly melodic and afraid of nothing.

The little cinamon and black Chestnut Munia plucks small seeds off the grass...
...while the roosters crow non-stop. The buildings are constructed with a small space underneath, and I think all the chicken use that area for roosting.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Underwater Fish Photography

Black Triggerfish
I learned to snorkel for the first time 20 years ago, when we made our first trip to Hawaii. Kealakekua Bay is where Captain James Cook was first welcomed to the Hawaiian Islands in 1778, and where he was killed in 1779. The British put up a monument to him there. This morning, we didn't have any sun and the water felt pretty cold.
Black Triggerfish and Yellow Tang
Among tourists, however, this harbor is renowned as one of the best places to go snorkeling. The waters are calm and protected and huge varieties of fish swim with no fear of those funny looking things floating on the top of the water.
Today I learned some valuable lessons about trying to photograph fish. The first thing to consider is getting a camera that will safely go into the water without frying its electronics. The second issue is finding a strap to put on it so it won't sink to the bottom when dropped. Yesterday, we snorkeled some at a terrific nearby beach, and I only dropped the stretchable strap that held the key to our locker with all our stuff in it. Luckily, Dick was able to go down in the shallow water to retrieve it. Our waterproof camera didn't have a place on it to fasten a strap at all, so we couldn't use it. They make watertight plastic bags to put your cell phone in, but that seemed like too much of a risk to me. "How about a GoPro?" the woman at the snorkel company asked. "We rent them, and the photos are taken digitally, so you take home the memory card and bring back the camera." It comes with a strap and takes movies as well as stills. The thing is remembering to turn it off when you are done with a shot. Otherwise you get these odd looking combinations of air and water.
Blue photos
The other thing to remember is that water changes the light. It removes the red and yellow part of the light, leaving only the blue, so everything looks blue for the most part. These corals were quite colorful, and the fish were outstandingly bright, but they all fade together. When we got home, I looked it up, and if you really want good underwater photos, you have to use a flash. Well, I'm not sure if that's worth the bother or not.
Sea Cave
We rode in a Zodiac type boat today, with inflated sides and 2 giant motors in the back. We went really fast, leaping from one wave to the next, or falling hard into oceanic potholes. Ugh! But our crew took us along the shore explaining some of the lava formations to be found there, and stories related to them. By the time we reached Te Fiti, my camera didn't work any more, but she looked just like she did in the movie Moana. Pixar got ideas for Finding Nemo here as well as Moana.

After returning to the condo, I spent most of the afternoon throwing away blue photos and movies I took in the morning. I'll try to put some of them together sometime, but here is one that turned out pretty well. The room still won't stop moving up and down, so I'm going to bed soon. Up early in the morning to go birding with a local birder!

Friday, March 09, 2018

Goddess Pele

Of course, Hawaii was created by a magma hot spot in the middle of the Pacific Plate, and as the plate slowly moves over millions of years, the magma rises to make and island, then the plate moves northwest and a new island forms. The island of Hawaii has active volcanoes and the National Volcano Park does a great job of explaining the process. When we were here 20 years ago, we drove down to watch the lava pour into the ocean at sunset, but that flow has stopped for a while.
Hawaii actually has 5 volcanoes, 3 of which are active. You can see lava flows from 200 years ago when driving to the airport at Kona on the west coast. We were at about 4,000 feet elevation when we went to the park, and the summits are much higher. 
Pahoehoe is the lava that flows smoothly and makes ropy formations.
A'a is lava that makes sharp rocky formations. The black beaches are lava that exploded into small sand sized pieces when entering the ocean. There are even green beaches, where the lava formed olivine, a green stone.
When the first humans arrived, there was little variety in plants and animals. Huge tree ferns were everywhere.
Pigs brought by people and released, love to eat the fiddleheads in the tree ferns, knocking then completely over to reach them. Thus the ferns became harder to find. The Park Service built a big fence around the park boundaries and killed the pigs, so these ferns and many other native plants and animals are thriving now. We heard native birds in the trees, but I only saw one red one distinctly.
The native ohi'a tree is the first to grow in a lava field, and has several adaptations to help it survive in such an inhospitable place. 
The highlight of this trip was seeing a flock of about 15 Nene geese grazing on a golf course! They are endangered as are many of the native species. 
In 2008, Kilauea developed a lava lake in the bottom of the crater. The level rises and falls a mile away from the observation area. At night, the lava glows in the bottom of the crater, and the park stays open for viewing it. Really exciting! Our guide says that sometimes you see the goddess Pele in photos of the steam rising from the crate. Take a look -- do you see anything?

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Hiking to the Waterfalls

Today we took a tour with Hawaii Nature and Trail company to hike up to some waterfalls at the north side of the island. After driving along dry lava fields along the airport, we passed areas where the lava fields were covered with grass and mesquite trees. Our guide Jeff was a wealth of information about the geology, astronomy, botany and history of Hawaii. Then, in the blink of an eye, we turned a corner and saw the wet Hawaiian forests around Hawi. At Hawi, we transferred from a very comfortable Mercedes van, to this much older and less luxurious military surplus vehicle so we could traverse the cattle fields on the way to waterfalls in the highlands. No one argued about wearing the mandatory seat belts in this open air transport!
The cows just stared blankly at us when we bounced around their pastures to reach the top of this privately owned ranch. This side of the island can have 100" of rain per year sometimes. The river is crossed by a series of tunnels and sluices to redirect some of the water to the dryer area for sugar cane plantations. Actually, all the sugar plantations closed in Hawaii about 1975, he said.
 We all know that Hawaii is overwhelmed with invasive plants and animals. Some arrived accidentally, and others were introduced. They fight an endless battle with guava (yes, like the juice). Large piles of wood in the pastures were evidence of the unsuccessful efforts to keep it under control. One hillside was absolutely covered in these trees. Jeff picked a few and cut them open for us to try. Not bad, but not something I'd choose for a fruit. It's easy to get in to the pulp, and the pulp is full of seeds. The birds love it, and spread the seeds so more trees sprout no matter how much they chop down the older ones. Scientists are working on a fungus to attack the trees. Oooh, be really careful with that.
Many of the beautiful plants that look like they should be native aren't, such as this African tulip tree, blazing in people's yards. It is very invasive but doesn't spread as much as the guava.
Pineapple plant
Along the river, we found a small field, farmed in the old manner. A pool of water hosted taro plants, while pineapples grew along the sides with ti plants. Jeff described ti leaves as Hawaiian saran wrap, used to carry just about anything.
The waterfalls, of course, were totally awesome, but, as always, the paths were steeper and the steps higher than I could easily manage.
Our reward for the morning's hike was our lunch spot! According to the map, the road ends, and there is only an overlook (not the spot were we were on the ranch). The cliffs are completely vertical, with caves dug out by the waves, and black sand beaches. Trees grow by leaning away from the never ceasing winds.
Islands near the cliffs are rocks left when the cliffs collapsed.
White-tailed Tropic Bird
I was very excited to see long tailed Tropic Birds soaring in the strong winds along the cliffs. 
Cattle Egrets picked bugs off the backs of cattle in the fields, and other invisible birds sang all morning, but I couldn't see any of them. At lunch, we were joined by another bold little Yellow-billed Cardinal, looking for a handout from our lunch.
Just listen to the roaring Ohana Waterfall!