Mar 20, 2017: The Miracle of Goodnature Traps

(From the notebook of Americorps Intern Mandy Peterson)

These Goodnature rat traps are deployed, grid-style, around the Alakai. They help keep the invasive black rats away from the native forest birds. KFBRP has a total of over 300 traps that we manage and check on a regular basis. Upon getting to a trap, the first things one checks is the counter. The counter is triggered by the jolting of the trap each time it is set off, therefore counting each time a rat is killed. To verify that the counter is counting properly, you look around for a corresponding number of carcasses to verify the counter number. After that, the top is removed, and the bait is checked. The bait comes in pods in three "flavors": chocolate, peanut butter, and cinnamon. It has been determined that the chocolate bait lasts longest before molding and lures the rats just as effectively as the peanut butter flavor. The cinnamon is not as effective, and KFBRP does not have that flavor deployed anymore. If the bait is not as fresh at the opening (it usually isn't), the old exposed bait is pushed out to access the fresher bait from further within the pod. If the bait is in horrible condition, a new bait pod is deployed. When the bait pod is off the trap, the trap can be triggered from the top, to ensure it is functioning properly and the counter is indeed marking each time the trap is fired. A stick is used to tap the hair-pin trigger within the trap tunnel. This in turn sets off the piston that is charged from the CO2 container. If the trap does not fire upon testing, the CO2 container may need to be changed. After the CO2 is changed, if it was needed, the trap is tested again to ensure it is then functioning properly. Once all the checking is done, everything is put back together and it's off to the next one. These Goodnature traps have killed over 800 rats in the last two years, and were funded by: American Bird Conservancy, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Mohammed Bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the many private donors who contributed to our #BirdsNotRats campaign. Mahalo for all the support!

The "Goodnature Traps" link to the side will download an approx. 1min video of checking a trap.  If you would rather not download it, the video can also be found on our youtube page (search: KFBRP Goodnature Rat Trap) and on our facebook page.


April 22, 2016: Mid-Season Field Stories

(From the notebook of KFBRP seasonal field assistant Derek Harvey)

The Alaka’i is producing more rainy weather with each visit, but our field crew is rising to the occasion by finding more nests! Watching wild bird behavior is both an amazing and entertaining experience and these activities also serve as helpful clues to aid researchers find nests in the field.  Here are some highlights of cool behaviors of Kaua’i’s native birds from our most recent trip.

As our project well knows, the akeke’e is a tricky bird to find consistently and even harder to follow to their secretive nest. One of our crew members found a pair and got to see the male perform a courtship dance similar to the popular hokey-pokey. After the performance ended, she kept her binoculars on both birds’ movements and followed them straight to the nest they were building! Recognizing the significance of this exciting courtship behavior helped our crew find the first akeke’e nest of the season at this site!

Another day we found some exciting activity by the always charming ‘akikiki, aka Kaua’i creeper. Usually seen in pairs, this episode involved five birds settling a territorial dispute in a battle royale with the winning pair getting access to the best nest sites. “The Battle of Five Creepers” was a noisy and energetic affair, but follow-up on the outcome will help us determine locations where one pair’s territory ends and another’s begins. We also can’t help but wonder what the fifth unpaired bird will do.

One time during this trip I spotted an ‘akikiki with a piece of moss in its bill: a telltale sign that this bird is constructing a nest nearby. Sure enough we found that this pair had just started building an early nest platform. As we watched them go about their building, the female and male provided us with some comedic behavior. Their routine involved one bird delicately placing nest material, only to have the mate compulsively move the twig or moss to another location. Instead of coordinating their efforts to build, this pair seemed to be on different wavelengths because their constant rearrangement resulted in much of the nest material falling to the forest floor! Since females and males are identical in appearance, we couldn’t tell which sex was doing what, but our crew imagined some creative dialogue interpreting what was the cause of this funny pair’s dysfunctional building.

And then there are some unusual behaviors that aren’t particularly helpful to our work, but that still are fascinating to watch. A Kaua’i ‘elepaio nest we found on this trip was so large compared to what the species normally builds we dubbed it “the Ark”. Maybe they are “expecting” an especially large clutch of eggs but we won’t know for sure until they start laying!

I hope everyone can appreciate these field stories and that we will share more experiences witnessing exciting bird behaviors. All of us at KFBRP and our supporters work hard to ensure these birds will be around for future generations to enjoy!

​April 2, 2016: How many eggs will we find in this 'Akeke'e nest?

(From the notebook of KFBRP Intern, Danya Weber)

'Akeke'e are like mystical creatures that fly around the 'ohi'a canopy and disappear in the blink of an eye. Our crew -- lacking the gift of flight -- attempts to chase these birds around the forest in search of nests,  while climbing over and under trees, scaling cliff faces, and trudging through mud. Our hard work is completely worth it, however, especially when we find nests. In this video, our crew is excited to discover three eggs in an 'Akeke'e nest that took nearly two weeks to find. We were surprised because we previously believed that the typical clutch size for 'Akeke'e was only two eggs. These birds are always throwing curve balls at us!

May 15, 2015: In a Rain of Song

(from the notebook of KFBRP Field Crew Leader Justin Hite)

The thick throaty song of a Small Kauai Thrush stopped me in my tracks.  Each phrase was a faithful rendition of his five-syllabled Hawaiian name: Puaiohi.  He was close, his voice like a clarinet under honey, and perched directly above his mate’s nest.  I smiled in her direction, wondering if she loves his singing as much as I do.  Hard to tell what an incubating bird is thinking about…all you see is that cute little face peeking out of the extravagance of the nest, in this case a small throne cupped on a cascade of fibers pouring out of a crevice in a giant fern-draped wall of rock.  But with a singing male, it’s so easy to get caught up in the richness and beauty and imagination of it.  Effortlessly we project onto singing birds, and his song seemed to be a carefree salute to his misty domain, of joyousness toward his worldly needs: berries ripening in the forest, the texture of bark, the crisp beauty of his rocky stream, even to the pouring rain that muffled his dauntless voice.

A few days later, soaked and cheerful, and having just set a dozen rat traps along a transect through the forest near camp, I made my way down into the narrow gorge that led to the same Puaiohi nest.  The invasive rats, many the size of squirrels, are formidable bird predators, and three of the bird species common at our camp, including the Puaiohi, have global populations below 1,000 birds.  I could hear him from a distance—it was the same song, suggesting all the same easily-projected wonders onto my naïve mind.  I rounded the last bend and looked up at the nest. A ruin of moss and blood-specked feathers, a single disembodied wing resting neatly beside the top of the nest.  A rat had found her.  And she had either been caught unaware or maybe stayed and tried to defend her helpless eggs.  But she lost.  The singing male lost.  I lost too, maybe we all did.

When anger comes, it bubbles up quickly and finds release, but mine fizzled even as it came.   Instead I just felt exhausted.  These birds are so rare.   This didn’t need to happen.  I stood there for a long time.

And the male kept singing.  It was the same song it had always been.  And I don’t have any idea what it means.


April 15, 2015: A very exciting Easter egg hunt: preserving the ‘akikiki, an endangered native Hawaiian forest bird species

(From the notebook of KFBRP seasonal Mithuna Sothieson)

It was a week before Easter and in the Alaka’i Wilderness Preserve, the birds were busy doing their thing. Seven active ‘Akikiki nests had been found in the weeks prior, of which four were in the incubating process.

Whilst it was situation normal for the creatures of the forest; back at the KFBRP camp, staff and volunteers nervously surveyed the sky both waiting for vital equipment to arrive, as well as watching for the first signs of the weather turning.  90% chance of precipitation for the following day they say? We can beat the odds we assure ourselves nervously – after all, it was a glorious summer day at the swamp – a rather unheard of phenomenon.

With the arrival of the precious cargo including a 40ft ladder, incubators and the San Diego Zoo staff, all seemed to be on target. A few practice runs on moderate slopes allowed us to sort out any teething difficulties, and assure both Jeremy and Josh from ‘the Zoo’ that they were in safe hands high up in the air. After the dynamic duo Andrew and Jeremy manhandled the ladder down Halepa’akai stream and threaded it through a tapestry of tree trunks to the first nest up for harvest, the stage was set for the first ‘Akikiki nest harvest operation.  

We fine-tuned our timings and memorized our roles that night over sausages (courtesy of Cali) – a far cry from our usual tofu and tinned spam. I unenthusiastically eyed up the schedule highlighting a need to be ready for action at ‘first light’ knowing a sacrifice was going to be made by the name of sleep. Despite this, at our 6am alarm call, we all emerged like zombies out of the Weatherport to be greeted by a dismally wet day. It seemed the weather gods had been otherwise occupied to hear our prayers and we were resigned to the fact that today would not be the day.

Twenty-four hours later and it was a different story indeed. With grins on our faces we traipsed through the bush to the first nest site. Harnesses were put on, ropes were untwisted and tied off, and the stainless steel monstrosity was jostled into position. As we watched Jeremy climb the rungs, time seemed to stand very still. At the top, we hear him call out that the female was still on the nest. This news was bittersweet to us all. What commitment it must take by a female ‘Akikiki to remain incubating her precious eggs whilst chaos ensued below on the ground floor! However, it was also a sad reminder of their naivety in today’s forest – a stark contrast to pre-human times when few predators threatened their survival. We awaited the news by Jeremy that both eggs had safely been transferred from the nest to its carrier, and watched, mesmerized, as the canister was slowly lowered down through gaps in the canopy. Once received below, these eggs were carefully placed into an incubator and we all breathed a sigh of relief. Adrenalin pumped; there was little time for celebration as we faced our next mission: to successfully harvest a second nest before the scheduled flight at 11am arrived to transport our early Easter present – the first of its kind- out of the Alaka’i and into captivity.

Back home, we celebrated the culmination of months of preparation and discussions behind the scene between KFBRP staff and San Diego Zoo, coupled by dedicated seasonal field biologists that had led to this moment. But above all, we celebrated the ‘Akikiki – an understated bird of the Kaua’i forest – worthy of preserving for the future.

Check out our GoPro video of the egg harvest here!

March 27, 2015: The Smell of Conservation

(From the notebook of Americorps intern Kayla Bonnette)

The ‘Akikiki is my personal favorite. Not just because they’re adorable with their goofy pink feet (all the birds are incredibly cute), but because of their demeanor. Often looking for food below the canopy, I have had the privilege of observing them for hours. They make little hops up and down branches, often flipping over like a gymnast on a bar – their little tails in the air – to reach prime spots on the underside of branches. Quietly as they look, they communicate to each other via airy chirps, as they are often found in small family groups of 2-4 individuals. Watching them, I smile at their acrobatic antics until the inevitable thought hits me: there are less than 500 of these birds left. These could be gone from the wild within 5 to 10 years if we don’t change something. Most people on this island – in the world, really – don’t even know these birds exist at all. They will never be affected by their disappearance and they won’t know the tragic loss that could occur so quickly. This is so sad to me, partly because I think most people would be so charmed by the character of these birds if only they were able to see them.

I love all of what I’m doing here. I love that I get to help spread the word about these birds that are so unique and amazing, in addition to being out in the field directly observing and monitoring them. But there is one moment in particular that will be with me forever, a unique experience that few have had the opportunity to enjoy: I smelled an ‘Akikiki. And it was wonderful. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve smelled lots of other birds too, but they don’t compare to the ‘Akikiki. When one has a particularly strong sense of smell and just happens to have a bird in hand…. Sometimes it’s irresistible. Most birds have a sort of subtle musty, almost powdery, smell. It’s not a bad smell; it’s rather earthy actually. But the Hawaiian honeycreepers add another level to that musty bird smell, with sweet and flowery undertones (describing bird smell is an art akin to describing the taste of wine). In fact, this strong scent has been so well documented amongst the Hawaiian honeycreepers, that it actually is considered a characteristic of their taxonomic subfamily Drepanidinae, and is (creatively) called the Drepanidine odor. Science says it’s true, I’m not making this up! The ‘Akikiki really takes the cake though. Even after releasing the bird after it has been captured and banded, everything the bird has touched now has that sweet, musty, honeycreeper smell. The scented feathers of this little bird just add to its charm. As if being cute wasn’t enough, it smells good too!

I am distinctly aware of how few people have gotten to experience this smelly little puffball of a bird. Once numbering in the thousands just a few decades ago, the ‘Akikiki’s population has plummeted to around 450, mostly due to malaria, predation by non-native predators, and loss of native habitat. And the ‘Akikiki isn’t the only one; most of Hawai'i’s honeycreepers are suffering these declines for the same reasons. The field of conservation biology is rough and can be depressing if you’re not careful. But rather than letting despair take over, I use it for motivation. I love these little birds, and I so desperately want them to thrive in the wild. I also want others to experience their charm, and if all goes well, maybe someday that will be possible. Until then, it’s important and exciting for me to tell you about these birds, Drepanidine odor and all. Endangered species are not only the face of conservation; they can also be the smell of conservation.

Go look at a bird. Or smell one, if you happen to have the opportunity.
(P.S. I’d recommend smelling a Wrentit if you want a good, strong representative of the classic, musty bird smell. Just fyi.)

March 23, 2015: Lost and Found

(From the notebook of seasonal technician Patrick Blake)

As field researchers, one of the most important aspects of our job is being the eyes and ears of the project, because the data we collect determines the path the project takes.  What happens, then, when that data disappears?

On a recent field trip, the day’s task was to collect ink tracks from over a dozen rat tunnels.  The idea is to lure rats with bait placed on a cardboard plate.  The bait is placed on an ink blot, and when the rats take the bait, they step onto the ink and leave a trail of footprints on the cardboard.  Using this method, we can determine where to place our Goodnature rat traps most effectively.

I was making good progress on this trip, having already collected twelve of the fifteen tracks I had to pick up.  But it was slow going, crossing steep ravines and traversing yards of uluhe ferns.  As I collected my lucky thirteen track, I discovered that the Ziploc bag I had been storing the collected tracks had vanished, swallowed by the forest!

I spent over an hour retracing my steps (as best I could, thanks to my GPS), but to no avail.  The Alaka`i had claimed my collection for itself.  However, all was not lost.  I had carefully written all of the important data into my notebook (which never leaves my sight), so although the physical tracks were lost, the data they carried was not.  Still, a hard lesson learned.

Only a few days later I was back in the same forest, placing new ink tracks at different rat tunnels.  After completing the installation at my second tunnel, I noticed a yellow Write in the Rain notebook lying in the woods.  It belonged to another of this year’s field crew, and contained at least a week’s worth of detailed observations.  So in the space of just one field trip, I had unwittingly lost and found valuable data for the Kaua`i Forest Bird Recovery Project.


March 10, 2015: Welcome 2015 Field Crew!

(From the notebook of seasonal technician Darin Ripp)

Here we are on Kaua`i! All of us 2015 field crew members have arrived on the Garden Isle, and are excited to be involved with the dynamic group that is KFBRP. Many of us got here a couple of weeks ago, and have gotten settled rather quickly, so as to be ready for the field season that is already under way. The majority of the seasonal field crew this year will be staying at some old cabins within Koke`e State Park while not in the field, which lends itself to some beautiful Hawaiian canyon scenery and plenty of Koa forest canopies, all among a good ole rural feeling. Many of us look forward to the hot and dry climate of the western coast of Kauai when hiking out of the field (which tends to be WET and a bit chilly at times), which Koke`e doesn’t always provide since it is still very much so in the mountains and also tends to reside in the clouds. With that said, coming down to the coastal lands to catch some beach time, or even to work on some office projects here in Hanapepe is a true refreshment filled with sun and clear skies. Regardless, there is a sense of fortunate feelings to be able to live, work, and play in such a special and unique place that is this island.

The crew this season comes from areas wide and far, which is great since their experiences are all different. There are plenty of interesting stories about conservation projects, animals seen along the path, and simple day to day words (such as weasels…which apparently are called stoats in New Zealand). Everyone on the crew this year has been working hard, getting to know one another, and having fun all at the same time.

About half of us have already been in and out of the field since March has rolled around, while the other half is still experiencing their first trip into the field. We all crossed paths on the trail as some folks were hiking in and the others out, and it seemed all too right to have some laughs about the amount of mud and pasta that the first trip seems to entail. Everyone was in high spirits, even though the hike in and out of camp can be a tough one indeed (and even tougher if one were to carry four, 2lb. blocks of cheese on their first hike in, which happened this year, and yes, the cheese was a great addition to all that pasta...and mud).

On the first official nest searching trip of the year, we had visuals on seven of the native forest birds, and heard all eight (the illustrious Puaiohi was the only one that missed our curious gazes).  All of the native birds here have been a joy to briefly get to know, as they all have their little something specials about them, quirks included. I am looking forward to enjoying more time with them inevitably as the field season progresses. We have found two nests thus far, both `Akikiki!  The birds are flying around up there on the `Alaka`i, nesting material in their bills, welcoming the days!


December 12, 2014: People Were Not Made to Fly.

(From the notebook of Americorps Intern Kayla Bonnette)

I’ve always laughed at the immense effort and technology that is required for us to temporarily leave the ground, while birds simply lift themselves out of the trees. Of course, their entire morphologies have been honed for this life: ultralight, modified bones; lightweight feathers instead of hair; beaks instead of teeth… all of these things to fill an empty niche in the sky. While incredibly fascinating and satiating to my never-ending curiosity, these adaptations have also given rise to some unique problems in studying avifauna.

Simply put, studying a flying species while not being a flying species yourself is really hard.

My first day on the job here in Kaua`i I was thrown into (thankfully not OUT of) a helicopter for the first time. I pretended to give the impression that I thought flying in a helicopter was very cool and exciting, though internally I was quite panicked. I love birds, and I love that they can fly, but I do not enjoy flying myself. The flight was not simply a ferry into our isolated campsite; we also had the mission of finding some uniquely marked birds. In previous weeks before my arrival, mist netting efforts had procured a couple of our endangered birds: a young `Akikiki and a young Puaiohi. These birds received small radio-transmitters, glued to their backs, which send out signals on frequencies unique to each bird. With a receiver, we are able to pick up these signals and – after mapping all the points where we find the signals coming in loud and clear – we can build a rough picture of the movements of these birds and where they spend their time.

So we’ll be doing telemetry from the air, I thought, that’s neat, but that means the flight will be long…

In addition to being plain ol’ scared of flying, I’ve got the added fun of a sensitive stomach. Fueled with a very small breakfast and lots of water, I headed out with the rest of the crew for the airport. At some point I think the pale, queasy look on my face gave away the fact that I wasn’t exactly stoked to fly in a helicopter. The rest of the staff was exceedingly entertained to find out my thoughts on flying; it was insisted that they had asked during my interview if there was any reason I couldn’t go in a helicopter… I don’t remember this question. I was probably blinded by the sheer, unexpected joy of having an interview so soon after graduating.

Anyway, we took off. I felt sick. And I also felt every bird on the planet laughing at me. Trying move my focus away from the stomach-churning lurches of the flight (all of those crashes in the helicopter training videos are just freak accidents, right?!), I turned my attention to the telemetry. Y’know, the whole reason we were up there. I listened so very carefully. Desperately searching for the tiniest of blips among the static of the radio and the pounding air from the helicopter.

I honestly don’t remember if we picked up any of the birds. I was just very happy to have gone through the entire flight without losing my breakfast. With more flights, and more experience with radio-telemetry, I eventually came to recognize the quiet blip we were searching for. I also discovered the magic of anti-motion sickness remedies.

Those little birds sure do have it easy when it comes to moving around.


September 26, 2014: HEAVEN… AND HELL!

(From the notebook of RSPB volunteer Geoff Young)

Having worked at the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) for seven years, I was allowed a four week sabbatical.  Hawai`i looks nice I thought, go up in the hills for ten days, catch some birds, record a few details, get back to the beach; easy, or so I thought.  I know now.

Prior to the field trip, Kyle (the field trip supervisor) took us through what we should/should not bring with us.  Pulling his leg, I said “shall we take napkins?” to which he replied “you DEFINITELY will not need napkins” … challenge on!

Chris, Lizzie and I were getting spoilt, as we were to be flown to the HPK camp by helicopter. The plan was to drive the state car to Hanapepe, meet Kyle, load the kit and food into his car, Kyle would then take us to the airport - the perfect plan (or so we thought), except our car would not start … panic!  Liz tried to contact Kyle then Cali then Kyle. Chris and I went to the nearby bakers to see if we could get a lift and managed to flag down a customer as he was leaving and told him the problem.  He kindly agreed to take us to Hanapepe and drove Chris and I back to where we had been staying.  Liz joined us and we drove off only about 200 yards down the road before Kyle phoned to say stay put he will pick us up.

We were still on time to catch the helicopter to take us to the camp.  The flight was amazing, and it gave us a bird’s eye view of part of the island which no-one sees except from the air. At the helicopter drop off point we were met by Adam and Amy and taken to the camp itself, which is where the dream turned into reality.

The camp hadn’t been used since March, which was reflected in its condition.  We spent the first few hours tidying up and putting up a shelter over the decking.

All the water was collected from the stream, the drinking water was purified, but if it was to be boiled before use, it was used directly from the stream.  One precaution that even Chris (the ex head chef at the RSPB HQ) hadn’t seen before was that the plates and cutlery were dipped in diluted bleach prior to putting away. 

There was nowhere to wash or shave, so it was wet wipes or the river.

We then had a grand tour of the place. The toilet was considerably better than expected, and the cots (beds) were very comfortable.

We were shown where the mist nets were that had already been set up by Adam and Amy, which had to be checked every 30 minutes.  We eventually caught a bird, which Amy took out of the net and put into a bag.  She then took it back to camp to be checked, weighed and banded.

It was soon time for the evening meal, and I made a stew for everyone. I am pleased to say they all survived.  Washing up done, kettles filled for the morning, it was time for bed as it was now dark and after 7:30pm!

The next day a routine soon developed of tidying up (I was promoted to chief sweeper upper), checking for birds every half hour, and fetching water, while Adam and Amy put up more mist nets.

On Monday Kyle flew into camp (we did more tidying up, trying to impress the boss) and Amy flew out.  Kyle decided that the awning that we had spent time erecting was in fact not erected correctly, so it all had to come down and be reconstructed in the correct way.  I must say he was right, it did give more cover over the decking.  For Kyle’s first night Lizzie cooked the evening meal and I laid the table, complete with folded napkins.  To set the tone for the evening’s meal, Adam was made to take his cap off before sitting at the table!

One day we caught an I'iwi, which is extremely rare.  I was allowed to hold it and have my picture taken prior to being allowed to release it.  I also got to band and measure a Nutmeg Mannikin, which was so fragile it felt like holding a precious new born baby.  The highlight of the field trip was catching an `Akikiki, which caused tremendous excitement, especially for Kyle and Adam. 

The catching, measuring and banding of the birds was the heaven of the field trip.  The HELL was the trek out.  Having done a number of treks for charity in a variety of terrains, I knew it would be tough but I thought it would be OK as I had done a lot of training.  What I hadn’t bargained on was the number of dead trees lying across at times indistinguishable pathways.  We had to climb over some trees and crawl under others (fun!). Add this to the steep ups and steep downs, branches appearing from nowhere, parts of the trail that needed a rope to descend – this was not so much a trek, more of a 9½ hour assault course before we could get to the trail head and the haven of the vehicles.  Suffice it to say, the next time anyone hears me say “I’ve got a good idea …” – shoot me!

However, on a serious note, it was a wonderful experience and if you get the chance to do it, do it!  It is something which will stay with me forever, but a word or warning unless you are very fit: do some training first and get used to carrying a 20-30lb backpack.

I would like to thank my fellow campers, Amy, Lizzie, Chris, Adam and especially Kyle for all their help and support, and for making the trip so memorable.

July 15, 2014: Small Pleasures-Why We Do This...

(From the notebook of Americorps intern Kayleigh Chalkowksi)

“You’d have to be a… what’s the word?  Oh yeah, masochist.  You gotta be a masochist to keep doing this kind of work.”  We all commiserated over our warm bowls of sardine-noodle-medley.  I took a miscalculated step earlier, so there was a thin layer of slick Alaka’i mud in my left shoe.  The week had been a long series of miscalculated steps.  Every morning, you could hear the sloshing of water coming from my boot when I would squeeze them on as my feet were entrenched in a cold enigma of muddy water.  Rain jacket and pants were like sticky, cold gum wrappers.  No clean fingernails at this camp, nosirrreeeee. 

                It’s hard to imagine that your friends might be down on the coast eating papaya on the beach, jumping in the water to cool off.  Your roommate is probably sitting out on the lawn reading a book because it’s too hot to read in the house. 

                It was a long week, that’s for sure.  The repetition and isolation makes you feel like you’re in a fieldworkvortex: wake up// coffee// wetfieldclothesON// binocularsready// workwork// lunch// workwork// backtocamp//dinner//sleepingbag// ZZZZzz….//

                I stare down at my empty bowl smeared in hot sauce remnants, put the bowl down, put on an extra fleece.  I need a burger, and a shower, and a nap.    

                So why do we do it?  There isn’t really a tangible answer for that.  Would it be cliché to quote Thoreau?

                The rain picked up outside, made loud by the pattering of the drops on the tarps above our tent.  Earlier that day I was kneeling on the side of a deep drainage, staring at a cliff wall on the other side, scanning for nests. The clouds hung low, sweeping up the stream valley in wind-drafts.  A mist blew in, then rolled into rain.  Drops hung from the tip of my nose, streamed down my face.


I was suddenly sensible of such sweet and beneficent society in Nature, in the very pattering of the drops, and in every sound and sight around my house, an infinite and unaccountable friendliness all at once like an atmosphere sustaining me, as made the fancied advantage of human neighborhood insignificant. 


                Over the knoll, through the fog: a Puaiohi song held slow, solemn, and sweet-- tumbling low from his throat and ending in a high, ethereal trill-- left hanging in the silence of the mist.

December 3, 2013: Unexpected AKtivity

(From the notebook of staff research assistant Adam Elzinga)

This fall we had a very successful banding effort in the Kawaikoi drainage of Koke‘e State Park. This site is located on the western edge of the Alaka‘i plateau and has seen steep declines in native forest bird abundance over the past ten years. We had heard intriguing reports of Akeke‘e and ‘Akikiki foraging along Kawaikoi stream, so decided it would be a worthwhile effort to try to locate and capture some of these critically-endangered forest birds surviving on the edge of their known range. Akeke‘e have proven very difficult to catch as they forage almost exclusively in the forest canopy and rarely venture low enough to be captured by traditional mist-nets. To address this issue, we modified a mist-net rigging design originally developed to catch Marbled Murrelets in the redwoods of California. With this new setup we were able to get a 12-meter net at canopy level in a known Akeke‘e foraging area. Luck was on our side and one morning as we watched a pair of Akeke‘e chasing each other through the canopy, we captured the fourth Akeke‘e in KFBRP history. With less than a thousand individuals remaining, every blood and feather sample we collect helps fill in the missing pieces needed to determine causes of their decline. While the Akeke‘e capture was very exciting, unexpectedly catching an ‘Akikiki in the same net was icing on the cake. The ‘Akikiki population has been in a rapid free-fall throughout its entire range, making it now one of the most imperiled species in Hawaii, and it has all but disappeared from the western end of the Alaka‘i. The difficulty in catching these extremely rare birds reinforces the necessity to study them before it is too late.


May 31, 2013: Rats!

(From the notebooks of seasonal technician Nick Seeger and Americorp intern Nicki Ozaki)

Recently, we've been conducting predator control near our active Puaiohi nests since historically rodents have preyed on eggs, chicks, and incubating females. One day, we went to check an active Puaiohi nest that we expected to contain two older nestlings, or perhaps even to have fledged. When we arrived, the nest was empty. We watched the area for a while for fledglings, and observed one chick being fed by a parent, so the nest was successful! Two of the four rat traps had caught rats, and we believe that our management activities might have contributed to the success of this nest. It is so rewarding to feel that we are actually contributing to conservation of this species!


May 7, 2013: Weird and wacky 'Akikiki breeding behavior

(From the notebook of seasonal volunteer Liza Olson)

One of the highlights (and frustrations) of working with such rare, difficult-to-access species such as 'Akikiki and 'Akeke'e has to be the fact that there remains much about their behavior that is still poorly known.  Unlike other birds species, where nest monitoring work has been going on for decades and hundreds of nests have been described and monitored, studies on birds like 'Akikiki are still in their infancy, and the number of nests monitored up to this point in time may only be in the dozens.

Understanding breeding biology is, without argument, one of the fundamental building blocks required to create an effective conservation plan.  Luckily, up in the Alaka'i, we learn something new every trip out.  Our knowledge databank is always growing.

For example, our field crew was initially baffled by the female at one of our 'Akikiki nests because she would sit and brood her very old chick for long periods of time (40+ minutes, sometimes), even when it was nearly fledging age.  When the chick finally did fledge, the female 'Akikiki returned right back to the nest and continued to sit, seemingly unphased by the lack of chick!  The mystery, however, was solved by the next nest check, when we looked into the nest with our peeper camera to see the nest contents.  One egg!  So it seems that the female was actually trying to continue to sit on an unhatched egg!  Fertility problems may be a possible contributing factor to 'Akikiki declines, so the presence of an unhatched (possibly infertile) egg in the nest is of interest to us.

Another example of weird 'Akikiki behavior has got to be the camp male, Orange/Black; Yellow/Aluminum—as his color bands read—but known better simply as the camp male, because we see him pretty regularly around camp.  Although we initially thought he had his own mate, lately this male has made a habit of showing up as a third wheel at the nests of other 'Akikiki!  What are you doing, bird?  We haven’t observed him actually feeding any chicks or directly going to the nests, just foraging a few meters away.  Why don’t the parents chase him away as an intruder?  Could he somehow be helping out at the nest site?  While so far we haven’t seen any conclusive evidence of cooperative breeding, these observations certainly is enough to raise some eyebrows.  

March 28, 2013: Retraction-The Alaka'i has a nasty side!

(From the notebook of seasonal technician Cody Bear Sutton)

On this last trip into the Alaka'i, we were shown a completely different side of the forest! Instead of the bright and sunny Alaka'i that we saw the first time, we met the more normal rainy forest. The trip was made up of wet boots, drenched bodies, cold nights, and muddy clothes, to which people that frequent the forest are likely accustomed. Our trip was cut short due to massive amounts of rain and gushing streams,  and we spent more time trying to dry out our gear and fjord streams than we did finding birds. Maybe this is the forest we should have expected…

Americorps intern Nicki Ozaki adds:

Our last trip to our Wainiha pali site, Mohihi camp, was much different than previous trips. Since I've been here a little longer than Cody, I know that rain in the Alaka'i is a regular, maybe even daily, event, so I wasn’t too shocked when we had a couple rain days. The birds were quiet on those days and it was too wet to check on the nestbox sensors. The only work we could have done was vegetation surveys, which, thankfully, we finished a few months ago. Instead, we hung out at camp, which was a bit crowded with seven people, cooked food, and read for two days. And because I had a cold and slight fever, those relaxing days were exactly what I needed.

We ended up hiking out a day early and that hike out was the most interesting hike I have had on Mohihi-Wai'alae trail. Crossing Mohihi stream, which usually is easy rock-hopping, involved wading across a rushing stream where the water was up past my knees. And at Kawaikoi stream, which we can usually drive across, we spent two hours debating how to cross the stream. The stream was running very fast and was up to my stomach! (Granted, I am not too tall). It had tripled in width as well. Eventually, we slung some strands of webbing across the stream, and crossed on foot, leaving our vehicles behind and hitching a ride with other State workers. It was an eventful day, to say the least.


February 28, 2013: First trip to the “miraculous” Alaka’i

(From the notebook of seasonal technician Cody Bear Sutton)

I think one of the most exciting things in life is adventuring into an unfamiliar wild place. My first trip into the Alaka'i did not disappoint. The group of seasonal workers for KFBRP received their first taste of the Alaka'i this past week and I think I speak for most of us when I say it was an eye-opening and awe-inspiring trip for those of us with little familiarity with Kaua'i.

We departed from Kekaha early in the morning on Friday and were immediately introduced to some of the jaw dropping vistas of Waimea Canyon on our way to the trailhead. For most of us, this was the first time seeing the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” and all I can say is that it exceeded all the expectations that pictures of it led you to imagine. It is amazing on an island, which can at times feel so small, that there is this amazing canyon that immediately reminds you how small you really are. The canyon is one of the most beautiful and amazing sights I have ever seen on my travels around the United States.

While driving up the canyon you do not expect there to be a tropical rainforest at the end of the road but eventually you start to notice a change in the vegetation as you get closer to the trailheads into the Alaka'i. After some slow driving on some treacherous four wheel drive roads, we reached the trailhead and we were all pretty eager to start the hike into the Alaka'i for our first time. The hike started out with a search for a known 'Akeke'e nest, which we were unable to locate after a few trips up and down the boardwalk.  Although we did not find the nest, which would have been a good example for those of us unfamiliar with the local forest birds, the search was not in vain. While searching, we encountered a few curious 'Elepaios, some very musical 'Apapane, a vibrant 'Anianiau, and a strong voiced 'Amakihi. These birds were beautiful and were exciting life birds for most of my colleagues and me.

After the nest search, we started on the hike to Kilohana Vista. At first the trail to the overlook implied that the Alaka'i was going to be relatively flat and easy hiking. These misconceptions disappear as soon as you drop down into the first drainage on the hike to the overlook. The trail begins a steep decent down some muddy terrain as well as an uncountable number of stairs. We stopped to have lunch next to a creek. As we ate, we listened to the sounds of 'Apapane and got another good look at an 'Anianiau. The trail up the other side of the drainage is some unforgiving hiking that requires some extra thought when picking your route and foot placement. Heading out of the drainage towards the boggier part of the Alaka’i we had our first encounter with the vibrant 'I'iwi. Most of us were pretty excited to get our first glance at this obvious honeycreeper that would stand out against any bird in the contiguous U.S. I was amazed at how much some parts of the Alaka'i varied as I walked through some treeless areas of the swamp along the boardwalk. Eventually, we arrived at Kilohana Vista, which other than miraculous, cannot be adequately described. We took some time to snap some photos of the crew and enjoy the view before we started the hike back to the trailhead, which we had to do quickly to make it home by dinnertime. I left the Alaka'i that day thankful for this opportunity to work in such an amazing, one-of-a-kind place, as well as an extreme interest in exploring more of the forest and meeting the other endemic forest birds.

November 15, 2012: Veg survey adventures in the "off" season

(from the notebook of Americorps intern Nicki Ozaki)

Breeding season hasn’t started yet, so life has been pretty quiet for us birders so far. Lots of office work and data management, which is quite interesting actually, looking at the data KFBRP has collected over the last several years. But we have had a few trips into the field to conduct vegetation surveys. One particular event I remember was an epic adventure at Kawaikoi stream near the Alaka'i Swamp Trail. It was after a week of veg-plot surveys at our Halepa'akai camp. We hiked out on Mohihi Trail heading towards Camp 10 road. After a brief civilization experience in the Durango, we parked at the Alaka'i Swamp Trailhead and hiked to our Kawaikoi camp. We spent one night there and in the morning, tackled a few veg-plots that were left over—the ones that no one really wanted to go to. After a several hours of climbing ginger ridges, sliding through mud, trekking through streams, and tunneling through uluhe, we arrived at our spot—well, the general area, it took us another 10 minutes to find our point; the flag was hidden, even though it was in a pretty open field. It was a crazy forest adventure I hadn’t experienced before. No trails, no transects, just looking at a map and a GPS, and going. I saw some parts of the Kawaikoi area some people have never seen before. Although there were a lot of invasive plants, it was pristine in its own sense. I was exhausted from the previous week, but that was my favorite part of the trip. It took us a whole day just to do that one point, but it was totally worth it.

June 30, 2012: Surveying for Puaiohi - Streams, streams, and more streams!

(From the notebook of seasonal technician Kevork Babayan)

The field season has come to an end and it’s been quite the journey for the “PU Crew.” We’ve spent the vast majority of our time conducting Occupancy Surveys (OS) for Puaiohi along five major streams in the Alaka'i: Mohihi, Waiakoali, Kauaikinana, Koaie, and a stream in the East Alaka'i Fenced Area. Mohihi Stream is the only one that has previously been surveyed using the current technique. The four other streams had not been visited in recent years, so in addition to setting up survey stations on each stream (20 stations, each 150m apart) we had to find ways to safely get into these drainages. Needless to say, there was lots of bushwhacking down steep slopes and mutterings under our breath.

Some of these streams had a fair amount of Puaiohi activity, such as Waiakoali. In others, like Kauaikinana, we found no Puaiohi at all (likely due to lack of suitable habitat and the stream being overrun with invasive species).

Nevertheless, it was always exciting to hear a Puaiohi call, or better yet, sing! The first time I heard a wild Puaiohi sing was while scouting out the slot canyon-like upper drainages of Koaie Stream in the central Alaka'i Plateau. The bird was a good distance downstream of us, but the male’s song echoed so beautifully through the canyon, I couldn’t help but think just how well the Puaiohi fits into its environment. Although I had seen and heard the beauty of the Alaka’i forest, something still seemed amiss. Only after hearing the Puaiohi’s song against the picturesque backdrop of moss- and fern-draped canyon walls cut by babbling streams did I find a track worthy enough to go along with the scene. The Puaiohi do truly belong there, and nothing else can replace them.

May 14 2012: The highs and lows of studying endangered species

(From the notebook of seasonal volunteer Aaron Hulsey)

Earlier this season I had the privilege to observe the development of nesting behavior in a young 'Akikiki.The bird in question was MV/RE:BL/AL, a second-year 'Akikiki that had been banded earlier in the season and is one of three banded 'Akikiki in existence. This bird had also been fitted with a radio transmitter and followed as well. It was found to wander over a large area of the study plot, ranging many hundreds of meters both upstream and downstream from where it was originally banded. When I found the bird,it seemed to be beginning to build a nest. It would gather moss and lichen from the branches of a large ohia and then place the nesting material in a fork of the ohia. Though it seemed to be building a nest,it didn’t do so very well. Much of the material it placed in the ohia fork just fell and dropped to the ground. Eventually a nest began to form but was found destroyed later in the season. It was extremely cool to witness an 'Akikiki learning to build a nest and developing skills that it will use to hopefully further the existence of an endangered Hawaiian endemic.

The nesting season in the Alaka'i is beginning to progress quite nicely. Many of our nests are fledging and fledgling 'Apapane and 'Anianiau can be heard calling and begging almost anywhere in the forest.The Kaua'i 'Elepaio fledglings tend to be much quieter and retiring, sitting like small, fluffy, gray statues perched in the trees while their parents constantly feed them. We have had one 'Akikiki and two 'Akeke'e nests fledge so far this season and have found fledglings for both species in addition to the nests that we have monitored.

April 3, 2012: The Battle for Nest Material-'Anianiau vs. 'Akeke'e

(from the notebook of seasonal volunteer Laura Southcott)

This morning, I was checking one of our 'Akikiki nests and some nearby 'Elepaio nests close to Halehaha Stream. As I finished up and prepared to go look for new nests, I saw a solitary 'Akeke'e fly by heading back towards camp. I tried to follow it but I really didn’t have a chance – it was gone. So I turned back up the trail and continued looking for nests. Much to my surprise, within half an hour I had spotted what looked like a nest about nine metres off the ground in an 'ohia tree. It was large, especially compared to the little 'Elepaio nests we’ve been finding so often, and shaped a little bit like a waffle cone. I lifted my binoculars just in time to see an 'Akeke'e jumping into it! 'Akeke'e nests are supposed to be difficult to find because the birds can be secretive and hard to follow, but this nest was easily visible from the trail. When the bird flew away I decided to stay and wait for the bird to come back to make sure that I had identified it correctly and to determine whether it was still building the nest.

After about ten minutes, a bird arrived. It perched below the nest for a while, and to my dismay it was clearly a male 'Anianiau. Worse, it had nothing in its beak, so I began to think it might be dismantling an old nest to build its new one. After the bird left I decided to wait for another visit to confirm my suspicions. Then perhaps I could follow the 'Anianiau to its new nest.

In another twenty minutes, the male 'Anianiau came back, hopped into the nest, grabbed a beakful of nesting material, and flew away again. A minute later a female 'Anianiau arrived and did the same. I was disappointed that it wasn’t really an 'Akeke'e nest (and a little upset at my own lack of birding skills!), but I crossed the nest information out of my field notebook, deleted the GPS point, and tried to follow the 'Anianiau pair. I wasn’t having much luck, though, so I came back to the first nest to see if I could get a better idea of which way they were flying.

When I got there, I could see a bird perched next to the nest out of the corner of my eye, and I thought I saw a deeply forked tail---one of the field marks of the 'Akeke'e---but I wasn’t holding my breath. I lifted my binoculars again. I was shocked to see that it was, indeed, an 'Akeke'e, and its beak was full of grass and small twigs! As I watched it hopped into the nest to add this material to it. It seemed that the 'Anianiaus had been stealing material from this nest even as the 'Akeke'e was adding it!

I spent the afternoon looking for the 'Anianiau nest, which turned out to be less than fifty metres away just over a ridge. I quickly dubbed it the Pirate Nest. We will see which birds---the pirate 'Anianiaus or the ninja-masked 'Akeke'es---prevail!

March 25, 2012: First 'Akikiki Nest of 2012 Season

(from the notebook of seasonal volunteer Laura Southcott)

The AK team (as we call the people who search for 'Akikiki and 'Akeke'e birds and nests) had a successful start to the season last week as they discovered the first 'Akikiki nest of the year, and the first 'Akikiki nest of Ruby's M.S. Thesis. The nest was discovered near one of our access trails when we noticed the female delivering twigs to the almost complete, mossy structure high in an ohia tree while her mate watched nearby.

While we’ve heard and seen 'Akeke'e singing and foraging in pairs, we’re still on the hunt for any of their nests. The breeding season seems to be starting up for other Kaua'i forest birds as well. We’ve found five 'Elepaio nests so far (in fact, one is less than 50m from the 'Akikiki nest), as well as one each for the 'Anianiau and Japanese white-eye. All are still under construction, but we expect eggs to be laid soon!"

March 20, 2012: Pueo vs. Peregrine: Round 1 goes to the Peregrine!

(From the notebook of seasonal technician Alex Wang)

Anyone who has found themselves too close to a nest of a Peregrine Falcon will never forget the cantankerous Kack-Kack-Kack-Kack scream they can utter. But this species is not found on Kaua'i. Thus I was quite surprised to hear this unmistakable call while hiking along the Wainiha Pali on March 20, 2012. Iwas conducting an “AK” survey as part of the graduate work of Lucas Behnke, a student at Colorado State University and employee of KFBRP. Just “listed”as endangered in 2010 the “AKs,” or 'Akeke'e and 'Akikiki, have disappeared from their traditional haunts in the last few years, so part of our work is to attempt and document this rapid range contraction and determine where these birds still survive.

While scrambling over the wet and rotten obstacle course known as the Alaka'i Swamp, I rarely look far above the canopy: only as high as the 'Akeke'e - a Hawaiian version of a crossbill - will forage, which is often still quite high, prying open Ohi'a Lehua buds for insects and larvae. Thus the Peregrine would have most likely slipped by unbeknownst to me if it were not for its harsh and piercing call. I quickly scurried to a gap in the trees and much to my excitement was able to see not only a Peregrine but also a Pueo, the endemic subspecies of Short-eared Owl as well! What was going on?

By the time I got a good look through the trees, it appeared to me that the Pueo was in full retreat, flying hurriedly off to the west while the Peregrine was calmly circling the area. Well, as calm as one of the world’s fastest, most tenacious, and terribly awesome flying hunters can be. While I was unsure whether this was just a territorial dispute or if the Peregrine actually was considering the Pueo a potential meal, based on the battle cry I surmise that there was an altercation of some sort. The naïve Pueo was probably the lucky one, and while I watched the skies throughout the rest of that day and saw the Peregrine at least three more times, I never saw the Pueo again.

Oh, great: there’s another predator for 'Akeke'e to watch out for!