Do you plan on ordering anything from Amazon this Holiday Season? If you answered yes to this question, and I am pretty sure you did, then you can help Kauaiʻs Forest Birds by just changing one little habit before you place your order.
Just remember to use this link to go to Amazon Smile, a portion of your purchase will will be returned to KFBRP for valuable research and conservation. WOW! How easy is that? Shop on Amazon to buy Christmas gifts, and Kauaʻi’s forest birds benefit. Pretty easy right? Just make sure to bookmark the link.
What are you waiting for?
Did you know that you can also buy our books on Amazon? Not only are the proceeds returned to KFBRP, but your kids, your friendsʻ kids, and your kidsʻ teachers can get a great book that teaches them about Kauaʻi’s forest Birds.
KFBRP has two childrenʻs books available for purchase:
This book introduces Kauaʻiʻs forest birds with a fun rhyming poem and then invites children to guess which bird is described.
This book is a short story about the plight of Kauaʻiʻs forest birds written in both English and Hawaiian.
Of course, if you really want to make a difference for these birds, just click on the donate button to the right.
HAPPY HOLIDAYS from KFBRP!
Early October, everyone’s favorite time when the leaves start to change and all of our food and drinks contain pumpkin spice. Here on Kaua’i, we were pulling out our down jackets not to go pumpkin picking, but to venture out to our high elevation field camp on the Alaka’i Plateau. After the success we’ve had in decreasing rat numbers with the 300 self-resetting A24 rat traps that we deployed in 2015 and 2016, we felt it was important to deploy a new grid in well-established Puaiohi territories. Our research shows that nesting Puaiohi females are very susceptible to rat predation.
We’ve been in the planning stages for this new grid for several months now to find the ideal area in which to protect the most Puaiohi from rat predation. We ran habitat suitability models based on high resolution LiDAR data, looked at previous nest locations and detections, and focused on topography to see we could even access some of these areas. After all this careful planning, it was finally time to get these 124 new A24 rat traps out into the field to start protecting endangered forest birds. Our timing is good; the breeding season for Puaiohi starts in the late winter, allowing the traps to sit out all fall removing rats that could predate the birds on their nests. It is also the first time KFBRP has ever collected rat presence/absence data during fall months, leading to a more complete understanding of these invasive predators.
While hiking into camp on October 7th I was excited to see the birds again – I think so often about them, but so rarely get to spend time with them. Schlepping the heavy pack full of drills, rat traps, CO2 cartridges, and more paid off on the very first day as I was startled by a Puaiohi call while deploying a trap. I look up and a juvenile is sitting on a branch a few feet from me. Feeling fulfilled as I finish arming the trap, I now know that not only does it have the potential to save birds, but rat removal has implications for several trophic levels. A recent study on the Big Island found that “invasive rats indirectly alter the feeding behavior of native birds.” In the presence of rats, the birds foraged for insects and fruits higher in the canopy, using less of the available vertical foraging space. This change could be due to avoidance behavior by the birds or that the rats sufficiently deplete arthropod and fruit closer to ground level. The good news is that birds also responded to the removal of the invasive predators with behavioral plasticity, not just their presence. This gives me hope that our hard work can restore balance to the remaining habitat of the forest birds.
Leaving the field knowing we met our goal of deploying over 100 rat traps was gratifying, however I know we have a lot of work ahead of us to save the Puaiohi. I am restless, as I am sure the rest of the team is, to get back out the grid and hopefully see lots of dead rats and live native forest birds. These birds are facing some pretty big challenges – climate change, disease, habitat loss – and we are all happy to remove one big threat to their success.
From the diary of Justin Hite, KFBRP Field Supervisor
I hope it is not too insensitive to ponder Hurricane Season in Hawai’i while the effects of Hurricane Florence are still unfolding in North Carolina. But from the perspective of a honeycreeper-lover like myself, this has been a stressful chaotic season. Hector thundered monstrously by to the south. Lane caused widespread panic and preparations as it stalled and banked and dumped absurd amounts of rain, but then mostly slipped by without a knockout punch. Two hundred-mile wide Olivia is losing steam but on course to slam directly into Maui. As I write this it is only 200 miles away from landfall. Each time a hurricane looms, crews must be pulled off their conservation efforts in the field over concerns for their safety, and our efforts are redirected to securing human lives and property instead. Countless conservation hours are diverted to shutting down and reopening our office.
Meanwhile the last few hundred ‘Akikiki, many of which are currently upside down on an ‘Ohia branch and tearing a small caterpillar out from under a cluster of lichen, are presumably oblivious to the potential threats they faced this summer. Hurricanes Iwa (1982) and Iniki (1992) devastated Kaua’i’s native forest birds, speeding along the extinction of three species, Kama’o, Kauai O’o and the O’u. What would have happened if we’d received a direct hit from Hector or Lane? What if Olivia had tracked further north and came directly at Kaua’i? What will Olivia actually do to Maui’s two critically endangered birds, the Akohekohe and Kiwikiu?
Hurricanes are a natural part of the Hawaiian ecosystem. Honeycreepers have been here for upwards of 5 million years, and have dealt with countless hurricanes. But staring down a gigantic storm is one thing when you are standing tall and proud and healthy. When your population is at a tiny fraction of its former strength, when you are isolated on a patch of habitat on Kaua’i 1% of its former size, it doesn’t look as good. Unfortunately, hurricanes are expected to become more frequent and more severe under most climate change scenarios.
We may be “one good hurricane away” from losing several of our native birds. May that storm never hit. Though, of course, some day it will. Damn!
The remote rugged terrain restricts the amount of gear than can be packed in. Conservationists like those that work for the Kauai Forest Bird Recovery Project need gear, food, and supplies to complete their work. They must hike for many miles along steep, uneven, and unmarked trails to get to field camps and conservation areas. It would be nearly impossible to get all the scientists and their gear to these locations without helicopters. While we often thank our pilot for delivery and return, it was quite a treat to get a thank you from this helicopter pilot who makes our work possible.
If you want to learn more about the use of helicopters in conservation, check out this presentation on using helicopters for conservation on Kauai.
A Thank You Letter
I’m a helicopter pilot who flies the various conservation crews all over the island of Kauai. I get a lot of “thank you-s” while flying this rugged group about the island. When dropping them off at their remote campsites so they can get to the work they are so passionate about, I hear, “Thanks for lift!” When extracting these crews, after they have been clawing through the mud, sleeping in wet tents, and living off cold cans of Spaghetti O’s, I hear, “Thanks for getting us out of the field.” My reply to their gratitude is always the same, “My pleasure, I have the easiest job out of any of you guys”.
The flying may be easier and more comfortable than working and camping in the wettest places on the planet, but it is by no means easy flying. I may have cut my teeth in other types of heli ops, but flying conservation in Hawaii has sharpened them to a fine point. It’s experiences such as tow-in landings over 1000 foot waterfalls while certain botanists climb the exposed skids to safety. It seems evolution would see to it that rare plants only grow in places even helicopters have trouble getting to. Also, situations like slinging ungulate-proof fences high atop the ridges of the Napali Coast, where it’s either windy or really dam windy. And then, there’s the weather, the ever dynamic weather. The visibility can change just as fast as the wind blows, which leaves little time for mistakes. This is by far the most challenging part of my job. But even when the weather takes a turn for the worse, and we have to leave crews in the field, I still hear “Thank you for trying.”
Despite all the hair raising challenges I face while flying conservation crews around, it is my favorite part of the job. I’m honored to be a part of this hearty group of people who are well educated, well informed, and so passionate about the work they do. These crews are literally knee deep in protecting our native forests and animals. They give their sweat and blood for the cause. After a tough week in the field, I listen to the trials and tribulations these crews face. Sometimes I’ll say, “Well, that’s why you guys get the big bucks.” One soldier of conservation replied to that quip with, “Ya right, we get paid in sunrises and sunsets.” And that is absolutely true. You are rich. Rich in experiences in nature, and rich in seeing sites so few are ever graced with, and rich with doing work that fulfills the soul.
So with that, it’s my turn to say “Thank you.” Thank you for hiking miles and miles to collect rare seeds. Thank you for diving head first into shearwater burrows to check on the chicks. Thank you for pounding fence posts until your hands bleed. Thank you for climbing 40-foot extension ladders suspended only by ropes to ever so gently collect endangered forest bird eggs. Thank you for the fence checks, the cat hunting, the bird strike counting, the weeding of invasives and the protection of the natives. Thank you for finding work you are passionate about and sticking with it, even in the sometimes harsh conditions of the native Hawaiian forests.
I’m sure that if the citizens of Hawaii could share my birds eye view, and see what happens out there on the front lines of conservation, they would share my respect and gratitude for these crews. I hope to continue to help out with this ever so important cause. And, as long as the weather cooperates, I’ll try to get you home in time for happy hour.
Sincerely. Chris Currier. Airborne Aviation
The Puaiohi is a critically endangered native thrush and the last of the island’s native seed-dispersing species. As such, the Puaiohi, which numbers only 500 birds in the wild, is central to maintaining healthy native forests. Given the Puaiohi’s critical ecosystem role, small population size and restricted range, gaining a better understanding of the conditions which affect its reproduction and survival is critical.
To address this issue, I and other researchers at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa joined with KFBRP to look at how different types of management options might influence the population size of the Puaiohi, and thus, promote the species’ long-term survival. We found that rat control, even at conservative levels, appeared to be the most effective method of increasing Puaiohi abundance. Moreover, we found that female and juvenile survival appeared to be the most important influences on population growth and persistence, indicating that management should focus on increasing female and juvenile Puaiohi survival. Both females and juveniles are very susceptible to rat predation. Other management options, such as providing nest boxes and supplemental food and improving native habitat, also have potential to increase Puaiohi numbers.
In this study, we demonstrate that practical, attainable management activities can increase Puaiohi numbers and prevent the extinction of this unique endemic species. Furthermore, the study helps justify the enormous time and effort KFBRP, its partners and the public (via the very successful “Birds, Not Rats!” campaign) is investing in rat control in the Alaka’i.
Fifty-six waterfalls and counting! All teeming with water as I looked west in disbelief at the scene that lay in front of me. A few minutes later the view was masked by fog once again, the rain continued, so I walked up to camp and sunk back into my sleeping bag. Little did I know at the time that parts of Kaua’i were experiencing some of the most intense rainfall ever recorded in 24- and 48-hour periods. No small feat for an area that is often regarded as one of the wettest on Earth!
And here I was watching birds.
The previous week I had been flagging point count transects, collecting forest bird point count data in Koke’e State Park, and helping with outreach at a garden festival. And now I found myself in a remote section of the Alaka’i Swamp, up high on a plateau overlooking some of the greatest views the United States, and some might say the world, has to offer. It didn’t seem to matter that it was raining. I could still hear ‘Apapane, ‘Anianiau, and ‘Elepaio calling and flying around camp and there was plenty of food to have fun throwing together and cooking up as ‘mystery meals’.
My time in the Alaka’i had me watching family groups of the critically endangered ‘Akikiki within a stone’s throw as they called and clambered around ‘Ohi’a Lehua trees like more curious nuthatch relatives, grasping at small branches from all angles and investigating for food. Incredibly energetic birds that are always on the move, they were so interesting to watch and ponder what they were thinking. On one occasion I spent half a day helping with the setup and take down of a large ladder for retrieving eggs from an ‘Akeke’e nest to add to the growing aviary population on one of the larger Hawaiian islands. Both the ‘Akikiki and ‘Akeke’e have a very real chance of going extinct in the wild within the next few years if current trends continue. To steal a phrase from a good friend from Kaua’i, “this pulls at my heart strings”. For an island that has already experienced so much avian loss, it is hard to believe that there is more still looming.
Honestly, I knew there was only so much I was going to accomplish in three weeks. I certainly wasn’t going to save a species from extinction. But knowledge and experience can and should be passed on. I love chatting random people up that seem interested so I made it a point to learn as much as I could in my short visit and I’m already sitting down with friends and colleagues and teaching them about the plight of Hawai’i’s, and specifically Kaua’i’s, birds.
The individuals I worked with and alongside on the Kaua’i Forest Bird Recovery Project were highly committed, professional, and extremely efficient at working and living in the sometimes cold, and usually wet, forests, and really knew the native birds of Kaua’i well. They all knew their roles and most importantly, they all wanted to be there, in the woods, living and learning with their colleagues. Honestly. I thought they were all fantastic. On behalf of the birds and everything else that depends on them in the forests of Kaua’i, please continue your great work. You really are the keepers of the forest and these creatures truly do depend on the time and effort you sacrifice out of your lives.
Some of my most memorable moments came in the discovery of a wicked looking fungus, finally hearing a Puaiohi singing (it’s a solitaire!), cooking with colleagues, getting up first and delivering that first cup of coffee to my friend in the morning, climbing to the top of the ‘Akeke’e nest ladder (I’m not good with heights!), seeing Kauai from the view of a helicopter pilot, and honestly, just sharing the love of the outdoors and the work with colleagues.
On my first week in Kauai I spent a good deal of time with two other biologists from the Big Island and Oahu and I would be remiss not to thank Seth and Jason for the friendship and experience they passed on during our short stint together.
I want to give a special shout out to my new friend who made the experience so much more memorable. You know who you are. Experiencing the dawn to dusk slog through mud and rain with this individual was a treat and I will forever be reminded of them when thinking of Kauai.
Will I be back? You bet!
The Alaka’i Plateau, which sits on top of Kaua’i, is one of the wettest places on earth. On the eastern end of the plateau, near the summit of the island, Mt. Wai’ale’ale receives an average of 450 inches of rain per year. The Hawaiian name roughly translates to “overflowing water”, which is a scenario that occurs frequently across this montane rainforest.
The wettest place got wetter in an extreme rain event that occurred during one of my recent trips to our main bird camp back in mid-April. My girlfriend, Kelsey, came out to help as a volunteer, and she and I were busy following a recently radio-tagged Akeke’e the day before the big storm came (if you’re serious about bird conservation and can handle working hard in tough terrain, contact us about volunteer opportunities!). From the shelter of the camp Weatherport we listened to thunder and heavy rain all night as lightning lit up the scene. We sure were thankful for camp that night! According to co-workers who have been around much longer than I, the Alaka’i doesn’t see much in the way of thunderstorms, so I knew that this was a rare event.
At 4:30 AM I decided to run outside to look at the stream near camp and found it to be raging in a way that I am certain that no one else has ever seen!! Illuminating the darkness of the night and storm with my headlamp, I could see the water rushing by at frightening speeds, carrying anything away in its path. On my very first trip to the Alaka’i, we had had heavy rains and the seasoned members of the crew said that they have never seen the stream so high. Well, on the early morning of April 15th, the stream was much higher. It was to the point where if it had risen just a few more inches, our deck would have been sitting in the main channel of running water! Although it looked frightening, I knew that we were safe where we were in the headwaters of this stream, and higher ground isn’t hard to find from camp. I was able to go back to sleep that night and by 9:30 AM the stream had settled down to the point where Kelsey and I crossed it to do more work that day.
Many of the streams in Kaua’i can be very “flashy”, meaning that they rise fast during rain events, but also can lower just as quickly. Down in the lowlands, however, the water that collected all over the mountain had combined and found its way through the main drainages to the ocean and caused historic damage, especially to the famous north shore of the island. Twenty-seven inches of rain over 24 hours were measured near Hanalei during this record-breaking storm, and the island is still recovering. Severe weather events and disasters can be catastrophic for critically-endangered species since population levels are so low, but thankfully the individual birds that we track endured the storm and bird camp survives. Some Kaua’i forest bird species were never seen again after hurricane Iniki leveled much of the forest on the plateau back in 1992. These kind of disasters are one of the many threats we address in efforts to protect these birds. For now, species like the ‘Akikiki, ‘Akeke’e, and Puaiohi are still hanging on in Kauai’s high-plateau wilderness, and I hope that it continues this way.