(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.