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7/25/09 - Upper Waiakea Forest Reserve, South of Kaumana Trail

Posted Sunday 26th July 2009 at 09:33 by bkrownd
Updated Sunday 26th July 2009 at 10:04 by bkrownd
Saturday's weather was ideal for Saddle adventure. Unfortunately the forecast looked worse, so I slept in and went out to search for rare plants and explore in the forests South of Kaumana Trail. There was very little wind, and I was sweating rivers all day and even long after sunset.

On Kaumana Trail it was quiet in both the scrub forest on the 1855 lava and the kipukas. 'Apapane were flying high overhead to Somewhere Else. A few 'oma'o called from within the kipukas. 'Amakihi, Japanese white-eye and yellow-fronted canaries moved across the scrub forest.

I left Kaumana Trail at the Opuhe Trail, and followed it out to bird survey transect 25. Tweeters were much as usual in the rich forest crossed by the first part of the trail. The first count was locally 3-4 each of 'oma'o, white-eye, 'amakihi, one each of 'elepaio and red-billed leiothrix and more of both in the distance, and very small numbers of 'apapane moving along briskly overhead. I'iwi were reliable here as recently as early June, but none today.

My objective was to explore the windward Saddle forest along and above transect 25. I left the transect and wandered through the forest, and even popped out onto the lava field once to look around. The lower area where I started is grassy bogs and forest on an ancient pahoehoe substrate. These substrates are initially limited in their plant diversity early in their evolution. Plants can't root well in the smooth pahoehoe, and as soon as the cracks in the lava all silt up bogs start to form. Super if you like bog grass. The boggy forest was not popular with the birds. 'Oma'o and 'elepaio numbers were slightly depressed, but the other birds were very scarce. The flora wasn't terribly interesting, but I did find one massive 'oha wai tree and an i'iwi even came to visit its flowers while I was counting.

I smelled a lot of rotting flesh here and there today. A somewhat creepy encounter I had in the bogs came at one point after I climbed over a log between muddy depressions. I looked down at the ground and noticed several unusually large bugs that I wasn't familiar with crawling around beneath my feet. Bending over to look more closely, the leaf litter was seething with both these bugs and what looked like maggots. Hmmm....yep, as I looked up I finally noticed the large rotted pig carcass just 8 feet away. Now I know why they show the bugs crawling all over the ground in the horror movies. Ech, the penetrating stink hit me when I got downwind of it, as well.

Eventually I climbed a steep slope out of the bog and onto an 'a'a substrate with a fairly rich and surprisingly little-disturbed mesic forest growing on it. I started to see some uncommon plants that grow in more undisturbed areas such as cyaneas, cyrtandras, small 'anini trees, and even an 'opuhe tree. The undergrowth was thick and tangled enough that I could start to hope I might find something really rare. Unfortunately I didn't have much time left to explore much of this area, so it will be high on my list for a return trip in the near future!

The bird numbers also picked up in this area. There were a lot of kalij pheasants running around. I solved an old puzzle when I heard some of them whimpering like dogs...which would explain whimpering noises I've heard in the forest in the past. Counts were lead by 'oma'o, followed by 1-3 each of 'apapane, 'amakihi, 'elepaio, Japanese white-eye, and red-billed leiothrix

At 4:30 I decided it was time to head back to transect 25 and start to make my way back out. I wasn't quite sure where I'd run into the transect up here and nearly gave up before I saw the first flag. I followed the transect back down and made waypoints for each new station. The bird survey transect completely misses the nice forest, and only crosses scrub forest and bogs.

On the way out I had an adventure I didn't expect. I misjudged the amount of time it took to get back out of the forest, and I was caught after dark only half way back. I have the trails waypointed and carry lights and lots of batteries so this shouldn't have been a problem - however, today I had streams of sweating running into my eyes and my glasses were fogging up terribly after sunset. I couldn't see much at some points, and kept getting blinded by my own light as well. I lost the trail a few times but always got back onto it. I finally got out of the forest about 45 minutes after sunset and returned to the car about 8PM. There was a nice crescent Moon and a sky full of stars waiting for me when I got back out on the lava field, but I was a bit too exhausted to enjoy it properly.

The forest I explored today is located around 19.65950,-155.34373. It's nearly a kipuka, but is connected to the contiguous windward forest at its lower end. Google Maps link

Unfortunately today's paper confirmed the closure of Kulani Correctional Facility (prison). Kulani is located on windward Mauna Loa at the elevation that the rare birds and plants are concentrated, and is a keystone parcel in the windward conservation partnerships. Numerous endangered species live in and around Kulani, and Kulani fence crews build many of the conservation fences on the island. It's uncertain how this will effect conservation efforts in the area.
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