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8/1-8/2/09 - Upper Waiakea Forest Reserve, North of Kaumana Trail

Posted Sunday 2nd August 2009 at 07:30 by bkrownd
Updated Tuesday 4th August 2009 at 03:19 by bkrownd
I was watching new DVDs until late last night, and it rained into the morning which always makes it hard for me to get out of bed, so I got a very late start today. When this happens I usually go to somewhere I haven't been before to scout new areas. Disappointing at first, but sometimes it works out for the better. Today was one of those happy accidents.

My Saddle explorations along and South of Kaumana Trail are far from complete, but by now I need a whole day just to get to the outer edges of my previous explorations and make a little progress beyond. The Kaumana Trail area is dissected by the massive 1855 lava flow that Saddle Road is built on. This spring and summer I've discovered that the kipukas along Kaumana Trail and the forests South of Kaumana Trail have more interesting native flora than I had previously anticipated. There are also kipukas and forests on the other side of the 1855 lava field, North of Saddle Road. I briefly looked into the edges of these areas years ago when I wasn't knowledgeable about the native flora, and was mostly searching for native birds. Since the bird search was disappointing, and the terrain was hairy, and these forests are often full of hunters, I seldom returned. Well, now it's time to correct that error!

The part of Saddle Road along the present maintained section of Kaumana Trail is interesting. Near the 19 mile marker Saddle Road rises out of the windward Saddle's scrubby rainforests and enters the dry upper Saddle landscape that's dominated by open lava flows and kipukas. The old cinder Saddle Road also departs from the present paved alignment of Saddle Road for several hundred meters. There are also service trails for the two present powerlines, wreckage of an old abandoned phone/powerline through the scrub forest, numerous bulldozed areas, decades of trash scattered about, and an odd collection of alien trees growing randomly on the 'a'a lava field. (conifers, eucalyptus, and Mexican ash) I'm not certain if the alien trees were planted, or if they're colonizing the lava fields on their own. (something which isn't happening at all further up the Saddle, but does occur higher on the mountainsides)

I parked in one of the big bulldozed areas where hunters have set up their target shooting areas and dumped trash everywhere. My goal was two medium sized kipukas just North of Saddle Road. I found a faint trail across the lava to the first kipuka, and some hunter trail flagging inside. My first glance into the kipuka revealed some wonderfully extreme topography, which is a great sign that interesting plants may have found protected nooks to survive, sheltered from pigs and sheep!

The pig damage was moderate in the first kipuka, and the flora was modest in diversity. However, I quickly found a young 'ohe mauka tree which would set the tone for the entire day. 'Ohe mauka (tetraplasandra oahuensis) are widespread in mesic and wet forests, but with a spotty distribution - neither common nor rare. A young tree suggests a chance at a breeding population, so this was exciting. I found just one full-sized and one small 'ohe mauka so far on the other side of Saddle Road.

I followed the trail flagging out of the first kipuka and across the lava field to the second kipuka. To the North there were interesting views of Mauna Kea above and down into the depression where the Wailuku river is. The second kipuka had less pig damage. As soon as I got into the second kipuka I found another young 'ohe mauka tree. Then I spotted a larger one up the slope...then another...and another...and more of them... There were dozens of them throughout the kipuka, from sprouts up to 30 feet tall - a major colony. There are also good populations of 'oha wai (clermontia montis-loa) and 'ilihia (cyrtandra platyphylla), and a good (tho not outstanding) variety of other trees. Oddly, I didn't see a single one of the other rare trees I was seeing South of Saddle road - opuhe, 'aiea and 'anini. Each kipuka has its own characteristic flora. The kipuka is very rugged, with only modest pig damage in the areas I visited and a variety of habitat from 'uluhe-scrub forest, to bogs and ponds, to high canopy, to dense understory, etc. The understory was very dense, and I even found some native succineid snails! I was really getting excited about the potential for finding rare plants in this kipuka. It may take a long time to fully explore both of these kipukas, and then there is an entire forest North of them that stretches across windward Mauna Kea.

The bird population in the second kipuka was small but consistent. Average counts were 2 'apapane (on the move), 2 'amakihi, 3 'oma'o, 2 'elepaio, 2 white-eye. There were some kalij pheasants I encountered once, and scattered red-billed leiothrix. The 'elepaio were a family with a very noisy juvenile that begged and squawked all day. They came by to inspect me at one point, eyeing me up and down between rounds of stuffing bugs into the begging juvenile. As sunset neared the 'oma'o launched into their evening racket, calling loudly and chasing each other around. At one point I was in a mob of about 6, which is about as many as I ever see at one time. The 'apapane also started to come in about sunset from wherever it was they spent the day, many flying high over the trees with lots of fluttering and tweeting.

By the end of the day I found an extremely well-travelled hunter trail across the second kipuka. I followed the trail to the North edge of the kipuka where there was a tremendous view of Mauna Kea once I popped out onto the lava field. This trail should take me across the lava to the big forest. As daylight faded I traced the trail back to the road. After some looking around the odd bulldozings, alien trees and trash piles near the road I was done for the day. The weather was mostly clear and stable all afternoon, and a bit hot. Nice sunset.

Sunday I returned to explore these kipukas more. I explored the length of the first kipuka from top to bottom. The slope of the upper half of the kipuka is very steep, and the surrounding 'a'a flow makes walls on all sides that rise high above the kipuka floor to hearly the canopy level. Unfortunately the pig damage in the first kipuka is heavy. The bottom half becomes grassy mud bogs on ancient pahoehoe. Alien juncus has taken over many of the bogs, and I removed several small himalayan raspberry. I didn't see any particularly interesting plants, and don't have much hope for rare plants in this one. I have only seen a fraction of it, though, and it connects with the surrounding forests at the lower end. By the time I got to the bottom the gunfire I heard occasionally from above went from sounding like it was out on the lava field (the target practice and trash pit area) to sounding like it was inside the kipuka, so I exited the kipuka near the bottom and crossed the lava field to the second kipuka.

The second kipuka's understory is much less disturbed, though there were scattered areas with some heavy pig rooting. The boggy areas in the lower end of this kipuka are not as open or grassy, and the terrain is more rugged. I was set on getting back to the trail by dark, so I took a straight path through the kipuka without much searching. I didn't see much that was new, but was happy to see a lot of large 'oha wai trees covered with fruit. One of the trees had all of the bark eaten off of one side of the base. By the disturbance of the moss at the base this must have been a pig. Interestingly, I didn't see any of the 'ohe mauka trees in the lower halves of either kipuka. They seem to be pretty much confined to the higher upper halves.

Same birds both days. I even had the same 'elepaio family following me in the second kipuka both days. The one big difference on Sunday was the flock of 10+ yellow-fronted canaries that greeted me at the parking area in the morning. I frequently see them on the lava flows in this area. Averaged frequency and abundance/count per 8 minute count for the two kipukas this weekend:

Species        Kipuka 1          Kipuka 2  
               %  avg #        %   avg #
'Oma'o        100%  2.7      100%  3.7
'Amakihi       86%  1.1       100%  1.6
'Apapane       86%  1.9        57%  1.6
'Elepaio       00%  0.0        71%  1.6
White-eye     86%  1.3        86%  1.3
Leiothrix      14%  0.1        57%  0.7
Y-f Canary    29%  1.1        00%  0.0
Kalij Pheas.  00%   0.0       14%  0.3
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