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7/19&21/09 - Powerline Road, Kipuka Ahiu

Posted Wednesday 22nd July 2009 at 18:05 by bkrownd
Updated Monday 27th July 2009 at 19:31 by bkrownd
I had to completely abort any hope of an outing Satuday due to heavy rain, but Sunday-Tuesday was a brief dry spell. (back to rain rain rain Wednesday) I took advantage of the lull to get back out on Powerline Road for what seems like the first time since mid-May.

I have not completed searching the last kipuka on Powerline Road for rare plants, and I know there are some others out there. I got a big surprise on Sunday when I encountered a pair of unbelievably massive phyllostegia vines. (giant native mint) I've never seen phyllostegia on the Saddle before, and this was an unfamiliar species. Endangered phyllostegia racemosa is supposed to have lived in this area, so I initially thought I might have discovered one. Eventually after reading the Manual of Flowering Plants I settled on phyllostegia ambigua, which I've seen planted in the understory restorations above Volcano, but those look different. In keeping with its name, phyllostegia ambigua is variable. Still, exciting to find something new and unexpected. Unfortunately it was just past flowering and it looked like all of the fruits had failed.

I was super-motivated to find more of them, but unfortunately that was the last rare plant I found. This kipuka has an odd cluster of several rare plants in ones and pairs or small colonies. (In terms of genetic diversity siblings really only count as one) I have to wonder whether these plants the last remnants of dying populations, or just outliers that got here by chance.

This kipuka is horribly torn up by pigs in the lower wet forest end, grazed by sheep in the upper dry end, and has a cattle drive trail right through the middle of it. (on the other hand Powerline Road protects a small part of the kipuka because pigs and sheep avoid areas where humans appear repeatedly) I saw hundreds of gutted tree fern carcasses in the lower end yesterday. Large clearings that were once shaded by a dozen or so tree ferns were stripped bare to the mud and rock and littered with the broken trunks. On the way out of the kipuka at the end of yesterday I encountered no less than 7 pigs! 7! Sunday morning I had passed a pair of friendly hunters who had given up in early morning because they saw "no animals", but it seems they were only looking for sheep in the upper meadows. I started having thoughts of posting a map at the beginning of Powerline Road showing where I see pigs, sheep and turkeys.

I don't understand why people claim that pigs are intelligent. I can walk right up to most of these pigs, or they wander directly towards me, and often throwing rocks and sticks at them to drive them away just gets a blank stare in return. They have no sense of self-preservation.

June and July is the quiet time on the Saddle. The adult red birds and white-eyes disappear, and most others are quiet. 'Amakihi dominated the counts almost everywhere, though there were occasional pockets of 'apapane in the taller trees. Among the remaining 'apapane and i'iwi were a higher fraction of juveniles than usual. There were a handful of house finch and yellow-fronted canary, which are infrequent on Powerline Road. 'Oma'o and 'elepaio numbers were normal.

Endangered birds are concentrated in the dissected remants of kipuka ahiu. There were a pair of 'io soaring over the lower end of the last Powerline Road kipuka Sunday. There was at least one family of 3 creepers that I frequently encountered both days, including begging juvenile(s). They were joined by at least one 'akepa and a few 'amakihi. There was another creeper in the skinny kipuka further up the road. No 'akiapola'au heard either day. I saw a number of pheasants down there, as well. Pheasants have been scarce in my other areas recently.
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