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Rating: 4 votes, 5.00 average.

10/12/09 - Kaumana-Pu'u O'o Trail

Posted Tuesday 13th October 2009 at 06:58 by bkrownd
Updated Tuesday 13th October 2009 at 08:05 by bkrownd
On days when weather is terrible or unstable, or when I get up late, I try to do something new. Sort of a "scouting" mission, or small project. Although it's disappointing that I'm not on a big all-day expedition, I often do quite well on the discovery scorecard anyhow. Today was one of those frustrating yet rewarding half-days. It rained all day, and when I finally got up to the Saddle I seriously wondered if I was going to get out at all. However, the rain was fitting weather for exploring a boggy area. I decided to go out on the part of old Kaumana-Pu'u O'o Trail that's on the North side of Saddle Road. (not to be confused with the more well known Pu'u O'o-Volcano Trail) Actually, I'm not certain how much of that part is really the historic old trail, and how much is newer hunter trails. It has been a popular hunting trail for many decades so there is a network of well-worn (but constantly overgrown by 'uluhe) trails in there, all the way to the edge of the namesake Pu'u O'o Ranch. There are also some interesting artifacts along the way. The old trails themselves, rusty old mysterious signs, an even rustier 100 year old forest reserve boundary fence, and other things. This is only my second trip into this area, and I made great progress today at opening it up for future exploration plans.

Well, I got a late start in blowing drizzle. However it's prime time bird season on the Saddle, and the pervasive wetness didn't at all dampen the spirits of many of the birds. As with my other recent Saddle outings, 'apapane and i'iwi were numerous and loud. 'Amakihi were again mysteriously few and quiet - they probably went to a drier area. Although it rained lightly all day the hyperactive birds meant that I was still able to do point counts until I finally had to turn around to head back to the car. My goal was to get to the area where I stopped the last time I was here, and then try to find and follow the trail beyond that for as far as I had time.

I followed the old track on my GPS through the maze of undergrowth, and had to do a lot of hacking at the 'uluhe and Florida blackberry in spots to open up the trail again. This part of the forest grows on a fairly young surface with numerous grassy bogs, a fairly young forest of scrub to medium stature 'ohi'a and other common scrub forest trees, and densely choked with 'uluhe. 'Apapane, i'iwi and Japanese White-eye were numerous. There were sparse 'amakihi and 'oma'o, but no 'elepaio. Initially the trail heads to the northwest, but about halfway in the trail hits a broken down 100 year old forest reserve fence and takes a sharp turn North to follow the old fenceline. The fence wire was cut up at some point, and almost every fence post was rotten and fallen - many couldn't even be distinguished.

When I reached the point where I had stopped previously the trail enters a much older wet forest, with a solid canopy and large emergent koa trees. This is currently the upper edge of the windward Mauna Kea forest, since the slopes above approx. 5500 feet elevation were given to grazing leases for over 100 years, and logging and cattle long ago converted the upper elevation forests to stark grass pastures. That's why we're The Extinction Capitol Of The World! This particular area is right below Pu'u O'o Ranch, which is one of the few grazing leases that is still active on the windward slope of the mountain. Small lava flows cut across the lower edge of Pu'u O'o Ranch in this area, separating the ranch pastures from the forest. There is a lot of pig damage and wayward and feral cattle were a frequent problem, but some parts of this forest are less disturbed and I looked hard (and in vain, so far) for rare plants.

Anyhow, the endangered bird species stick to the upper edges of the remnant forests, so I have long wondered how many of them I'd see if I spent some time in this area. I spent much of the summer exploring the forests immediately adjacent to here and I didn't detect a single endangered bird. Well, what a difference a mere mile makes. Just as I reached the upper edge of the forest and started my last point count there were at least two Hawai'i creeper poking around in the trees overhead. It was so wet that my binoculars were useless due to condensation built up on the lenses while carrying them under my rain jacket. Fortunately the creepers were frequently on nearby branches, and made a variety of creepery sounds so there would be no mistake about what they were. After the count I left the edge of the forest and walked a little on the lava flow to check the area out. There were two or more creepers, and it seemed like at least three were calling. There were also numerous 'oma'o and 'elepaio in this area, but fewer 'apapane, i'iwi and white-eye than earlier in the day. While watching one of the creepers from the edge of the lava flow I noticed a large native pokeberry under the same tree - the fairly rare plant I found so much of on the other side of Saddle Road yesterday.

With the fog and rain, and the dangerously thick forest between me and Saddle Road, I took no chances with the remaining daylight. It took me nearly 2 hours to get 2.7km back to the car, and by then my wool socks were quite soggy inside my rubber boots. I called it a day early at 5PM. I'll probably be back here on Thursday.

Average 8 minute counts were:
6.5 'apapane (10,6,8,6,9,7,3,3)
3.9 i'iwi (2,5,5,5,3,5,2,4)
1.4 'oma'o (1,1,2,0,1,1,0,5)
0.9 'elepaio (0,0,0,1,0,0,3,3)
0.9 'amakihi (2,1,1,1,1,0,1,0)
1.5 white-eye (2,3,3,1,1,0,2,0)
0.6 leiothrix (1,1,1,0,2,0,0,0)
plus 2 Hawai'i creeper at the last count.
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