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10/15/09 - Powerline Road

Posted Friday 16th October 2009 at 08:00 by bkrownd
Updated Friday 16th October 2009 at 08:10 by bkrownd
Last night I discovered a tool to download old air survey photos of Hawai'i, and stayed up MUCH too late looking at the progression of bulldozing, road-building, plantations and lava flows in my main exploration areas. As a result, I got out of bed with a groan and up to Powerline Road around the usual time, leaving the car at a disappointing 8AM. I abandoned my original plans for a big expedition, and settled into the old routine of doing all the usual point counts along Powerline Road. (see previous entry for background info)

As I mentioned before, 'apapane have returned to the Saddle in force. Thousands of them. Sometimes it was hard to hear anything else while counting. 'Amakihi were scarce, but I probably missed more of them than usual because of the extra volume. Everything else was about as expected.

Before sunset I got to witness one of the few avian spectacles that remains in Hawai'i these days - during my point count around 4:30PM hundreds of 'apapane were flying overhead South to North toward their roosting area. The air was buzzing with the whir of 'apapane wings (which is even more impressive on clear evenings) and my ears were filled with their tweeting. I can still hear it now. They flew over mostly in groups of 5-15, but occasionally a group would stop in my area before continuing on. I wasn't quite sure where exactly they were going at first, but after crossing to the North side of that kipuka I discovered that many of them were milling around in the massive emergent koa trees near the heart of the kipuka, preparing to roost for the night.

Endangered birds did not show up for my counts, and in fact I couldn't even confirm any detections all day. This is the first time in a long while that I've visited kipuka 'ahiu without encountering any. I thought I saw a creeper during one of the point counts, but it left the area before I could get my camera on it. (I even brought the telephoto lens out today - that must be what scared them all away!) I usually hear the endangered birds and make my way towards them, but perhaps there was just too much 'apapane noise today. The 'akiapola'au that once seemed so reliable in this kipuka in 2007 and 2008 have been very scarce in 2009. I'm not sure if this is in part because I don't specifically wait around and search for them anymore.

My second project for the day became continuing the rare and unusual plant search in kipuka ahiu, the southernmost kipuka on Powerline Road before it crosses the 1984 lava field. First I checked on the big koli'i I found last spring, and found that it wasn't showing any signs of flowering. It is a whopping 12 feet tall, and looks like it should flower very soon. From there I crossed the kipuka until I hit the 1984 lava, and followed the edge of the lava hoping to find rugged spots that might harbor rare plants. This kipuka is really trashed by feral pigs and sheep, but still harbors some delicate plants in 1's and 2's - the last sad remnants of what was once a very rich flora. I didn't come away empty-handed - I discovered a second 12-foot tall koli'i! It was growing from the protection of a notch in the base of a tree. Unfortunately the nasty pig that has been busy wrecking this part of the kipuka, including dozens of tree ferns knocked over and freshly ripped apart, was nearby.

Down the middle of the big kipuka runs a big grassy meadow-savanna area where a younger lava flow dissected the older (forested) surfaces. In the grassy bogs that pock the meadows I got my second interesting plant of the day - a native plantago. I'm usually never quite sure whether I'm looking at a native or an alien plantago, but this area is noted on a rare plant map as having native plantagos. Today's plantagos also had tougher leaves than other plantagos I've seen, so I'm pretty confident they're natives. There were also numerous bog grasses, and some day I need to learn the more obscure bog grasses. Deschampsia, carex and oreobolus are the only ones I recognize so far. As I came to the bogs a single sheep escaped across the 1984 lava.

There was no rain today, though it was quite cloudy and occasionally foggy before sunset. I got back to the car after dark.
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