Wednesday, January 5, 2011

January 4 2011 - Day 6 in Paradise

So by now if you are following along you might be asking yourself  "just how many damn days in paradise will there be?" And the answer to that is 11.  So on day 6 we are looking at the midpoint, 5 days behind us and 5 days to come.  I am sooo glad that we will be here for more days.  This is and has been one of the finest vacations ever.  I can't say that I am unhappy at all that the Belize expedition fell through, because it is very fine to be here on Kauai.  I can easily imagine coming back here.

Day 6 was "native" endemic species day.  If you think about it, nothing but lava red soil is here on Kauai unless it blew in, floated in, or was carried here.  But there is a set of bird species that have been on the Hawaiian islands for a long time, and these are considered the endemic native species. Of 14 known natives, 5 have not been seen in some time and are considered extinct.   Most only exist above 3000 feet and somehow miraculously escaped various diseases that wiped many other birds out here and on other islands.  To see these birds we needed to get to  Kokee'e Park and do some hiking.  As much as we adore being on the north shore, it does make for a very long journey to get to Waimea Canyon and the other end of the road.  You basically have to completely circle the island the end up only a small number of miles from where you started out.  (side note...if I came here again I would rent at two locations, splitting the time between the west shore and the north shore)

But the circle is broken and there is only one way to get there.  So we woke before dawn and drove to the other end of the road.  The views along Waimea Canyon are simply spectacular.  We already want to go back and look again.  But not today - today we are exhausted!!! My back has trouble with climbing and with long car trips and yesterday was a 13 hour extravaganza of both of those coupled with looking for and shooting birds in the most awkward of bad positions.  Today may just be the day we try to go find a massage, or simply rest and drink endless cups of good coffee.

Anyway, back to yesterday.  The views all the way to Kokee'e Park are awesome, and the views once there are also unbelievable.  Plenty of people drive there just to get out of the car and gawk.  But we suited up in mud boots and gear and climbed down into what is called the Alaka'i Swamp.  Because the weather has been so incredibly dry and warm, it was less swampy than one would normally expect.  We probably could have done the hike in regular foot gear.  But one never knows, and it was great to be able to step anywhere with impunity and there were some very muddy patches.

The first bird of the day was an amazing find and I am still just completely awestruck from watching it.  In the above pictured canyon, which is the view at the end of the road, before you start hiking in very deep, I saw a large bird flying, far down below us.  I immediately tried to shoot it without checking my settings or changing anything.  Just was hoping to see it through the viewfinder magnified and took a few shots just in case.  The settings were just all wrong for a flying bird, but still got one fairly clear shot of the pueo.  This is the native Hawaiian owl, flying at 11:00 am, and looking so beautiful.  A very large pueo.  We have seen one several times in early morning near the condo flying around that was maybe half this size.

This is a special bird for Hawaiians - an ancestor spirit.  It was a beautiful creature to watch as he flew gracefully around the canyon.  I have seen a few perched owls in the daytime but cannot recall ever seeing an owl flying around in broad daylight. I love his face.

Next we climbed down into the swamp.  Truly fortunate that it was so dry as I can imagine the terrain being so much more difficult and slippery when wet.  A lot of mud and dirt covered stone natural staircases.  We did see some (much) younger people managing this in flipflops and that pretty much blew our minds.

You eventually reach a boardwalk, which is made up of large wooden planks in various states of good or bad health, covered with a wire mesh that is I am sure very useful when the boards are wetter but does tend to grab your feet and trip you a bit, especially where it is coming away from the wood in places.  Hard to imagine how this boardwalk was built in the first place....If it is hard enough for me to hike with both hands free, I now imagine hiking down with really large planks of wood, etc.

This Pihea Trail boardwalk is a great place to find the native birds. The most common and plentiful of these is the 'apapane.  It is a gorgeous deep red bird with a very rich vocabulary of song.  Tom did some sound sampling and these recordings are going to be fantastic.  When you are surrounded by these birds you hear the sound of their wings whirring in addition to the song and it is an amazing experience.

It was very difficult to get photos of these native forest birds.  I knew it would be, but it was oh so very frustrating. I think that I must have snapped at my very patient mate quite a few times yesterday... In the end I resorted to the fishing technique.  Most of these birds are sampling nectar or bugs from the tops of the trees so I found a place to sit and watch a clear area with good blossoms.  I felt like I was sitting in the nectar garden back home at Coyote Hills park.  This gave me a better chance of a bird coming along for a nibble.  In the end I did get clear identifiable shots of 3 distinct native species in addition to the owl.  I have a clear shot of a 4th bird but have not yet identified who this one is.

I would also note that the flora is also remarkable along this swamp trail.  Amazing ferns, and trees that are bursting with other plantlife from all directions are plentiful...

A few more photos here:

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