Saturday, August 31, 2013

Kauai Part 4: Alaka'i Swamp (Endemic Forest birds) (#257-261)

Well, I just called out on not posting posts #4 and #5 of Kauai, so I guess it's high time. Sometimes I wonder if anyone is out there reading this...turns out they are (hey, how about you leave me some comment love!) so I'll try to be accountable. :) 

Getting down on the mountain with Kauai’s bird guy, Jim Denny

We had decided sometime before Christmas that we were going to go to Kauai for March Break, and I had just enough time to order Jim Denny’s guide to the Birds of Kauai for Matt (ha...I'm the queen of buying gifts "for Matt") for Christmas. Before I had given it to him, Matt told me he had looked up bird guides in Kauai and there was one in particular that he liked, but it was a little on the pricey side for our budget. He showed me the emails—from Jim Denny—and I had to bite my tongue and not mention that I had already bought him his book.

We’re sitting here with no power right now because there’s a big windstorm in Kanata and we seem to lose power here every week with our allegedly modern infrastructure. This reminds me of February when I was sitting in this same spot on my birthday. I was at home working and there was a winter storm brewing in Kanata. It was actually not the nicest day but a wonderful email popped into my inbox:
Happy Birthday
Jim Denny [jimdenny@...]
Sent:Tuesday, February 19, 2013 11:41 AM

Hi Jenna,

  This note is to let you know that, as one of your gifts, your friend Matt
has arranged a birding tour for you during your visit to Kaua`i. I look
forward to meeting you and to helping you find Kaua`i's precious native
forest birds.

Warmest Aloha,

Kaua`i Birding Tours, LLC

Matt’s going to help me co-author this post since none of this would have happened without him!

"Soft kitty, warm kitty..." trying to find the alarm clock to turn it off in the pitch black of 4:30 am...Finally. And we're up...we tiptoe through the darkness trying not to wake Mary (Matt's mom) on our quest to make it to the front lobby of the hotel to meet Ann (our new friend that we met at a campfire on the beach). She has graciously offered to drive us to the other side of the island to meet Jim at the Alaka'i Swamp.  
It is quiet at 4:30 am; not even the birds are up yet. From across the darkness I can hear a voice: "sunscreen...check...bug" Once everything is in the bag, we head to the front lobby with extra excitement in our step. Ann is waiting there to pick us up. As we make our way around the island the sun begins to break over the horizon and we begin to see the flitting of birds from the car window. Inside we are both feeling the urge to stop the car...just so we don't miss a possible "lifer," but unfortunately it is not our car so we just enjoy the beautiful sunrise that is in front of us.  

After a couple of hours we come to a road heading up to Waimea Canyon. Soon after we come upon a bird that looks to be in the partridge family...we get out of the car and chase the bird for a few minutes to try and get a picture, but luck is not on our side this time. However, as we continue up the road we run into many more of these birds--it turns out they are very common at dawn and dusk in this particular area.  

Due to time constraints (having to meet Jim at a specific time) we are forced to keep moving without a great photo. As we pull up to our meeting point we see a truck waiting. We pull up alongside it but it drives away...guess it isn't Jim! After about 15 minutes another car drives up; sure enough it is Jim, we exchange greetings and hit the road. The drive to the swamp is extremely rough (it is a good thing we didn't try to do this in our rental car) so we have to move slowly. And when we say swamp it is a little misleading; it's not really a swamp at all. Once we finally reach the entrance to the trail we are chomping at the bit to get going.  
Matt makes sure to use the westernmost outhouse
We listen to a few of the calls before we head out just so that we are familiar with them. As we wander down the trail both Ann (who is a biologist) and Jim give lessons on the endemic and invasive species of flora and fauna on the island. They frequently point out examples as we move along the trail.  
Jim was also great at telling us about the flora. This is called "moa" which means "chicken" because it looks like chicken feet. 
Finally we come to a fork in the trail that allows us to go three different ways. As we are deciding which way to go we hear the call of one of our target birds and we forge ahead after the sound. It isn't long before we spot the bird and get a photo of it, what a relief! We continue to be serenaded by unusual sounds (well, unusual to us) and it is hard to focus on one specific area.  We would hear a sound, and just couldn't seem to remember which one was which. Jim would give the name immediately, and we'd keep asking "is that the one?" Not only was it hard to remember the calls, I had a hard time remembering which bird was which, because the names sound so exotic and similar to me!

We zigzag through the jungle following the trails and keeping our eyes up at the trees until we have ticked all of our target birds of the list except the elusive 'I'iwi. The forest on the trail is extremely dense and the light has a hard time penetrating the foliage, making the photography of these birds extremely difficult (not to mention the fact that they tend to sit at the tops of trees singing). However, during our hike we manage to spot and photograph 4 new life birds!

#257: 'Apapane; Alaka'i Swamp, Kauai, March 2013
The 'apapane like the red flowers of the `ohia-lehua, so if you see those funny looking flowers, it's probably a good spot to look for these birds. The 'I'iwi (another red bird that I'll talk about later) also takes the nectar from these flowers, although it has only started to rely on them more recently since Hawaiian lobelioids have decreased. 
What makes this habitat so special? The preserve is located on a plateau near Mount Wai'ale'ale, one of the wettest places on Earth (the sign claims it is the wettest spot on Earth). Luckily it was not so wet when we visited :)

#258: Kauai 'Elepaio; Alaka'i Swamp, Kauai; March 2013 *vulnerable*
The 'elepaio was just a little cutie and one of my total faves. He was a real bugger to shoot though because he darts around like a leaping lizard!

#259: 'Anianau, Alakai Swamp, Kauai, March 2013 *vulnerable*
The 'anianiau and the 'amikihi look quite similar at first glance. The easiest differences are the beak (darker on the 'amikihi) and the 'anianiau has no dark lore.

#260: Kauai 'AmikihiAlakai Swamp, Kauai, March 2013

The 'anianiau and the 'amikihi both have short curved beaks that are adapted to the flowers they feed from, so they can insert their beaks to get the nectar inside the long drooping flowers. (The 'I'iwi also does this). We did witness some birds "cheating" by nipping through the flower and robbing the nectar.
It ended up being a pretty long day, getting up so early and being on our feet all day. Sadly we never found the 'I'iwi. A group we had crossed paths with that day apparently had found one...darn it! The numbers of all the forest birds are dwindling due to higher temperatures at the higher elevations, so mosquitoes are able to live and reproduce higher up and lead to infections. In addition, wild hogs are ripping up the vegetation and creating mud holes where mosquitos can breed. This is why Jim has no problem with people hunting the boars in the forest. See: The Alakai Swamp: An Ecosystem BesiegedIt was incredibly sad to see in my guide book several birds that have not been sighted in to the last 20-30 years. The O'o was last heard in 1987 and the Akialoa has also probably become extinct in the last 50 years.
Our group toward the end of the day
Waimea Canyon is like the Grand Canyon of Kauai
After we split with Jim we continued up the road and enjoyed some amazing views, and did a little more birding to try and get more pictures.

#261: Erckel's FrancolinWaimea Canyon State Park, Kauai, March 2013 *introduced*
Of course, after trying to chase Francolin's along the road on the way in and being incredibly frustrated, at the end of the day we stopped at one of the lookouts where there were several rather tame Francolin's! It's always the way. I was glad to finally get a good look at them. 

Matt takes a peek
As I mentioned in a previous post, the birds on Kauai tend to be located in very specific areas. We would not have seen any of the foregoing birds if we had not visited Koke'e State Park/Waimea Canyon/Alakai Swamp. Welcome to the Swamp, Aieeee! Say it hunny, aieeeee!

If you are considering a visit to Kauai for these forest birds, definitely refer to this page, which lists some of the hotspots:

More on Jim

Best way to end a day of birding (with beer, of course)!

Kauai Part 1: Two Chickens in Paradise (#237-241)
Kauai Part 2: All the magic seabirds that live by the sea... (#243-248):
Kauai Part 3: In a land called Hanalei...(marsh birds) (#251-256)
Kauai Part 5: Coming soon!