Saturday, November 22, 2008

Some pictures

Kayaking to Captain Cook cove for snorkeling

smoke plum from lava entry to ocean. Wow, there are a lot of people! I hate having to share paradise with others!
Is it wrong to make my own birthday cake?
I think I have replaced schoolwork with baking. In college I used to fill my “free” time with studying and other academic activities. Suddenly free from tests and homework I find myself with hours of open evening time, which are now filled with flour, yeast, sugar, and teetering piles of dirty dishes. I have stopped buying bread from the grocery store ($6 for a loaf of sandwich bread is absurd anyways) and my boss likes having cookies at work so much that he provides flour and butter. Which brings me back to the topic of birthday pastry. I make other people cakes, my birthday is in a few days, and I want a pumpkin pie. So, is it weird to bring my own birthday pie to work? I have already made it, so I guess it would be even odder to make my own birthday pie and then hide it (Pie? What pie? Oh, you mean the one the whole house now smells like…. Right, that pie). I think that settles it, I will have to share my pie, but don’t expect me to sing to myself!
I also made challah, which somehow morphed into challah-zilla in the oven. Not that that is really a problem; I like making bread that covers more surface area than many north eastern states.
On an unrelated tangent I present a short narrative titled “My field partner, GI Joe”:
Joe and I do a lot of field work together. When we go out ant-mapping he always leads. The leader finds the gps points and lays bait cards for the ants. It is generally the harder job, but also more fun (in a machete wielding ,jungle trail blazing, sort of way). I am usually stuck as the follower when I partner with Joe. This means I don’t have to create a trail, but rather have to exactly follow the one my partner laid an hour before.
On Monday Joe and I were assigned to a transect that can be technically described as heavily vegetated. While I settled down for an hour long nap Joe pulled out the machete and dove into the brush. A half hour later I heard him yell at me, sharing the obvious fact that he had made it less than 60 meters into the veg. At 45 minutes it was my turn to dive into the 6 foot tall wall of spiky plant life. Joe’s already stomped and chopped it down a bit, so it’s definitely easier for me…. but…. Joe has an annoying habit of walking straight through brambles. He wears heavy rain pants even when it’s sunny so that he can do this, laying trails of flagging through swaths of saber toothed blackberry vines. My lightweight rain pants would be instantly shredded by these plants, and none of my field pants offer much protection against this evil greenery. Joe marches through the brambles, invincible, and then I follow on tiptoes, wincing and cussing my whole way through.
The leader lays flagging so that the follower can follow it to the bait stations. Good flagging courtesy implies that flagging should be tied somewhere obvious on the path to be followed, preferably at eye level. While wallowing through dense stands of Pukiawe, in which movement is akin to swimming through mattress springs, the flagging suddenly disappears. Dammit Joe!!! While searching the nearby brush for neon blue plastic I happen to glance down at my feet. There’s the flagging tape, tied six inches off the ground. Dammit Joe!!! He got sick of wading through the brush and decided to crawl under it instead. The flagging was perfectly at eye level, assuming the follower was lying on the ground under the bushes. Of course, I had no choice but to follow (one bait station was actually set in the middle of all this) and had ample opportunity to practice my army crawl over the next several hours. I will crawl under Pukiawe, but when the flagging tape disappeared under a bramble, Dammit Joe !!! (When question later, he claimed the bramble was too big to just walk through … what is wrong with going around obstacles?!?). After 6 hours of following GI Joe through Joe’s Boot Camp I emerged out onto the road. During the transect each bramble thorn drawing blood added new words to the lengthening list of things I was going to call Joe when I next saw him. With a final crash I landed back on the road and there he was, sitting in the car. I guess that would have been the time to fling some of those words I had been rolling around in my mouth for the last 5 hours, but that would have taken way more energy then I wanted to expend.
Moral of the story: Get more than 3 hours of sleep on work days or fieldwork sucks!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The lava ate my shoes

This weekend I volunteered to help a grad student, working in the park, check for nest activity in a colony of Hawaiian petrels nesting on top of Mauna loa. Petrels eat fish and fly all the way up to the Aleutian islands for their preferred meal. This fish eating marine bird happens to make its nests at 9,000 feet in rock crevices on top of a big volcano and, is thus, not exactly your typical shore bird. In retrospect, I am not quite sure what I was thinking when I volunteered myself for this. It was interesting to see the nesting sites and to learn about petrel conversation (they are doomed), but the hike was killer. The first two hours were on a trail climbing 2000 feet up the side of a volcano- not a problem. Then we turned off the trail, onto the lava.
Lava comes in two general flavors: pahoehoe is smooth and friendly,like walking on a rumpled sidewalk. Its angry cousin, a a, has the consistency and stability of fresh sourdough croutons. Fields of a a consist of irregular chunks, ranging from the size of brussel sprouts to beach balls, every edge razor sharp. It destroys hiking shoes with the tenacity of a school of small, rubber-loving piranhas, leaving fuzzy halos of shredded sole around bedraggled boots.

After leaving the trail we spent the next three hours tromping across a landscape that blended the less appealing aspects of mars, Mordor, and the moon. What are these birds thinking? (actually, they used to be wide spread but after the introduction of the nastiest of invasive species (that would be people) it’s nesting area shrank significantly. Maybe this mountain top wouldn’t be the petrels’ first choice either, but it’s so darn hard to get to that it’s the only habitat left undestroyed?). In the early afternoon we arrived at the first of the nests to be checked. The nests are deep burrows in lava crevices. The chance of seeing an actual bird is small, so we were checking for sign: fresh poop, feathers, birdy smell, and cat-eaten birdy bodies. We did this until the sun, and the temperature, began to drop. We headed to a semi-permanent camp supplied with some gear, water and food by periodic helicopter drops. Every time I find myself shivering, in Hawai’i, it surprises me. As it dropped into the low 40s on Saturday night I was really happy that I had long underwear, in Hawai’i.
We were up shortly after sunrise and as I drank my black coffee I silently crossed high elevation, a a covered volcanoes off my list of future field work locations. Nothing against elevation or volcanoes, I just don’t like a a rock.
We checked the remainder of the nest cavities that morning and then set out across the a a flows towards the trail, the car, and home where frozen pizza was waiting for me. The nesting area was interesting, but not quite worth the hike (about 6 hours each way). I am glad I went, but next weekend I think I will go snorkeling.
So that’s what I do for “fun”; work has been far less strenuous. We went up to Hakalau to check the bug traps up in the trees. Three days of climbing were great, and, unfortunately, our last trip. We had beautiful weather: blue sky, brilliant greens of grass and trees, and bright red birds (Apapane and I’iwi).
In the lab I have been given additional, exciting, tasks. To supplement my ant IDs and caterpillar care I now count moths and ….. drum roll…. sort bird shit. To be fair, it is important endangered bird shit. Fecal samples were collected from hundreds of native and non native birds on the islands. Most of these birds are at least partly insectivorous and by identifying the various insect bits in their poop it is possible to figure out feeding niches, competition for food resources, and that sort of important scientific stuff. Right, so I can’t tell a psyllid femur from a beetle tibia to save my life so my job is to sit at the microscope and separate out all the identifiable bits from the unidentifiable crap (literally!). I put the bug bits in a tiny bottle and give them to the PI, who sits in his office all day identifying caterpillar mandibles and spider legs. Isn’t science great?! Actually, science is great, but sometimes just a wee bit tedious (in retrospect, looking at salamander slides wasn’t all that horrible, hmmmmm).
My lab here didn’t get funded for the spring so I am definitely coming back to the mainland. I am starting to look for spring jobs, anyone have any suggestions?. I think it would be interesting to work on research relating to white nose syndrome in bats. This subject has now held my interest for almost a month (beating my usual attention span of three days), I am 200 hundred pages into a book on bat ecology, and now I just have to work up the courage to contact people working in that area.

Tree climbing/rainforest photos

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


I think it is time to construct hammock 2.0. My first hammock (version 1.0) has suited me quite well for the last two years, but it has some serious deficits. In good weather these issues can be overlooked, however there is nothing quite like a little rainstorm to bring certain deficiencies out in the open.
On Saturday night we were camping on a beach on the Kona side of the island, which is typically the drier side (but November is, undeniably, the wet season). In an attempt to pack light, I brought only my hammock, and a tarp in case it rained. I figured that, in the unlikely event of precipitation, I would toss the tarp over myself and stay dry. I forget that beachside rainstorms are generally accompanied by howling winds, the sort that refuse to let tarps stay put. So, it’s dark and raining and while my two camping mates have already retired to their nice dry tents, I am outside stubbornly attempting to tie an unruly tarp to my flapping hammock. Eventually the tarp and I reach a truce; it will stay attached to the hammock as long as I don’t expect it to actually keep me dry. Good enough. I climb into my sleeping back and spend the next several hours holding various parts of the tarp in an attempt to curb its incessant flapping and smacking of my head. The rain and wind eventually died down, unfortunately their replacement was worse. It turns out the unpleasant weather was keeping the even less pleasant insects at bay. I spent the rest of the night acting as an all-you-can-eat buffet to a population of biting flies. My housemate commented that, maybe, I should bring a tent next time. I think she might have a point, at least until I have a chance to make a hammock with a rain-fly (see, I don’t need schoolwork or research to occupy my time!).
Despite the less than ideal sleeping conditions, this past weekend was AWESOME. We drove over to the Kona side for some serious beach time on Saturday and Sunday. The first beach we went to, Hapuna, was the touristy, white sand, resort sort of beach.
Convinced that every body of water in Hawai’i must have snorkeling, I brought my mask and snorkel and spent a half hour staring at perfectly white, empty, sand. I did see a flounder, and that was really neat, making my snorkeling attempt slightly less pathetic.
We sat on the beach until the sun set, and then headed off to our camping spot.

All day the weather had been perfect, but by time we reached the trail head to our camping beach it was raining. We sat in the car discussing why it was a bad idea to hike to the beach in the rain until it stopped raining. We scrambled down to the beach and set up camp just in time for it to start raining again. On the hike down I impressed my camping mates with my cane toad catching skills (with that much eye shine they are hard to miss). I forgot to take a photo to add to my collection of Hawai’i herps, but really, it was just a cane toad, not even a big one.
I woke up the next morning to a perfectly blue sky without a cloud in sight. The black sand of the beach was edged in casuarina pines (not true pines, but they look like them) and beyond the band of pines stretched a green valley that had once been used for taro farming, but was now completely wild.
After briefly enjoying the amazing surroundings the rest of the group declared it was time to hike out. Having gone to bed at 7:30, both of them had been up since before sunrise, less then patiently waiting for me to wake up (which I did annoyingly late- at 8am).
As we hiked out we dripped sweat while enjoying breathtaking views of the whole coastline.

We made a quick, two hour, stop at a coffee shop in the town of Hawi (pronounced “Havi”) before heading to another beach. While sitting at the coffee shop we pulled out our big book of Big Island beaches and looked for a nice one between our current location and home. We quickly found one that sounded good and declared it the one of the day. Having already proclaimed it our beach goal, we discovered that the description spanned two pages. The second page informed us that our beach of choice was favored by the local nudists.
Undaunted by such warnings we drove down the coast towards the beach. Upon arriving at the trail we were immensely amused to see numerous signs stating that “nudity is prohibited by law and subject to fine”. Our book is about 25 years out of date. Resigned to perpetuating tan lines we walked in and staked a spot on the sand. I grabbed my snorkel and headed straight for the water. The coral was ok, the fish were pretty good, but the turtles!!!!
Ooooooooh there were turtles!!!!! I was paddling along admiring some shiny fish when a Green turtle floated into my field of view. Completely ignoring my squeals of delight, it continued to graze on the algae on the rocks. As I watched my first turtle three more came into view, and then a bit later a few more wandered by. Wow. Sea turtles are sooooo cool. I eventually made it back to shore where I stood in front of my friends jumping up and down saying “turtle turtle turtle” while vaguely pointing towards the water. One of them humored me by taking the mask and snorkel to go look; returning 15 minutes later to report that, yes, there was a turtle.
Yay turtles.
Eventually it was time to head back to home sweet HAVO (Hawai’i Volcano National Park). Along the drive we decided that the one thing that could make the weekend even better would be ice cream. At 4:59 we pulled into the parking lot of our favorite ice cream shop and, as they closed at 5, sprinted to the front door. They let us in, glared, but gave us our ice cream.
I like ice cream almost as much as sea turtles.