A lot of different things happened this week, and the sun came out! The mountain is much more pleasant when the sun is out and we’re not trapped inside of a misty cloud all day.
The other volunteers and myself spent Monday and Tuesday up at Hakalau, doing the work we normally do – checking traps, collecting and preparing seeds, etc… And we actually caught something in traps, of course right after I said we weren’t catching anything. Between those two days, we caught three mongeese (mongooses?) in one trap. Two juvenile females and one juvenile male that we believe are all siblings. If only we could catch their parents, too. I don’t believe that I described how we kill the animals that we catch last week, so I’ll do it now. We take the Tomahawk trap containing the animals and place it in a heavy duty black trash bag. The trash bag is bungee corded to the exhaust pipe of our truck and a hole is ripped in the other end of the bag to let out the air as the car runs carbon monoxide through the bag and the animals’ lungs. If you’ve heard about dying from CO poisoning, you’ve probably heard that it is a lot like falling asleep, so it seems like the most humane method we can muster up easily. After running the truck for several minutes, we extract the animals and break their necks (usually with a machete) just to be sure that they won’t magically come back to life. Then we fertilize the earth with their corpses. The gassing certainly helps to distance one from the actually killing of the animals at least a little bit, but I don’t think anyone of us felt bad about killing those three near-rats.
We all got to spend Tuesday night in Volcano Village, about a half hour south of Hilo, with the volunteer/intern who has been working at Hakalau for a while. This was to facilitate the travel for the work we would be doing on Wednesday and Thursday. The fun activity in Volcano, or one of the fun activities, is going to watch “The Glow” from the Kilauea crater at night. It has been particularly active lately, so we got to watch smoke rise from the pit as it was illuminated by the lava below. To top it off, as you might remember, Tuesday night had a full moon, so the contrast between the white and orange glows made the scene just amazing.
Wednesday morning we were picked up by the Biologist for the Hakalau Forest Refuge and the Kona Unit (where we were heading to work) and off we went, southward, to skirt the southern end of Mauna Kea (the active volcano in Hawai’i) and make our way up on to the Kona Unit. The Kona Unit was acquired by the USFWS in 1997, but has only recently become easily accessible for staff to work on. Our (the four seasonal volunteers, the biologist, and two USGS staff members) task was to survey 40 stations of four transects for evidence of ungulates (cows, pigs, sheep/mouflon, and goats) and for a variety of weeds (invasive plants). As any good biologist can guess, “evidence” in this case mostly means poop (or “scat” if we want to be scientific), but also tracks, trails, vegetation damage from eating, bark scratching, and anything that would make you think “a _______ has been here recently”. So, we walked down the mountain for about 3-4 km at a time, following a flagged “trail” (vague line in the woods which will definitely require you to climb over and under fallen logs and large volcanic rocks) and looking for evidence of stuff we don’t want to be there. This is a baseline survey so that once the Kona Unit is all fenced off and they start getting rid of the ungulates that live there, the FWS can prove that we are making a positive difference on the environment, so we should continue to get tax-payer money. Please. We worked Wednesday afternoon after arriving, and then Thursday morning before heading back to Hilo, and we got everything we had planned to accomplished, which was great. The two forests were similar in a lot of ways, but also had some small differences, which was very cool to see. Plus, the views from up top were just gorgeous. Hopefully, we will get to go back in the future!
Back in Hilo, us volunteers finally had some real days-off, off of the mountain. FWS is nice enough to give us one night a month in a hotel down in Hilo, theoretically to keep us from going insane, I believe (could be too late). So, we got to hang out in a place that was warm, in real beds, and go do fun things! One of the volunteers from last weekend took us around on Friday to a Hilo-side “beach” and then up to Rainbow “Falls”. The quotations are necessary. A beach on the Hilo side of the big island is really just a place where the water meets the lava rocks and sometimes grass, there is no sand. But, the place she took was still great for swimming, which is really all we needed, having been on an island and not able to access the ocean for two weeks. Rainbow Falls, which is usually a beautiful water fall on the edge of the Hilo town, was so dry from a lack of rain that no water fell from it! Usually, the winter is very wet, so there is no worry of a lack of the falls, but apparently it has been to dry. After glancing at what was now just a pool of water under a rock overhang, she took us above and behind the falls to a secret local swimming hole, which we enjoyed thoroughly with her and her dog “Boss”, a year-old Siberian Husky. Very hyper dog.
After spending the day with that very gracious volunteer, we went to the home of a guy we had met at the Honolulu Bunkhouse before we had left for Laysan (remember way back then?). He was having a BBQ for his neighbors and bunch of other remote-island workers who were on the big island now for a variety of reasons and government organizations. It was a lot of fun and there was a lot of good food. Plus, a lot of the neighbors had pets. The cutest was a 9-week old orange kitten named “Simba” who the host had found under the porch when he was a week old. We all agreed that he was unbearably adorable as he pounced on everything and cuddled in many a person’s lap.
Saturday morning we hit up the Hilo Farmer’s Market before heading back up to Hakalau. If/when you go to Hawai’i, buy all of your produce at farmer’s markets. You’ll be able to find one if you try, and it is WAY less expensive there than it is in the grocery stores, which have to ship everything by boat or airplane across 3000+ miles of ocean. Plus, its really good. Back up in camp, we have resumed our traditional labors and daily routines. As I mentioned before, the presence of the sun makes our work very significantly more enjoyable.