Week 5 – Mist Netting, finally!

I’m getting my update in a little early this week because I will be unable to update tomorrow – we’re planning on a day trip to Kona! But you’ll have to wait until next week to hear about that. So, come back.

Much of this week was like any other and the clouds, mist, and rains returned on Monday through Friday. We checked traps, goose nests, and goose bands, collected Pilo and Koa seeds, shucked Koa seeds, moved over 1600 individual plants from the greenhouse to the miniature greenhouse benches we finished last weekend to make more room for seed flats, etc, etc… However, the difference and excitement this week came up on Tuesday.

Through the FWS and local school systems, Hakalau NWR has begun a monthly program in which they bring students from around the big island up to the reserve for an experiential learning opportunity. This is awesome, for the kids and the refuge. By showing the next generations what can (and should) be done with their environment, we can increase the odds that some of them actually will do it! This week’s group consisted of 15 seventh and eighth graders who go to school near Volcano, I think, accompanied by some teachers from the school and two Forestry Service employees who do a lot of education/outreach work.

When the students arrived, they toured the admin site facilities – the greenhouses, the grounds, the old Nene pens, etc. – with the FWS Biologist (our boss) showing them not only what makes the refuge function, but the plants and birds that live here. After their tour, like all volunteers that come up to Hakalau, the students go to plant a personal plant somewhere on site, helping the environment by adding another native or endemic species and providing the individual with a deeper, more direct connection to Hakalau and the nature around them. We were busy with our own work during this time and did not get to join them, but only saw them as they walked around. They did appear to be enjoying themselves very much, especially after a stop by the “Beer” tree – because one can observe birds (mainly the Amikihi) very closely as they enjoy the fermented sap.

With trees planted, they retired for a while to clean up and eat, as did we, but we rejoined them in the evening for some talks/presentations/lectures about Phenology, Phenophases, climate change, our forest and its residents, and the importance of hard work. The USFS employees talked about Phenology (the study of life cycles), Phenophases (visual cues to specific parts of life cycles), and how climate change and invasive species can affect both. They discussed how birds and trees depend on each other to thrive and reproduce (the birds get food energy and the trees get transportation, simply). They talked about how the observation of life cycles can help you clue in on what is happening around you. As an example, the Hawaiians have a saying “When the the wiliwili tree blooms, the sharks bite” (but in Hawaiian. I forgot how that goes.). All of the talks stressed the importance of observation in everyday life, and not so everyday life, like they are experiencing up here. They also talked about the effect that humans, pigs (and other ungulates), mosquitoes, and climate change have had, and are having, on the forest. But I think I’ve covered all of those before – namely last week.

The Hakalau Biologist gave his presentation on the wildlife, principally avian, which lives in the forest. Both of these talks also pointed out a very cool thing about the Hakalau NWR – while native bird populations in pretty much all other parts of the island are declining, or barely maintaining at best, Hakalau is actually showing improving populations of the native and even endangered bird populations! (The endangered birds on Hakalau are the Aki, Hawaiian Creeper, Akepa, and, of course, the Nene.)

[Just realized I haven’t really given you all good pictures of the birds, I think. If I have, I’m going to do it again, so I know that you know what I’m talking about. Here are some excellent pictures from Jack Jeffery.]

The last talk came from one of the Pest Control workers – a Hawai’i native who is married to one of the teachers on the trip. His talk was focused on his job – why he does it and why he loves it, mostly. The Pest Control guy was raised on a farm, so he has lots of experience with fences, weeds, and animal pests. He has worked a lot of very cool jobs around the islands removing pests of various kinds. His main points for the keikis were to work hard always, find a job that you love so that you can work hard at it and enjoy it, and to always be observant of what is going on around you and your parents, aunties, and uncles (in the Hawaiian meaning of those familial positions). It was a very good speech for the kids to hear.

A very cool thing that I liked about how this school appears to be run is the bilingual aspect. The kids are instructed both in English and traditional Hawaiian. Awesome because bilingual education can make your kids smarter and it helps preserve the kids culture, which is extremely important for a lot of cultures today.

The next morning had a lot of fun in store for the kids and us. A group of forest bird researchers were coming up to mist net for the day! Mist netting is a way to catch small birds without killing or injuring them, which, if you ever observed forest birds and/or held one, you would accurately think is not a simple task. In the forest, large, very fine nets are erected in small clearings. These large nets have a half dozen strings running across them, which are used to hold the net up and create pockets along the length of the net. When a bird is flying by, it hits the net, falls into the pocket, and becomes somewhat tangled in the very fine strands of the net.  When you check the net, you find a bird that appears to be floating in midair, extract it VERY carefully (especially if it is an endangered – then you need an extra special permit), and take it back to your work station to run whatever assessments you need to. And what a barrage of assessments they were running – species, sex, age, bill length and width, wing length, tail length, weight, presence of molting, presence of a brood patch, etc, etc, etc. Plus, they were banding the birds that they caught, so if the bird is caught again in the future, we can see how it is doing, maybe get a guess at how long the birds live in the wild. (The age assessment is very general – fledge-year or not, pretty much.)

Unfortunately, as I mentioned at the top, it has a very gray and damp week. Rain means the birds prefer to hunker down and stay dry than fly, which makes catching them in a still net exceptionally challenging, AND water droplets collect on the net, which makes it much easier for the birds to see and avoid, if they do decide to fly. In the three or so hours we had our nets up, we caught one male Amikihi, and that was before the kids showed up. He was a gorgeous specimen and we who had never mist netted before got to see how the whole process worked, but it was still just one bird. In addition to seeing us catch nothing in the nets, the students got to go on a bird walk around Pua’akala, which I can only assume they enjoyed because the birds were singing for most of the morning, despite not flying into our nets. The mist netting team will be returning in January for the next school group and then in February for several weeks of netting, so we might get to do more mist net work at those times. For non-biology job people out there, mist netting and banding experience are HUGELY useful when trying to get a job, so that is very exciting.

Check back next week to (hopefully) hear about the Kona side of the island! And I promise I’m trying to upload pictures to the Shutterfly.

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One Response to Week 5 – Mist Netting, finally!

  1. Pete Saucier says:

    With every post I grow more jealous of how properly I see you employ your early 20s. Moreover, it feels as though each post scrambles me to the dictionary — phenology indeed. Explore science for you and for all of us.

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