Thursday, February 23, 2017

Another most excellent day!

Another most excellent day!  We spent the entire day in the Kapapala and Ka'u Forest Preserves, mostly between 3,000' and 5,000' altitude.  The highlights of the day were the beautiful koa, ohia, and mixed native forests we traveled though, and the many different birds we saw while doing so.  Today's birds, from memory:
  • Two pairs of nenes (Hawai'ian geese), close and well-lit; great viewing of them.
  • Two different 'ios, one wheeling about in the distance and the other swooping right over our truck.
  • Lots of apapane – quite possibly the most common bird up there.
  • Several saffron finches, one of the more striking birds there (see these photos).
  • Some yellow-billed cardinals, handsome devils.
  • Several northern cardinals, which look out of place to us, but seem quite happy to be here.
  • Several common amakihi, munching on koa blossoms.
  • Several red-billed leiothrix, including one really nice viewing.
  • Scads of yellow-fronted canary, a very common bird here anywhere there's grass.
  • Dozens of a bird we have tentatively identified as common waxbills.  We need a better viewing to nail that down.  We usually saw these foraging alongside yellow-fronted canaries.
  • Several oma'o, including two particularly good viewings.
  • Lots of Japanese white eyes, a very common bird here.
  • Some house finches, perhaps ten.  One thing that struck us about them is that they're more orange than the red we're used to.  Another thing: most of the native birds are smaller than the house finches – we had to reset our mental scale.
  • Several Erckel's francolins, an introduced game bird.
  • A peacock and two peahens.  These are definitely not natives; we're guessing the ranchers nearby brought them in as pets.
  • A dozen or so goats running around in open range land.  One of them amused us by jumping up on a fallen koa and running up and down the log.
  • Bazillions of beef cattle on open range land.
Most of today's travel was on four-wheel drive roads, sometimes fairly challenging.  You can see our track today here.  I had the truck in the low four-wheel drive range nearly all day.  Some photos along the way:

The second photo shows a little building that we ran into while traversing Kapapala Ranch on the way to the forest preserve.  I had to study it for a bit to figure it out: it's a solar-powered fence electrifying system.  The third photo shows a nearby gate that it electrifies (along with a lot of fencing).  I was very careful opening that thing – didn't want to get knocked on my butt!  The bulldozer photo shows a Caterpillar D8N – a large bulldozer built in the late '80s or early '90s – that was parked at the highest point we reached on our trip.  That's a valuable (even if old) piece of machinery that's way out of the way!  The last photo shows a small fenced area, perhaps 12' on a side  We saw several of these during our trip today, and we have no idea what purpose they serve.  My first thought was that they were protecting some delicate plant, but no such plant was in evidence in any of them.

In the evening we went out to dinner with our host at Hale Ohia, Michael Tuttle.  We've known Michael now for nearly thirty years, and we started coming to Hale Ohia shortly after he opened it.  This dinner was our thank you to him for being so accommodating to us for our scheduling needs (we had to cancel one trip at the last minute when Debbie was injured), and for being so nice to us over the years.  We went to Ohelo Cafe in Volcano Village, and had an excellent meal.  Debbie and I both had their fish special: grilled ono with a coconut-and-balsamic reduction sauce on jasmine rice, with Brussels sprouts and caramelized onions.  Fantastic!  Then for dessert we had creme brulee – very good, but not quite as good as our gold standard from the Gastrognome in Idyllwild.

On all of our visits to Hale Ohia before this one, we had the company of Dixon the cat, a permanent resident. Dixon was a handsome ginger cat and a real feline character, and of course he glommed onto Debbie like glue.  He spent quite a bit of time on Debbie's lap on each of our visits, and he'd jump in and out of our open cottage windows whenever he felt like visiting.  Dixon died a few years ago, aged 19, of complications of old age.  Michael buried him in a beautiful location on the property, facing the yard that Dixon loved so much, and marked the site with a sign that used to greet us in the driveway when we pulled in.  That sign reads: “Please SLOW DOWN.  Dixon the cat sleeps in the driveway.”  The sign is quite faded now.  There's also a tiny food bowl with a curled up cat on its rim.  Dixon was a much-loved cat, not only by Michael, but by the staff at Hale Ohia and by most of the guests that Dixon greeted...

A day of contrasts...

A day of contrasts...  Our plan for today was to do some birding on the Pu'u O'o trail (off the Saddle Road).  We left our cottage around 7 am and headed there through rain, heavy mist, and 100% overcast for nearly the entire way.  Just as we got to the trail head, it turned into a light fog – decent, but not perfect hiking conditions.  The first thing I did was to check out the trail to make sure it was safe for Debbie to attempt.  Unfortunately it was not – while it's in pretty good shape, it's full of unstable cindery areas that are exactly what someone recovering from a broken knee does not need.  I left poor Debbie in the car while I went on an extended reconnoiter, thinking of a visit some other year.  Conclusion: we must make it back here!  The trail heads into a kipuka just 100' or so from the trailhead, and in there I saw and heard lots of birds.  The second kipuka, a half mile or so in, we're told, is even better birding.  I took a few photos along the way:

I knew this might happen, so I had a fallback plan: to drive around the west side of Mauna Kea to Waimea, then from there up the Kohala ridge to Hawi.  From there we could drive west a few miles to a state historical park with a reconstructed native Hawai'ian village, and east to the lookout over the Pololu Valley.  Both of these are favorite destinations from previous trips.  Well, the Kohala ridge was quite dry, and while still beautiful (see panoramas below) not nearly as beautiful as on previous visits.  The historical park looked fine, but the wind was blowing steadily at about 40 mph, far too strong for comfortable walking.  We did find a couple of nice back roads to explore (non-panoramas below).  And Pololu ... has apparently been discovered.  Instead of a car or two parked there for the hardcore hikers, there were about 100 cars parked there for a quarter mile or so along the road.  We just turned around and left.  That was all very disappointing.

So we headed back to Waimea to get something to eat, at the Big Island Brewhaus.  It had great reviews on Yelp, both for the food and for the beer (Debbie was very interested in that!).  We ended up ordering the same thing: a burrito stuffed with grilled ahi, rice, beans, avocados, tomatoes, onions, sour cream, and who knows what else.  Great stuff!  We also had a bowl of their “luau soup”, which had a clear chicken broth with pieces of chicken, plus rice and lots of spinach.  Also very good.

Then we decided to go check out a couple of other locations that we remember fondly: the Waipio Valley overlook (which we fully expected to be crowded) and Kalopa State Park.  On looking at the map for a fun way to get from Waimea to Waipio, I noticed a little road we'd never been on before, called Mud Lane.  I found it with Google Maps help, and down it we went.  The road was marked “Dead End”, so we were prepared to have it stop at any point – but it was so beautiful when we started on it that we determined to take it as far as we could.  Well, the first couple miles or so was a nice one-lane paved road.  That turned into a nice dirt road.  Then a rough dirt road.  Then a rougher dirt road.  Then a serious four-wheeling road with small boulders, deep ruts, washouts, trees across the road, and so on.  I spent about an hour working hard to avoid hurting the truck while also making sure we didn't go somewhere we couldn't get out of.  After about six miles we ran into an old cane haul road (where big trucks took loads of sugar cane out of the fields).  The sugar cane is long gone, but the roads remained.  We took that old cane road down.  It started out as an awful paved road, with brush growing in from the sides and big holes.  In one part of it, about a third of the pavement had fallen over a 40' high bluff, leaving just barely enough room for us to squeeze through.  That road slowly got better and better, until eventually we hit the road for Waipio.  Phew!

Waipio has changed a lot since our last visit.  There's a tourist trap at the end, with lots of shops for food, gee gaws, etc.  There was a big crowd at the overlook.  We just skedaddled.  Then we drove up to Kalopa State Park, where in past years we camped in the cabins there, including once with Debbie's mom and once with my parents.  Kalopa was a very pleasant surprise.  It looks even better than we remember it, and expanded.  It's obvious some money has been spent on upkeep and improvement.  The flora was lush and verdant, and we heard lots of birds.  Very nice to see that after so many of the negative (at least from our perspective) changes we've seen elsewhere...

Tomorrow we head to the Kapapala Forest Reserve.  We got the combination to the lock on the gate tonight...