By the third day deep in the Alakai Wilderness Preserve with Kauai Forest Birds Recovery Project I quickly realized how lucky we were to have nice weather on the first and second day. Day 3 started out windy, wet, and cold. There’s nothing like crawling out of your sleeping bag at dawn in 42 degrees F and putting on your wet clothes from the day before. I knew that Hawaii can be cold, but I guess when I envisioned cold weather in Hawaii my mind went to the Big Island, with the high elevation there. I was warned that the Alakai can get cold, especially overnight, but I stupidly assumed it would warm over the course of the day. It’s a rainforest in a tropical paradise, right? It sure didn’t warm much over the next two days, which also made banding near impossible. Not only was it too wet to open the nets to catch birds but it was also too cold. What to do?!?: KILL RATS!
I’ve mentioned in previous blogs that introduced predators are a major threat to Hawaii’s native birds, especially rats. Rats can easily scale a tree trunk in a matter of seconds to raid a nest, destroying the eggs, eating the chicks, and sometimes killing the parent on the nest. I spent last Spring monitoring Oahu Elepaio nests and setting rat traps to deter rats and mongoose. It is very effective during the breeding season. Kauai does not have mongoose but rats are a serious threat; rats accounted for about 40% of nest failures in Kauai’s forest bird community in 2015. After a successful crowdfunding campaign Kauai Forest Birds Recovery Project purchased and deployed a Good Nature Rat Trap grid, currently comprised of 300 traps. Good Nature traps are a humane and effective way of eliminating rats. These traps are powered by a CO2 cartridge that can fire about 20 times before they need to be re-baited and reset.
We split up into small groups to reset and re-bait KFBRP’s rat grid. We all packed a lunch, gathered irresistible synthetic chocolate bait canisters, new CO2 cartridges, new counters, notebooks, and a GPS to help us locate our designated section of trap grid. The terrain in the Alakai can be challenging with wet and muddy conditions, steep embankments and ravines, and densely packed uluhe ferns making your depth perception impossible. Some of the traps were thankfully flagged making them easy to locate, but others took some time to find, especially since we were not familiar with KFBRP’s rat trap grid.
After a tiring day of trekking and rat trap resetting we gathered around a small folding table in folding chairs while a couple people prepared dinner over double burners hooked up to propane. We all took turns washing dishes, cooking, and filling water filtration jugs. As you can imagine with any camping experience kitchen luxuries and ingredient diversity is limited. We of course, being in Hawaii, had a plentiful supply of spam and ramen brought into camp. I have to say my favorite dinner of the week was Maria’s dish: canned beans, canned chicken, Portuguese sausage, canned corn, onions, and peppers over lettuce and rice with crushed Fritos on top. (Maria obviously has this down to a science after multiple field seasons).
After all the field experience I have I felt prepared going into the Alakai. I knew I’d survive just fine without a shower, wet and muddy, simple nonperishable food, and some difficult hiking. In my eyes any experience was worth the opportunity to not just see, but help these rare and endangered birds, right!?!?! I’m looking forward to helping out again but I definitely won’t underestimate the weather conditions or the hike out.
More on the hike out in my next blog…