First off, I should summarize the Nauhi Experience, since I've never really gone and done that. Our work site is located in Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge, a large chunk of forest on the windward slopes of Mauna Kea that is a haven for Hawaiian forest birds and other native species. Our site is Nauhi Meadow, situated on Nauhi Stream at about 5200 feet elevation. It's kind of a neat spot, right on the edge where the cattle-damaged forest-with-pasture-grass-underneath disappears into fairly unadulterated closed-canopy forest.
Nauhi Cabin was built before the area was a refuge, back when the meadow and surrounding area were being used for experimental forestry; combine this with the area's ranching/logging history and all of those years of people saying, "HEY LET'S PLANT ALIEN STUFF IN A NATIVE FOREST!", and you get a pretty weird collection of non-native plants in the meadow and around the cabin: kikuyu grass (African; for grazing), sugi pines and a rush called Juncus (Japanese), honeysuckle, roses, mint, daisies, rhododendrons, plums, fuschia, English blackberry, banana poka, and so on, mixed in with native shuttlecock ferns and all of the native trees and shrubs.
The cabin is pretty rudimentary: no electricity, no running water, short walk to an outdoor pit toilet. But it's got bunk beds with real mattresses, and a table and chairs, and counter tops in the kitchen, and real extravagances like mirrors and openable windows, and most importantly a solid roof and floor and walls and doors that don't leak, so it serves our purpose. Most weeks since I started this job we're up there Monday through Thursday; we bring all the water we'll need, and we take turns cooking dinner, and most evenings we play games or watch movies (between my laptop and Jackie's, we generally have enough battery power for two to three movies per week).
Every morning it's a one-minute commute down the hill that our cabin is perched on to our banding station nestled in the shade of an old ‘ohi‘a tree. The cabin and banding station are at the western and mauka (mountainwards) end of the meadow. We have our nets set up roughly ringing the meadow, tucked into the margins where pasture turns into forest (we need enough room for poles and net lanes, but we want the nets to be shaded and near fruit or flowers that will attract birds). We've maxed out at the fifteen nets we're allowed by our permit to operate at any one time, but as we've gone along we've taken out old nets (the birds do eventually learn where they are) and moved the poles to new locations. We've split the nets into three regions, and when it's time for a net run (every half hour) we each choose one region. We've given the regions names: Mauka (the uphill end of the meadow, closest to the cabin and banding station), Sugi (the south or right-hand side of the meadow; named for the obnoxious grove of sugi pines growing in the middle of the net run), and Leroy (the north or left-hand side of the meadow, named for the region's most noticeable resident).
Leroy is our resident ‘io, or Hawaiian hawk. He does his best to prevent us from catching birds by sitting in the trees above our nets and SCREAMING CONSTANTLY. ALL DAY. WITHOUT STOPPING. We think he must be a juvenile; otherwise, we have no explanation for his derpy behavior. Leroy is extremely obnoxious and I kind of adore him; he's also very beautiful, a gorgeous light phase hawk. He likes to hang out in the trees on the north side of the meadow, especially in a particular koa tree above nets 7, 18, 16, and 8. ...I'm the one who named him. Dunno where the name Leroy came from, it was just the first thing that popped into my head. Jackie thinks it's hilarious because there's a Leroy who does IT stuff at the USGS offices. In hindsight, I think it's hilarious because of LEROOOOOOOOOOOOY JENKINS~!! ...Totally appropriate, he's just about that obnoxious. XD Also in hindsight, I find it extremely appropriate in a less hilarious way; the name Leroy is derived from the old French for "the king", and ‘io are symbols of royalty. ...So basically Leroy is the best name for this hawk ever. (Although if Leroy is actually a girl, how embarrassing for her!)
Leroy is one of our two mascots. The other is an ‘amakihi we caught early on, to whom we assigned the blood sample number 343... which is the number of the project's office building in HAVO National Park. And this bird was a feisty one, struggling and biting and fighting to escape. I decided he should be our mascot, and from then on we were no longer Team Avian Disease, but instead The Fighting ‘Amakihis. Jackie got a friend of hers to make a logo for us, of an ‘amakihi punching a mosquito in the face. IT'S AWESOME. I need to get Jackie to send me a copy sometime.
...So, anyway. Life at the meadow is... interesting. The whole meadow is waist-deep in kikuyu grass, honeysuckle, fuschia, English blackberry, and roses. This is a pain in the ass (but makes playing bocce hilarious). It's taken some time, but we've worn a tangle of paths in the stuff that crisscross the meadow like trenches on the Western Front, allowing us to travel to-and-from net runs, the cabin, or the banding station. Crossing the meadow is much easier on these paths, but still incredibly hazardous. Were I to ask you what the most dangerous life-form on the planet would be, you would probably make a variety of guesses, all of which would be wrong. The correct answer is: honeysuckle. There is no organism in the history of life on Earth whose nature is more evil, whose very DNA is more thoroughly steeped in malice, than honeysuckle. All of our paths are strewn with hundreds of nooses and snares, reaching for our unwitting ankles, conspiring with gravity, momentum, and other nefarious laws of physics, ready at any moment to grab and pull, throwing us headlong into the roots and rocks of terra firma. ...Seriously the stuff is awful, I hate it so much. Usually my hatred is reserved for weeds with thorns on them, but no, no, I've finally found something much worse.
There are other hazards to life at Nauhi. For one, there's the pigs. And there are a LOT of pigs. We see them several times a week, and they frequently leave fresh, steaming piles of leptospirosis-ridden offal on our trails overnight, as tokens of their regard. Typically when I see a pig it goes like this: I'm on a net run, minding my own business, daydreaming about fanfiction or doing ecology on alien planets, and the pig, lurking silently in the bushes, waits until I'm almost on top of it before GRUNTING LOUDLY and taking off in a sprint. At which point I have a heart attack and leap out of my skin, and spend several terrified seconds trying to spot the damn thing through the dense underbrush and figure out if it's running away in fear or charging directly at me in great anger. ...The pigs are generally smallish and lacking in tusks and so far have invariably run away from us (and sometimes the pigs are actually Kalij pheasants, also being black shapes rustling in the bushes and generally masquerading as pigs in an obnoxiously alarming manner). I had just gotten over being scared of them when I walked into the clearing by Net 5 and came abruptly upon a handful of tiny little baby pigs, the size of kittens, and their VERY ANGRY MOTHER. ...SHE WAS NOT HAPPY TO SEE ME. I backed off several paces very quickly and waited, terrified, while the piglets TOOK THEIR SWEET TIME LEAVING THE AREA and Momma Pig glared at me with her bristles up and made a lot of very menacing noises. So that was fun. ...Anyway, the pigs have gotten bored with us and now usually take their sweet time leaving an area when we show up, which is annoying. The Refuge really needs to get some hunters down there to put the fear of Man into these animals.
There are also a few rats and mongooses around that need trapping. These aren't really dangerous, except for the lepto in the rat poop. ...We bleach our dishes every night.
...Then there's the weather. With the trade winds shoving cool, wet air against the slopes of Mauna Kea, we are in one of the wettest spots in the world. At our elevation the rainforest is what one might call a cloud forest; the weather up there most of the time is cold, foggy, and constantly drizzling. (It's gotten down to freezing on a couple of nights; low 60s is super warm!) We spend a lot of time huddled under the banding station's tarp, bundled up and pouting at the rain. The occasional days or half-days or minutes of sunshine are deeply treasured; you can usually find us sprawled in the meadow in our shirt-sleeves, reading books and soaking up the rays.
Now, Nauhi Meadow is located where Nauhi Stream passes through a flat spot. Nauhi is channelized in a ravine at the southwest corner of the meadow, and the ravine starts up again at the northeast corner; in between, instead of a stream channel, you have the meadow. So when it's been raining especially hard, and rainwater actually fills up the stream instead of soaking into the spongy ground, the entire lower half of the meadow becomes flooded in several inches of water; fun times for anyone on the Sugi run! Between that and Net 10, the Pig Swamp Net (a sopping bottomless pit of mud in any weather), we have all become very fond of our rubber boots.
So basically Nauhi is cold and damp and seething with pigs and rats and feces and leptospirosis and mud (I swear I've never had to be so careful about sanitation in my life) and I LOVE IT. It really is beautiful. ♥
...So, okay, basic net run. When it's been half an hour since we came back from our last one, we all take off for Mauka or Sugi or Leroy. The presence or absence of birds is announced to the rest of the team via radio. Without birds, a net run takes 5-10 minutes, round-trip; with birds, a little longer... depends on how many birds and how horribly they're tangled. If you've got birds, you haul down the net, disentangle them, stick 'em in a bird bag, and get them back to the banding station as quickly as possible. The birds are weighed, banded, measured, checked for molts, parasites, and fat, sexed, and aged. We take a tiny piece of toenail and a few feathers for Eben's stable isotopes/bird diet project; if there are mites or lice available, or a fecal sample, we collect those too. Then we hand them off to Jackie for bleeding. Some blood gets made into a slide; the rest is spun to separate the blood cells from the plasma and squirted into vials to be taken back to the lab for processing. If the bird is in poor shape because it's cold/wet/lost too much blood, it gets oxygen and warmth and Nekton (artificial nectar; tastes like frosting) until it feels better. Otherwise, once a bird is bled, we give it some Nekton (like cookies and orange juice at a blood drive) and let it go. If we catch the bird again, we bleed it again if it's been at least two weeks.
...And I think that's basically all you need to know about what it's like to do avian disease field work in Hakalau. HAVE SOME PICTURES.
The week before I officially started this job, I went up to the Pua ‘Ākala tract of Hakalau with Carter and Jackie to help out Eben's crew and get a crash course in bird-banding and bleeding. My favorite part of the process is this part: feeding the birds Nekton before releasing them. This male ‘amakihi is enjoying his complementary snack!
Carter demonstrates jugular bleeding on an ‘i‘iwi.
The female ‘akiapola‘au we caught. SO EXCITING. This bird is very endangered; this is the first (and so far, only) one I've ever seen. Note her 'Swiss army knife' bill; aki's hold their mouth open and use the bottom half like a woodpecker would, drilling a hole into a koa branch, then use the long, curved upper half to probe into the hole and fish beetle larvae from their tunnels. SUCH A COOL ADAPTATION. ...I'm really hoping we will catch a male before this job ends; their plumage is much more bold and colorful.
An ‘amakihi waits to be taken back to the lab in the UH Field Station so Carter can inject its wing web with... something... and measure the inflammation to test the bird's immune response.
A Hawai‘i Creeper! Another endangered, and again, the first of its species I've ever seen. ...They're not much to look at, haha... one of the boringest of our surviving forest birds.
Extracting an ‘i‘iwi from the mist net.
Sizing a female North American cardinal for a band. ...Not sure whose idea it was to introduce these to Hawai‘i, but they sure do like it here. And I'm rather fond of them, really, they're pretty and kind of hilarious. They're not very fun to handle, though. See that massive seed-crushing bill? THESE GUYS BITE REALLY HARD. DX
Banding an ‘apapane. ...Somehow this is the only picture of an adult apapane I have. LAME. Must fix this at earliest opportunity; they're gorgeous.
Over the weekend after my first week of work there were some MASSIVE storms, and driving to Nauhi for our first few days in the field, we caught glimpses beneath the moody clouds of the fresh snow on Mauna Kea.
Home sweet cabin! This is where I've been living about half the time since late February.
On the way out, we had more glimpses of Poliahu (the snow goddess) in residence.
A pair of nēnē (the Hawaiian Goose; Hawai‘i's state bird) with their fuzzy adorable offspring, on the lawn outside of the University of Hawai‘i Field Station at Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge.
The view from the back porch of Nauhi Cabin: Nauhi Meadow. Ladies and gentlemen, my office.
Red-billed Leiothrix. Native to India, brought into Hawai‘i by the Chinese as cage birds, because they're gorgeous and sing pretty. ...These birds are a pain in our ass. They get stressed out super easy and drop all their feathers. We've stopped bleeding them because they try really really hard to die. Stupid Leiothrixes. ...Beautiful though, right?
Jackie with an oma‘o (Hawaiian thrush) with an ohelo berry in its mouth. We can't give Nekton to the oma‘o because they only eat fruit, so we tried feeding them berries. The birds snatch at the fruit instinctually, but are too stressed to eat it and eventually drop it. Made for a funny picture though. ^_^
If Nauhi Meadow is my office, this is my cubical: the banding station. THIS IS WHERE THE SCIENCE HAPPENS.
View northish from our banding station, towards a pretty ohi‘a tree and the “Leroy” net run.
More nēnē paparazzi-ing up at the UH Field Station. LITTLE FUZZY GOSLINGS SO CUTE. T_T
Leroy's favorite koa tree silhouetted against the sky. Because pretty.
Close-up of the branches all fuzzy with lichen. ^_^
A dark phase visitor hawk, not Leroy; a.k.a. Sheila, Leroy's girlfriend.
Hawai‘i ‘Elepaio, ATY (after third year), female. A flycatcher, not a honeycreeper. These are probably my favorite Hawaiian forest birds; they have such personality! They are super curious, and they're not afraid of nuthin'. ‘Elepaio will frequently come down to a low branch to check you out/scold you for being in their forest. Also they make adorable squeaky noises. CHEEKY FLUFFY SQUEAKY BIRDS SO CUTE. ♥
Same bird, different angle.
Leroy came to visit us in that nice ohi‘a tree just across from the banding station. Notice how white his breast and head are compared to that other hawk; classic light phase ‘io.
Leroy doing what Leroy does best: screaming his head off. Constantly. Forever.
Male North American cardinal. Herp derp~.
He kept biting Shawn, so I gave him something else to chew on. He latched on and couldn't figure out how to let go. XD Stupid bird~.
Carter demonstrating jugular bleeding on the cardinal. He was our first large, non-native bird, so Jackie got to use him for jugular bleeding practice. Lucky dude! (He's fine, but he probably hates humanity now. ^_^;;)
Classic male ‘amakihi. STIKEAPOSE!
NENE PAPARAZZI. This family's goslings are in that awkward-teenager phase, oh god look at them they're so dorky. XDD
Classic ASY (after second year) male ‘i‘iwi; the poster child for Hawaiian honeycreepers. GORGEOUS.
AHY (after hatch year) ‘i‘iwi; at this age, ‘i‘iwi feathers are transitioning from the mottled, “salt-and-pepper” cryptic plumage of the HY (hatch year) birds to the brilliant vermilion of the adult plumage.
Same bird, different angle.
Nēnē paparazzi. GOSLING BUTT. :DD
And then I botanize for a while. ‘Ohelo kau la‘au, “tree ‘ohelo”, one of several species of ‘ohelo. DELICIOUS.
Plum blossoms. (I think. I've never been good at telling those tree-form members of Rosaceae apart.) Before this area became a wildlife refuge, all sorts of non-native plants were intentionally planted up here, plums being among the more delicious. I am looking forward to tasty tasty plums when next we return to Nauhi. (It's only at high elevation areas like this that things like plums, apples, pears, and cherries get the cold snap they need to fruit in tropical Hawai‘i.)
Wawae‘iole, “rat's foot”; a club moss, which is a very primitive sort of plant. This is one of my favorite Hawaiian plants. It's, I don't know... cute?
Pa‘iniu, a kind of lily. Very very pretty, with those silver-green leaves and bright orange berries; another favorite plant.
This is what pox looks like. ):
Same bird, different angle. This ‘i‘iwi is showing several stages of infection. The affected digit shows smooth swelling at the base, which is the early stage of the infection. The end of the digit shows an older infection; the end of the toe has dried up and turned black. The bird may lose this toe; on the other foot, you can see where it's already missing a toenail due to pox.
HY ‘i‘iwi, exhibiting that salt-and-pepper plumage I was talking about. THEY'RE SO SILLY LOOKING.
Same bird, different angle; a few red feathers are starting to come in.
This ‘oma‘o is not impressed with your shenanigans.
HY ‘apapane; I have never ever seen one like this before. Adults are bright crimson.
Hawai‘i Creeper, typical male. Endangered; VERY EXCITING.
Same bird, different angle. Plus sunlight!
Hey let's botanize some more! New ‘ohelo growth coming in red. SO PRETTY.
‘Akala, the Hawaiian raspberry in various stages of ripening. My hand is in there by way of demonstrating how GIGANTIC these berries are. DELICIOUS.
ASY ‘elepaio; the bold coloration of an ATY bird hasn't come in yet.
Pukiawe, with berries.
Pukiawe, with flowers.
Another goofy HY ‘i‘iwi.
And then I went on a net run and found an ‘akepa and FLIPPED OUT. This was the first ‘akepa ever for all three of us, so we were all VERY EXCITE. They are very very endangered, and they are tiny and adorable (at four inches/ten grams, they are our smallest native forest bird), and as you can see, the males are this amazingly brilliant day-glo orange. In this picture, Jackie prepares to do a brachial bleed.
And then we caught a Yellow-fronted Canary. So that was kind of weird. (I would expect more of these higher up, where the forest dries out and gives way to alien pastureland.) Cute bird. Sub-Saharan.
Requisite moonrise pictures.
It was cold and wet and a bird we'd caught wasn't doing so well... so Jackie shoved it down her shirt-front and fed it Nekton. JUST DOING OUR JOB, GUYS. :D
Not that anyone would notice if I didn't tell you, but my ‘okina and kahakō are ALL OVER THE PLACE in this; can't be arsed to worry about it overly much, too exhausted. @_@