Featured Post

Baltimore by the Sea

Monday, November 05, 2012

The Kaua'i Bog on the Mountain

Talk about coffee driven journeys! At 5am, in pitch dark, I was already on the road, driving clockwise around Kaua'i from Noon (Princeville) to 8 o'clock (Waimea). Once in Waimea, and daylight, I headed inland & uphill. After some aimless and what the HELL is wrong with me, floundering around, I made it to where I was too meet Jim Denny, my personal tour guide for the day, and a birder & veterinarian from Texas, Doctor Resell.
My birding rendezvous spot - the Kokee State Park Museum
 I was apprehensive that at some point during my tour I would either trip and break a leg, be unable to actually hike the rainforest or worse... get expelled (no wait... that's Hermione's fear, not mine) I mean, embarrass myself (Yikes, that's the fear! Hurts just to think on it). Still, even before I left California, when I made my arrangement for a personal birding tour of the Alaka'i bog I'd been so bold as to query my guide, Denny as to whether there was any chance I'd drop dead on the tour and embarrass myself. OK, I'll confess here - my original plans back on the Big Island included a tour on Mauna Loa, but I chickened out! Yes, I was so scared about hiking downhill in a mountain rain forest that I canceled that tour. Oh the shame! Oh the anticipated sprains! Oh the ridiculous claptrap I put myself through!

Another 'worry' I had about my Alaika'i bog tour was that it was pricey. Still, it was reasonable, and more importantly, it vastly improved my chances of seeing some of the most exotic & native Hawaiian species. Consider, the cost wasn't any more expensive than a all day pelagic trip, which can run around $150. The original cost for me to have a guide at Alaka'i would have been $300 (which I was going to bite the bullet to pay) but a second birder wanted in on the trip and that cut the cost for me in two - hurrah for that!

Enough bitchin' n' moaning. Early this morning, before I knew it, Jim Denny, a long time Kaua'i dweller and reliable Kaua'i birding guide and a v. nice veterinarian from Texas were bouncing along in Denny's jeep. We were well on our way down & then up the mountain to the Alaka'i Bog Trail.

I liked the Denny & the Doc (soon to be a series on HBO?) and soon I was getting fascinating tidbits about everything Kaua'ian. Denny stopped the jeep to nab us a Passion flower. See the dark hole at the base of the flower stem, just at the middle of the two leaflets? He told the Doc and me, that eensie opening was pecked by Hawaiian Honeycreepers that taught themselves how to get at the nectar of this non-native species; clever little birdies.

It is rather embarrasing that during all of my anxious ruminations about the bog hike, I'd only imagined driving down into boggy bottomlands to bird. So, finding myself being driven up to a bog was just plain weird. Uh... yes, you're correct in surmising I hadn't read up much on the area, even though I planned to bird there. Time out for a big "DUH" here.

After a half hour of rough roading, we arrived at the trailhead where our guide Denny gave us bamboo walking sticks, to aid us on our 100 ft decent to where our hike would begin.

Down the hill & up onto the Alaka'i trail
We were on a ridge, not much wider that what you see in the photo above, keeping in mind, on either side of that wedge of land were sheer drop offs, thickly lined with rainforest.

Rain forest to either side of the high mountain trail

Along the trail, Denny pointed things out, such as when he picked an ordinary looking vine, which he quickly stripped of leaves - it was Maile, which is famous and popular for its use at Hawaiian weddings in leis.  Cool!

The first thing we notice however, was the bog was not boggy - it was bone dry. Denny said that is just the current condition and he's been there at times when hikers are up to their knees in the thick, mud that sucks off shoes.

We reached an area where the trees were no longer overhead, but were tiny shrubs - they were stunted by hardpan that kept their roots from getting too deep in the soil. It was normally quite a boggy area and it held an oh-so-cool & unusual plant - Sundews!

I never ever thought I'd get to see a Sundew - a carnivorous plant - in its natural habitat, Sundews are found all over the world including Kaua'i. The 2 inch tall plants were everywhere underfoot. They have wet, mucous covered treads on little pads insects stick to. They're red because they don't need chlorophyll, getting their nutrients from their insect catch.

Maybe about a mile into the trail we finally hit its famous boardwalk. The boardwalk is composed of two redwood boards, laid side by side & covered over with a grillwork of wire. Unfortunately the boardwalk is in deplorable condition these days - broken up and the wire all torn up. A newer boardwalk is in the planning stages. 

Why a boardwalk in the middle of a bog? Well, to stop from sucked in like a bad guy in an old B-movie with Tarzan, that's why. Denny said before the boardwalk was put in, hikers disappeared in the bog, pretty often. Hiker's would go into the bog and just never be seen again. I guess the boardwalk keeps people from straying into the bog where exhaustion, if not the wild Hawaiian boars, which have nice gigantic tusks, suck them down. Since the boardwalk went in, hikers ceased, abruptly, to disappear. Now, thanks to the boardwalk, hogs have to WORK for their meals.

Wren-like Kaua'i Elepaio, that bounced around like a ping-pong ball
The forest was noisy with bird calls, none of which were too familiar to me, other than the sound of the scarlet Apapane bird's wing beats. Quickly though, a curious Kaua'i Elepaio flew in to stare at us a bit. It was frantically active and though I got loads of shots of it, none gave me both focus and the entire bird. Still, myself and the Texas vet were thrilled to pieces.

Due to Denny's expertise & experience, we didn't stay glued to the boardwalk. We hit a couple of spots just off trail, that overlooked broad swaths of rainforest. From those vantage points we saw an addional Elepaio, Apapanes & heard - dang it, not seeing - Melodious Indian Thrushes. I enjoyed wending our way over fallen logs and around lichen covered trees. Was bemused by the Texas Vet who didn't seem quite as thrilled, but was certainly game enough to climb whereever we had to go to see birds. Oh well. The shrub busting paid off when a tiny pair of poofy feathered Anianiaus popped up.
There are two hidden Anianiau foraging
Denny, the vet and I eagerly watched the tiny birds, that seemed to be a courting pair.

One of the Anianiaus doing some upside down branch gleaning
As names go, "Aniani-butterball" would be closer to the mark
I'iwi, which we only heard but didn't see
We did get to hear the call of the I'iwi, but the lone bird didn't come anywhere near us. The careless importation of mosquitoes to the islands introduced Bird Malaria which is quietly wiping out the beautiful Hawaiian Honey creepers. It's difficult to hear all the damage done to Hawaii's land & wildlife through ignorance over the past couple of centuries.

We were heading back along the Alaikai trail when a second Kaua'i Elepaio popped up, bouncing about in a tree over our heads. I got some fairly good shots of this bird! The Elepaio is found on the islands of Hawa'i, Oahu and Kaua'i and its only this past summer it was split into three unique species. So this little guy is a Kaua'i Elepaio and is even more rare since the species split means it's only population in the world is on Kaua'i.

A second look at an elegant little Kaua'i Elepaio
I must say, for several weeks I'll admit I was rather in a panic over whether the Alaka'i hike would be the death of me, but honestly, except for the first quarter mile, during which I had an uncharacteristic tight, asthma lungs, I was having a pretty event free hiking & birding experience. I couldn't ask for more, and then we all got more when yet another lovely native exotic flew in to stare at us.

What cha doin'?
It was a beautiful Amakihi, which is twice the size of the little Anianiaus and even a little larger than the Elepaios.  This bird kept getting closer and closer as it came in to check us out.

Yes, I'm a Amakihi!
Love the stubby tail, compensated by the long curved bill
Back at the trail head, the delightful Texas veterinarian and our excellent guide, Jim Denny

So! I did it! I hiked a mile or 3 in a real tropical rainforest and didn't break any limbs or become a luau for any wild Kaua'i hogs. After the tour we stopped at a mountain spot where we could see for miles. Several White Tropicbirds flew by, but I was too slow to get a shot of them worth sharing. Ah! Another successful day in paradise.

Here, you can listen to the birdsong of Alaikai and the tropical sound of the wind wheezing through my asthmatic lungs.

No comments:

Post a Comment