Friday, July 30, 2010


For the last two weeks Devin, Bernice, Jenny, and I have joked about how crappy it would be to lock the keys in the car when we're 2 miles down Powerline Road, the insanely rough four-wheel drive road down which 10 or 12 of the kipuka are located. We also commented several times on how nice the weather has been in the field since Jenny and I have been here, especially considering Hilo is the rainiest city in the U.S. You can probably see where this is going.

We woke up Monday morning, and it looked like things would be grim up in the field- the site looked fogged in and rainy. To our surprise, we got there and it was sunny. "Wow, we've been really lucky with the weather so far. Who would have thought?" "Yeah I know." We then drove to the kipuka 2 miles down Powerline Road. "Got the keys Devin?" "Yup." We wandered into the kipuka to get our clippings and the rain moved in; at least we knew we wouldn't be out in the rain too long. We then walked back to the car and saw the keys sitting on the front dashboard. Doh. Powerline Road is gated by the Fish and Wildlife service and the key was in the car too. Doh. Devin and I walked down to the road to meet a person bringing us a spare key (they couldn't drive down the road because the gate was locked and we had the key), while Jenny and Bernice sat at the car. All the while the rain and fog moved in.

Three hours later on the drive back I took this picture from my phone and decided that it summed up the day pretty well:

Long. Wet. Chilly. Gray.

On the bright side, everyone took everything in stride, it makes for a good story, and Devin can't say anything to us about losing anything from here on out.

Monday, July 26, 2010

In Case You Were Wondering...

I realized that I haven't really explained what the project here is or what exactly I'm doing this summer. I'll try to make sure this isn't too boring/scientific. The project we're working on is a 7-year project (that started last summer) with Tad Fukami from the Stanford Bio Department (who Jenny and I are working for this summer) as one of the principal investigators (PIs). The goal of the project is to examine how the invasive species Rattus rattus (the common rat in case you were wondering) affects food web structures of native forests in Hawaii.

Our work site is the perfect spot to study these effects because it contains about 30 patches of native forest, called kipuka (example above), ranging in size from less than one hectare to more than 10 hectares. The long-term goal of the project is to exclude (that is kill) rats from certain kipuka, see how these forests respond over 4-5 years, and then compare the results to the kipuka where rats were not eliminated to see more accurately what rats do to native forests. To examine the effects that rats have on food webs, the study is specifically looking at birds and insects.
The first five weeks of our work (the end of June through next week) have been spent gathering baseline data about insect diversity and abundance in the kipuka and in the area between the kipuka, the lava fields (known as the matrix). Twice a week, Jenny, Devin (the head field technician here), Bernice (another field tech who helps us out), and I head out to one of the two locations where the kipuka are located and gather branch clippings in garbage bags. Devin and Bernice get samples from the tops of trees inside the kipuka (they have the fun job, see Devin below), while Jenny and I get the branch clippings from the matrix (see below Devin), two in the matrix and one to two inside the kipuka per kipuka we visit.

We then return to the lab where we engage in certainly the most scientifically rigorous aspect of this project; I call it the whack-the-branch-on-the-table-until-all-the-insects-come-out method. We beat the branches on the table to shake the insects off while another person gathers then with an aspirator- a breath-powered vacuum cleaner basically (I worry that some of the insects are smaller than the screen that prevents them from simply being sucked into my mouth...). The branches from each sample are then dried and sorted and the leaf mass is measured to provide an index for insect diversity and abundance (since our sample sizes all vary). Eventually the insects will be identified by a trained entomologist (definitely not me). By the end of this week we will have gathered samples from all 32 kipuka; this work will be done again at the end of the study to help determine how removing rats has affected the food web.

Since this post is so epic, I'll leave a description of our work for weeks 6-10 for another time (I KNOW you can't wait, right?).

Backpacking in a Tropical Paradise

Friday morning Jenny and I got a lift to Volcanoes National Park from Devin where we began our overnight backpacking trip to the Keahou campground. The hike was about 6 miles all downhill (you can guess what that means about the return hike...) from a starting elevation of 2200 feet to 0 (well about 2 feet technically). Our camping spot certainly won the "Prettiest campsite on an ocean that I've ever camped at" award- though competition is minimal.

We got to camp about 3, went for a swim/snorkel, napped, and then hiked to nearby Halape (1.5 miles away), the campsite we had originally hoped to camp at but was full. Halape was full because it was turtle hatchling season, and a few dozen people had booked up all the sites to watch Hawksbill turtles hatch and crawl toward the ocean. While Jenny and I were there, we were lucky enough to see a few of the intrepid little baby turtles making a dash for the ocean.

For the record, I have now seen both sides of the sea turtle life cycle: turtle egg-laying on Heron Island in Australia (see Friday, October 30th, 2009) and the hatchlings entering the ocean (at Halape). Super cool.

After returned to camp we watched the sunset, and while eating a delicious dinner of bagels, nutella, and trail mix, we learned perhaps the only downside of tropical beach camping: things that crawl in the night. As soon as the sun set, the beach was absolutely swarming with roaches, a great motivation to promptly flee to the tent (and hope there aren't any holes). Fortunately it wasn't too hot at night because of the ocean breeze.

The next morning we got up at 6 to catch the sunrise (above), though it wasn't over the ocean we learned, and we started our return journey at about 7. Since the bus didn't come till 6 Jenny and I decided to take the long-way: a 10-mile hike to the top of the bluffs, a 9-mile scamper down a one-lane road, and then six more back to the visitor's center. The last 2 miles of our hike on the trail were mind-blowingly dry- the lack of water ANYWHERE was actually a little scary. And the desert was shortly followed by the stretch of trail where we gained back 1400 feet of those 2200 we lost the day before- whew. Did I mention it was dry?

My first hitch-hiking experience was awesome: about a mile down the one-lane road, an older couple in a Subaru offered us a ride, told us all the great backpacking spots for next time, and dropped us off much closer to the visitor's center. From there we hiked all the day trails in the park, across both calderas (below- I bet you can guess which one is active), by some steam and sulphur vents, and then back to the visitor's center.

Today was a well-deserved rest day- only a 20-mile bike ride. I needed to get back in the saddle and ride (mission accomplished). The highlight of the day however was certainly dinner. Let me introduce the Spam Loco Moco:

A scoop of fried rice with huge pieces of Spam covered by a fried egg and soaked in gravy; I think I shortened my life by about 8-10 months (depending on future exercise). What a weekend. Now back to work.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Well it was bound to happen eventually- at least it could have been worse. Last night Jenny and I were on our way to visit the other Stanford interns. On the way I didn't see an asphalt divider between the road and the shoulder and proceeded to ram into it and fly forward off my bike (luckily Jenny missed me). The result wasn't pretty...

I'll let you guess which side I fell on.

I fared better than that fortunately. Road rash on my hands and elbows and a bruised hip- don't worry, I won't gross anyone out with pictures (Jenny did get some good ones though). My shifters and brakes still work fine and today I discovered that the part that was bent was plastic, so I bent it back- what a great fix. Turns out that my bike heals faster than me. All in all, it was a lucky crash: no broken bones and no broken bike. Tomorrow morning Jenny and I are off for a backpacking trip down to a beach in the National Park. Hooray for a fixed bike!

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Weekend.

Our third weekend in Hilo started off slow, but ended up being super cool. Saturday afternoon the head technician, Devin, picked us up and drove us to his house in the Puna district south of town. In the afternoon Jenny and I hiked a couple miles to a secluded beach and enjoyed a swim (photos below).

BIzarrely, the hike along the coast before we reached the beach didn't look anything like Hawaii; it looked more like Maine.

That evening we had sweet potato enchiladas (mmm) with Devin and then waited till after 11 and went out to see the LAVA. Visitors can visit during the day but those pesky guards keep you from getting to close; luckily they go home at 11 and it's possible to get about this close to the lava...

Visiting the lava was the most surreal part of Hawaii so far- it looked like how I imagine a post-nuclear warzone would look like. There was an eerie orange glow everywhere and in the distance the lava was burning through forests. While we there you could see methane off-gassing and hear methane explosions that shook the ground in the distance. Unfortunately, I left my camera here in the apartment and the camera Jenny loaned me ran out of batteries. The pictures on my phone aren't erm... great or anything, but I feel like this one sums up the feel of the night well.

Yesterday Jenny and I went to Richardson's Ocean Park, a nice rocky snorkel area (and marginal beach) near town, for the afternoon for some swimming and snorkeling. We saw sea urchin and a turtle! Last night we went and saw Inception. I highly recommend.

Another week of 7-5 here and then backpacking in Volcanoes National Park this weekend!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Internet. At Last

This afternoon Oceanic Time Warner came and installed our internet after a mere 3 weeks. Let the blog posts resume! Last weekend Jenny and I went caving at the nearby lava tubes (which required a pretty wicked climb on our bikes) and also stopped by the zoo to the see the tiger feeding. See the cavers below and the tiger, Namaste.

This past week we decided to work four 10-hour days instead of five 8-hour days so that we have Fridays off. I also was able to go for my first real ride on my bike, an 18-mile ride along the coast north of Hilo- sadly I haven't mastered riding and taking pictures, so there aren't any. This morning I decided to ride the other direction, south toward Volcanoes National Park, a brutal ride that was only about 30 miles but had a nearly 3000 feet elevation gain (yikes!). It sure is easy to find hills to climb around Hilo.

I also snapped a few pictures from earlier that haven't made it on the blog yet: a shot of the active volcano in Volcanoes National Park and a view of Mauna Kea (in the clouds) from our work site. Enjoy! More to come soon.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Long Lost Post

The lack of internet at my apartment in Hilo has really slowed my blog down- I apologize.
Work has been great so far- day fieldwork, lab work, and even night fieldwork tracking rats. See Jenny below!

We had Friday off instead of Monday, so Jenny and I hiked to the scenic Rainbow Falls and then went for a swim at the even better Pee’epe’e Falls.

Saturday I took the plunge and finally invested in a new road bike, and I explored more of Hilo.

Sunday, Jenny and I went to the small town 4th of July parade in Volcanoes, the village just north of the national park, and then saw the sites in the park. Another full week of work coming up and with internet installation coming soon (hopefully), my posts should become more frequent.