Monday, September 13, 2010

Kauai, Part I

I'm still here! And although I'm not still in Hawaii, I do want to finish up posting about my summer. Jenny and I left Hilo last Saturday morning, connected through Honolulu, arrived in Lihue, Kauai around 11 AM. We first went and picked up our rental car: she was a real beauty.

After picking up the car we stopped at a delicious noodle place for lunch, Haimura Saipan, and then we drove north for our first hike in Hawaii, a steep 2-mile jog up Nonou Mountain. The hike wasn't super scenic and it was HOT, but the views of the rest of Kauai were pretty good.

After hiking we drove north to Princeville and hiked down to a nearby beach for some snorkeling and to watch sunset. The snorkeling was great- the reef extended hundreds of feet out, there weren't many people there, and we saw a half dozen turtles and tons of fish.

The sunset was really spectacular too:

We finished up our day with some Brazilian food in the town of Hanapepe, and then a drive up to Haena where we spent the night to get ready for our hike down the famous Na Pali Coast the next morning. We were woken up the next morning at 6 by rangers asking us where our permit was. My guidebook said that permit enforcement in county parks was lax in Kauai, and since you have to get them by mail six weeks in advance didn't bother. Fortunately for us, the ranger just charged us for the permit and then offered to write us a permit for the other night we were staying at a county park (Wednesday night).

After our somewhat rude awakening, Jenny and I hiked the half mile down the road to the Na Pali Coast trailhead. The Na Pali Coast is an insanely rough 10-mile stretch of coastline along the west coast of Kauai. The area has two beaches: one at the trailhead and one at the end of the 11-mile Na Pali Coast trail in Kalalau Valley, a valley only accessible by the trail and helicopter. The trail itself winds along steep coasts and then into deep hanging valleys, valleys that don't end in beaches at the ocean, but cliffs. Jenny and I hiked 7 of the 11 miles, and it was pretty spectacular.

We also did a 2-mile side hike to a 120 feet waterfall. It was scenic, even with all the people around...

After we got back to the car ("Ole Blue"), we drove back along the northern coast past all 8 of Kauai's famous one lane bridges. Each side has a waiting line on it and after every four to seven cars, the cars on the other side of the bridge are allowed to pass. Fortunately traffic was never so bad that there was much of a wait at the bridges, and the bridges have stopped the resort development along the North Shore since the bridges can't handle heavy loads.

We finished the day with a thin crust pizza in Koloa on the South Shore and then drove up 4,000 feet to Koke'e State Park on the southwest side of the island to camp for the night. More to come on the rest of our Kauai trip soon!

Only a couple posts left!

Friday, September 3, 2010


Finally! I'm going to explain what exactly it is we've been doing with rats for the past couple weeks. As I mentioned in my earlier post (July 26th), the goal of the project I'm working on this summer is to examine how the invasive species Rattus rattus (the common rat) affects the food web structure of native forests here in Hawaii. We spent the first 5 weeks collecting insects to get a pre-rat control insect diversity and concentration level. Next summer, whoever is working on the project will begin eliminating rats from 16 of the 32 kipuka. Part of the work we're doing with rats this summer is a test rat exclusion; in an isolated kipuka that isn't part of the project, we're attempting to see how effective we are at eliminating the rats. It's miraculous no one broke any fingers over the last two weeks- two to three times a week we go out to the kipuka, see if any rats have been killed (and collect them if they have been: eww!), and then replace the bait and reset the traps. On an average day, I reset about 50 snap traps, so in the past few weeks I've reset nearly 200 of them. And no broken fingers!

I've also been fortunate in that on the days I've checked the traps, we've only caught one rat. Lucky Jenny, has had the "opportunity" to witness the demises of the other 13 rats we've caught. Since the first day, we've only caught 2 or 3 rats and lately we've started catching rat's prey, mice. Turns out there were way fewer rats than anyone predicted in the kipuka (or the rats are really smart)- I predicted that we would catch 85. Oops. The final process is putting out tracking tunnels, little ink cards baited with coconut to attract rats, to see if there are anymore rats hiding out in the kipuka, which we did earlier this week.

Our other task with rats has been much more exhausting. Since we're eliminating rats from some kipuka, it's important to know if rats travel outside of and between kipuka. Otherwise, killing the rats in one kipuka may simply prompt other rats nearby to come in and replace the dead rats. To do this, we've been attempting to capture rats in live traps, place radio transmitters on their necks, and then go out once a week and see where the rats are in the day and at night, with the hope of learning how much the rats move.

The hardest part has actually been catching and collaring the rats. In some kipuka we haven't even caught rats, in others, the rats have been too small or they've killed by predators before we could collar them, and sometimes the stress of being collared has been too much for the rats. Additionally some of the rats we've captured and collared have stopped moving deep in the lava- they've either been killed or shaken off their collar. Below are a few pictures of the collaring process:

We first anesthetize the rat, and then while it's knocked out, we weigh the rat (to make sure the collar isn't too heavy), put the collar, and take some measurements on the rat.

Day-tracking the rats is fairly easy since the rats are nocturnal- during the day we're simply tracking down the location of their dens. We tune into specific rats' frequencies with our receivers and keep walking till we find where the signal is the strongest. The biggest surprise has been in one of the kipuka where we learned after frustratingly searching for a couple hours that the rats dens are sometimes up in the trees.

Night-tracking is the 'fun' part. The rats are active, so approaching them isn't an option. Instead Jenny, Devin, and I get close enough to get a strong radio signal, spread out, and then take a GPS point and bearing on where the signal is strongest. Afterwards, Devin imports the bearings and location into a piece of software and it spits out a 95% confidence interval of where the rat was. Things are rarely that simple though. Since the rats are active at night, we're often tracking a moving rat which causes the location of our signal to change drastically, and the topography of the kipuka and matrix causes odd distortions of the radio signal, making things even more difficult. And there's all the human error: Oh! I'm supposed to read the number on the bottom of the compass to get the bearing? Oops, I forgot to take a GPS point!, and Hmm... our bearings don't intersect.

The moral of the story from tracking and controlling rats this summer is science is never perfect. We way over-estimated the number of rats and capturing and keeping track of the rats has been way harder than we imagined. Regardless, we are learning more and more about how rats function in the kipuka and matrix, and that's science!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

What a Weekend. Part II

Continuing where I left off from our epic weekend, Jenny, Annie, Jean, and I got up Sunday morning and began a leisurely drive along the Hamakua Coast north of Hilo. After about two hours we arrived at the famous and rugged Waipi'o Valley near Honoka'a. Waipi'o Valley is the first of nearly ten incredibly rugged valleys that are cut side-by-side along the northern coast of the Big Island. Here's a view from the lookout at the top of the valley:

After enjoying the view from the top, we began the walk down a terrifyingly steep road, averaging a grade of 25%!!! Not a road for the faint of heart or anyone with a two-wheel drive car for that matter. I tried to get a picture summing up just how insanely steep this road is, but I don't think my pictures do it justice (just like the cables up Half Dome- those things are WAY steeper and more terrifying when you get there...)

At the bottom, we walked to the nearby black sand beach where Jenny and I spent thirty minutes debating whether or not to cross the Waipi'o Stream (more like a river if you ask me) at the beach and then actually swimming across. Unfortunately my fear of crossing the stream meant that I was too afraid to take my camera across with me, so I don't have any pictures of the other side. In my defense, the crossing was tricky: I tried to cross in the rapids first, but I didn't make it very far without shoes and since I couldn't tell how deep it was. Next I tried closer to the ocean, where I was scared off by the river dragging me out toward the ocean and the waves pushing me in. I finally settled on just swimming across upstream which was definitely the best option.

After we crossed, Jenny and I walked a half mile down the beach and then scampered about a half a mile up the trail that leads to the next valley so that we could get a view back across Waipi'o Valley- you can (barely) make out the trail in the picture above, cutting across the cliff about halfway up in a sideways V. The view back across the valley was stunning; we could see the 1200 ft Hi'ilawe falls off a side spur of the valley and several other falls cascading into the valley. My lack of a camera was quite a bummer. After we caught our breath at the viewpoint, Jenny and I hiked back down, re-swam across the river, and hiked back up the (crazy steep) road. We got some really nice views as the sun set on our hike back up, and I snapped a great shot of the Rempel gang.

On our way back to Hilo we stopped at Tex's Drive-In in Honoka'a for some malasadas- apricot, guava, raspberry, and bavarian creme. I never get tired of those things, though it's hard to imagine having a bad malasada (they're just deep-fried dough and sugar after all). We got back to Hilo late, where Jenny and I whipped up a delicious dinner, including one of my favorites of the summer: pan-seared Ahi. Mmm.

A special shout-out to Annie and Jean, without whom our adventurous weekend wouldn't have even been possible (or nearly as much fun)!

It's hard to imagine, but this is our last week in Hilo; only a few more days of work and then Jenny and I are off to Kauai Saturday morning!