Friday, February 13, 2015

Helping critically endangered Hawaiian forest birds on Maui by creating new habitat

Endemic means "found nowhere else in the world." In the state of Hawaii, 54 endemic forest bird species evolved from 1 finch. Today, less than 1/3 of these endemic bird species still exists. Hawaii has lost 70% of its forest birds species from disease and habitat degradation.

The extinction crisis in ongoing. Without intervention and management, these species could disappear in our lifetimes.

Forest restoration is the key. Creating more high elevation habitat in Hawaii is critical to forest bird recovery.

The above information is from the Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project (MFBRP) material-see for more information.

The stars of this show are the Akohekohe and the Maui Parrotbill (These are not my photos- I did not bring my camera. I found these beautiful image on the internet- thanks so much to the photographers for making them available) We had the opportunity to visit Waikamoi Preserve with folks from MFBRP on the 2 days prior to leaving for our work up at Nakula Natural Area Reserve. This area is on the east slope of Haleakala, and visitors are allowed here by permit only. This area is a project of the Nature Conservancy where they have fenced out grazers and predators and are working to preserve this remnant native forest for the plants and birds that need this habitat to survive.

Maui Parrotbill or Kiwikiu- their feeding methods are similar to those of the Big Island's Akiapola'au. They don't peck, but use their lower mandible to gouge into fissures in the bark of trees to find their main prey of beetle larvae. They may also crush small, dead twigs in their search and even open pilo berries to look for grubs.
Maui Parrotbill by Robby Kohley

Crested Honeycreeper or Akohekohe- feeds almost exclusively on Ohi'a-lehua blossoms.
Akohekohe (unknown photographer)

Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project has a mission to develop and implement conservation techniques to recover endangered Maui forest birds and to restore their habitats through research and management.  The folks at MFBRP are on the frontlines working incredibly hard to save these birds by creating habitat, assisting captive breeding programs and conducting invasive species removal.

The following is a summary of the main threats to the birds:
  • Habitat destruction
  • Introduction of ungulates like cows, pigs, goats, sheep & deer has destroyed the forest understory
  • Introduction of predators such as rats, mongooses, and cats. These predators eat native birds, their eggs and young
  • Non-native birds
  • Avian Disease
  • Climate change
MFBRP's focus:
  • Conservation planning
  • Forest Restoration
  • Habitat Management
  • Education & Outreach
Bob and I were part of a 9 person group volunteering for MFBRP for 10 days at their Nakula Natural Area Reserve located on the leeward or southeast slope of Haleakala on Maui. The goal of the Nakula Reforestation Project is to create a second viable habitat for the Maui Parrotbill and Akohekohe. The Nakula area is former prime habitat for these species.

The Nakula area we were working in is 420 acres located between 4,000 and 5,800 ft in elevation. At that elevation the weather is all over the map- intense sun during the day with intermittent rain & fog. Some nights were so cold we slept with all of our clothes and winter hats to stay warm. In spite of the dynamic weather conditions, we experienced the most beautiful sunrises, sunsets  & stars we have ever seen in the islands:)

We were flown in along with all of the field gear via helicopter. Below team members help to prepare slings that contained all of our food, clothes, seedlings and gear for the next 10 days.

I couldn't help including the lua located at the starting location helicopter landing zone:)
Showtime- here comes the very skilled helicopter pilot.
The first team is heading to the 'copter
Off they go up to camp...
Chris prepares to attach the slings to the helicopter while it hovers above his head- really!!
Chris is giving the pilot the heads up that everything is attached- we hope:) Everything made it !

The TEAM seated in front of the communal kitchen and gathering place for meals and socializing- what a great group of folks! And what a beautiful afternoon- we learned to not take sunshine for granted. The fog and mist would slip up the slopes and envelope us before we knew it. We liked to take a shower in our bathing suits with the hose behind the weatherport to rinse the grit and grime of the day was a lot nicer when the sun was out:)
The view from our tent looking at Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa and Hualali. The green roof is our water catchment system and the place we hang all of our wet gear to dry.
The view upslope from our tent. All of the grassland that you see was once native forest filled with native birds before being grazed by cattle. This land has been grazed for the past 120 years. The trees that you see predate cattle ranching--our mission was to plant native seedlings to help recreate the native forest.
The clouds over the Maui Channel
Bob and I each had our own personal tent- home sweet home:)
Teia & Laura- 2 of our fearless leaders and sources of inspiration
The different layers of clouds were moving in opposite directions with a rainbow in between.
Our daily tasks included the setting & monitoring of predator traps and planting native seedlings.  The predator grid covered rough terrain and was made up of 128 stations - see the map below. The three predators targeted and considered most dangerous to native forest birds were the rat, mongoose and cat.
The work on the predator grid was incredibly challenging and rewarding. We were given a map and GPS and the task to find our transect points and then bait and monitor the trap activity. The information we gathered will be used in a Predator Abundance study to determine the best way to address the predator situation in Nakula. 

This work was definitely the most physically and mentally challenging that we have been involved with since starting our full-time volunteer experience. It was also the most worthwhile.
It was amazing to be involved with the laying out and planting of a new native forest. The first step in the process included unpacking the seedlings from the containers to prepare for planting. The seedlings were loaded into bags grouped by species. We had a 45-50 minute hike up to the planting plots. We all pitched in carrying the bags of plants and equipment. Each plot had flags that marked the predetermined spot for plants. The plants were laid out alternating canopy and shrub species. One of the Maui Forest Bird leaders would use an auger to dig the holes and a few in the group would lay out the plants and then everyone would plant.

After all was said and done, we planted 1,200 seedlings, caught 42 mice & 11 rats.

Our vision is that there will be a healthy native forest and an abundance of Hawaiian endemic forest birds singing from the canopy and understory:-)

We are packing up to leave Hawaii to visit family and pick up our trailer on the mainland to begin our next adventure. We will be heading to Florida to experience spring migration along the Gulf Coast.

The world is full of beauty & wonder,

Turtle & Hawk

P.S. If this topic is of interest we recommend reading the following book "The Race to Save the World's Rarest Bird: The  Death and Discovery of the Po'ouli"

1 comment:

  1. First off thank you for checking us out.
    Wow! You guys are doing amazing job doing volunteer work for the wildlife. Be sure to check my entries in Florida and Alabama for some ideas for birding. I had my best spring migration birding in Dauphin Island and Gulf Shores Alabama during first week of April 2014.
    In Florida, there are a lot of Wildlife Refuges and St Marks NWR was one that we visited, you will love it there.
    Also check my entry about the endangered Whooping Cranes which the ICF in Baraboo are trying to help.
    Here in RGV, the Laguna Atascosa NWR might interest you too. The butterflies arrived here in South TX in October, and November is when do also have a Birdfest in Harlingen for the fall migration.
    I hope our paths will cross somewhere in a Wildlife Refuge out west, AZ, NM and CA