Thursday, May 11, 2017


A friend said, "There's a raptor nest visible from the road. It would be good to know what kind it is."
Subtext is the province is widening the road because they want to put a stupid TEN-lane bridge onto our island and need somewhere for TEN lanes of traffic to hang out before the clog-up at the four-lane bridge at the other side of the island.

The nest-thing was fine with me.  Get away from a keyboard and tromp around in the woods for a while.

The woods are far from pristine.  The understory is mostly a tangle of invasive blackberry that will happily kill you with a million punctures. 

We could see the nest from a distance, and scrabbled a circuitous path to the base of the tree, a tall but not impressively old cottonwood.

We craned our necks, raised our binos.  50 feet up.  No heads, adult or baby.  The nest seemed empty. It was too small, too enclosed  for an eagle,  It was too large for a Cooper's Hawk.  Red-tail was the probable owner.

"Or a Great-horned," I said.  They use old nests.  "But they should be fledged by now."

There was fresh white-wash (poop) on the ferns and blackberries circling the tree,  We started searching for pellets.  There were hemlock branches extending into the upchuck radius that could have deflected the pellets away from the trunk.  I skirted wider, and found, sadly, this.

I had a hard time mentally assembling it.  The head is upper right.  It's a baby Great-horned Owl, an owlet, starting to fledge.  Note the blue shafts of the pin feathers, lower right.

It was days dead.  I shifted it a bit so that the talons were visible. 

We have no idea how this one died. Siblicide is rare in Great-horneds, I have since read.  We had mixed emotions, contentment in figuring out the ownership of the nest, and sadness over a dead owlet.

We walked back to the car, a different route.  We couldn't possibly retrace our steps through the blood-letting blackberries.  We came across a log decorated with slime mold doo-dads. Life from death, death from life, a smelly, prickly circle, ugly and beautiful.  

Friday, April 21, 2017

Small birds, their big dream-home.

I came across a pair of Bushtits building their characteristic hanging-sock nest. Construction was well along, but there were still gaps in the weaving of moss, spider webs and other materials.

Here is the male, bringing carrying something soft and fluffy looking.  Lichen?  Innards of a lost stuffy?   He took it inside, and a few seconds later darted out.

He was followed by the female. (Notice the pale eye?  Males' eyes are dark.)  She was in and out in a flash

The male returned, carrying a...caterpillar?  There are young already?  Rearing while still building?  Renos are hard when there's Lego and Polly Pocket all over the place. (Speaking from experience.) 

A closer look shows the object in his bill isn't animal.  I'm not sure what it is, but it seems to more for building than eating.

On it went, taking turns, back and forth.  The nest was just off a trail in a park, about 8 feet up, not as secure as one would hope. I figured I had given them enough unwanted attention so wished them luck and continued on my way.  

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Porkchops gets the job done.

A male Northern Flicker with his scarlet pork chops is working on a tree, a fifteen-foot western hemlock snag in Paulik Park.  He is hammering away, keeping pace with the bap-bap-bap of roofers' nail guns in the nearby subdivision.  It must be hard, swinging your head back and forth inside a tree. Must be loud, too.  We had to chop out some of the concrete floor beneath the stairs when a pipe burst.  My ears ring just remembering that.  Much respect, Mr. Flicker.

Cleaning up.  No Shop-Vac.  You just close your eyes, and fling!

He has built a nifty home in a lovely dead tree, proof that a tree never really dies.  When Porkchops and his family move on, others will probably move in.  It's prime real estate, southern exposure in a quiet neighbourhood (once the roofers are gone).  

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Fun fun fun 'til the scary yellow centipedes.

We arrived in Hilo on a Big White Boat, and  the view over the side suggested that the  most in-demand car on the Big Island was Mustang convertible. You could have it in any colour, as long as the colour was black, red, or silver.

Why? Retired baby-boomers? 

Roof down, SPF 100 for when Panama hat blows off.

The Big White Boat eco-tour that took us to the Lava Trees also took us to the Pohoiki Hot Pond. This is a place where proximity to sea-bound magma heats the water and you can flop around like udon in a swimming pool-sized hot tub if the surf isn't crashing over the edge, which on this day it was. The surf was unusually high because of an approaching hurricane. No swimming today.  No matter,  No one wanted to swim. Everyone wanted to watch the waves.

There were other sight-seeing vans there.  All the sight-seeing leaders, themselves surfers, were agog--and disappointed. This surf was their dream, and here they were, driving around another load of tourists.

Surf raging through dead branches.  Not far away, red-hot magma is plunging into the sea, an explosive boil.  Heaven and hell. When it comes to OMG, Hawaii sets the bar pretty high.

Surfers gotta surf.  Many were there, more were arriving.  Look.  Real Hawaiians don't drive Mustang convertibles.

The waves were sprinkled with dots of hope and courage. The lineup.

Taking off.  I wistfully imagined these seconds.  All the way to Hawaii on the Big White Boat I had been reading William Finnegan's Barbarian Days. A Surfer's Life, trying to understand from his words what surfing must be like.  Well here it was.  Woo! (Wistful woo.)

Off to the side, newcomers were heading out from a wave-swamped bay.

Even with motorized assistance, it was a challenge.

Motorized assistance in the air,

Varying degrees of success were hailed by unheard cheers as the waves grew and washed farther up the shore, foaming among the black lava rocks were we stood, which had the unexpected effect of ...

Waking the centipedes!

A biblical number of scolopendromorphs was sloshed from its sleep.  The individual in the picture may not look very big.  Truth:  It was scary big, as were its friends. They bite mean, and hang on. William Finnegan never mentioned them.

They scuttled among startled flop-flopped surf-watchers, who shouted creative expressions during the scramble to safety.

Backed-up a bit, out of the centipede zone, surf-watching resumed.  Reluctantly, our group boarded the tour van and were on our way.  

(Saw no Mustangs.)

Here is the Big White Boat: 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Monday, March 27, 2017

On lava.

The Pu'u'O'o eruption of Kilauea Volcano on the Island of Hawaii (the Big Island) has been going on for 34 years.  Its lava has traveled above and below ground in different directions at different times, occasionally resulting in devastation to communities and infrastructure. Towns have been buried under meters of lava.  A few homeowners have rebuilt, on greatly changed properties.

Recently, the eruption has been sending a firehouse-stream of molten lava into the ocean from Vent 61g at Kamokuna. I hope I'm getting the details correct.  This is far from my area of expertise.  

I've always found volcanoes fascinating.  What science boy/girl didn't get in trouble at least once for using up the kitchen supplies of vinegar and baking soda?  

Why this, now?  

Partly because there have been plenty of neat pictures of Vent 61g on Instagram.  I follow a number of Hawaiian Instagram accounts.  Looking at places I've been before makes it easier to believe I'll return.

Here is a picture of Vent 61g from the Instagram account of @surrealshotz.  It was posted in late January 2017. Imagine being there.  Magma! Steam!  Explosions!

We were there the year before, well, not quite there, and saw no magma.  We did see a lot of lava though, the ropy, frozen, black pudding, the pahoehoe, of previous events in the Eastern Rift Zone of the Big Island. 

It is probably nothing more than a strange coincidence, but the the Big Island looks like the head of a French Bulldog in right-side profile. Hilo is nestled in above the nub of a nose.  On the picture below, the five shield volcanoes that make up the Big Island are indicated.  As the name implies, shield volcanoes are relatively flat and spreading, as opposed to conical composite volcanoes such as Mount St. Helens and its Cascadian family. 

Big Island (Hawaii)

The bulldog's lower jaw contains what is called the East Rift Zone, mostly within the south-eastern Puna district.  

In the Puna district, lava can flow above ground, or below ground, or both, considerable distances from Kilauea's caldera, which is inland, above the angle of the jaw.  Close to the caldera, there have been numerous surface flows in recent decades, and much of the land remains blanketed in lava.  

More distally (east), forest and agricultural fields cover a large proportion of the land, though scattered throughout are remnants of older lava flows.  In places, lava layers from old eruptions have subsided and fractured, leaving the ground rife with deep fissures.  It's a complicated geology, and driving around, it's hard to make sense of what has gone on, and is going on, underground, especially in green and bucolic eastern Puna.  One could be forgiven for having no clue that the whole place is part of very active volcano. 

We were on an interpretive tour from an ecotourism company based in Hilo.  Interpretive tours are busman's holidays for me.   Interpreters are the same everywhere.  Our interpreter took us to see fissures.

Old, overgrown ones look like this.  It was difficult to tell how deep it is.  It's behind a fence to keep you from finding out.

We were at Lava Tree State Monument, close to the tip of Bulldog's jaw.  Fissures were a side show.  The main event was lava trees. 

He cuts down trees, he eats his lunch
He goes to the lava tree.
On Wednesdays he goes shopping...  


Lava trees are mostly-hollow tubes that form when red-hot lava flows through a forest, and then retreats. (I have a hard time imagining the retreat part, but apparently there's an ebb and flow aspect to lava.)  Contact with tree trunks cools the lava, which solidifies.  In return, the tree usually burns up, resulting in a hollow cast after the rest of the lava ebbs away. These lava trees were formed in 1790.

Lava tree and the interpreter (but not the interpreter).

Some lava trees have a hole on two on the side, into which you can stick your head, or at least a camera.  Some are mostly empty.  Others have greenery and other life inside.

Lava Tree State Monument has a short trail that loops among the trees and through interesting forest and forest-edge.  It doesn't take long, and soon we were headed west to see the lava of more recent events.

This is Kaimu Bay, which previously featured a spectacular, coconut-fringed, black sand beach.  It and the town of Kaimu were buried by lava from the Kupa'ianaha vent of Kilauea in 1990.  Coconut palms have been planted to hasten the return of lava-bed to beach. It will take a while.

Kaimu is about halfway along the bulldog's jaw. The lava is 15 m thick, and meets the sea as crumbling cliffs.

The surf was active that day.  Hurricane Olaf was passing to the south-east.

West of Kaimu is the town of Kalapana.  It also was consumed by the lava, in the 1980s.  I believe it is within the middle lava swath in the picture below.

On the horizon, mid-picture, there is a plume, whiter than the surrounding clouds.  It is steam from the caldera of Kilauea, about 20 miles (33Km) from this spot.  Vast sheets of lava spreading left to right notwithstanding, this gentle rise doesn't much look like a volcano, does it? Not at all like the conical papier mache, vinegar and baking soda landscapes of childhood.