From September 8th until the 18th, Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project had a special research project in the Nature Conservancy's Waikamoi Preserve. Since June, the team had been preparing for the study through site visits, creating transects, and organizing maps and the project purpose.
But the bulk of the work, the data collection, was done during these 10 days. It began when four volunteers for the project arrived the weekend before: Andrew Keaveney, Thomas Jahasz, Pat Fitzgerald, and Brooks Rownd. These lucky four would spend the next 10 days in the cloud forest of Haleakala searching and counting the native forest birds that live there.
These are some of their reflections on the experience...
"We had a wonderful two weeks in Waikamoi and Haleakala N.P., with pleasantly varied weather that was occasionally wet but never too bad for us to search for the rare native birds. I got a proper send off from Waikamoi on the final day of the survey, which was cool and a little misty, and quite peaceful since we were monitoring small areas instead of walking a full transect. There were a pair of 'akohekohe moving around my area all morning, one of which occasionally came down close to peer at me from the edges of the 'alani trees. On the way out, just after we called it quits, I ran across a trio of parrotbills, including a juvenile who cautiously inspected me from nearby branches for a good 10 minutes. The adults were busy working and singing up in the nearby trees. The little guy eventually joined one of the adults to beg for a bit, and then they finally moved along. Perhaps when we return in the future the curious 'akohekohe and the little parrotbill will look down at us again and remember us as the big funny-looking creatures who came to visit Waikamoi the previous year."
"Seeking a greater understanding of the constraints to conservation in an insular setting, I came to Maui to work with the Maui parrotbill and crested honeycreeper in their natural habitat. Once within their high elevation cloud forest habitat, I came to realize their precarious existence between the treeless summit of Haleakala and the avian malaria line below. The narrow band of forest that exists around the upper reaches of the volcano is all that provides shelter for these rare birds in a rapidly changing world. The concept of what is natural and pristine comes into a new focus with these birds; an ecosystem we have profoundly altered cannot be expected to maintain treasured species like the Maui parrotbill without innovative, responsive management techniques. Working closely with these species has provided me with a unique opportunity of a foresight into the future where management of species and their ecosystems will be the norm and not the exception."
"I was always curious what a 'Hawaiian' forest looks like. When I finally got to see it, it somehow wasn't what I pictured! The mosses, ferns and other plants that draped the gnarly treed hills were more plentiful than many other similar sites I've visited in the world. It's no wonder it was so hard to see (and photograph!) the birds. After two weeks of walking up and down those hills I can conclude one thing. The Maui Parrotbill is not a common bird and it WILL need our help to survive farther into the future. I wish there were more 'volunteer' opportunities like this for biologists wanting to expand their knowledge and skills. I learned far more than I could write down and just sitting and walking amongst this forest for hours on end was an experience that will last me a lifetime."
Over the course of 10 days, our Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project staff and volunteers found parrotbill that will be included in a new genetic and bird banding efforts. The data we collected will help estimate the numbers of endangered Maui parrotbill and Akohekohe living in one of the only patches of mesic koa-ohia forest where these rare birds still survive. It seemed the Akohekohe was doing well, as it was whistling everywhere we went.
MFBRP enjoyed working with these volunteers and we appreciate all of their hard work. We are now in the process of analyzing all of the data that they collected and will be able to compare this data to data that we collect at our other study site, Hanawi Natural Area Reserve. It will be interesting to see the local differences in bird populations.
Thanks again to our volunteers and we hope they enjoyed this special experience in the forest.