OHE December 19, 1999 (Halawa swiftlet search)

Date: Sun, 19 Dec 1999 16:06:03 -1000
From: "STONE, J. BRANDON" (802005%cchpd@co.honolulu.hi.us>
Subject: halawa/ohe

Today we visited the only colony of Guam swiftlets known so far on Oahu. Inger Lidman wanted to get involved in the Christmas bird count run by the Audubon Society and wound up securing a place with Dave Smith (DLNR wildlife biologist), his two children, and another Dave (didn't get the last name, but he's an ornithological veteran for sure). I tagged along, essentially bird-ignorant but willing to learn. The second Dave introduced the swiftlets to Oahu in 1963. He said that 150 of them just rose up into the sky in a big flock and flew away. It was only nine years later that the colony in Halawa was found; there may be others that have not been found. Right now there are a few dozen nesting pairs in Halawa. (I don't know what the rationale was for the introduction of the species.)

Because of DLNR Dave's presence, we were able to drive through at least two locked gates to a point near the end of the H3 access road. I'm not 100% sure which gully we finally hiked into, but the trip upstream took us about an hour in and an hour out, moving slowing, counting birds and looking at plants. There was a great deal of hibiscus and papala kepau, plus some Tectaria gaudichaudii fern and lama lau nui, but also plenty of guava and clidemia. It was not too difficult to make our way beside and sometimes in the stream, which is shallow and narrow, but apparently perennial. There were quite a few mosquitoes. Not long after setting out we saw an elepaio.

Our destination was a waterfall about 60' high with a pool about 15' in diameter. It was something like Manoa Falls. No one got into the pool, but I would guess that it was deep enough for a nice swim on a hot day. On the right of the pool was a 6' high tunnel leading about 100' into the mountain, presumably an old exploratory BWS effort. The swiftlets nest on the walls of the tunnel and as we went in to count the nests, the birds would fly out past us, occasionally bumping into us, but quickly recovering and resuming their escape flights. I got two birdies in the face, but they were soft and gentle, like getting hit by a wadded up paper towel. The floor of the tunnel was quite muddy.

I had thought that we would be able to return to this little valley by climbing down from the Aiea Ridge Trail high above, but later topo map study has me convinced that we were probably separated by a middle Halawa ridge and another small valley from Aiea Ridge. It's a nice little place, but I'm not really in any hurry to go back, which is just as well given the access difficulties.

We discussed rat control some more. If enough volunteers are willing to perform bait trap maintenance every week or two in Walupe, Pia (Niu), or Kuliouou Valleys, the DLNR people could use us in one of their ongoing programs. Please let me know if you're interested. I've been hoping that our huge pool of hikers and trailclearers would yield a band of dedicated rat eradicators, or more grandiloquently, Saviors of Elepaio. What do you say?


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