Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Under the Wolf Moon

On the night of the full moon in early January, we walked down to Hanalei Bay, the quiet side, where visitors rarely go.

The only tracks on the sand were those of sand crabs and a lone Ulili (Wandering Tattler) who is over- wintering on the beaches and wetlands here. Say u lee lee lee lee lee and you’ll have an impression of his voice as he flies low over the water. I got a picture of the remote mountain streams where they go to nest in Canada and Alaska, and it reminded me of the remote stream I lived beside for 10 years in the Pacific North west, where a dipper nested - another lover of untouched wilderness.

Ulili (Wandering Tattler)
Wintering in Hanalei from the frozen North 2008/9, after a 2500-mile flight over the ocean.

There was still the fiery afterglow of sunset when the moon appeared above the horizon in the east. It was huge, and dwarfed the Norfolk pines in front of it; they could have been mosses, illuminated by some ancient planet. This was the closest to the earth the moon would be this year. The rain clouds had thinned and formed pink bands that settled horizontally across the lower half, and beneath it, were pale rounded shapes squatting like elders. The Hawaiian people remember a lot of their cloud lore. To our ancestors in other places, this was known as the Wolf Moon. We watched it rise and give the illusion of shrinking. It doesn’t really shrink, it ‘s just that the sky is so big. It was dark enough now to see the first stars, and a bat hunted over the edge of the ocean. As it flew over a jagged bit of reef, there was ulili, relaxed and settled for the night, sharing the view.

I’d been working on a drawing of the nene nest, the moment of hatching, and wanted to include the potential of these perfect white eggs, trying to show their winged forms as an after image behind, but now the moon became important too, they were “ born under the wolf moon”, as were some of the monarch butterflies that kept fluttering past as I watched the nest. Now there is a unique Kauaian monarch, that has evolved here since they are said to have been introduced. It is a darker brown, with pale under-wings, which reminds me of the finch that has lost its orange coloring since coming here because of changing diet.

So all month the picture has been growing, and still has some things that need resolved. I’ve been mixing media too, still trying to come to grips with tropical colors and climate.

Born Under The Wolf Moon ... work still in progress

The nene are growing fast. The two younger ones developed nasty pox-like sores, beside the beak and on the legs - the places where mosquitoes bite - and some birds are lost this way every year, but…… they seem to have healed. It is possible. The older one glows with health. I wish I could share the softness of his long gray down, that’s shedding now as his feathers grow in. His mother, Oma’o mum, is the only parent so far to have moulted, losing nearly all her flight feathers in one day under the old lichen-hung plumaria tree. I have nene quills, if anyone needs them for calligraphy.

The Nene twins from the nest ... now about a month old

Oma'o gosling ... a few weeks older than the twins

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Hanalei Electrical storm and nene goslings

The new mother incubated the last egg, one more night, but at first light, the family of four set off into the long grass of the valley. In the distance they rested in a shaft of sunlight under an old java plum tree, and then they were gone- I hoped I’d see them again. The last egg never hatched.
During the long incubation, the male had formed an attachment to Nahe, a young unbanded female born here last year. She had become a second mate, but the sound of the young birds after they hatched had drawn him back to the nest and he stayed watching their movements, fascinated.
After the family left, Nahe arrived, and called for her absent mate for almost two days in the distinctive, trumpeting contact call that nene pairs use when separated. She searched their favorite places, eventually following their exact last route across the field, could she scent him?
By evening thick clouds rested in the valley, the mountain peak was just visible and there were faint rumblings of thunder.
That night one of the liveliest electrical storms I’ve experienced began. At its peak, bursts of blinding light and deafening explosions struck simultaneously overhead, shaking the house. Rain poured down faster than it could drain away, creating a roaring sound. In the blasts of light everything was illuminated, neon-bright palm trees were casting dark shadows across the ground every few seconds. The whole sky lights up, I’ve never seen a fork in Hanalei- it must be what is called sheet lightning. I hoped the young family were clear of fast floods. One advantage to this kind of weather is it must keep predators near their home base and stop them picking up a trail.
The swollen river at dawn reflected a rose-colored sky, and Nahe was there still calling.
Around the old nest were pools of standing water, a debris-line showed where water had flooded the area. I lifted the remaining egg and was surprised by the weight. The white eggs are very large in proportion to the bird and must be difficult to lay. When Nahe’s mother left in November, her body was visibly swollen with eggs, and she spent a lot of the last few days sat in the sun-warmed water of a little ceramic paddling pool. It must have been soothing.

New Year’s Day and the nene return

In the early afternoon Nahe’s mother arrived, with a new baby beside her. Mum and Dad oma’o, (green in Hawaiian), are the only green-banded birds in the area and oma’o Dad (green dad) owns the valley. He is the Alpha male and can have any territory he chooses. They left here on November 10th when oma’o Mum was ready to lay. Their first nest this winter was attacked by pigs, and their new nest must have been a distance away, but they were returning now with one baby, about two and half weeks old
It made the lovely continuous sound of nene babies, a softly whistled cheep, and stood as close as possible to Mum. They settled under some ti plants, in sunlight the young bird’s gray down twinkled as it looked around with wide innocent eyes.
Ten minutes later, entering through the “nene door” ( a hole in the fence), the yellow-banded birds returned after two days away, and their two young were still safe. They didn’t seem bigger, but were much steadier on their legs. There was a lot of tension between the adults. All four adults began to hiss, stretching their long necks out low and waving them around “snakelike” in the air. But the presence of the young birds altered the territorial prerogative, and they were allowed to stay.There was an uneasy tolerance. Nahe had found them too, and was followeing them. Here was a monogamous nene male with two mates.
When the young birds first saw each other, they ran towards each other, but Dad oma’o would not allow the two younger babies near, and hissed, even gently nipping one of them.
These two babies were then about five days old, and still retained their egg shaped body and remnants of a small pink egg tooth, which they had used to free themselves from the egg. Their down was so fluffy raindrops didn’t penetrate, but balanced on the hair tips like tiny diamond beads. They ate the weed-rich grass, and showed no reaction to an explosion of thunder overhead. The storms continued intermittently for several days.

We see them every day just now. The two young birds are now one and a half weeks old and the older one three and a half weeks. They are all traveling by water, and spend most of the day sleeping and grazing. The single chick interacts much more with the adult birds than others I’ve seen, perhaps because he’s single. He does spend many minutes looking at his reflection in the little pool where his mum used to sit.