Tuesday, April 7, 2009

First flights, and solar power

The two babies from the nest near our home, featured in earlier posts.

Good news! We managed to free the nene from the fishing line that had tangled in its identification band. These thick plastic bands may help wildlife workers identify and track the birds, but the way they overlap forms a hook on the poor bird’s leg which is all too easy to catch on things, especially thin monofilament fishing line (see last month’s blog).

The line was a tangled mess, wound repeatedly around the ankle and the band, forming a large ball that trailed several feet of line behind. Removing it was a delicate task. One strand of line had tightened, and cut an eighth of an inch deep into the bird’s ankle. I wish the person who put on the band could have seen it. The bird did not struggle, but has not forgotten, and moves away nervously if we are too near - but at least he walks normally again.

Oma'o baby stretches his wings...

Oma’o baby made his first flight during the last week in March. He hatched in December, so he is now nearly four months old. The twins are about three weeks younger, but began making low flights, a few feet high, along the line of the river between their favorite places. Their first real flight was on April 6th.

Something was upsetting Oma’o Dad when he arrived in the late afternoon without his family. He began using the “Where are you?” call, a very piercing sound. The birds with him were his two daughters from last year, the mate of one of his daughters, and three outsiders that are never allowed to get too close.

After about twenty minutes, Dad’s calls were answered from a distance, and a formation of six geese, flying several hundred feet high, passed across the front of the mountains, faded and reappeared, circling, lower above the river. It was Oma’o Mum with baby and the twins from the nest, on their very first flight with their parents - Dad leading - in a formation of six.
You could see them turn their heads and veer slightly as they passed, looking towards the vocalizing birds on the riverbank without breaking formation. They made a wide circle, in constant vocal contact. Dad Oma’o became very agitated; his vocalization gained in intensity, producing a chord instead of a single note, and speeding up as he ran back and forth on the riverbank, the other grounded birds joining in the calls.

On the next fly-by, they made their first landing attempt, difficult in this small opening between trees. Mum Oma’o made a perfect almost vertical descent, while the young birds made a river landing, running and flapping along the surface of the water. The two other parents landed in the field.

When the nene awake from a sleep, the first thing they do is stretch their wings, followed by running and flapping - the adults join in flapping their wings quickly, but walking gracefully. Some of these adults have not flown since they began nesting in October, six months ago, as this year they had to nest a second time because of pig attacks. All their plumage is new after molting.

Oma'o mum in the bath, baby beside her, Dad perching on his favorite mango root

These Waipa birds, three families and a few outsiders, which behaved so territorially in the breeding season, have become a flock, and behave like completely different birds. They sleep close together, and move to new grazing together. Just like people, there are tensions within the group; the more dominant males expect respect from the younger birds, and one female will not tolerate Nahe near her who is the female her mate was with while she was nesting.

We’ve had so much rainy weather, with flashes of sunlight between, and rainbows every day. There is one that often appears just before sunset in the East across the bay, a full arc from the ocean to the mountains, and many times another will form above it. Two nights ago the two color bands were broad and intense, and reflected in a tide pool on the beach, forming circles that connected the reflections with the true rainbows overhead.

Ulili, the wandering tattler, flew between them, landing close to the colored water reflection. In the background, three Hawaiian outrigger canoes were crossing the bay. It was one of those magical moments, just before you realize you forgot to bring your camera.

Even on cloudy days, our new solar system is fully charged. We are 100% solar now, computers, fridge, washing machine, water etc, By lunch-time, the system is charged, and as soon as there is an affordable plug-in car, that will be running on sunlight too. It feels good; at last we’re free of power cuts, and will soon be free of fossil fuels.

The system was fitted last year, and this has been our first winter. Kauai electric began a “net metering” scheme, offering to buy extra solar power from people with power to spare, but for some reason they only do it with a tiny percentage of those who’d like to take part, and the waiting list is huge.

Perhaps they need to invest in storage for surplus solar, rather than proposing another fossil fuel power plant. Maybe the many reservoirs left on the island from its sugar planting days could be used, with water pumped to a higher level in the day and allowed to flow back, generating power through the night when there’s no sun.

Waiting for apples... For my sister in England, who loves horses.