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Mom and Dad took CJ, Robin, Daniel and I to Kauai for a week for Solstice this year! We stayed in Poipu, on the southern coast, a five minute walk from the beach.
Our first day, we took a walk along the shore in Poipu, where there are lithified (compressed and hardened) sand dunes. We found a beach with a few tidepools.
Kauai is least populated of the main Hawaiian islands, and one main highway encircles 3/4 of the island. The terrain between these sections is vast canyons and gullies, some exposed, some covered in lush tropical forest. At the end of the road on the eastern side, we followed a trail out to the highest elevation swamp in the world – Alakai Swamp (ok, Robin, Dad and I bailed a mile early).
The trail starts out on slick red clay, using steps that have been worn deep into the slopes.
After a mile and a half, it descends steeply down a rapidly deteriorating boardwalk covered in rusty chickenwire for traction. The stairs were irregular heights, making for a tiring day.
Mosses and ferns grew lushly along the trail, and Robin and I turned back early to take our leisure photographing it.
Robin and Mom and I caught the first lift of the day into the National Tropical Botanical Gardens and spent three gleeful hours inspecting tropical wonders.
Another trail, on the western side of the island, followed a river, and wove us through a pick-up-stick tumble of tree trunks.
We even managed not to get sunburned until the last day, when we took a catamaran cruise up to the Na Pali coast, by following drastic measures.
Four of us headed up from the highway towards Mesahchie Pass, a 5 mile, 3000 foot elevation gain bushwhack. It took about 5 1/2 hours hiking, 7+ hours on the trail. This section was gentle and very pretty. Huckleberries were out in force, and we saw lots of bear shit, but no bears.
The first few miles were through coniferous forests, so the ground was mostly logs of various stages of decay. Lots of log scrambling was required. Going got much rougher through dense young conifers and short conifers on steep slopes. The bar on my old external frame pack kept getting snagged on branches, so I had to crawl on the ground in some places.
The valley narrowed and we were forced to wade through the willows surrounding the creek. I felt like an elephant except that I couldn’t push everything down. Our next goal was the rock gully below the conifers at top center.
Climbing. Trekking poles were essential.
Next was ascending a very steep (~30 degree) slope with no footing – slippery heather, bare dirt, and no rocks to brace on. We braced ourselves on tree trunks growing out of the hill. I was pretty tired by this point, but we still had a ways to go – a false summit/valley, another ascent, then our camping spot.
Arriving at the pass just before sunset, almost at our campsite for a delectable cold burrito, a fresh sauteed mushroom (bolete) that Paul found, and amazing TJ’s chocolate truffles. We were all in bed before 9, even I fell asleep a little after 9:30.
Black bear print – sadly no grizzly prints.
The stream meandered through the pass below Kitling Peak, pictured, and Mesahchie Peak (higher). Check out those glaciers – they won’t be there in 50 years.
The purpose of the trip was to check the cameras put up by Conservation Northwest to see if wolves or grizzlies come through here. I was the lure girl – among others, we applied beaver anal secretions. Yum!
We climbed up to the ridge in the morning and crossed this scree field. I can’t get enough of this stuff on dayhikes, but it’s a different beast with a 35 pound pack affecting your balance.
Looking back to the pass from the ridge.
We followed the ridgeline, climbing from 6000 feet at the pass to about 6500 feet, getting beautiful views but lots of exposure and slippery rocks.
We dropped pretty much straight down to the highway from here. My feet got really beat up – I think they may be worn out – I go through boots too fast! Rob had to take half my tent and my food bag. I got blisters on my thumbs from the trekking poles. Not a happy hiker here!
Glacier melt is freaking painfully cold. Apparently a month ago this water was thigh deep. Glad I went late! Another long day – hiking by 9:30, back to the car around 3. We returned to the car for some alaskan amber and a 3 hour drive home.
**EDIT JULY 30, 2009: Recent comments (spring/summer 09) have made me realize that I did not clearly explain the importance of this research. I write this from my memory of facts from my internship in spring 2008, so my numbers are probably off.
For the past ~5-10 years, the number of bobcats in the area has plummeted, due to an outbreak in mange. Female bobcats are simply not bearing litters. The population is rapidly shrinking – aging bobcats are not being replaced. Adult bobcats are dying younger, often because of mange. National park biologists are trying to figure out why they are getting sick. Rodent poison is one potential suspect.
National Park biologists are tracking bobcats to determine their ranges and see how they interact with roads, development, and habitat fragmentation. Methods include radio telemetry, scat surveys (bobcat feces apparently has a distinctive lemony odor), and sometimes remote cameras, which are triggered by the presence of animals. Radio telemetry requires trapping bobcats to collar them. Collars can last up to ~3 years. Sometimes batteries die early, or the animal will ditch the collar. When they are being collared, biologists also record information about the animal’s condition and characteristics (e.g. paw size) and take a blood sample to test for illness.
Additionally, each spring, biologists put particular attention to tracking the female bobcats. They want to figure out who is having kittens, where they are building their dens, and how well the kittens do after they are born. Kittens are susceptible to natural predation (by coyotes), and I would guess that in the heavily urbanized area where these bobcats live, roads present danger as well. However, kittens are too small to carry collars, so biologists perform field surgery to implant small transmitters that last for about a year. Experienced veterinarians volunteer to perform these surgeries.
When I was there in 2008, only one female they were tracking had kittens (there may have been another den found after I completed my internship two weeks after this); the year before, they found no dens.
Research like this is limited by funding plus the small number of parks located in so urbanized an area. Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is the largest urban national park, I believe. Biologists compare animals within the NRA proper with individuals in the habitat islands to the north of the park, where the land is being developed at an alarming rate. END EDIT**
We located two bobcat kittens in a den, a male and a female. The feisty female got feistier after receiving an injection of sedative, then went under.
As with the adults, kitten sedative dosage depends on their weight.
To prepare for surgery, Joanne shaved the kittens’ bellies.
A veterinarian volunteers her time to implant radio transmitters in the kittens so the biologists can track them for about a year, then hopefully recapture the cats when they are large enough to have a radio collar.
Surgery in the field can be dangerous, so the biologists have been preparing for weeks, and all went well.
The kittens lose their body heat quickly once they go under (unlike the adults, which tend to overheat), so after the surgery, Jeff warmed the female in a fleece hat filled with hand warmers.
This month old kitten will soon grow to about 15-20 pounds.
I dragged my parents pitfalling for a day, and forced them to wear (hot) snake chaps through the tall grass.
Western Fence Lizard, Sceloperus occidentalis
All lizards are weighed, measured from snout to vent (their ‘privates’), and toe clipped to keep track of recapture and get a genetic sample.
Male fence lizards display their bright blue bellies for females by doing ‘pushups’. Females’ bellies are a duller blue and don’t have the black border.
Alligator lizards are another common catch, along with Skinks.
Alligator Lizard, Elgaria multicarinatus
My favorite pitfall array at White Oak.
Dawn and I were sent on a wild cat chase looking for two errant mountain lions, and were pleased to wend our way along the ridges of the park and see all the finally blooming yuccas.
The fall 2007 fire ravaged this valley where the interns used to live, which allowed more erosion of the hillsides.
Some oaks survived and were regenerating.
Danielle and I arrived in Anza Borrego in the early afternoon and began our trip officially with a visit to the county dump, which was bordered by sand dunes.
We then went and walked amongst the wildflowers, which were the aim of our trip. There were sadly only three types of wildflowers in the area that we could drive to, but pretty nevertheless.
Rough roads denied us most of our quarry throughout the afternoon, although we kept trying different places. This sandswept road was the route to the primitive campground where we had planned to sleep. Abort, abort!
That evening when we finally found a primitive campground we could get to, it started raining and we were forced to sleep in the car as I do not have a tent.
After our fitfull lightning-filled evening, we awoke invigorated to explore the more southern part of the park. There, we took great glee in tricking fellow travelers to pull over at random places probably not worth visiting (although we were there…). One of these was Bisnaga (baja for Barrel Cactus) Wash.
Barrel cacti are one of my favorite kinds of cacti, and thankfully they were flowering or I would have been pissed, having driven 4 hours to see desert flowers.
Some of the biggest cacti were gnawed on at the base.
Our last stop was Box Canyon, part of the wagon trail west, hewn in part by the Mormon Infantry(!?).
Dawn and I finished work early one day and our boss, having nothing really for us to do, told us to “take a hike.” So we headed to the Mishe Mokwa trail.
Spring is abloom in the mountains.
We made it up to Sandstone Peak, the highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Although the area’s quite geologically diverse / complex, there are many sandstone outcroppings along the trail.
Our pitfall arrays at Hennessey also have nice rocks.
Shooting stars are blooming prolifically on the trails to some of our pitfall arrays.
Saturday morning, Adia and I headed over to Joshua Tree, where we backpacked into the apparently little used area around Black Rock.
Backpacker magazine told us the Joshua trees would be flowering but unfortunately was wrong, although we were still glad we went.
Adia hadn’t ever been to the desert, and didn’t like it at first, though by the end she seemed to appreciate it better. She was upset that there weren’t more “real cacti”–saguaro cacti.
We hiked through a couple of areas that had burned.
Never having backpacked in the desert, Adia didn’t realize we would need to bring our own water. I carried two gallons, which made my pack super heavy even though I didn’t bring a tent, cook gear, or a campstove.
Confusing maps made us overestimate the mileage of our loop, and we wound up coming out of Black Rock after one night, then headed over to the Wonderland of Rocks, which we then discovered was a day use only area. After scouring the map, we figured out that we could camp if we went west of one of the branch trails.
After a beautiful sunset, we retired early to a night so cold the water froze in my water bottle.
We woke up at 5 the next morning to hike out in the dark and get to Barker Dam, where the ranger said we might see the endangered desert bighorn sheep. We arrived at 6:30 to a beautiful sunrise but no sheep.
We finished walking the nature trail before the next people showed up at the trailhead around 7:30. Throughout the morning, we passed only a few cars.
Happily, we finished our Joshua Tree visit by driving through the prolifically flowering Colorado desert, which mostly fulfilled my wildflower needs and justified the flower guide I bought.
Although they’ve been trying unsuccessfully to capture a mountain lion since May, we caught two lions in the span of three days last week. Both were juvenile males about a year and a half old, and the biologists suspect they’re brothers.
After blow-darting the lion with a sedative, the biologists remove him from the leg snare and move him to a tarp in a flat clearing.
For the hour or so the lion is out, the biologists take measurements, blood, tissue samples, and fit a GPS collar that will track the cat’s movements every few hours.
The cats weighed about 90 and 115 pounds.
We caught the first cat on a hot day, and he got really worked up during the darting, so to cool him down, we poured alcohol and water all over him and fanned him with papers.
The head mountain lion biologist documented his teeth and paws.
Emmanuel demonstrated the length of the lion’s tail so that interpreters will have a picture to show people who think they’ve seen a mountain lion but probably have seen either a deer or a bobcat.
Mountain lion’s paws are assymmetrical, so you can tell right from left. In its tracks, look for three equal divisions on the rear of the pad.
The lion is given a reversal for its sedative when it starts to blink when its eyelid is touched.
We waited nearby for the cat to recover enough to walk away–the danger is that they’ll fall asleep with their head on their new collar and suffocate. This photographer has been working on a documentary about the Santa Monica Mountain cougars for a year and these were the first live cats he’s seen.
I am interning at Santa Monica National Recreation Area, and live in park housing off of Mulholland Drive. It’s the white house left of the pond.
We live in a small pocket of land owned by the park, because although most of the land between Hwy 101 and the coast here is part of the Recreation Area, a fair amount is held by private owners.
For my first two weeks I am helping trap bobcats. This involves getting up at five a.m. to be at the traps by six so we can feed the doves we use as live bait. Don’t worry, they’re in a cage-within-a-cage so the bobcats can’t actually get them.
There are few trees here, mostly the land is open fields, thick sage scrub, and mustard thickets.
The bobcat traps are in small patches of undeveloped land between housing developments, freeways, malls, and shopping centers. I’ve discovered there’s no “downtown” here.
It rained shortly before I arrived, so all the dirt turned to thick, cakey mud.
So thick and sticky, in fact, that the other intern and I wound up off the road one morning. That was a pricey tow job.
Yesterday morning we finally caught a cat in one of the traps! I recorded while the biologists and Adia (the carnivore intern and my roommate) measured the cat, took its blood, and collared it.
All the cats caught are collared so that we can track their movements to see where they live and how much time they spend in urban areas.
The collars emit a signal that we pick up with a handheld directional antenna. Determining the source of the strongest signal can be really challenging, particularly in the hill-and-canyon landscape here that either block or bounce the signal.