Half a year later and I am done with my Master’s degree. During a second field trip to Nomilo fishpond on Kaua’i, I could successfully test the instrument I developed and gather data for my thesis. Analyzing the data and writing the thesis report chained me to the desk for several months and during that time I hardly got out to take any photos. But during the last weeks I had on Hawai’i, we managed to fit in a little trip to Maui over an extended weekend to get up to Haleakalā volcano for some hiking and bird watching.
Haleakalā is a truly special place on Maui with 3300 m elevation that can be reached only through a narrow winding road. And it is one of the few places where you can relatively easily escape the touristic craze of Hawai’i and see some native vegetation and songbirds. We started our trip by hiking down into the crater from the summit on the western side along the southern slope to Palikū on the eastern side to camp over night. It was a long, strenuous hike at high elevation and temperature through a unique terrain. The crater is filled with volcanic rubble and sand. It is a very dry environment and few plants can survive these harsh conditions like the endemic silversword that grows only at Haleakalā.
Palikū on the other hand is a little oasis formed by the rainwater running down the northeastern slope of the crater with lush green vegetation and many of the beautiful hawaiian honeycreepers. There I could see the ‘Iwi (scarlet honeycreeper) as well as ‘Apapanes and Hawai'i 'Amakihis. Additionally, flying over, I could see two Nene geese that I had previously seen on Kaua’i (thegeese were flying over, I wasn’t) and a short-eared owl with prey in its fangs. With invasive mammals like cats, rats, and mongoose as well as diseases that were introduced to Hawai’i during its colonization (I know it wasn’t officially a colonization but let’s not debate history here) have drastically reduced the native songbird population. Nowadays, the honeycreepers and other native forest birds can be found almost exclusively in remote areas of high elevation like Haleakalā and Koke’e state park. So, this was only the second chance I had to see and photograph them and I was very happy to get a few nice shots.
The next day we hiked back around the northern side of the crater and up the narrow, winding Halemau’u trail to get to Hosmer Grove for another two nights of camping. Hosmer grove is more popular since it is easier to access, so the birds are a little more shy than at Palikū but with some patience, I was able to photograph a feeding ‘Iwi honeycreeper. It was a quite special experience, to see these birds use their beak that is specifically adapted to getting the nectar out of flowers like that of the native Māmane tree.
I wish I could have spent more time in the remote areas of Hawai’i to observe the native vegetation and birds. But nevertheless, it was an amazing experience to live on Hawai’i for a year, do the research for my thesis and explore its amazing landscape as far as possible with the time I had available. Now, I’ll spend six months in Bremen to do some research in preparation of my PhD and hopefully have a little more time to spend outdoors and take photos.