Category Archives: nature

James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge

Thanks to the Pacific Office of the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Hawaii Science Writers Association, I recently got a chance to visit the James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge to view habitat for wetland birds and spend time with Jason Graham to learn about the endangered yellow-faced bee.

As many of you know, I am working with UH researchers on an National Science Foundation project called ʻIke Wai, to study Hawaiʻi's freshwater aquifers. This gives me a unique opportunity to get back outdoors into nature and the environment, and to reconnect to a personal interest of mine, Aloha ʻAina.

The James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge is part of the ahupuaʻa that starts with the watershed in the Koʻolau mountains and results in freshwater springs that feed the wetlands of the refuge.

I believe in the interconnectedness of everything so you will find, in addition to the tech and open data topics, posts here about the watershed, wetlands, native ecosystems, birds and whatever interesting corners my curiosity leads me. Mahalo for joining me on this journey.

Midway: An island transformed


Picture 1 of 28

We arrive in darkness.

There's something surreal about catching a 2:30am flight to Midway to avoid the nesting birds. For one thing you arrive in darkness but in a few moments with the rising sun the island becomes alive with nature. I was invited by the U.S. Navy, Pacific Fleet to attend the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Midway. I was taken by the contrast of an island that was once a major battle zone and turning point for WWII to what it now is, a National Wildlife Refuge. I've assembled some of my favorite photos but you can see the entire set here. Midway is now home to some 18 species of birds. There are literally millions of albatrosses distributed somewhat evenly across every square meter of land. You cannot turn around without an albatross standing in your way. As we drove around in our golf carts, our island hosts were careful to go around the birds that claim the road as their nesting area. During the free time we had on island, I was able to commandeer a bicycle to ride around the entire island. Every where I turned nature dominated, from the terns and tropic birds in the air to the monk seals and turtles on the shore. If you stopped and listened you could not help but hear the cacophony of nature, pulsing with life. I found myself taking deep breaths all the time in order to absorb as much of this feeling as possible. It is hard to put into words. The life I saw there was abundant but it was not all joyous. With so many chicks, parent albatrosses are challenged to find enough food for their young. As many as 50% of the chicks we saw there won't make it to adulthood. On a hot day in June I saw many chicks that died from dehydration and malnutrition. But that is the reality of nature. Some will make it and many won't. But even in that sad realization I never felt so alive. It's testament to the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that the natural habitat of Midway has recovered so nicely and preserved for future generations. The island personnel seemed genuinely responsible for the natural health of the island but the battle still rages on to maintain the natural habitat. One major undertaking is the removal of an invasive weed called Verbesina. This weed has taken over large portions of land area threatening bird nesting grounds. The USFWS also  has plans to mitigate the non-native plants like iron wood and conduct plantings of native plants. There has already been an eradication of rats. As night fell we were treated to a spectacular sunset. The albatrosses skimmed over the surface of the ocean looking for their evening meal. No sooner did we arrived, then we had to leave. Again in the darkness of night, waiting for the birds to settle and clear the runway. As tired as I was I felt energized. We arrived back in Honolulu about 1am. I look back at these photos and I feel like it was a dream but it wasn't. I am just glad I got to experience Midway and feel encouraged that the work being done there will protect it for the future.

Day 2 in Kyoto

Day 2: KyotoOn this second day in Japan, we hopped a train to Kyoto and ventured out on our own. This shot was taken at Daitoku-ji Temple at the Daisen-in. This building was where Sen No Rikyu's tea room was on display. Unfortunately no photographs were allowed. I did snap of this shot of the rock garden which I found quite pleasing. I won't speculate on the meaning of the rock formations but leave that for your interpretation. If you have some insight, please share. You can see more photos of Daitoku-ji in my Flickr set of Day 2 in Kyoto. Soen Ozeki is the head abbot at Daisen-in whose poetry was displayed throughout the hall.

A song of Gratitude The whole family, harmonious and devout. Aware of debts to our parents and ancestors. Revering Nature, grateful for society. Always humble, learning from others. Able to give, demonstrating kindness. Making one's motto: "A bright life." Overlooking other's faults, correcting one's own. Moderate in speech, not getting angry. Gentle, kind, honest. Let's appreciate the joy of life. Patient. Peaceful. Not getting angry. Careful in speech. This leads to a long life. --Soen Ozeki

2009 in Review

As we welcome in the New Year 2010, I always like to look back at the previous year and celebrate the memorable moments that helped to define that year. As we transition from one year to the next I find it a good habit to acknowledge and be respectful of the past and to look with hope into the future. I usually post my Top 10 memorable moments as a blog post but this year I tried something a little different. I went out to Twitter and asked others to participate using the hashtag of #2009Top10. It was fun to see others recollect the year in review and come up with their significant moments. Mahalos go out to bitershark, Melissa808, NathanKam, PHOTOluluTV and CindyBlanknship for participating. If you are interested in reading the tweet stream just do a search on #2009Top10 or click here. If over time Twitter does not archive this tweet stream I've saved it as a Google doc. If you feel inspired to create your Top 10 memorable moments for 2009 please do. I encourage you to use the hashtag #2009Top10 and I will update the Google doc. Also as 2010 unfolds make every moment a special moment. The following is my reverse chronological thread of my Top 10 memorable moments in 2009. Wishing you all the best in 2010 - The Year of the Tiger!
  1. Burt120px_normal Bytemarks What are your Top 10 memorable moments for 2009? #2009top10 1 day ago from Tweetie
  2. Burt120px_normal Bytemarks What are your Top 10 memorable moments for 2009? Seeing the Star Trek Movie was one for me. Countdown to continue... #2009Top10 about 23 hours ago from web
  3. Burt120px_normal Bytemarks Next memorable moment following a somewhat chronological order is the 2nd Annual Unconferenz held over at JAIMS back in Feb. #2009top10 about 21 hours ago from web
  4. Burt120px_normal Bytemarks # 3 in my list of Top 10 memorable moments is when my Acura Integra died this year which lead to a new Acura TSX. It's all good. #2009Top10 about 20 hours ago from web
  5. Burt120px_normal Bytemarks Continuing the countdown # 4 is work related. It's the formation of the Innovation Team and HMSA 2.0. I consider myself superlucky #2009Top10 about 20 hours ago from web
  6. Burt120px_normal Bytemarks Going to @SXSW for the first time is # 5. I went to a great @guykawasaki party put on by @neenz and met the inspiring @sunnibrown #2009Top10 about 19 hours ago from web
  7. Burt120px_normal Bytemarks Going out on the escort boat to watch @rozsavage continue her trans Pacific solo row was my # 6 memorable moment. #2009Top10 about 18 hours ago from web
  8. Burt120px_normal Bytemarks Spending Summer Solstice on Kaua`i in a valley called Nualolo is # 7 It was a great place to spend the longest day of the year. #2009Top10 about 17 hours ago from web
  9. Burt120px_normal Bytemarks My # 8 is an aircraft carrier. How awesome was it to go out on the @USS_Nimitz? Very awesome! That was a signature moment for my #2009Top10 about 17 hours ago from TweetDeck
  10. Burt120px_normal Bytemarks The Wayfinder Series at HPR is # 9. We had Nainoa Thompson, James Koshiba and Paul Zorner on as speakers. Great storytellers. #2009top10 about 17 hours ago from Tweetie
  11. Burt120px_normal Bytemarks During our ride on the Hokule`a we were visited by A or Hawaiian Booby is my memorable moment # 10. In every moment a connection. #2009Top10 about 16 hours ago from web

New Year 2010 Calendar

Happy New Year 2010For the past 4 or 5 years I been putting together my New Years calendar. I usually spend the day after Christmas, rushing around looking for photos from the previous year to assemble into a one-year view calendar. Then I email it to my printer to get hard copies to hand out (in lieu of Christmas cards). This year I am doing the same thing but will a slightly different twist. I posted the calendar in its original 3.7Mb .jpg file format to Flickr, Posterous, Tumblr,, and here. Not that everyone is out there rushing to get my calendar but in the off chance that I miss giving you one of the hardcopy versions (on card stock, glossy paper) you can print your very own. You might wonder why I am posting to so many places. I just find it interesting how these different services are positioning themselves and the best way to learn what they are doing is to try them. I've reactivated my blog since I now can not only post there from Posterous but also directly from Tweetie 2, the popular Twitter client for the iPhone. It's microblogging meets mega-blogging, to coin a term from Matt Mullenweg. Just a little background on the calendar. I try to find photos which help depict the 5 basic Chinese elements: Wood, Metal, Fire, Water and Earth. The flower arrangement has elements of wood, water and metal (the kenzan), the sunrise is fire and water and the waterfall at Nualolo on Kauai is earth and water. Mochi is for the cuteness factor which isn't one of the 5 basic elements but a requirement for my calendar nevertheless.

Bishop Museum

Bytemarks Lunch - Dec. 17, 2009It's not often that I get to experience the other side of Bishop Museum. By other side I mean the collections side, apart from the main museum exhibits and special events. We got an invitation by Allen Allison, a previous guest on Bytemarks Cafe, to come get a glimpse of their collection from New Guinea. Unbeknownst to me, the Bishop Museum considers the entire Pacific region as their field of study. Dating to more than 50 years ago, scientist J. Linsley Gressitt started studying and collection samples from New Guinea for the Bishop Museum. Allen Allison, VP of Science at the Bishop Museum now continues that tradition. Our first stop was the auto-montage imaging station where Shepherd Myers, shown in the photo, explained how auto-montage works. Images tend to be very dependent on depth of field. When taking an image of scenery, the depth of field is less noticeable. But if you've ever taken a picture of a flower, you will notice that depending on the lighting and aperture setting, the background will be blurry. Depth of field is even more critical when taking pictures of 3D objects like bugs. With software and a high resolution camera, Myers can take 40 images with the focus adjusted to various depths of field and then stitch them together to make one photo comprised of 40 layers. It's quite impressive and an investment in time. Only a small percentage of the 22M specimens in the Bishop Museum collection are photographed with this detail. Bytemarks Lunch - Dec. 17, 2009Our Bytemarks lunch group also got treated to a visit to the collections area where row after row, cabinet after cabinet are filled with the Museum's insect collection. If you are into bugs this is the place to be. It is interesting for a place that contains so many bugs, they take extra care to keep all the live, local varieties out. The Museum provides the service of identifying species to other organizations and the public in general. This could involve sending the specimen to the Museum for identification as New York City did to identify the Asian Longhorn Beetle. Or it could be as simple as sending a photo to the Bishop Museum Flickr group: Ask a Bishop Museum Scientist. Our Bytemarks Lunch outing was obviously too short to experience but a small portion of the collections but it gave us a sense of the vast resource housed at the Museum, the 4th largest in the US. We did get to see what I wanted to personally witness, the giant rat from New Guinea. It was the culmination of a great science outing!

Wayfinder Series – Paul Zorner

Paul Zorner was our third speaker for the Wayfinder Lecture series held tonight at Hawaii Public Radio, Atherton studio. He spoke about how Hawaii's dependence on fuel and food from out of state sources is something we cannot sustain. At some point those external producers of both fuel and food will realize they need it to service their own people. The question is when that last barrel of oil comes to Hawaii will it be because we are self sufficient or will it be because it is needed elsewhere? How prepared will Hawaii be at that point. Most places on the US Continent have other sources of energy to tap; hydro, nuclear, solar, wind, etc. Ninety percent of Hawaii's energy needs are from external sources. Even if we had electric cars, we would still be burning oil to power our electric plants. Zorner's company Hawaii BioEnergy may have a solution. This is the third and last lecture in this Wayfinder series. It started with Nainoa Thompson in July, James Koshiba in August and finally with Paul Zorner. Many people asked me when will the next lecture be. We are looking at Summer 2010. We gotten a lot of positive response from attendees but always welcome your feedback. You may post your comments here and I can share them with the station. Finally, after three tries I got the webcast working. With Nainoa I have video of his talk which I need to compress and post. During James Koshiba's talk I lost Internet access but I do have audio which I will also post. You can watch Paul's talk in it's entirety via Stay tune as I work through my content backlog.

Native Hawaiian Snail, Not!

Update 9/19/09: The Discovery Channel website has since updated their Native Hawaiian Snail picture with an actual Achatinella photo. While researching news items for Bytemarks Cafe I came across this story on the Discovery website about rats devastating the Native Hawaiian snail population. Interesting story but I was taken aback by this photo supposedly depicting one of our native snail species. African Snail The snail in the photo is of the specie: Achatina fulica originally from East Africa, now common in Hawaii. These varieties can grow quite large and can quickly devour a home garden. The adult female carries hundreds of eggs allowing it to proliferate in Hawaii's tropical climate. During the wet winter season is when the African snail populations explode. Rats and African snails have coexisted in Hawaii for many generations and I don't detect any decrease in these snail populations due to rats. On the other hand the Native Hawaiian tree snails or Achatinella live exclusively in the native forests primarily feeding on a native fungus living on the leaves of the ohia or kopiko. This specialized diet keeps the Achatinella inexorably linked to the native forest. It takes about 7 years to reach reproductive maturity. At this point they will bear one keiki (baby) snail per year. Without any natural predators the Achatinella never adapted mechanisms against external threats as devastating as rats. I did contact the web team (via email) to point out their error. I got this message in reply from Viewer-Relations:
"We sincerely appreciate you taking the time to write us and for bringing this matter to our attention.  Please know that we will take your comments under advisement."
As you can see the site has yet to be corrected. Of course I do this with the hope that accurate information about Hawaii is portrayed, especially as it pertains to our people, places and native ecosystem. Here's to hoping it gets fixed soon.

Summer Solsitice (pt. 2)

Several days have gone by since spending the Solstice day at Nualolo on Kauai. Being back in the urban life of Honolulu it's easy to see the contrast of place. As obvious as it is, I am still processing what it all means. We live in the city but the brief moment we spend in the wilderness is full of sustainence. When going to a place like Nualolo, you will feel a connection with the land all around you, up close and personal. The photo to the right is of a fresh water spring in Nualolo. It typifies the life bestowing jewel of the valley. My friend Kelvin describes these experiences as gateways. These gateways could be physical, like swimming from one point to another, or hiking or entering a waterfall and then emerging from it. Gateways could also be spiritual, going from one level of consciousness to another. I'll give you an example. I am not a water person and don't take to the ocean as some of my friends. I have a lot of respect for the ocean and know how foreign it is to me. It could be characterized by fear but over the years I think I've dealt with it head on. Right now, it is more apprehension. There were sections of this trek that took us into some open waters. As I launched into the deep I could feel my body tensing up, my legs were getting tired and my breath became short. As I felt this fear welling up in me I realized there was nothing to be fearful of. I could see the spotters and the early morning swells were small. I let go and relaxed. My legs relaxed, my breath became steady and I enjoyed the moment. The beach landing was challenging as the waves crashed onto the boulders but I had already given into the moment and rode the waves in as best as I could. The less I fought the easier it got. The swim back was 6 hours later and after a long day of hiking. The afternoon trades were blowing and waves were bigger than in the morning. Again I could feel the apprehension welling up in me. When it was my turn to time the wave, I let go and slid out into the surf, like a monk seal as Kat would say. It was rougher in the afternoon, in all honestly the waters were very accommodating. When I landed I felt a sense of accomplishment. I had made it through another gate. The final gate was the zodiac ride from Nualolo to Port Allen. It was a solid hour on the open ocean with the zodiac going full throttle. I had one hand on the rail, one on the rope and sat on the zodiac side. It was like riding a bronco but there were times I felt like I was in 2001 - A Space Odyssey going through a votex in space. It was the wind, water and up & down ride that was so immersive. If that wasn't a gateway I don't know what is. As you can see there were many moments of transformation. An experience like this has helped me to understand myself, my connection to the land and to my fellow companions. I will be processing this for many days to come. More importantly, I will seek the linkages between the grounding I felt in Nualolo and daily life. It's all a state of mind.