Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Paul Allen's Reef at its Very Best

    This has been a delightful week in Kailua Kona.  Its been dry and cool with blue skies every day.   And we have enjoyed some time with friends and had some very productive experiences at the beach.
Stocky Hawkfish Looking Up.  Kahalu'u  December 2018

      A few days ago Sandra and I went down to Kahalu'u, our first time back there since we returned from the mainland.   Sandra wore her wet suit, but the water really wasn't all that cold, still around 80, and it was fairly clear.  There were plenty of fish, but nothing especially noteworthy.  I saw one of those small shrimp that like to perch on the coral, only to disappear by the time one has his camera adjusted for a shot.  As the shrimp had vanished I took a picture of his surrogate, the stocky hawkfish who was hanging out nearby.  Its a pretty exposure and I hope you will forgive me for showing you a picture taken from above.  The stocky hawkfish is not especially rare, but it is a bit skittish...it is very unusual to dive down to get a side view without Mr. Stocky slipping into the coral.

    While I was getting my shower, Sandra put the camera to good use, nabbing this picture of the
Playing Ukuleles Island Style  photo courtesy of the Redoubtable SKG
ukulele group that seems to be at the Kahalu'u shelter in the mornings.  They play while we are getting ready to snorkel and their songs have a way of getting stuck in my head in such a way that it provides the background music, however insipid, for the swim.  On this day it was Island Style.  A tune with which I was previously unfamiliar, but still seemed to play over and over while I circled the bay.

   Two days later we met Peter and Marla at Ho'okena.  For us it was the doable 40 minute drive.  For them, coming all the way from Kapa'au, it was almost two hours.  In hopes of having mild surf conditions, we made this excursion on Saturday.  Getting there around 9 AM, there was still plenty of parking and we were able to nab a spot at the table under the banyan tree.  There really is nothing like sitting in the cool shade right by a beautiful beach in Hawaii.  I don't mean to be boastful, but its
With Kroppjean Patience and Persistence.
pretty sweet.

    Our friends had made this long journey with some good fish watching in mind.  Suffice it to say I felt a small amount of pressure.  But not to worry,  Ho'okena yielded up its four specialties: flame angelfish (which lives in a large coral head with its cousin the Potter's angelfish),  garden eels and bridled and gilded triggerfish.  It took Marla to spot the first flame angel.  After that the four specialties fell like dominoes.  The water was clear and its always fun to swim with friends, but we did not see anything unusual.

   Towards shore, on the way out, Sandra and I encountered a really nice finescale triggerfish...big and creamy white.  Naturally this shy species made getting a good picture as difficult as she could.

   We also saw a school of  keel tailed needlefish.  Keeltails are the most commonly encountered
 Big, Blue Keeltailed Needlefish  Ho'okena December 2018
needlefish.  You see them at the surface, so a snorkeler is actually looking up at them.  Usually they are small and largely translucent.  And they swim in a school, turning this way and that in perfect unison, like a flock of songbirds. These guys were nothing like that.  They were swimming in mid-water, actually interacting with one another.  And they were remarkably large and a lustrous, rich blue.   I really wanted to turn them into a school of Heller's barracuda.   If you look carefully, you will even see a shiny blue lateral line. It is reasonable to surmise that this was a breeding group of keeltailed needlefish.

    By the time I was done enjoying them, my compatriots had deserted me and I made my way ashore unaccompanied.

   Back at our table in the shade, we ate an early lunch and looked at each other's pictures.  On this day, Peter was shooting with a Sony camera in a housing.  And he was also wearing what looked like six pounds of lead...maybe more.  Suffice it to say I was out gunned.  He showed us a killer picture of
Bali.  Come for the fish.  Return for the people.
a gilded triggerfish.  To be fair, in addition to lead and a good camera, Peter possesses a great deal of patience and persistence.  Perhaps if you sign on to his blog, onebreathkohala, you will find that
picture of the gilded trigger.

   As you may know from reading this blog, Peter and Marla liked Bali so well that they went back, having returned to the Big Island about the same time we returned from Mexico.  We were still debriefing them and uncovered a useful detail.  They did not have a driver pre-arranged; when they arrived in Denpassar they chose a likely lad from the mob of solicitors that one encounters as he leaves customs.  Is this more dangerous than hailing a taxi on the streets of Mexico City?  Looked at in the proper pessimistic light, either one might seem foolish heading towards a death wish.  On the other hand, this seems to have worked out fine.  they used the man from the mob for a couple more transfers and then picked up another driver off the street, maybe in Ubud, and used him for several more transfers, going as far as Pemuteran.  And back.  Which despite the excellent snorkeling on the north west
The Coral Croucher outside the late Paul Allen's lagoon.  Finally!
corner of this magic island, is a good thing.

   The government of Indonesia sends me 200 rupiah (approximately 10 cents US) for each one of you that I talk into going to Bali, so I have a vested interest in passing on these travel tips.

    Which brings us to yesterday.

    In the morning we hosted my long lost friends from Salem Hospital to a delicious Hawaiian breakfast.  Bagels from Safeway, muffins from Costco, POG from Target and Yuban dark roast.  We did at least throw in some yummy papayas from the market by the library.  I had not seen these two ladies in what we calculated to be 12 years, but happily we were all in acceptable condition and we had a wonderful time talking about Hawaii and Salem and what not.  After I forced them to look at the fish on the Christmas tree and the bathroom wall (this fish thing really has gotten out of hand) we loaned them some powerful fins and
Potter's Angelfish looking out of his Coral Cave.  Paul Allen's Reef December 2018
made plans to meet at City of Refuge tomorrow.

I thought that they were going to rent masks at Snorkel Bob's and spend the rest of the day acquainting themselves with their new equipment.  As Sandra and I arrived at the pier an hour or so later, I texted Kathy to let her know that she could borrow an underwater camera on Wednesday.  She texted back saying that they were at the Harbor House (drinking beer and eating giant hamburgers.)  So I'm not so sure they took that introductory swim.  Get with the program!

   I texted back, "Have a Firerock for me!" and headed into the Inner Harbour in front of the King Kam Hotel, where the water was now on the south side of eighty.

     I was happy to make it out past the heiau and the breakwater into the warmer ocean.  I swam straight across the little bay to pick up where I left off more than two months ago. It took me a minute or two to find the same head of cauliflower coral that I have been observing.  But it is still there, and so is the pair of coral crouchers!  I believe it is safe to say that this very same unusual and uncommon fish has been in the very same coral for four months.  Parvenu that I am, I hate to say this, but this borders on real  
The usual look at a speckled scorpionfish.  December2018, Kailua Pier
science.  Being by myself, I was able to approach my mission with Kroppjean patience and persistence and was rewarded, at long last, with a picture of the croucher, tucked as deep as he could wiggle his plump, speckled body into his coral amparo.

     That last word comes from the Cuban classic, Guantanamera.  In the traditional lyrics, it is a buck deer that is searching for his monte amparo.  Mountain hideaway to the Spanglishly challenged.  In my lyrics, and it is well within the Cuban tradition to write new lyrics to Guantanamera, it is a pes en la bahia, que busca un coral amparo.   Suffice it say, in whatever language one chooses, this pair of crouchers is well established in their amparo. And, at last, Ive got proof.

     The swim wasn't over.  Around the point, I looked for the yellowtail filefish without success.  I then swam ten yards off shore to look for Potter's angel.  I didn't see one, by I took notice of a lone staghorn coral growing bravely among all the detritus of his bygone relatives.  I dove to take a look at what he might be harboring and suddenly off to my left was a Potter's.  This guy was nosing in and out of a small window in the dead coral and allowed me to photograph him on three dives before disappearing.  This was only about 12 feet deep, so it was a
Speckled Scorpionfish  Sebastapistes coniorta. Kailua Pier December 2018
reasonable chance.

    Finally it was time to head for the barn.  As I approached the breakwater, I found another cauliflower coral to examine.  To my delight, there was, in addition to coral blenny, a fine speckled scorpionfish living in the folds of the coral. This species is sort of like the coral croucher:  obscure, small and hides in Pocillipora coral.  In each respect, the  speckled scorpion is a bit less so, but still it is a fishwatcher's fish to be sure and no one else would be aware of it.

The five stripe wrasse shoots up the side of a rock. 

     These were ideal conditions.  the water was clear and not moving very fast, the coral was only four feet down and there was a firm piece of dead coral nearby to use for a hand hold.  On my first attempt I got the fish in its usual attitude, lying across the leaf with its head facing down.  On my second attempt, he moved, lacing his body flat across a recess.  However, form the standpoint of hiding, he made a poor choice and ended up in a spot where he was still accessible to my prying camera.  Snap, snap, snap.  And whadya know?  Not a shabby picture of a species devilishly difficult to photograph.  And don't you just love the coral blenny peering from around the corner?

    In putting together the blog, I had the chance to search for the species name in John Hoover's book.  It is a testimony to how difficult this fish is, that the picture you see here is dramatically better than John's.  Did I just break my arm patting myself on the back? Maybe.

    Thinking that it had been a wonderfully productive swim, I made it over the rip rap and into the
Five Stripe Wrasse.  Thallasoma quinquevittatum  Kialua Pier December 2018
channel opposite the pier.  Suddenly, in the moving water there was an unusual, small wrasse.  About the size and shape of a smaller saddleback wrasse, this guy had a green base and a variety of rose colored markings.  Honestly, I couldn't figure out what I was looking at, but with that rose colored streak across his upper flank, I knew it was not a usual suspect.  Although he was a very fast moving fish, he stayed with me for several minutes and I took at least a dozen pictures.  As is so often the case, the last photograph was the best.  it wasn't until we got home and Sandra and I could look at the books and compare them with the pictures that we decided this was a five stripe wrasse.

   So variable is this fish, that John Hoover provides four pictures in his book.  Our fish corresponds well to the initial phase, male or female photograph.  

   In my defense, not only is this fish always fast moving and found in surging water, but it is extremely variable in coloration.  Back on the beach at Ho'okena, the persistent Peter Kroppje noted that frequently we are taking pictures of fast moving fish in moving water.  Hence, nothing is still and the result is bound to be blurry.  Unknowingly, he described this situation in spades.

   At last the swim was done and we headed for shore. But I had one more treat in store.  As I finished my shower a veritable giant approached.  Over seven feet tall, he hung a purple bag on one of the
Uncle Tui is now the quartebacks coach for Cal. 
hooks.  Noting the W on his chapeau, I asked, "Is that a Washington W?"  Indeed it was!  the giant's name was Patrick and he is here for two months.  He asked if I was going to the Rose Bowl and we agreed that it was a little much from here.  He then revealed that his nephew played center for the Huskies and hiked the ball to Marques Tuiasosopo.  A few of you may not be aware of Tui, but he is my favorite player of all time.  He was not tall enough for a pro team to believe in him...all he could do was win.   Patrick went on to tell me that his nephew now has a house on Hood Canal and that a couple summers ago Tui came to visit for 4th of July.  At a nearby Indian reservation he pretty much bought out the fireworks stand and, according to Patrick, they damn near burned down his nephew's house.  Now each year at 4th of July, his children want to know if Uncle Tui is coming.

    Thanks to you all for being such patient and persistent readers.  We wish you a Merry Fishmas and a micro-brew beer.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

The Juvenile Raccoon Butterflyfish at Mahukona

    As Friday approached, Sandra was becoming progressively anxious.  This was a day full of scheduling conflicts.  In the morning we had an appointment to meet with Nick the Handyman.  Starting on Wednesday our neighbor Lonnie started pleading for a ride to the airport for a 9 AM
If your gonna beat the Utes, you gotta dress sharp.
departure to Kauai.  In the late afternoon we had a long standing obligation to take our house sitters, Anita and Brian, back to dear old KOA.  Who could have anticipated several months previous when we agreed to that transfer that our beloved Huskies would be in the PAC-12 Championship game kicking off against University of Utah Utes at 3:30.

   These are not the same Utes that Joe Pesci defended in his hilarious classic My Cousin Vinny, but a bit of searching on the internet left no doubt that the Utah partisans are big fans of this movie.  If the NCAA decides that Utah may no longer use the Indian tribe, excuse me, Native Americans, as a mascot the partisans may well dress up in burgundy tails.

    By Thursday morning I had an idea that, if it wouldn't make things easier, might make them more enjoyable.  Noting that St. Nick, being an independent sort of fellow, was making noises about getting here when he could, I proposed that we give him a pass (he could come on Monday instead)
Juvenile Pink Tail Triggerfish, Mahukona, November 2018
and after dropping Lonnie and Anne off at the airport, we could go to Mahukona.  After all, by the time we got to KOA we would be a third of the way to Kawaihae.  Why not make the best of it?

   After Nick happily accepted a postponement, I dropped a quick text to Peter, our fish watching friend from Kapa'au.  Peter was on it like an Alabama State Trooper on a hapless teenage driver.  We were on for 8:30.

    But the best was yet to come.  Shortly after dinner, Lonnie texted us, saying that their real estate agent would take them to the airport at 7 AM.  The following morning, as I was gathering our snorkeling gear, Sandra called from the bedroom.  Anita had broken her washing machine, could not store her car as planned, and this parlayed into her real estate agent getting them to the airport.  Or picking up their car.  Who cares about the details?  We were free to watch he Monsters of Montlake fight the dreaded Utes, no leaving halfway through the fourth quarter for taxi duty.  And they say there isn't a God!

    And so we found ourselves motoring care free up The Queen Q highway on a brilliant Friday
Maui rising majestically behind Marla.
morning.  As we approached Waikoloa the Kohala mountains were gorgeous.  Not only that, but in the distance Maui rose out of the ocean in unprecedented glory.

    Peter and Marla were waiting for us by the bay.  We hadn't seen them in two months so we had some catching up to do before we went swimming.  You may recall that a year or so ago, we went fishwatching together to Bali.  Our friends liked it so well that they went back for three weeks and just returned two weeks ago.  Peter is an exceptionally talented underwater photographer and if you enjoy my humble efforts, you should sign on to his blog, onebreathkohala, where he is posting some remarkable photos from their recent trip.

    It was a big high tide yesterday at Mahukona and this is nothing but good.  The water was just at the top of the ladder so getting in was like slipping into a swimming pool.  Once in the water, I looked around and thought, "What a bunch of fish."  Among other things, two Achilles tangs were swimming right in front of me.  And that was just for starters.

    As we reconnoitered, Peter alerted me that there were juvenile pink tail triggerfish in the bay.  This is a moderately unusual juvenile that I have seen only a handful of times before.  Instead of a pink tail
Juvenile Raccoon butterflyfish, Mahukona November 2018
they have one of dark orange.  Otherwise, they are the same in size and behavior, e.g. skittish.  Within a few strokes I saw three of these interesting fish. Bonanza! Unlike what I have seen in the past, which is also the way they are described in field guys, these guys boasted tails ranging from a light orange through yellow, almost to chartreuse.  I figure that they don't have enough carrots in their diet.  Perhaps they have substituted some of the romaine lettuce that we have been disposing of by the ton.

    Before heading out, I took a few minutes to photograph these fish.  I thought I had the perfect picture, but when I got it home, I found that I had been shooting into the sun; it was only 8:30 and the
Christmas comes to Casa Ono.
sun was low in the south east sky.  So in preparing this picture for you I had to deal with a lot of scattered light.  Still, it gives you a pretty good idea of the coloration.

   On my way out to the north side of the bay, I spotted a female pearl wrasse.  Usually a plummy red, this lady was fairly dark, still bearing the myriad of white spots that gives the species its common name.  This fish used to be fairly common around Kailua, but we don't see it no mo'.  So this was a treat. 

   Out in the deep middle Marla spotted an octopus about 30 feet down.  He was working with a goatfish.  Naturally, despite multiple attempts, the camera was unable to take a picture of the octopus.  Instead, I'm presenting a picture of Marla in snorkeling regalia.  But what is that rising behind her?  Maui!

    On the south side of the bay we found a dozen or so milletseeds.  On the way in we saw one of my favorites, a juvenile Christmas wrasse with red and white patches forward and some spotted blue aft with a yellow tail.

A second look at the remarkable juvenile 'coon.
   But the best was yet to come.  Just opposite the ladder is a monumental chain which leads eventually to a giant anchor.  the links are damn near a foot in length and five inches thick.  covered with blue green coralline algae.  It would make a tremendous ornament in a giant's aquarium.  I was following the chain towards shore, just getting ready to make my turn to the ladder, when I spotted a small butterflyfish.  He was using the chain for cover, but I was able to dive down and hold onto one of the links, waiting until he appeared in the open.  And it was worth the wait, this was an adolescent size raccoon butterfly.  Look carefully and you will see an occulus above the tail and that distinctive black wing behind the white mask line.  Once out in the open, he remained in place long enough for six quick shots.

   In my humble estimation, this is a rare sighting.  Certainly it is the first of my storied career.  (Don't believe all the stories you hear.)  Just under two years ago I did a show entitled the keikis of the reef, in which I made four of the possible juvenile butterflies.   We see the teardrop and four spot routinely in the late summer.  And in another lucky encounter I was able to follow a keiki blacklip as he
On Friday night Judge Chamberlain Haller declared the Utes out of order.
developed for a month in the shallows by the Kailua pier.  However, I had to use the field guides for pictures of the keiki ornate, which I still haven't seen, and the raccoon.  This year I have used those baby butterflies to decorate the top of our Christmas tree, so I was very well prepared to name this fish.

 John Hoover says that the juvenile 'coon can be found in tidepools.  All I have to say is that Mahukona is the best tidepool for fishwatching on the leeward side of the Big Island.


PS.  In a hard fought struggle the Dogs held off the Ute's to earn a berth in the 2019 Rose Bowl.  Go Huskies!

That's what I'm talking about!



Thursday, November 29, 2018

Is the Kona Pier Worthy?

    We have returned from our travels, surviving grandchildren, a multitude of wonderful Mexicans and a brace of airports.  Somewhere along the way, Sandra picked up a virus.  Between getting her well, catching up with two months worth of gardening and all the other details, it took more than a week for me to get into the water.  This was made all the more dramatic as I needed to shave my vacation beard prior to snorkeling. 
Stripe Belly Puffer,  Kahalu'u 2015

    For my inaugural swim, I made my way down to the Kona pier.  Home, sweet home.  We are in a period of significant swell and each day we watch the surfers down at Banyans from the distant safety of our lanai.  Never the less, the pier was remarkably calm for my snorkel.  The water was a bit
cloudy, but not not terribly so.  And the water is only a little cooler than when we left in October; it will drop another ten degrees by the middle of February.

     Mindful of the recreational swimmers I made my way out, seeing a fair representation of usual suspects.  Out by the last swim buoy there was a small stripe bellied puffer on the sand, a mu or two and small scribbled filefish who swam away wiki wiki before we could nab a picture.

    Back by the pier, I slipped under the floating line and checked out the area where the cruise ship
Helmeted Gurnard, three inch juvenile, Kailua Pier, Ironman side, November 2018
boards.  There was nothing special there, either.  At this point I was questioning my judgement.  We have friends coming from Oregon who have been competent snorkelers in the past, but haven't donned their mask and fins in five years.  They are looking forward to going to City of Refuge and Ho'okena and they are considering a snorkel at Mahukona, as well.  They are only going to be here for four days, not counting their days of travel, and I seem to have convinced them that a shakedown snorkel at the pier is a good idea.  Now I'm wondering...is this a waste of their limited time?

   Pondering this as I swam back under the floating line and headed for the shore, I was suddenly confronted by a small gurnard.  He was a handsome little fellow and tolerated multiple photographic approaches.  Here you see the best photo.  It certainly demonstrates those spiny rakes on the edge of his wings, with which he forages for his daily bread.

   This fish is not at all common; we probably see one ever year or so.  And he seemed to be telling me that the pier is still worth a try on a given day.  It certainly was on this one.



Monday, October 8, 2018

Our Aloha Blog

    This week we have been struggling
Kawaihae Harbor  High Tide
to find something special to write about for our aloha blog.  That's right, two days hence the Redoubtable SKG and your humble correspondent will board the silvery bird and head to the land of grandchildren.  Although there will be more snuggles dished out than the average evening with Beverly Goldberg, I doubt if much will happen of a blog-worthy nature while we are in the vicinity of PDX.  But one never knows.  Starting in late October, though, my beloved and I will be in the land of the Aztecs for two weeks.  That should give you something to look forward to.

   But enough about the future.  Let me regale with you what's been happening this last week.   Fish or no fish, the most important thing that occurred was the confirmation of our next supreme court justice.  Political shenanigans aside, and I assure you there were more than a few, we will be snorkeling with Bart O'Kavanaugh for the rest of my lifetime.  And unless you are the youngest of my readers, probably your lifetime, as well
The Mauloa, Sailing Masters and the Charter School
  Que lastima.   That's Aztec for pass the tequila.

   Here on the windward coast, while the nefarious senator Grassley was screwing the pooch, Sandra and I did our best to find a fish or two.  Five days ago we made the pilgrimage to Kawaihae harbor.   In doing so, we made a significant mistake...not checking the tides.   When we arrived, the tide was really high, so much so that it covered the base of the platforms.  In addition to cloudy water, neither of us felt safe swimming under those submerged platforms.  We saw a few fish, but nothing earth shaking.

    The action in the sweet little park beside the harbor was another story.   There beneath the trees, a benevolent deity had parked a koa outrigger sailing canoe.  When we returned from our swim, there was a class of red shirted students and a sailing master who explained about this interesting vessel. 
Svelte Ironpeople wash off after a training swim.  Kailua Kona pier  2018
At the end of his talk, after the students and the sailing master had blessed the canoe and each other with a long and complicated chant in Hawaiian, we were able to corner the skipper and get the skinny on the boat.

   The name of the boat is Mauloa.  Her hull was crafted from a single koa trunk harvested on the slopes of Mauna Loa.  Carving was done entirely by hand and the master, who introduced himself as Maulili, stated that this was the first sailing canoe built with ancient methods in 250 years.  He called her an island canoe.  Unlike Hokule'a, she was not intended for long open ocean voyages and has
spent most of the last 25 years in the waters around the Big Island.  Her furthest sail has been to Honolulu, a voyage of some significance in our opinion.

Finescale Triggerfish  Kailua Kona 2018    Devil with the blue lips.

    The rest of the week has been spent gardening, packing and cleaning, but I have been lucky enough to squeeze in two swims at the pier.   A few days ago I had a nice swim on the PAR, touching bases with the coral croucher and his court of guard crabs, but seeing little else.

Collector urchin adheres to the cowry with blood crab.
     As it is October, the Ironman is upon us.  On that day I had the pleasure of meeting two
competitors from the Czech Republic.  My policy is, when I hear folks jabbering in some inscrutable tongue, I ask them, during a break in the dialogue, where they are from.  This guy, unfortunately for him, was the recipient of my friend Bud Hanzel's comment that there is no such thing a a bad check.  A bad Pole perhaps, but never a bad Czech.  Suffice it to say, that Ironman couldn't get away quickly enough.

   Today was our last chance to find a fish for the next five weeks.   The tide was high again and the water was really warm, maybe 88℉.  It was clear and since it was the afternoon, most of the Ironmen had done their swim training hours earlier...the chance of getting mowed down was greatly reduced.

   Out by the last swim buoy I happened upon a finescale triggerfish.  More often than not, this species is skittish.  This fellow, however, was very cooperative.  When I dove for a picture he rolled
Come out, come out,wherever you are.  Blood crab hiding in the cowry.
on his side, providing me with a nice profile.  Later, back at the ranch, Sandra remarked upon his blue lips.  As previously noted, the water wasn't all that cold, so I think this individual just happens to have really swell kisser.

    The aloha swim was winding down and I was approaching shore when I noticed a cowry shell motoring with true determination across a coral.  As you can see from the pictures, this shell, almost two inches in length, was well covered with gray detritus that matched the dead coral to a tee.  Had it not been moving, it would have escaped notice.  I swooped down and grabbed it.  Turning it over, I was greeted by a set of gray, hairy legs and two yellow antennae.  This was a bit of a tricky location and I fumbled my prize, watched it roll under a coral, to be followed by a collector urchin I liberated from its perch.

    It took only a moment for me to extract the collector urchin and the cowry hermit from under the coral where they had come to rest.  In this brief minute, the collector urchin had already formed a
Blood Crab Kahalu'u 2013  Gray hairy legs and yellow antennae.
bond with the cowry to the extent that when I lifted the urchin with my gloved hand, the cowry came along.  The internet reports that collector urchins manipulate objects onto their test with their tube feet.  And there are reports of the adhesives that all urchins produce to seal leaks in their various hydraulic systems.  In my quick search I could not find a description of the adhesive used on the outside of collector urchins to secure runaway hermit crabs, but I can report that the adhesion was impressive.

    Once liberated from his new host, I positioned the cowry shell this way and that in hopes that in hopes that the blood hermit crab (for that is surely what this hermit was) would make an appearance.  In my experience, this species of hermit is often found in tritons, but i have seen it in auger shells, as well.  This was the first time I have seen a blood hermit in a cowry shell.

   Three times the hermit made an escape when I was otherwise occupied.  After his third disappearance, I called it a day.  God willing, he is out there making new crabs even as you read these words.

     I see a blood hermit about once a year and, despite not getting a picture, I got a good look and it was a great end to the aloha snorkel.  Look for our blogs from Mexico.

Hasta luego,

   While we are in Oregon our good friends from Calgary, Anita and Brian will be looking after Casa Ono.  Anita will attempt to hold up the fish watching end while Brian sips a cool drink and edits science fiction novels.  

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Snorkeling With Bart O'Kavanaugh

   This week the blog comes to you from the land of Bart O'Kavanaugh, where up is down, things go
Bart O'Kavanaugh.  I think I'm going to ralph.
sideways and, when all else fails, you can have another beer.  Beer is a judicial beverage.  I like beer.   So does Bart.

  A couple days ago I went snorkeling down at the pier.  the giant cruise ship that goes back and forth between Vancouver and Sydney was anchored off shore and there was a veritable mob on the mean streets of Kailua.

     While I was getting ready, I had a nice conversation with a young man who had just completed a training swim.  He was from So Cal, down near Oceanside and his uncle lives here in Kailua.  As you might guess, he was here preparing for the Ironman.  And yes, we need to be more careful out on the highways and byways, for the Ironmen are zipping hither and thither on their bicycles.  Best to forego that judicial beverage if you're going to drive in Kona this week.

A trio of juvenile moorish idols, Kailua Bay September 2018
     Considering how many people were hanging around the pier, there were relatively few in the water.  The water was pleasant, in the mid eighties, and not all that cloudy considering that there has
been some pretty good surfing conditions over the last few days.  Not to mention several days of rain.  

    On the way out I saw nothing, but did manage to run into the only other snorkeler in the bay.  Luckily, neither of us was a belligerent swimmer.  We shook hands and promised to meet out at the old airport later in the day where the 100 Keg or Bust event was being hosted by Mark Judge.   What an appropriate name for the purveyor of judicial beverages.  N'est pas?

A flowery flounder regards us with his widely spaced peepers.  Kailua 2018
     Shortly after that friendly collision, I saw a large, pale flatfish.  Despite its lack of remarkable pattern, it was probably a flowery flounder.  to paraphrase John Lennon, "Its all in the eyes, you know."  This guy has widely spaced eyes to the left of his mouth, which, I am sad to say (because I always want it to be a rare fish) is pretty much the end of the story.  Regardless, there is something compelling about these strange, compressed fish who fly across the sand like Alladin's magic carpet.

    Its almost enough to get one humming the eponymous rock classic by Steppenwolf, which I am told was on the sound track of the 100 Keg spectacular out at the Old Airport

    Small groups of juvenile Moorish Idol were in residence and virtually begged to have their picture taken.  And then, close in, I discovered a juvenile barred filefish and a lagoon triggerfish messing with something under a coral.  The spotted juvenile filefish is a late summer specialty.   Ordinarily he
A juvenile (17 perhaps) filefish and a Lagoon Trigger looking for beer.
is quite shy and I don't think I have ever seen him working with another fish ... file, trigger or otherwise.   Eventually the three of us tired of this rendezvous and went our separate ways, the fish to gnaw on a hunk of coral and I, your candidate of choice, in search of a beer.  Did I mention that I like beer? 

   Apres swim I was showering with a young, tall gentleman from Australia.  In fact,  he was dousing his children as well as himself.  I asked if he was here for the Ironman and he replied no.  He was off the cruise ship.  Over the next minute or so he revealed that the family of four had flown to LA, gone to Disneyland etc., flown to Vancouver and boarded the ship the very next day.  They were going to disembark a couple days hence and fly home to Sydney from HNL.  Such a family man was this bloke that he called this pilgrimage a holiday.
Photo courtesy of Chuck Hill the Younger.  Preposterous!

    As a bit of a post script, I would like to bring your attention to a photo that found its way into the blog's in-box.  It appears to have been taken on the slopes of Mauna Kea within the last month. When I showed it to Sarah Sanders, she pronounced it preposterous.  But, as Sarah knows, presumably better than most, truth is in the eye of beholder. 


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

How To Fix a Mask Leak and Vice Versa

The Lord Krishna, Preserver of Fishwatchers.
    For those of you who are regular readers, you will have noticed a hiatus in the blogs.   This was the direct result of an encounter that your faithful correspondent had with the dermatologists.  That's right, plural, they ganged up on me.  The first assailant, Dr. Sousko, did three biopsies and discovered a lesion on my left lower eyelid that he deemed a possible carcinoma.   As a parting shot, he told me
that I should stay out of the ocean for a week.

   Being the consummate squeaky wheel, I got in to see the dermatologic surgeon a few days later.  The exotic and mysterious Dr. Paniker took care of the basal cell cancers on my left shoulder and right flank, creating open lesions each just smaller than a dime.  Parenthetically, I would note that dimes may seem small until they are favorably compared with gaping holes in your integument.  She
Nothing like a couple Dos Equis to cure a mask leak.
also biopsied the lesion on my eyelid and did it with such skill and precision that I am still enjoying the gift of binocular vision.  Hare Krishna!

   Dr. Paniker called just two days later to tell me that the biopsy on my eyelid was not cancer ... she had given it a 50-50 chance and that second 50 would have involved taking a divot out of that eyelid that would make Arnold Palmer proud.   Dr. P. and I go way back, so after she dispensed the good news,  I gave her a recommendation for Abhirucchi Indian restaurant in Vancouver.  She, in turn, gave me a recommendation.  No swimming for two weeks.

   During periods when, for some reason or another, I am not able to don a snorkel mask, I have been known to dispense with shaving.  And so for the next ten days I did (or didn't) do just that.  Beard growing is enjoying a certain renaissance.  Stephen Colbert and Alex Trebeck, among other luminaries are now sporting whiskers.  While I didn't look like the fellow who shills for Dos Equis or his look alike that ran off with Cher at the end of Mama Mia (Here We Go Again!) the beard was gaining a surprising level of approval.  Sandra liked it.  And last Sunday, the day before the beard was supposed to come off, it received the nod of approval from the guy who was greeting at the Lutheran Church. He has a beautiful young wife, so I don't think he was trying to
I dig your style, dude.  Now let's go snorkeling.
hit on me.  But it was a nice beard.

    If you excel at things associated with the calendar, like how many days before the start of Festivus, you may have noted that Wednesday to Monday does not quite add up to a fortnight.  Never the less, being a scoff law and an iconoclast, I had decreed that Monday was the day I would reenter the deep blue sea.  Now, on Sunday night, with my rendezvous with destiny just around the corner, I was faced with a dilemma:  to shave or not to shave.  What should have been an easy decision was dramatically altered by my son Charles' recent visit.  Chuck sports a beard that would put Jeffrey Lebowski to shame.  AND YET, after purchasing a Cressi mask from comely and bejeweled Ms. Alex at Kona Honu Divers, he was able to snorkel with barely a leak.  He saw two tiger sharks wearing that mask, for crying out loud!

    Suffice it to say, vanity got the best of me and I decided to take the beard snorkeling.  The next
So its  lagoon triggerfish you are wanting to be.
morning found me on the beach in front of the King Kam, bewhiskered but game.  As I was getting in the water I struck up a conversation with a nice young lady in a wide brimmed hat, the type that I used to wear sailing but now believe that it makes me look too much like a geek.  The hat looked pretty good on her, though.  She was watching her two girls, three and five if I'm not mistaken, argue over a boogie board.  After she settled their hash, we had a pleasant chat during which she revealed that she was from Perth.

    On further questioning she stated that her mother-in-law, who lives a safe distance away in Tasmania,  watches birds when she comes to Western Australia to visit.  And there is a worthy wine district, Margaret River, three hours to the south. (of Perth, not Tasmania.)

    Western Australian milfs could delay destiny only so long, and soon I had my mask in place and I was snorkeling across the Inner Harbour.  Quicker that you could say, "Water up your nose." I knew
Lagoon Triggerfish, Kahalu'u May 2013
that this was a bad idea.  Even in the protected lagoon I was surfacing to empty the mask about once  a minute.  Amazingly, for one could hardly be expected to watch fish while getting water boarded, I immediately found something interesting.  There was a tiny fish working around a weed covered rock, pecking at it every now and then.  He was creamy white below and had a variety markings on his dorsum.  For a young child, he was modestly friendly, more engaging than Sheila's daughters, that's for sure.  Once he approached me face to face, as if to measure the level of seawater in my mask.  It soon became apparent that this was an extreme juvenile lagoon triggerfish.  I dove him and attempted a few pictures, only one of which actually captured the fish in focus.

   Several times, but not this summer, I have encountered rectangular triggerfish in the early stage of their career as the designated representative of the Kingdom of Hawaii.  To the best of my recollection, this is my first extreme juvenile lagoon triggerfish.  Out on the reef, the rectangular is more common, but the lagoon is far from rare and I have wondered why I never saw one of these little fellows.  Now
Crenulated Auger, T. crenulatus   King Kam  September 2018
I have.

    Not to be deterred by mask leak, I made my way out past the heiau and into the small bay.  There was  a modest chop on Monday; suffice it to say, that didn't make things better in the leaking mask department.  In explaining this adventure to my beloved, I had referenced my ongoing experiment with the coral croucher.  Brave and water-logged soul that I am, I did make it to the entrance of Paul Allen's lagoon and located the correct coral. As I have previously stated, this is made easier by the relative dearth of live branching corals in this locale.  I am pleased to announce that the coral croucher was still there, sequestered deep in his calciferous abode.

    Fun is fun, but having been emptied a couple dozen times my mask was fogging badly and I headed back into the lagoon.  Before landing, I always look in the sand, mostly hoping for a gurnard.  This time I found the crenulated auger that you you see here.  The snail was still in the shell and I attempted to leave him undisturbed.

                              🐟     🐟      🐟     🐟     🐟     🐟     🐟     🐟      🐟     🐟     🐟     🐟

A Beutiful Day at Black Sand Beach 49
    Yesterday I got up early and clipped off the beard and shaved.   We had decided to go someplace interesting, in this case Black Sand Beach 49 at the Mauna Lani, the better to induce my sweetie off the beach and into the sea.  As he left, my son the bearded wonder had kindly offered Sandra the
opportunity to try out his new mask.  This, I thought, would be a superb chance. and we transferred Sandra's signature yellow snorkel from her old mask, which is virtually ancient, to the brand new Cressi with the black cowling.  Snazzy, no?  Like Killer Bees.

    It was a gorgeous morning at the Mauna Lani.  The water at BSB 49 was flat and inviting and soon we had traversed the eponymous black sand slope and were in the warm, clear water.  Over on the left we found more live branching corals than I could have hoped for.  A long time ago, in my previous life as a bird watcher, a young stud birder opined that to find a really rare bird, you have to look at every shorebird in a flock of hundreds.  A task of this magnitude is not one for someone with a short attention span. And so I set about examining all the branching corals within a few feet of the surface.  In the process, I found several yellow spotted guard crabs, a couple of which I was able to show to Sandra, and a few speckled scorpionfish, but no unusual crabs or coral crouchers.
Elegant Hermit Crab in an Encrusted Triton   Black Sand Beach 49  September 2018

    What we did find was an old friend, an elegant hermit crab living in a venerable triton shell well encrusted with crimson coralline algae.  Back in the Alii Villas days, we kept one such fellow in the aquarium.  He was the Mikado and as regal a crab as ever plucked a carcass.

   The two of us swam across the bay, loving the warm ,clear water.  In the middle, on the dark sand bottom, we spotted a flea cone down about thirty feet.  Conditions were so good that we swam all the way to the northeast corner of the bay, not seeing anything new.  At this point (we had been swimming for about 40 minutes) Sandra told me that she had been experiencing a persistent mask leak from the very beginning and that her right eye was burning.  What a trooper to keep such a secret for so long.

    Our compadre, Bob Hillis, once remarked that finding a new mask is sometimes very difficult. 
Adolescent Fourspots out looking for trouble.
Although to my eye the new Cressi mask was a perfect fit for Sandra, this was not true in practice.  Sandra can't wait to renew her acquaintance with her tried and true mask.

    We got my sweetie to shore and then I spent another fifteen minutes looking at the corals in the shallows of the west end of the bay.   I'm happy to report that there really are a lot of healthy cauliflower corals in that location. I still didn't find any new crabs, but I did see a nice whitemouth moray hunting in the vicinity of three baby fourspots.  Suffice it to say, I chose my spots for hanging on to the bottom with care,  doing my very best to avoid another bout with the nice surgeons at Kaiser Permanente.


The best way to stop a mask leak is to eat the loco moko at Hana Hou in Na'alehu


Thursday, September 13, 2018

Kona Eco Adventures Part Deux...Birding Hawaii's Ocean

    Hopefully you will recall the first installment of the blog detailing our trip with Deron Verbeck and Super Dave on the Manta.  This narrative picks up following the tiger shark sighting.

    Deron and Super Dave were whooping it up, apparently seeing three or four tigers at the surface,
Other guys (not me!) snorkeling with a whale shark.
one of them fourteen feet, is quite extraordinary.   Among their exultations, they remarked that the presence of the tigers may have inhibited other sharks from rising from the depths in response to the crinkled water bottle.  This internet site, https://www.sharksider.com/tiger-shark/,  suggests that tigers do attack other sharks; it is at least possible that our guides were playing off real tiger shark information.

    Feeling that the presence of those tigers precluded further exploration around the fish farm, our guides decided to head out to sea.  A whale shark had been seen three days in a row in a line of algae bloom off shore.  Among all the other possibilities, this is what we were going to look for.

    As we  headed out, we passed a small fishing boat.  I was on the bridge and Super Dave looking for a large brown smudge.  This. Dave said, is what a whale shark would look like just under the surface of the water. As we cruised along, I remarked on the number of birds working the water around the boat.  He noted that there was a large
Wedge tailed shearwater, Lady Elliot Island, thanks to Kathleen Paske
school of bait fish at the surface on which the birds were feeding,  implying that larger predator fish were just below and the object of the fishermen.  He went on to say that Deron had improved his birdwatching skills and had even participated in some bird related projects.

    Watching birds is not widely regarded as the most manly pursuit, especially when compared to swimming with tiger sharks.  However, it is arguably substantially more intellectual, you don't find many stupid bird watchers 

   It seems hard to believe, but this was the first time I had been more than a mile off shore in Hawaii.  The nice lady in the office, when detailing what we might see, had totally left out the birds.  Consequently I had not cracked a book and was unprepared for this avian challenge.  It is widely accepted that a good birder puts in two to three hours of study for every hour in the field.   Unfortunately,  I hadn't cracked a book and the trusty Swarovski binoculars were back at the ranch.  Luckily I had Deron and Super Dave to help me out.

    The first bird Deron identified was a sharp tailed shearwater.  The more common name for this
The Hawaiian Petrel  Photo Bishop Museum
species is the wedge tailed shearwater.   Shearwaters are tube nose seabirds, a group that contains petrels and albatross.  These sea going alchemists are able to turn salt water into fresh employing a specialized gland in (you guessed it) their nose,  thus enabling them to live at sea for prolonged periods.

     In the Pacific Northwest, where I cut my bird watching teeth, we commonly encounter only a single species of sheaarwater, the sooty shearwater.  Further, we only see that bird during migration. An observant birdwatcher will recognize them just beyond the breakers as he walks a sandy beach in September.  Here in Hawaii, two shearwaters nest on the main islands, wedge-tailed and Newell's.  These colonies have been drastically reduced, primarily by predation by feral cats.

    I tawt I taw a  puddy tat. And it ate us all up!   Bummer!  On our beloved Island in the Pacific, the Newell's shearwater nests at high elevation on the slopes of MaunaKea.  On Maui they nest on Haleakala.  

    Anyway, as we motored along at about ten knots, Sandra came up beside me and said, "Did you get a photograph of that bird?"   Following her indication, I saw a medium sized brown shearwater
If only our breeding seabirds had this kind of protection.
sailing right beside us, perhaps fifty feet away.  I wasn't quick enough to get a picture   If I had been quicker with my camera, I could have taken a picture that looks much like the one shown above.  This handsome photograph was taken by Kathleen Paske off Lady Elliot Island, northeast of Brisbane, Australia.  Lady Elliott is a small Island and, with any luck, the Aussies have been able to keep it puddy tat free.  There are a couple islands in the northwest chain where the less common Christmas Island shearwater breeds along with the wedge tails.  Presumably those islands are cat free.  Deron identified the sharptailed shearwater for us and it was the only species of shearwater that we recorded on the trip.

   A bit later he identified the Juan Fernandez Petrel, Pterordroma externa.   Most likely, this was the Hawaiian petrel, Pterordroma sandwichensis, also called the dark-rumped petrel. The Hawaiians call this tubenose the 'ua'u.  (Don't you just love the okina, the 17th letter in the Hawaian alphabet?)  These birds are in the same genus and look very similar.  Of course, they are widely separated geographically.  As you may recall, the Juan Fernandez Islands are off Chile.   Those far flung islands have been, for the better part of three centuries, proposed as the home of Daniel Defoe's shipwrecked hero, Robinson Crusoe.

Mr. Crusoe searching for the Juan Fernandez petrel.
   These petrels were a bit further away, but so distinctive is their plumage that once one had returned to his field guide there could be no mistaking them.   Unless, of course, he had undergone some sort of multiverse travel experience and he was sitting under a palm tree on a deserted beach, side by side with his man Friday.

    About this time it dawned on me that we did not have precise GPS coordinates for the whale shark and we were cruising back and forth in search of whatever Deron and Super Dave, astute scouts of the pelagic, might spot.  Around noon,  Super Dave yelled mahi, turned the boat and slowed.  The two of them pointed right and said the mahi mahi was attacking a school of bait just off our starboard bow.  Within a minute we watched as a luminous green and turquoise line raced sinuously through the water to the spot they had defined and then swooped abruptly and raced away.  It was both beautiful and, in its own way, quite thrilling.

   By 12:30 we were heading for the barn.  Our guides stopped by a round buoy with a single spire atop which was a booby.  It was the rare dark morph of the red footed booby, one that Deron has staked out.  He said that sometimes there are as many as three at this site.  It was quite scruffy, but once one was alerted, there was no mistaking its dark red feet.

    On our final approach to Honokohau the guides spotted a manta, got us in the water as a group and we chased it for a few minutes.  This was a pelagic manta, as opposed to the reef mantas that we see 
A pelagic manta with remoras off Honokohaua, Big Island.  Note the cephalic fins.  Photo Charles Hill, Canon D10
commonly here in Kona.  It was just under ten feet across.  But wait!  The pelagic manta was a life fish, to be sure, but to her dorsum, near what should pass as a manta's head, were two large remoras.  I had previously seen the smaller remora, E.naucrates, attached to a spinner dolphin.  These guys were the larger cousin, Remora remora.  Also a life fish.

    Charles was the faster swimmer and got the best shot with the redoubtable Canon D10.  If you look carefully you will see not only the large remoras, but the cephalic fins directing water flow on the ventral side of the head.  Good shootin', Chuck!

   This was a great trip.  Both Deron and Dave extremely friendly and knowledgeable, eager to share their knowledge.   If I had to do it over, I would study my sea birds beforehand and I would bring my binoculars, for this is a trip for a well rounded naturalist.  If you are lucky, perhaps you will get to spend a day aboard the Manta with these two superb guides.