Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Snorkeling with the Joy Luck Club

   For the most part,  it was a rainy weekend in Kona.  This afforded me the opportunity to do some gardening in the rain, including the removal of a venerable banana tree.  When I explained to Sandra that gardening in the rain reminded me of what I used to do in Seattle, she replied, "like cutting down banana trees?"  Suffice it to say,it was a rhetorical question.

A Dramatic November Sunset

    How did the banana tree get to be so old?  It bore its single bunch of bananas over a year ago, while we were in Vancouver doing Trick or Treat with Colsen and Reid.  By the time we got back in November there was so much else to do that the old brute was forgotten.  Which doesn't mean it stopped growing.  By the time I tackled it on Saturday morning the trunk was eight inches in diameter and the leaves reached twenty feet skyward.  

    I had offered Vernon Yoder, a harvester of trees par excellence, the opportunity to cut down the tree, but Kathy was adamant; they are not coming to Hawaii this winter, banana tree or no banana tree.  I'm including a picture of Vernon and, his father with the family log truck circa 1960.  And I ask you, "Do you think he could handle a measly banana tree?  

   In addition to the Yoders, this winter we will not see any of our friends from British Columbia. Under current Canadian policy, anyone who leaves the country loses their health insurance.  Lonely us.

Vernon and his Father ca 1960.

    The sky full of clouds yielded some wonderful sunsets, but it wasn't raining all the time.  On Sunday afternoon the sun came out and we took a drive, looking at the throngs of tourists at White Sands beach and Kahalu'u.  Just past  K Bay, Sandra was astounded as she looked at the still barricaded grounds of what was the Keahou Beach Hotel.  She exclaimed, "They've turned it into a golf course!"

   You long time followers of the comings and goings in Kailua Kona will recall that the hotel closed its doors in October of 2012.  We were told at the time that it would be turned into a cultural center.  Over the next five years, the owners of the property, which turns out to be Kamehameha Schools, demolished the building.  That's right.  It took five years!  Talk about Hawaiian time.  For the last two years we have been looking at a vacant lot. Just a few days ago we spotted a flowing lawn with a few picnic tables.  No shelter whatsoever. Is this Kamehameha Schools idea of a cultural center?  

The Kahalu'u Cultural Center,  photo SKG
   Being vulnerable kapunas, we tend not to go to the beach on weekends.  Yesterday being Monday, we headed wiki wiki down to Kahalu'u.  Sandra took off to take more pictures of the new golf course,
while I headed for the beach.  The water is getting cooler, it is a little cloudy and there are definitely tourists swimming in the bay.  But what the heck, Hawaii is getting back to normal, virus or no virus.

   On this outing I did not see any new fish or critters, but I took the opportunity to work on my movie making skills.  Out of six efforts, four are fit for human consumption.  Or close enough.  Obviously there are countless moving pictures of Hawaiian fish, shot in focus and in clear blue water.  These clips give you a chance to see what was up on a cloudy fall day at Kahalu'u.

   The fist clip shows a palenose parrotfish, one of our prettiest fish.  Back in the day, we were told that parrotfish ate coral and what came out the other end was made the sandy beaches.  As you can see here, the parrotfish now graze on what is growing on the bare rocks.


The next video shows a Rockmover.  These amusing wrasses aren't found just anywhere.  For some reason Kahalu'u is the best spot on the Big island.  This is a nice crisp video which shows off the fish nicely.  Unfortunately I didn't catch it turning over a rock.  Larger yellowtail coris, also found at K Bay, also turn over rocks looking for comestible invertebrates.  Perhaps we will find one of those next time. 

   The third video is quick shot of a saddleback butterflyfish.  This is another of our very attractive fish.  That alone justifies my including this quick clip that seems to have been shot too close.  The saddle back is bigger than most other butterflies and I suppose that accounts for this fish filling the frame to excess.

The last little video (this blog site limits us to twenty second clips) is of everybody's favorite fish, the Yellow Tang. These guys are herbivores and will clean the green stuff of almost anything, from a rock to a turtle. Here you will also see a bunch of  Lavender Tangs and a few other fish.  Identifying them should be good practice for you.

    When I got ashore, Sandra greeted me with the news that the place was crawling with flipper walking  Japanese tourists.  Things change daily, but as far as I knew, it is difficult, if not impossible, for a Japanese tourist (currently) to come to Hawaii and then return to Japan.  Never the less, there was a plethora of Asian tourists in the shelter and they were speaking to each other in an inscrutable (to my ear) oriental tongue. 

A family from Oakland gets ready to hit the beach. photo SKG
   As I passed through the throng on my way to the shower. I was hailed by a chubby gentleman with a
fu manchu beard.  Although my ears were full of water, there was no mistaking that he spoke in highly accented English.  After explaining the ins and outs of snorkeling at Kahalu'u, I took a chance and asked him where he was from.  To which he replied, "San Francisco."   I took another chance and asked where they were staying. "At the Marriott.." he replied.  He wasn't sure if that was the King Kamehameha Hotel, but the next nearest Marriott is at Waikoloa, an hour away.

   After I got changed, Schmoopie and I looked around.  There were at least four of these Chinese American families, with no fewer than six members in each family  unit.  Mothers were giving stern instructions on water safety to their children in Mandarin.   

   One chubby little girl plopped down near us.  Having no boundaries whatsoever, I asked where she was from.  She looked up at me like a panda in the headlights, but when her father encouraged her, she blurted out, "Oakland."  Sandra couldn't help herself.  She told the father that our nephew had just purchased a home in Oakland for a tidy sum, to which he replied, "Ahh,  Very expensive.  Ha ha."  

   We love having our tourists back.  It makes everything seem normal even if it quadruples our risk of getting the plague.  Meanwhile, you can join me for the dim sum special at the Billfish Bar and Grille. Sammy Fong is picking up the tab. 


    My mother was a singer, not a famous one, but she loved to sing the hits from her favorite shows.  I can sing One Hundred Million Miracles in my sleep.That's Jackie Fong embracing Mei Li.  Earlier in the movie, Mei Li sings my mother's favorite song while she keeps rhythm on a small drum.

  If you haven't read Amy Tan, you have a treat in store for you.  The Chinese experience is alive and well in the Bay Area and Amy really brings it to life.


Friday, November 13, 2020

This Week in Kona

Achilles Tang,  Kahalu'u November 2020
   This week I went swimming four out of five days.   This shouldn't be unusual, but sad to tell, I have been slacking off over the last few months.  Perhaps we have turned the corner.  More snorkeling and more fish.

   Early in the week it was someone's birthday, and to celebrate she joined me for a snorkel at Kahalu'u.  We didn't see anything very unusual, but the water was warm and clear, so it was an enjoyable swim.  Out by Surfer's Rock, we encountered a teenager-size Achilles Tang that was sufficiently cooperative to get his picture taken.  Achilles tang is one of my favorite fish and not nearly as common as it once was.  Part of this is because it is edible and the other part is that the whole ecosystem is on a down turn.  Probably because it favors the wild surge zone, Achilles Tang has never been common at Kahalu'u.  It was a pleasure to get a chance to photograph this cooperative individual in calm, clear water.

Aren't you glad you don't have to crawl out of your skin?

    On our second pass up the middle we found the carapace of a tufted spiny lobster lying in the sand.  considering how large and ornate this exoskeleton is, it was probably there not as the act of a lobster predator, but rather just the lobster engaging in a regularly scheduled molt.  This involves crawling out of his exoskeleton in the middle of the night and then going off to some hideaway for a day or two to grow a new one.  

    Most of us have just endured an experience that, had it gone the other way, we might have wanted to crawl out of our skin and go away for an extended period, so I suppose we can empathize with the lobster.

   On the way in I spotted a snowflake moray eel.  Finding myself in a fortuitous position, I got this little clip showing the eel crawling under a rock.  The film ends, but after an additional moment, the eel poked his head out from under his rock as if to say, "Is he gone yet?'  Oh!  Did I just sneak in a little more political commentary?" 

    For those of you on the other side, you can visit Donald at Crowbar College starting next June.  Don't forget your MAGA hat.  

   Back on the beach, I had showered off and we were just getting ready to go, when we saw a young couple getting ready to go snorkeling.  They were obviously tourists and the Reef Teachers were having

Lady Liberty pretending to be a small snowflake eel.

a field day plying them with coral friendly sun screen and unsolicited advice.  The guy looked a bit like Conan O'Brien, so he needed all the sun screen he could get.  The young lady was at least a little bit Asian and drop dead gorgeous.  I offered to apply her sun screen...No!  I did not do that...only thought about it.  But I did notice them carrying familiar flippers.  Having no boundaries what so ever, I approached and asked if they had rented their gear from my old buddy, Snorkel Bob.  Receiving an answer in the affirmative, I gave the Reef Teacher a run for her money, by boring them to death, recalling the last time I had seen Snorkel Bob's equipment.  It could be six months!  So the tourists are definitely back.  And at least some of them are worth a second look!

    The next day I went for an afternoon swim at the pier.  As I arrived, I realized that I had forgotten my fins.  Given this equipment deficiency, I decided to swim in the Inner Harbour.  The tide was super high and it was blowing about fifteen knots straight in.  The first thing I did was stub the bejesus out of my right middle toe.  At this point I was looking around trying to see what else was going to happen, when I noticed that the King Kam Hotel looked like it might be back in operation.  I mean, the barriers were down and there were guys moving stuff around.  I inquired of the young lady in the Kona Boys Surf Shack, a

The Surf Shack is open and the hotel will open on Monday.

convenient fifteen feet away from me and my throbbing toe, and she declared that the hotel would be open in five days.  So the tourists are back and now they will have a place to stay.  Its all coming together.

     Brimming with useful information, I had my swim, sans fins.  I made it out as far as the end of the little jetty, seeing a miniature humu humu and a full sized Christmas wrasse on the way out.  As I suspected, the gale created some motion on the surface and I sailed effortlessly back to shore.

   All of which brings us to today.  I arrived at the pier a little after 9 AM.  We had actually timed the swim so that the tide was not super high.  And it was clear and the water was only moderately cloudy.  Obviously I was hoping for the barracuda, so I swam back and forth on my way out, not seeing anything of inteest.  I turned it around about twenty yards past the last swim buoy and repeated the process on the way in.   I got to the pier right where the tenders pick up the sea going snitches (Scent of A Woman, the famous soliloquy) and just a couple stroke seaward and the beast was there, less than ten feet away.  

Great Barracuda, Kailua Pier November 2020

   I started taking pictures in this not perfectly clear water, aware that the one thing you can do to reduce the effect of cloudy water is get closer to your subject.  The barracuda was looking at me, not giving any ground, wiggling his tail every now and then in a manner of a brave bull pawing the earth of an arena.  My efforts were not helped by the knowledge that he was in an area where the coral seem to abound with eels, great big pictus and yellow margin eels,  Now just imagine, diving down to take a picture of a Great barracuda only seven feet away, grabbing on to a coral four feet blow the surface and immediately finding yourself in the vice-like and toothy grip of a large moray.  Sucks to be you, right?

   So I backed off a little, dove down and swam towards the eel without achieving one of those tantalizing hand holds.  After a couple pictures I took the movie you see here.  After a couple minutes the barracuda swam slowly away, leaving the coral and swimming over the sand.  As he swam over the lighter surface he became much more silvery.  I followed him for another couple minutes until I felt like I had created a sufficient amount of irritation.  

   As I was leaving the water a couple of about my age were entering.  I told them about the baracuda and the lady said that they had seen it every day this week.  And one day they swam with a manta ray right in the bay.  But did they get any pictures? And would they like to join me for a slice of crow washed down with a vintage made from sour grapes?  Actually they were very nice and I wish them all the luck in the world.  You too.  But not the First Fibber.



Monday, November 9, 2020


     Today was declared a vacation from the household chores that have been taking precedence of late.  I still made it out in the early morning to pull down some infernal vines and fill the barrow with debris in which the coqui frogs might be hiding.  But by 8:30 I had recovered from that and it was time to go swimming.  Although the fish have not been teeming at the pier, each of my last three visits had produced at least one worthy animal: the Freckled Snake eel, a  Bandtail Goatfish and the diabolical Devil Scorpionfish.  So it was with a certain amount of hopeful anticipation that I put on my suit and prepared for a snorkel at the Kailua Kona Pier.

     Sandra dropped me off, to go in search of broccoli and other delights and I made my way to the cubby.  I had just started to extricate my costume from the mesh bag, when I realized something was missing...my camera.  Undoubtedly it was lying deserted in the bedroom calling out pitifully, "Here I am, here I am."  Sometimes swimming without the camera is unencumbering, a throw back to the good old days.  But at that moment all I could think was, "I guess this means I'm going to see something good."

A Great Barracuda..photo wikicommons
   And the conditions were perfect.  As I waded in, the water was clear and the sun was beaming down through a blue sky.  I plunged in, put on my fins and took a few strokes.  There was a nice dead leaf, then a tiny Linckia starfish, about two inches across.  That might have made a nice picture, I thought. And then, right at the edge of the rocks, not even as far out as the first swim buoy, was a Great Barracuda!

   We see a Great Barracuda once every couple years.  The last one Sandra and I saw was at Mahukona two and a half years ago.  It was a big fish, pushing up to three feet, hovering in mid water, and it was having nothing to do with us.  I tried to sneak up on it and it swam away, never letting me get within fifteen feet.

  This fish was completely different.  He was seemingly content to be in an area where there were lots of people.  And the water was shallow and clear with the sunlight reflecting up off the sand, illuminating the barracuda perfectly.  As many of you readers may not be totally familiar with Great Barracuda, I'm including a picture from the internet and a link to a youtube video of fish that approximate the one I saw.  As in the picture, he was just a couple inches over two feet.  He was not the biggest barracuda I have encountered....but not the smallest either.  My impression is that he was heavier in the body than the fish pictured and I guess he may have weighed six or seven pounds.  With that heavy, muscular head, he could certainly take a chunk out of you if he was so inclined.

   Barracuda attacks are uncommon in Hawaii, but not unheard of.


  The picture shows the tail angled slightly away, so you don't get a very good look. My barracuda had a large flag-like tail with bold black and white markings.  The video gives you a good look at the tail,

Finescale Triggerfish  Kailua Pier  October 2013

although I don't think that fish is as nice as the one I saw.

   I watched the barracuda for about three minutes, often within ten feet.  If I had had the camera I would have worked him for another ten minutes, but I got a really good look and swam off.  There was little of interest all the way out to the palace and some very cloudy, green water between the fourth and third swim buoys.  Closer in, the water cleared and I got a good look at a Finescale Triggerfish and a large Whitemouth Moray.  Both would have been subjects for the camera which was still on the bed back at the ranch.

   Before getting out, I patrolled back and forth around the entry, hoping for another encounter with the barracuda.  There was a big Peacock Flounder in the shallows and he let me watch him as his eyes twitched back and forth.  At least once that I can recall, a small barracuda was quite regular at the pier for over a week.  Maybe we'll get Sandra up for a little barracuda hunt tomorrow.   And believe me, we won't forget the camera!


For old times sake, a flounder taken with the Canon D10 in 2012. 



Thursday, November 5, 2020

The Day of the Dead ... Greenwell's Coffee Is Open!

 Dia de los Muertos fuses with Halloween.  Mexico City 2018
     In the United States we celebrate Halloween, which is mostly a holiday revolving around children, costumes and candy.  To quote Alex Karras as Mongo in Blazing Saddles, "Mongo likes candy."  And so, many adults relive a bit of their childhood on this day, donning a bit of a costume and enjoying a piece of chocolatey goodness   Elsewhere, mostly in Europe and Latin America, the first and second of November are known as the Day of the Dead.  Families remember their departed and spend some extra time in the cemetery, cleaning, placing flowers and even partaking of their favorite foods and beverages. 

   Since Halloween is fun, almost anywhere that one finds himself in the Westernized world on October 31st,  he is apt to see children and young adults cavorting in costumes and getting candy from caring adults.  Meanwhile back in the U.S., as our Hispanic population has expanded,  many of us find ourselves observing the Dia de los Muertos.  The world has become a smaller place and, as we see here, sometimes for the better.

Omphisa anastomosalis, the sweet potato vine borer. Kona 10/20

   October 31st dawned bright.  I was recovering from my exertions in the garden in front of a fan with a glass of ice water in hand when Sandra summoned me.  She had found an unusual moth resting in our carport.  It was a smaller moth, perhaps an inch and a half in wing span, mostly white with some brown markings that made the front wings appear to be sculpted like bat wings.  On careful examination, this proved not to be the case.  We took pictures, me with the Olympus and Sandra with her Samsung phone.  Comparing our efforts, it was obvious that the phone was carrying the day.  We returned to the moth for another round, only to find a gecko eyeing him from a distance of only five inches.  Well. I shooed the lizard away and we took more pictures. 

    Over breakfast, Sandra noted that at the after end of the thorax there were white markings that looked very much like a Death's Head.   I thought that it looked a bit like Darth Vader and we invite you to contribute your impression.  After breakfast we went  out to the carport,only to find a gecko literally licking his chops and, not surprisingly, no moth.

  In any event, it was so distinctive that we repaired to the computer to see if it could be identified. Suffice it to say, we had no luck.  So the next day (it was now the Day of the Dead)  I emailed our pictures to Daniel Rubinoff at the insect museum in Manoa. 

   That night we experienced a milestone in our Hawaiian experience in the form of a sweet little girl named Ramey, dressed as a a fairy princess.  Our first trick or treater in almost two decades of living here. 

   Dr. Rubinoff wrote back the next morning, saying that he could not put a name on that moth, although he did have a guess that it belonged to the family Crambidae.  The following day, when he was back in the lab, he showed out pictures to a colleague who was able to name it as Omphisa anastomosalis, the sweet potato vine borer.  If you check this out, you will find that in some of the photographs on the internet the markings on the dorsal thorax are even more skull-like.  This is an agricultural pest introduced from South East Asia.  So when we go through the agricultural check points at the airport, it is not without reason.  Even Daniel Rubinoff can not keep up with the onslaught of introduced moths!

The Devil Scorpionfish  Kailua Pier 11/20

    Later that day Sandra took me swimming at the pier.  On the way down, we had to avoid a lady of color as she was wheeling her rolling suitcase down Alii Drive.  As I was preparing to enter the water, the suitcase wheeler arrived at the pier.  The poor thing was in another place, cursing the voices in her head at the top of her lungs.  Of late, a gentleman in a wheelchair has taken up residence in the shade of the building that contains the restrooms.  At this moment he took it upon himself to maintain order, bellowing at the lady to quiet down.  This didn't create peace, of course, but it did allow the troubled lady to ignore, for a moment, the voices in her head, and focus verbally on someone real.  On that happy note, I slipped into the bay.  

Devil Scorpionfish showing the fins.  Kailua Pier 2016
    The water was clear, pleasantly cool and mercifully quiet.  I swam out as far as the palace and back along the outside of the swim buoys without seeing anything of real interest.  I had made my final turn and was swimming right in front of the spot where, until six months ago, cruisers hopped onto the tenders to return to the mother ship, when I spotted a Devil Scorpionfish.  This was a nice big fellow in six feet of clear water.  He permitted me to approach and take pictures to my heart's content.  I even took a movie from a distance of a few feet, in hopes that he would swim a bit, showing off his colorful fins.  As it is, I have a wonderful movie from 2016.  The trouble is, it runs 44 seconds which is too long to fit
in this blogger's format.  In its stead, I am showing you a picture from the same day which displays those fancy appendages.   In the words of Nathan Lane in The Birdcage, "One does want a hint of color."

   It has been a year or two since I saw my last Devil Scorpionfish, impressive beast that they are.  The same can not be said for schizophrenics at the pier.  They have become permanent residents.  Give them their space and be prepared.  I guess that's the best we can do.

   On November 2nd, which is still part of the Day of the Dead, we attempted to mail a package of

Back in 2014 Sandra shares a kiss with Lola.
Hawaiian themed goodies to our grandson in Oregon.  At 9:30 the line at the post office was out the door.  (Presumably once the voting is completed the post office with be permitted to return to normal staffing.) We thought about going home but Sandra convinced me to drive up to Kealakekua. At that tiny post office, there was no line at all.

   Having sent our package on its way, I noted that it was only another mile to Greenwell's Coffee Farm.  We had noted a sign a few days earlier proclaiming a re-opening and so we headed over to check it out.  Indeed, they are open.  The tasting room has been remodeled and not for the better.  I liked the traditional Old Kona ambiance.  Perhaps virus related safety issues had something to do with this.  The pleasant shaded picnic area is still there.  Missing, however, was the friendly old dog named Lola, with whom we have shared many a sandwich.  The young lady behind the counter broke the news of Lola's passing and allowed that, on many an occasion, she, too, had shared her lunch with Lola.   We'll miss you, girl.

The remodeled tasting room at Greenwell's.  Now Open!
   Another thing that is missing is some of the coffee trees that until recently were both ornamental and produced choice berries.  This row of trees just outside the tasting room had been hit by coffee leaf rust, a fungus disease only recently found on the Big Island.  Apparently the only thing one can do is rip out the trees.   Bummer.

   There had to be some good news.  Indeed, the same gentleman who told us about the trees and the leaf rust took notice of us under the nearby orange tree.  He recognized what we were after and pointed to an area of the tree where he had recently seen a Jackson's Chameleon.  It took my sharp eyed sweetie only a minute or so to find the little green lady.  Whipping out her phone, Sandra was able to capture the picture you see here.   As an additional treat, while we watched the chameleon shot out her tongue to nab her breakfast.  What a delightful way to way to cap off the Day of the Dead.  


A female Jackson's Chameleon smiles for the camera.  11/20  Photo by SKG




Saturday, October 31, 2020

Kawaihae and Eye Spot Shrimp

Oval Butterflyfish,
    Yesterday dawned bright and blue in Kailua Kona.  As we drove north, however,  we found ourselves under scattered clouds with a rainbow in the direction of Maui.  When we arrived at the surf park in Kawaihae, luckily, the cloud cover persisted but it didn't show any signs of raining.  soon our buddies form Kapa'au arrived and the four of us were in the water, which was still warm, but at the is slack low tide remarkably cloudy.

    As usual, I visited the first platform, looking for my developing oval butterflies.  Marla swam up and told me that the younger of my two subjects had gone the way of the buffaloes.  This wasn't entirely correct as bison in both Europe and North America are hanging on but that little fish was most likely on the wrong side of the seaweed.  The older sister was still there, just as furtive as ever, affording me only one photo.  this is a peculiar photo in that most of the fish is in modest focus but the face is smudged.  I am presenting it for completeness sake so we can all appreciate how this species matures.

   Out on the second platform I found three gloomy nudibranchs.  In as much as we had cloudy weather and cloudy water gloomy nudibranchs seemed appropriate.  I got a couple still pictures that were not terrible and I took this short movie that shows the gloomy's fancy external gills flopping back and forth.

    At this point Sandra alerted me that Peter and Marla were swimming across the harbor to look for the Eyespot Shrimp, giving us the option to follow.  And so off we went, catching up with them about one hundred yards across the water at the one coral that seems to be home to this unusual shrimp.  We had been here once before with Peter and Marla and not seen any shrimp.  When Sandra and I attempted to find it we failed.  It is a long swim and I'm not at all sure how our friends know when to stop and look for this single coral head. 

   Now, shrimp is an interesting word, being virtually synonymous with diminutive.  Yet most shrimp that I have encountered, while small are not tiny.  Hence, I was unprepared, when my dear friend Peter pointed to one of these shrimps, to look for such a small animal.  John Hoover says they grow to an inch and a half.  I estimated these little fellows to be an inch.  Once i adjusted my search image, I was pleased to see many of these tiny shrimps crawling on the coral.  I might have seen ten individuals. The fact that they were so small posed a modest challenge of the TG-5.  I took about a dozen pictures and the two you see here were the only ones in very good focus.  I hope you agree that these are pretty good efforts, everything considered.  In the second picture, towards the tail of the shrimp, you get a glimpse at what someone called an eye spot.

    Swimming back, Sandra and I found a small Frecklefaced Hawkfish.  He was fairly cooperative so despite the cloudy water we were able to nab this appealing portrait.

    At this point the distaff side of the expedition went ashore and I met Peter at the third platform.  he asked If I had gotten some good shots of the shrimp.  I said that I had taken a lot of pictures, so i hope I had something, but wouldn't really know until I got home.  I then went on, in my tedious fashion, to note how the sport had changed.  When one watches birds, or even larger fish, he makes his identification on the spot.  Dealing with these much sma;er animals, that fortunately hold sufficiently still for photography, one frequently make his identification in front of a computer screen.  three was no way that i would have been able to put a name on those tiny shrimp based on what I could see on the spot.  

   Back ashore we chatted for a bit,then said goodbye to our friends.  They are headed out tomorrow to look at a house in SLO upon which they have an accepted offer.  😢


Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Tourist Season Part Deux: Paradise in Ho'okena and Bandtail Goatfish at the Pier

    This blog is being written in two parts and, in effect, asks you to answer this question: Would you rather spend a morning on a gorgeous, sunlit beach or see a life fish?

The view of Ho'okena from our breakfast spot.  Not too shabby.

    A couple days ago Sandra and I headed down to Ho'okena.  It was a classic sunny morning in South Kona.  Along the way we stopped at the Coffee Shack and purchased a cinnamon roll, hot from the oven and dripping with frosting.  Arriving at Ho'okena around 8:30, we nabbed a prime spot at a shaded picnic table, sharing our cinnamon roll al fresco.  

    If you are a young trout, that may not seem like much of a breakfast for two people, but by the time we were spooning up the last bits of the icing, we were stuffed. 

    Well sated, we made our way down the long beach, the cool water sloshing over our feet.  There was only small surf and soon we were swimming through the clear, sunlit water.  Its easy to become jaded at a site you have visited frequently.  Two species of angelfish becomes ho hum.  Beyond the angels we didn't see all that much.  I'm including a short movie of a cleaner wrasse and a white bar surgeon.  Cleaner wrasses have an interesting relationship with the other fish.  For the most part, the host fish

enjoy being cleaned.  In many instances they seem to be experiencing an endorphin rush that leaves them a bit stoned.  Their movements are lethargic and this is often accompanied by a change in color.  But every now and then the cleaner wrasse nabs a scale or two in addition to the prescribed parasite.  Note in this short clip how the surgeon suddenly takes off, presumably in response to a nip.  

 Increasingly Uncommon Achilles Tang,  Ho'okena, October 2020
   On the way in we had a good look at an Achille's tang.  It doesn't seem like this should be a very big deal, but we are seeing fewer of these iconic Hawaiian reef fish.

   At the shower we were joined by a friendly young couple from Orlando, Florida.  They were staying at an Air BnB near  "Pebble Beach", which I presume meant Kona Paradise.  For those of you who are not familiar, Kona Paradise is an unusual development about another ten miles south of Ho'okena.  The road from the highway drops precipitously 1500 feet to the ocean with side roads splitting off at regular intervals.  On these side roads there are a variety of houses.  Like Oceanview, which is just a little further south, I think these homes were constructed in an area without building codes, yielding a variety of structures.  At the bottom of the steep road you can park and walk to two shingle beaches.  Many years ago, when Sandra and I were exploring Kona Paradise, we heard that the snorkeling off these beaches was pretty good.  This information did not come from a fish watcher, however.  We were further dissuaded as entering off two inch round rocks isn't all that much fun and, on the couple days that we made it that far afield, the surf was pounding in.  This is absolutely an open ocean entry.

   As we were preparing to leave, I wandered over to another shower for a foot wash.  There I encountered twin boys of just under two years in age frolicking in the spray. These likely lads took one look at me, identifying Grendel or some other medieval monster, and scuttled off like a couple rock crabs to their mother's skirts.  Or shorts, as the case may be.  The mom was a sweet lady from our very own PDX, who, on cross examination, was a tried and true Kona tourist.  It was a bit like looking

Die Fische mit der Zebrastreifen, Kailua Pier Oktober 2020

through a mirror from a Harry Potter movie that could transport one back 35 years.  

   All these young tourists had gone through the double testing required for entry to the Big Island and I felt confident that they did not pose an unreasonable risk.  This is in stark contrast to the tourists of the last four months who were sneaking in untested, unmasked and then skipping out on their quarantine.  In this context, I'm actually enjoying having the tourists back.

    The drive back up the slope was wonderful, with lots of flowering shrubs and trees.  No wonder Ho'okena remains one of our favorite spots.

     Yesterday, after two days of window washing, the warden sprang me for a swim at the pier.  On this day,  Kona was trying for the Stephen King award, with bruised, overcast skies and a steel gray high tide slopping menacingly against the sea wall.  There were no friendly tourists in the water as I entered on

The short eared owl courtesy of Birdwatching Magazine.
the Ironman side.  

    Immediately upon putting my face down in the cloudy water I got my reward, for swimming in a small school were five bandtail goatfish.  I don't know if this fisch mit zebrastreifen is super rare or if I am just unlucky., but I may not have seen one in twenty years.  Six months ago our friend Peter spotted one in the hallows at Kawihae Harbor.  It could be that he is luckier, or possibly more observant. Suffice it to say, this was a real treat.  The water was so cloudy that taking a picture reminded me of the experience with my first inexpensive underwater camera.  I couldn't see anything in the view finding screen, so all I could do was point the camera in the direction of the fish and shoot.  I got a couple poor pictures using this primitive technique, but I'm still proud to share one with you.  

    John Hoover provides a couple curious notes about this species.  First, he says that the Hawaiians noted a similarity between stripes on the pueo and the stripes on the tail of this goatfish.  This caused me to refer to my well thumbed copy of North American Birds illustrated by the immortal Arthur Singer.  The short eared owl (for that is what the pueo is) hunts like a marsh hawk, soaring low over the grass, often during the day.  When he is doing this, one might get a very good look at the dorsal elbow

Right Out of Grendel's Cave, The Crown of Thorns Starfish.

of the wing.  Indeed, the pueo has alternating white and black stripes in that location.  Like the bandtail goatfish, it has been many years since I have seen a short eared owl in flight and I'm not certain that I have ever seen those stripes.  I would also like to say, that the short eared owl did not colonize Hawaii before the Polynesians, who were responsible for a certain amount of inadvertent introductions, providing owl food in the form of rats. Who can say how many years they had to compare pueo wings to goatfish tails. 

    One more thing about the Bandtail Goatfish:  its nervous tissue contains a toxin that can produce unpleasant hallucinations.  Hence, while its usual hawaiian name is weke pueo, it is also know as weke pahulu, which is translated to Nightmare Goatfish.  

    This conveniently segues into my next sighting, for just a few strokes into the bay I encountered a Crown of Thorns Starfish.  Unlike Herr Zebrastreifen, the crown of thorns isn't especially rare.  However, it is uncommon to find one in four feet of water.  And I hate to say never, but I can't remember seeing on so close to the entry in Kailua Bay.  

   The last interesting critter on yesterday's agenda was (I believe) an unusual sea cucumber.  Just a few

The White Spotted Sea Cucumber.Actinopyga mauritiana. 10/2020

feet from the crown of thorns, I spotted this spotted animal in a coral fenestration.  I had to look several times to assure myself that I wasn't looking at a whitemouth or stout moray eel.  The photograph is definitive...this is not an eel.  Rather I think it is the white spotted sea cucumber.Actinopyga mauritiana.  There is a similar sea cucumber that we see commonly in Kona, and is probably endemic to the Big Island.  At the time Hoover's book went to press, it did not have scientific name.  This guy cuke is clearly different.  John Hoover gives a few locations where it can be found regularly, but Kailua Kona ain't one of them.   

     That was pretty much it for this dark, forbidding day in late October.  And I ask you, which would you prefer?  It's OK if you want a day in the bright sunshine, with clear water and friendly tourists!


 Here is a little video I took on this last outing.  Its entitled, "Under the Second Swim Buoy" and features baby Sergent Majors, some of them quite small. 


Thursday, October 22, 2020

It's Tourist Season! And the Freckeld Snake Eel Is Here to Greet Our Visitors.

A refuge from the Four Seasons paddles Kailua Bay.
   To find a hermit crab, at least here in Hawaii, you look for a shell that is out of place, that just doesn't belong.  Yesterday, as I walked down the step leading to the short beach on the Ironman side of the pier, I encountered such a scene.  Here, stretched out on a paddleboard, was a handsome young woman wearing a two piece and a floppy hat.  This in itself is not so surprising, but her level of grooming was
such that, at the very minimum, she should have been reclining by a pool in Bel Aire holding a mojito. Such was the precision of her presentation that I wouldn't have been surprised to see photographers for some glitzy magazine hovering about.  Maybe she was the model tasked with selling that paddleboard?  It certainly didn't look like she was going to paddle it.

   This week tourists have been allowed onto the Big Island, without quarantine.  The caveat is that one needs to take a covid test before leaving the lower 48 and  a second test upon arrival at KOA.  So recent is this change in policy that the only hotel that might meet the requirements of such a chic young thing, the Marriott King Kam, is still closed.  One might expect a flurry of activity preparing the hotel for an imminent opening.  However, the whole scene around the pier and Alii Drive remains quiet as the grave. 

Freckeld Snake Eel and  Flounder. Kailua Pier October 2020

   For those of you readers who may long for accommodations suitable for the rich and famous, the Four Seasons at Hualalai appears to be open.  At the far end of Alii Drive, the Sheraton, although not quite in the upper echelon, is open as well. 

    As I waded into the water, the young woman's friend appeared with two just out of the package flotation devices.  Although it may seem like a good idea, I couldn't recall seeing a paddle boarder with a life preserver.  this had to be a red flag. 

   While they donned their PFDs I plunged in and put on my fins.  I had made it past the first swim buoy when the two paddled into the bay.  The woman pointed to the water beside the pier and asked her friend, "Can we go that way?"  He was only about twenty feet away from me, so I responded, saying that, indeed, they could paddle over the floating line to the pier.  He asked if it was safe and I noted that there were no tourist boats at the present, so not only was it safe, but I planned to be swimming over there in short order.

    In the back of my mind I was thinking that if I got these obvious novices to paddle thataway, they would be less likely to fall on me.  After swimming for a few minutes I noticed that the couple had
turned around and were reclining on their paddleboards a few yards off the seawall.  No chance of getting mutilated by a non-existent boat in there.

Our Freckled Snake Eel with the requisite halo of washed sand.

    I swam out past the last swim buoy.  There I encountered a mu, among a few other fish, and a strange condition in the water.  In patches there was a dense collection of small brown particles.  They appeared to be light brown, more or less square, perhaps three millimeters on a side and one mm thick. I know what you must be thinking, and I don't think it was that.  Whatever it was, a three foot dive took me below it, and swimming back towards the pier took me out of it.  

    A few yards towards the pier on the outside of the swim buoy, I spotted a Freckled Snake Eel.  To the best of my recollection, this is only my third sighting of this peculiar species, lo these many years.  The FSE spends his days with his head protruding out of the sand, perhaps three inches, with another two and a half feet of slender body buried in the soft sand.  Presumably for the purposes of oxygenation, it engages in a continuous mouth movement, forcing water through the gills.  Thus, if one is too spot this curious beast, he should look for a small protuberance , like a rock or stick in the soft sand, with a circle around, produced by the propelled water exiting the gills.  John Hoover tells us that at night you might see this eel cruising all the way to the surface in response to lights.

Girls just wanna have fun!
     I dove the eel, which was about 12 feet down, several times.  I am showing you two pictures.  The first is the eel and a small flounder that just happened to be sharing the same patch of sand. The second is a closer view of the head of the eel.  It certainly doesn't look like much.  Suffice it to say, if you are going to spot a FSE for your own list, you better be a careful observer.   

    From the standpoint of seeing notable stuff in the water, the day was pretty much over.  Luckily Homo sapiens stepped in to fill out our copy.   Just after I played with the eel, I watched as five young ladies approached the pier, shrieking as they jumped in the water. 

   After the swim, I went for my shower, only to encounter a lunatic carrying on at interminable length while making the most of a bottle of shampoo.  I let her go on for a couple minutes then stepped into her field of view and asked if I could get a quick rinse.  Lucky for me, the vibes were

We promise you won't have to shower with Jack Torrance!

right and she graciously stepped aside.  Only after I finished my ablutions did I realize that the authorities have repaired the second shower mechanism. 

   So if you are one of our beloved tourists, don't miss the Kailua Kona pier.  You can pretend that you are one of our sometimes Ironmen, gander at the paddle boarders and take a shower simultaneously with a friend.  And I believe I can guarantee a lunatic.