Friday, January 17, 2020

Frogs, Snails and Puppy Dog Tails

I'm Cuckoo for Coqui-puffs.
    If there has been a brief hiatus in blogs, I'm blaming it on the weather.  Rain, rain and more rain.  One night on the news they showed a map that indicated that Kapa'au (where Peter and Marla live) received over 9 inches in a 24 hour period.  On that same day Hilo got 21 inches.  By God, that's a lot of precipitation.

   Climate change has spawned a change in our local fauna.  Specifically, we could change the name of our humble estate from Casa Ono to Coquiville.  The coqui frogs, native to Puerto Rico, have been making their noisy march down the newly lush slopes of Hualalai.  Four years ago, we pitied the people who lived 800 vertical feet above us in Holualoa.  Now we close our doors and windows as we head to bed, the better to shield our tympanic membranes from the chirps of the coqui frogs.  Last night, as we visited our snowbird friends down on the beach, Sandra heard coquis just across Alii Drive from our former home at Alii Villas.

    This would be bad enough, but there is no doubt that the coquis are more vociferous during, and slightly after, a rain shower.  It has rained six of the last seven nights and I feel like I'm ready to paraphrase that wacky bird that shilled a children's cereal,: "I'm cuckoo for Coqui-puffs!"

    It is only natural that the coquis are more amorous when its been raining; as they are amphibians they need to lay their eggs in a moist environment.  A fresh puddle is just what the doctor ordered.

   In addition to coquis, we have seen an increase in snails and slugs.  You north westerners are no stranger to those animals, but up in the PNW these lovable molluscs don't harbor rat lung disease.  This curious parasite, Angiostrongylus cantonensis, is a parasitic nematode that can cause, among other
Kareem?  Is that you?
terrifying pathology, brain abscesses.  Just in the last month, a lady ordered a sandwich at Island Naturals, our beloved health food store from which we buy bulk spices.   Half way through her nasch, she noticed a small slug on the lettuce in her sandwich.  The slug was retrieved and tested positive for RLD.  Holy Leaf Lettuce, Batman!

   This week, while gardening between rain showers, I discovered two of the largest land snails I have ever seen making the two headed mollusc.  They were fully extended from their massive shells.  The larger resembled a blackened Johnsonville brat. And I was reminded of a very old joke involving the sainted Lady Di and the Jeopardy-ready Kareem Abdul Jabbar.  I mean, this was one big, expletive deleted mollusc. 

    By virtue of Sandra's excellent research, we now know that these were specimens of the giant African land snail, Achatina fulica.  The omniscient net suggests that this introduced animal can grow up to a foot in length...a dimension of truly NBA proportion.

    If  all this isn't enough to put you off your feed, you must have an iron stomach.

   As this blog is putatively dedicated to fish identification, I took a swim today between rain showers, down at good old K Bay.   Suffice it to say I was hoping for an exciting sighting, the better to regale you with.  The shelter was hosting the monthly swim/snorkel for the handicapped,  Deep and Beyond.  Of all the things that inconvenience me in my monomaniacal mission to find fish, this has
to be the most worthy.  God bless 'em.

   The short report is that I didn't see anything blog worthy.  Since the last blog highlighted the keiki of the sailfin tang, I was lucky to nab a picture of the adult so you can see what that cute little yellow butterfly of a baby's father looks like.

    On that happy note, I will bid you good night.  ko KEE!


For comparison to the adult, another picture of the juvenile sailfin tang at Kawaihae.


Saturday, January 11, 2020

At the Exhibit, Pulelehua. The Butterflies of the Big Island.



     In actuality, Pulelehua is not the noise made by a Samoan with hay fever, but rather the Hawaiian word for butterfly.  On New Year's Eve 2019 my butterfly exhibit opened at the Kailua Kona library to rave reviews.  Well, I planted the first of those reviews in the local paper, West Hawaii Today. 
They let anybody into the library!
Nevertheless, my fellow West Hawaii Islanders have been enjoying the exhibit. While the exhibit has absolutely nothing to do with fish identification, I thought that those of you who follow the blog would be interested to see what it looks like.

    Several people have remarked that initially they thought my paper mache models were actual mounted lepidopterans.  How gratifying.  With all due modesty, I think some of my models look better than actual butterflies. Perhaps if Pastor Brian puts in a word with the Creator, He will substitute one of our models for the current real thing.

    In my interview with the newspaper, I said that there would be 15 models.  When push came to shove, there were only 14, so on Sandra's advice I included an early attempt at a tiger swallowtail.  If you attend the exhibit, perhaps you can pick it out.  Hint: As I was just getting started I took the liberty of fusing the front and back wings, so that model has only two wings.
Swallowtails above, Monarch , Gulf Fritillary  and the Black Witch below

   In addition to butterflies, the exhibit includes one moth, the black witch, a very common insect in Kailua.  The black witch is so big that when seen in the evening it is sometimes confused with a small bat.   The black witch comes with a number of legends.  It is has been introduced from Central America, where the primitives believe that it is an evil spirit come to haunt them.  Not to be outdone in the superstition department, the Hawaiians believe that it is a deceased relative returning for a friendly visit.  The good news is that this relative never asks for money.

    A big part of the exhibit covers the monarch butterfly.  The monarch came to Hawaii after Captain Cook and the first batch of Yankee missionaries.  Once white folks built houses in Hawaii, they needed shrubs.  Hence the giant crown milkweed was introduced to grace the gardens of the new socioeconomic elite.  As you should know, plants of the milkweed family are the obligate host of all
A Monarch caterpillar goes chrysalis!  SKG 1/10/20
monarchs.  It could be that a pregnant monarch or two, or some eggs or caterpillars arrived with the GCMs, or perhaps once the shrub was established they flew in.  Regardless, by 1841 monarchs were found on the main islands and it is by far our most common butterfly.

    As I was preparing for the exhibit I had a meeting with Denise, our just a little dishy head librarian.  Denise took me out back behind the library and showed me the GCM that grows there.  We met Chris, the gardener and admired the monarchs flying through the leaves, whose leaves reach at least fifteen feet towards the heavens.  Praise the Lord.  Today, before the library opened, Sandra (who is more than just a little dishy) and I went out back.  Chris was there again.  My sharp eyed honey found two chrysalises and then Chris found a caterpillar that was in the process of going chrysalis.

    Butterflies only live three to four weeks.  During that time they have sex and undergo internal fertilization.  Interestingly, most, but not all, arthropods undergo internal fertilization and lay fertilized eggs.  That should give you something to think about the next time you are in the back room at the video rental parlor.   To say the least, the number of arthropod species, including crustaceans, insects, centipedes and arachnids is off the chart; there are nearly one million species of arthropods.  To use a polite phrase, that is a whole lot of "internally fertilizing" bugs.

   Anyway, butterflies and moths lay eggs on the leaves of the host plant, the only leaves their caterpillars are capable of eating.  Which upon hatching they proceed to do.  Voraciously.  After a week or so of eating a caterpillar cements its derriere to a branch (or some other handy solid structure) weaves a
Vanessa Butterflies, Painted Lady, Red Admiral and Kamehameha
cocoon, which in the case of butterflies is called a chrysalis.  I hope you appreciate this picture of the caterpillar doing its thing.  Chrysalis-wise.

    Moths form a cocoon woven from silk.  Hence the silkworm!

   The other emphasis of the exhibit is the Kamehameha butterfly and its relatives that have been introduced to Hawaii.  Its amazing to think that millions of years ago a genus Vanessa butterfly or two made it across the ocean and were the Adam and Eve of our only big beautiful butterfly.  You can refer to an earlier blog in which the Redoubtable SKG and I successfully sought this butterfly in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  The caterpillar of this butterfly only eats mamane, the Hawaiian nettle.  Luckily, mamane is cultivated for tea.  One has to contemplate the dilemma faced by a tea farmer  as he watches his crop falling prey to Kamehameha caterpillars.  This may be hypothetical or it may be an advertisement for Sevin.

The monarch butterfly says, "See you at the library!"
   The Red Admiral butterfly, Vanessa atalalnta, has been introduced to all the main islands and it also uses mamane as a host plant.  Suffice it to say, there is a cracker jack model of the red admiral in the display.  So if you are mamane farmer, or just want to look at some outstanding nature art,  get your akule down to the library.  If you are lucky, you can say hi to Denise.


    All the pictures in this blog were taken by the Redoubtable SKG.  The gorgeous banner was produced by our amazing library technician Lee, who like my sweetie wants less web presence, not more.  But if you go in the library and you see a sweet young thing at the desk with a sticker that says, "Hi! I'm Lee."  that's her.  And none of this would have been possible without the guidance of Dr. Daniel Rubinoff, UH Manoa and Dr Patrick Hart in Hilo.   Thanks to one and all.


Friday, January 10, 2020

A Great Day at Kawaihae or Come the Tormenta

   Yesterday I went snorkeling at the pier.  The weather was cloudy and the water was cold, cloudy and utterly devoid of interesting animals.  Today we convened at Kawaihae Harbor at 9:30 in the
Not a fancy yacht, this vessel looks ready to ply her trade around the world.
morning.  At that moment there were fleecy clouds, albeit lots of them, scudding across the sky, propelled by a strong wind blowing out of the south east.  The sun was shining on us and the wharf across the bay.  Way over at the north end of the wharf was a large, rusty two masted sailing vessel.  There was no way to know what that boat was about, but its aura of mild neglect it was picturesque in a working nautical sort of way.

   Back at the little park, Peter and Marla and Hai had joined Sandra and I.  Soon, each clad in his own variation of neoprene, we were on our way across the parking lot.  At this point only a modest
Porcupinefish, Kawaihae Harbor, January 2020
amount of sand was carried by the wind.  The tide was out, so I entered off the tiny sandy beach at the mauka edge of the landing ramp.   I placed my dark glasses and ball cap atop my sandals at the high edge of the platform; the tide wouldn't rise that high in the next hour.

   The water didn't seem as cold as it was at the pier the day before, and although it was full of plankton, it was less cloudy than when Sandra and I were at Kawaihae a week or so earlier (when we saw the citron butterflyfish).  On our way out to the first platform, with the group still close together, we all got a good look at a large porcupine fish.  Porcupinefish are basically nocturnal, hence the huge eyes.  Thia also explains why, when you see one during the day, it is hiding deep under a ledge.  Here at Kawaihae, there is often one taking refuge under the first platform.  Ordinarily, when you find one out in the open, thy are quite skittish.  This fellow let me close to within six feet which explains this remarkably clear picture .  Don't you just love those spines?

    Before we started out, Peter had allowed that he had not seen a citron butterflyfish in Hawaii.  Hoping to find the fish that Sandra and I saw a week before, I made my way along the rip rap well
Painted nudibranch, first platform. taken with close up flash.
past the platform.  I did not find the Citron, and by the time I made it back to the platform Hai had already spotted a painted nudibranch.  This tiny creature was foraging among some algae growing among the branches of a cauliflower coral.

   Sandra and I have found our own nudibranchs on these platforms, but I always wonder, how many we have we missed.  This small nudi was about 2 cm long and 3 cm wide,  roughly the size of a third of a reefer...maybe not that big.  As I started my swim, I took a minute to readjust the camera to focus on what was in the middle of the field.  My Olympus T 5 seems determined to revert to the mode where it searches for the face in the picture.  If one wants to take quick, reliable pictures of tiny animals, it is imperative that you get the camera to focus on your object every time.  This picture, taken with the close up flash mode, would probably not have happened in the default setting (with which the camera seems to be in love.)  The second picture is taken without the flash.  Isn't it interesting how different the colors are captured by the camera?

    Our beginning experience with nudibranchs on these pillars favored the yellow and white
Painted nudibranch taken without flash.  January 2020.  Kawaihae Harbor.
trembling and the larger blue gloomy.  Now it seems that the painted is the most common.  I wonder if the fauna has changed or if we just weren't seeing the more cryptically colored painted nudibranch.

   You may recall that as we started our adventure, the skies were clear and the wind was brisk but steady from the south east.  In the short interval, the skies had darkened and the wind was picking up.  From the corner of the harbor, the southeast wind had a pretty good fetch to the mooring platforms with a resulting four inch chop, some bounce and a bit of surface current.  Perhaps as a consequence, in the process of getting those nudi pictures, I grazed my left knee on the pillar.  Ouch!

    We swam out to the second pillar where Marla had seen another painted nudibranch, but it was long gone.  From there on out, all we saw was a variety of sessile fouling organisms like sponges and hydras.  The good news was that, contrary to our most recent experience, there was a nicer variety of
Pink sponge under the second platform. Kawaihae, January 2020
sponges, both pastel and blue and pink, in addition to a couple types of orange.  You may notice, that on the admonishment of my invertebrate zoology gurus, I am no longer attempting to name the species based on color.  Which is not to say that they are not both interesting and beautiful.  In several spots the weed that coats the pillars was home to colonies of small white hydras.  They gave the initial impression that the pillar was coated with a fine bluish lint.

    We worked these two pillars for about twenty minutes.  Towards the end of this period, the sky darkened, the wind picked up and it started to rain.  If you are already swimming, rain is not that big a deal.  But then the wind picked up further, the size of the wavelets increase to about six inches and the tops of those wavelets were blown into our faces.  It was as if someone was shooting you in the face with a garden hose.   Sandra and I were blown up against the rip rap that backs the platforms, but it was no problem to fend off with our flipper covered feet.  This might sound fairly unpleasant.  In fact, this combination was unique in my experience and since we were in a safe spot, shielded with neoprene and face masks, it was sort of a strange sort of way.
Puffed up spotted toby and cleaner wrasse, Kawaihae January 2020

   After the squall passed, Sandra allowed that she was only a little cold, but as she wasn't seeing
anything new, perhaps she would be happier ashore.  I swam with her over to the ramp and watched her get out.  As I had a a bit left in the tank, I swam over to the coral about thirty yards east of the ramp.

   Right along the shore, the effect of the wind was mollified and the surface water was flat.  At first, I saw a few usual suspects, including a nice interaction between a cleaner wrasse and the Hawaiian spotted toby, canthigaster jacator.  I can't say why, but at Kawaihae it is usual to see this cute little fish all puffed up.  If you look carefully, you will notice that in this picture.

    A bit further along I saw a large red cushion starfish.  I have been told that a tiny octopus sometimes live on the ventral side of this strange starfish, which may be the most common starfish
Juvenile Sailfin Tang.  Kawaihae Harbor  January 2020.
found on the Big Island (its only competition for this title is the crown of thorns).  There was no octopus underneath, but a brittle worm scuttled away from the scene of the crime.

    After harassing the cushion star, it was time for me, too, to head for the beach.  As I passed over a finger coral, I saw below me a juvenile yellow tang, its fins in the locked up position.  Immediately, I saw it was accompanied by a darker fish of about the same small size with vertical stripes.  Was this a Klein's butterflyfish?  No.  It was a small juvenile sailfin tang.  I grabbed a couple quick pictures and managed to chase it into the coral.  Bummer.  I waited patiently for a couple minutes and the baby reemerged.  Now I was more cautious and I was able to close  within ten feet, getting these shots you see here.

    As I was taking pictures of the sailfin tang, I spied a small teardrop butterfly swimming over the top of the coral patch.  I turned and was able to get four quick shots before he swam away.  This fish wasn't tiny, perhaps half the size of an adult, but his coloration was clearly different.  Look how broad the black strip is at the back of the fins, just before the tail.  Also note how the tear drop is
Juvenile Teardrop Butterflyfish.  Note the broad black stripe. 
more rectangular and how the drip line is so dark and extends all the way ventral.  I had never seen one of these before and (I guess Peter is right, I am a fish geek) I found this little guy to be pretty exciting.

    The sailfin tang was still hanging around.  Perhaps she had become used to me, but I was able to get the best pictures of this encounter.  The little yellow tang was there as well.  Those two are the only members of the genus zebrasoma in Hawaii and perhaps they were reveling in their kinship.  Additionally, one might note that like the yellow tang, the juvenile of the sailfin tang seems to spend most of its time with those large fins erect, unlike the adult who rarely flashes that full fin profile.

    We reconvened ashore, showered and changed.  At the moment it wasn't raining, but the wind was blowing hard and we wondered it our planned picnic was a bust.  Luckily, Hai, who is virtually a resident at Kawaihae, knew of a secret hide away, where we able to dust off some sandy chairs, spread out a grass mat in lieu of a table cloth and enjoy a delightful New Years meal together.  Sandra supplied a loaf of home made bread, with butter and
As the storm rages outside, a New Year's picnic under cover.
mustard, and Peter contributed a stick of liverwurst he had brought back from the mainland.  Lottie was there in spirit, but she didn't get any liverwurst.

   Hai regaled us with a story of creating small wooden floats, surrounding candles with paper shields and setting them afloat to greet the new year.  This wouldn't do on this windy day, but as the storm raged outside, we committed to come together on a more clement evening, perhaps over by the canoe club on the north side of the harbor and set some candles afloat together.

 Hau'oli makahiki hou,

Happy New Year from Kawaihae !

We learned the word Tormenta in Buenas Aires when a particularly violent storm tried to rip the awning off our rented apartment.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Starting 2020 Off With a Pair of Eels

    High surf kept me out of the water for a couple days.  Yesterday I decided to go for it down at the pier, which is sometimes resistant to the water churning effects of high surf.  To avoid parking problems,  Sandra kindly dropped me off.  The weather was beautiful with fleecy clouds and a light breeze.  As I entered the water on the Ironman side of the pier, I was astonished to find that it was
The Kona Inn under a sunny winter sky.
virtually crystal clear.  Water like that is just begging for photography and I hoped that I would find something worthy of these outstanding conditions.

    On the way out, the number and variety of fish was sorta pathetic.  I made it out to the patch in front of the palace and took a panoramic shot of the Kona Inn replete with the aforementioned fleecy clouds.  Up to that point, this was the most interesting picture I had taken.  As I made my turn,  I headed for the third swim buoy. There I encountered this sweet medium sized surgeon, probably a teenage yellowfin.  If that is correct, this little fellow will grow up to be among the biggest of surgeonfishes.
Juvenile Yellowfin Surgeonfish, Kailua Bay january 2020

Just a few strokes from the buoy I hit pay dirt.

    When one is swimming over the sand, he has to remain alert. The sandy bottom is perforated with vents where fresh water from the mountain percolate into the bay. In addition,  interesting crabs, irregularly shaped urchins and flying gurnards call the sand home. Perhaps the most bizarre creature one finds in the sand is the freckled snake eel.  This odd fellow pokes his head up out of the sand and shoots water through his gills with a continuous gulping motion.  In doing so, he creates a little saucer shaped depression in the sand and if one looks carefully there is a bit of a sandstorm right around his head.  I had only seen a freckled snake eel once before, years ago.  Some people talk as if this an everyday occurrence for them...I have not been so lucky.

    As you may have guessed, quite near the third swim buoy in a mere ten feet of Kona Crystal was one of these puffing eels.  It was a good day for my fickle sinuses and I was able to dive to the bottom, hold on to rock and take a picture from about a foot away.  With all due modesty, this is a pretty good shot of a rare sea creature.  Note particularly his unusual eye.  It's possible that this is an adaptation for living a life primarily buried in the sand.
The Freckled Snake Eel. Kailua Bay January 2020

       A few dives down to the bottom and I was heading slowly back towards the beach.  Around the second swim buoy I encountered an undulating moray eel hunting through the coral.  This reddish eel is seen infrequently.  More important to the photographer, it is implicated in biting the unwary diver who puts his hand in the wrong spot.  Although I was happy to hang onto a rock near the snake eel, I
Undulated Moray Eel, kailua Bay January 2020.
was careful not to get too close to this beauty.  he was quite active and I watched him writhe around the corals for about five minutes.  When you look at this picture, you might take a careful look at the mouthful of sharp teeth.

    this week's advice: keep your fingers out of the eels mouth and have a happy 2020.


Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Citron Butterfly: One More for the 2019 list

   On the eve of New Year's Eve, Sandra and I took what should be our Aloha Swim for 2019.  According to the fellow that does the weather on KHNL, the surf was arising.  With that in mind, we chose the least surfy place we could think of...Kawaihae Harbor.   We had contacted our most excellent friend and critter finder Hai, on the night before, hoping that he and the redoubtable Lottie might join us.  Unfortunately, Hai said he might see us up there, but that he would be surfing.  Bummer.

Citron Butterfly, Kawaihae Harbor, December 30, 2019
   We checked the tide table and arrived at 9:30, thinking that this would be a bit after the high tide. As it turned out, the tide was higher than we expected and we had to drive through a half foot of water to get out to the beach.  At the little park we located Hai's truck, and with a little effort, we were able to spot our friend on his surf board about 100 yards out in the ocean.  A couple guys at the park said that there had been surf fifteen minutes earlier, but while we prepared to go swimming there was no surf at all.

   Soon we were in the harbor, the water was cool and cloudy with lots of plankton.  To make a long story short, there was relatively little in the way of fouling organisms on the pylons and we didn't find any nudibranchs.   By the ramp where we enter,  I got a poor look and a very inferior picture of a banded coral shrimp.

   .On the good side, we did see a pretty uncommon fish.  There was one, or possibly a pair, of citron butterflyfish.  We had two brief encounters during which we had pretty good looks but did not get a great photograph.  However, one photograph does show the key field mark of this fish, the ventral fin
Three Spot Angelfish, Tulamben, Bali Novenber 2014
with the bold black and white stripe.  Without that dramatic flag of a fin, it might be a teensy bit difficult to say if it was a milletseed or a citron. It is very possible that my last sighting of this fish was in 2016, so this really was a great species upon which to end the year.   One thing that struck me, was the similarity of that ventral fin to the one proudly displayed by the three spot angelfish which we have seen in Indonesia.  I get the sense that butterflyfish and angelfish may share more DNA than many fish, but not all that much.  I think it makes for a pretty interesting comparison.

    While Sandra and I were enjoying our our shower, we watched Hai,.  He  was still riding his board 100 yards off shore...still waiting for a wave.  The only thing that had changed was that there was now a ten knot breeze blowing in from the sea., so the shower water was blowing back at an angle and there was a six inch chop on the previously flat ocean.  Sandra commented on how much she had enjoyed our swim, and we left wondering if our friend was ever going to catch a wave. 

Hau'oli makahiki Hou

Friday, December 27, 2019

A Box Fish on Boxing Day

     At last a quest at which it will be difficult to fail.  The male Pacific boxfish is a handsome devil, in an angular sort of way.   And the female / juvenile boxfish is damn near ubiquitous.  How thoughtful of our friends across the pond to create such a fish friendly holiday.  Which, I suppose, begs the question, "Is Boxing Day really a holiday?"  To which I reply, "Close enough."
An ominous sky sailed over K Bay on Boxing Day

    Maybe you have become tired of every blog beginning with a beautiful day, blue sky, fleecy clouds.  Well, this Boxing Day didn't really dawn, it was more like someone turned up the light slowly on a smudge.  And it was cool and humid, a bad combination that leaves everything just a bit damp.  It started raining an hour or so after dinner and continued sporadically throughout the night.  This meant the coqui frogs, ordinarily crepuscular, kept chirping when the rest of us wished we were fast asleep.  This makes sense if you're a frog and you want nice moist eggs.  It's unfortunate that it comes at the expense of a good night's sleep and truly dry towels.

    On Boxing Day morning Sandra took me swimming at Kahalu'u.  As we said before, the boxfish should be a chip shot, so we could go where ever we wished with a strong hope of success.   I had a
good feeling about K Bay.   We arrived early, with the sky looking like something out of a Stephen King novel.  The shelter was empty except for a brace of young Asian women wearing blue Ts proclaiming someone's 80th birthday.  I only saw seven of these young women. While I was swimming Sandra saw two bus fulls.

   Having been dragged kicking and screaming to my senses, I donned two layers of neoprene, a weight belt (yes, the ocean is cold in the winter) and hit the surf.  The first thing I noticed was that the
water was startlingly clear.  Just as I was clearing the narrow, rocky passage into the outer entrance, I came face to face with a nice big juvenile surge wrasse.  I turned in the passage and fumbled for my camera, but the brute was gone.

   As I exited into the bay, I nabbed a fine male boxfish.  If you have to tilt at windmills, this may be
A Hebrew Cone on sand, Kahalu'u.  Boxing Day 2019
the one you want to contest.  But let's not be hasty.  There was a time not so long ago when scribbled filefish was common at Kahalu'u, Achilles tang was seen here regularly and milletseed butterflies swarmed.  So I am going to treasure this boxfish.

    As I was readjusting my flippers I saw a Hebrew cone half buried in the sand.  In the past, I have made the mistake of pulling such a cone out to get a better picture.  This was the wrong thing to do.  Most salt water snails share a dietary preference not unlike the slugs and snails we enjoy in our garden, and brought to song by Donovan back in the Summer of Love; they are herbivores.  Cones, on the other hand, are carnivorous snails.  When one sees a cone half buried, it is likely that the snail is mostly out of his shell, hunting for his dinner in the sand.  If one plucks him out, he risks harming the soft body of the cone shell snail.  Bad Jeffrey.  I left this Hasidic cone alone and luckily got a picture of one sitting proudly on the sandy surface a bit later in the swim.
Juvenile Hawaiian Dascyllus, Kahalu', boxing Day 2019

    Just a few strokes further out into the bay, I came upon an infant Hawaiian Dascyllus.  It had been a good long time since I had seen a baby dascyllus at Kahalu'u and this little fellow made my heart soar.

   As you can see, this guy was harboring around rocks and rubble.  He may not quite meet the criteria for a waif, but darn close.  We'll let you know how he does in the ensuing months.

    Prior to 2014, there were clouds of bay dascyllus surrounding cauliflower corals in the shallows all up and down the Kona coast.  Hot water killed all the cauliflower coral.  It is recovering slowly, but the dascyllus is not.  The only place I know of where you can see this super cool baby dependably is around the pillars at Kawaihae harbor.  There it is found around relatively small pocillopora corals.  I can't tell you why these baby dascyllus are there and not around similar small branching corals at the pier.  Sadly, there is precious little branching coral at Kahalu'u. 
Reticulated Dascyllus Lipah Bay, Bali  November 2014

    As you can see, the juvenile Hawaiian dascyllus is a pretty little fish.  In Bali, we have found the reticulated dascyllus.  This is a pretty little fish.  It raises its babies on coral that rise in the shallows like a cake stand, a horizontal plate with innumerable little spikes sit just below the surface.  A myriad of babies lived between these small coral spikes.  I can think of no sadder sight than returning to Lipah Bay in 2017 and finding  this coral deteriorated to the point where only a few of these little spikes remained, along with one or two baby reticulated dascyllus.  This happened over the same time frame as in Hawaii, which is to say, very rapidly starting in 2015.

    Beside a small coral head just a meter away from the baby dascyllus, I found a red labrid wrasse.  This is the baby of the yellow tailed coris that we talked about recently.  These are sweet little fish
and we enjoyed this guy.

    About ten yards seaward and I happened upon a very special cone shell sitting in a depression of coral rocks and rubble.  This is  a leopard cone.  John Hoover tells us that this is the largest cone found in Hawaii.  This shell was probably four inches long, although the shell can grow to 9 inches.  That would be a big cone shell, indeed.  The larger shells are covered with a thick, fuzzy coating.
Leopard Cone,  Boxing Day 2019
smaller shells, like this one, show the striking spotted pattern.  The leopard cone usually lives at depth, but is rarely found in the shallows.  As I looked at this picture, it occurred to me that that this shell might contain a large hermit crab.  I didn't handle the shell and we'll never know who was living inside.


  One of my favorite fish is the juvenile blackside hawkfish.  You have seen this little guy several times in the blog, but since I never get tired of it, I'm going to share this pretty picture of a
Juvenile Blackside Hawkfish, Boxing Day2019
cooperative juvenile freckleface hawkfish..

      Well, this was the day for juvenile fish.  As I made my way towards the exit, I happened upon this attractive little flounder.  Don't you love those brilliant blue and whitespots.  Being trained as a birdwatcher, I really wanted this to be a new species, but  research confirms that it is the juvenile of
Juvenile Peacock Flounder, Boxing Day 2019
the peacock flounder.

   Back on the beach, Sandra had made friends with the party of Korean ladies wearing the blue Ts. Although Sandra has not a word of Korean to her name, she got a hug from the 80 year old birthday girl.

Is this how we look to the Almighty?
    When their buses arrived, the Koreans left in a flash.  Had they been North Koreans, it might have
been the flash of an atomic bomb.

    After the Koreans left, she watched (and photographed) a young man flipper walk from his picnic table all the way into the bay.  While she was waiting for me, she shared her pictures with Bob Hillis, 3000 miles away. Bob said that no matter how silly that young gentleman looks to us, in the eyes of God we all look just as goofy.  So we leave you with a little humility courtesy of the man from St. George, Utah.

May all your boxes be full of goodies,

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

A Christmas Wrasse on Christmas Eve

    Before you begin reading, I have to tell you that blogger is not working very well
this morning.  The line break is down and my drivel is dribbling off into the sunset.
The pictures won't wrap around.  It being Christmas, whoever is supposed to care
about these things is out drinking egg nog.  In spite of all this, if you bear with me,
you still might enjoy the story.

This year we decided to move the designated hunt for the Christmas wrasse up a day, 
to Christmas Eve. Although this may seem as if we abandoned the raison d'etre of the
occasion, we had a very good excuse. Obligations for Christmas Day were mounting 
up. and with the general absence of adult Christmas wrasses in the immediate vicinity, 
we felt that to be successful, we needed to go somewhere else. We chose Mahukona, 
the place we are familiar with, that seems to have the best fish, as the location for our 
hunt. Initially thought that we could make it to Mahu and back, shower, change and 
Mahukona, the Accord and Maui rising out of the cloud bank

get to a Christmas potluck by 12:30. My own little Magus (the singular, I believe, of magi) 
pointed out that this was idiocy. And so, with due respect to the calendar and St. 
Nicholas, we moved the official day of the search to Christmas Eve.

It always strikes me as a little crazy to designate the morning of the 24th as eve. 
Shouldn't eve refer to evening? Like the sun is going down, Mary and Joseph are looking 
for a place to stay for the night, the sleigh is packed and the Grinch is strapping the fake 
antlers onto his unwitting accomplice, Max.
The Ornate Wrasse as interpreted by Phillip Weisgerber

Anyway, Christmas eve was a beautiful morning. We had packed the sleigh the night
 before, and were passing Waikoloa about 9 AM. It was a little hazy in the valley that faces 
Kohala Mountain and it wasn't until we were almost to Kawaihae that we could make out 
the summit of Haleakalā poking his head above a bank of clouds. We were parked at 
Mahukona before 9:30. Haleakalā was clearly visible and the waves were crashing against 
the pier, flicking foam in the general direction of our aging Accord.
Phillip Weisgerber, Artist.  With his pet falcon, Max.

Sandra and checked out the ladder entry and decided that things were no worse than when
we had entered with the Kathy et al a week or so ago, and the water was definitely less cloudy. 
As we entered, I immediately spotted a juvenile Christmas wrasse. This is a small fish that
looks like a trout that you would throw in the creel only if you were desperate. If one wanted 
to be technical, I suppose one could say we had completed the quest. Of course, to us the 
Christmas wrasse is the adult with the bright red and green markings. A big, fat St.Nick of a 
fish. And so, full of Christmas cheer, we pressed on.
The Ornate Wrasse, Halichoeres ornatissimus, Mahukona, December 24th, 2019

Although the water was a bit cloudy, it did not prevent us from enjoying a fine variety of
fish. Our friend Peter will tell you that the variety at Mahukona ain't what it used to be, 
just five years ago, but it is still dramatically better than the Kailua pier. Early on, I spotted 
a nice mature Ornate wrasse. He patiently allowed me to take the picture you see here. 
The Checkerboard Wrsse, H. hortulanus, Bali 2017  Crown me!

The male ornate wrasse holds a special spot in the evolution of my fish watching. I saw 
my first reef fish at Hanuma Bay in 1979. Six short years before, Gar Goodson authored the
first guide to reef fish aimed at hobbyists, The Many Splendored Fishes of Hawaii. The 
book was relatively small, as opposed to the dictionary sized book by Dr. Tinker, and 
contained beautiful colored pictures. These watercolors were created by Phillip Weisgerber. 
It is strange that in an extensive search of the internet, in addition to scouring his books, I can
find virtually nothing about Gar, where he lived and worked.  We now know that Mr. 
Weisberger was a renowned artist and lived in Redondo Beach, California. He looked like a 
hippie with wild hair and bushy muttonchops. I suppose he rode a Harley. 
Pinstriped Wrasse, H. melanurus, Bali, 2017

You may be puzzling as to why I am obsessed by these guys. Well, here's the thing, Gar 
included 25 species of wrasses in his seminal work, several of which are accidental in 
Hawaii. That's bird watching speak "for don't actually exist under normal circumstances." But 
much worse, he omitted the Christmas wrasse. If you are not a birdwatcher, you may not 
realize that a bird watcher goes through his book at the end of each day and checks off the 
ones he has seen. It is axiomatic that the birds in the book are what is possible. I bestowed 
on Gar Goodson the same trust that I gave the sainted Roger Tory Peterson, he of the first 
useful field guides for North American birds. If it wasn't in Gar's book, as far as I was 
Juvenile Ornate Butterflyfish on Christmas Eve

concerned, it didn't exist. For at least a couple years, as I embarked on fish watching in Hawaii, 
the fish included in his book constituted what was possible. To add insult to injury, the only 
picture I had of the Ornate wrasse was the one in Many Splendored Fishes. I can not believe 
that Phillip Weisgerber ever saw that fish alive, even in an aquarium. So unlike the real 
animal is this picture, that I wonder if someone described the fish to him in a letter and he 
made up the rest. I saw a Christmas wrasse the very first time I snorkeled, at Hanuma Bay 
near Honolulu. More than any other fish I saw that day, the Christmas wrasse turned me 
into a fishwatcher. Of course, with Many Splendored Fishes in hand, I identified it as an 
Ornate wrasse. Curiously, Gar Goodson , in his forward written in in 1972, tells us that his 
first snorkeling experience was at Hanuma Bay. Is it possible that he didn't see a Christmas 
wrasse? Go figure. 
A large school of Convict Tangs on Christmas Eve.

   The ornate wrasse is a member of the genus Halichoeres. It is the only member of that 
genus to occur in Hawaii. When we went to Bali a couple years ago, we saw eight species 
of Halichoeres!   The ornatewrasse may be found in Bali, but we didn't see it there.  As a 
Christmas treat I'm including a couple of the Halichores from Bali that I was able to catch 
on film, as it were.

We were expecting to see the Christmas wrasse out on the wave washed north cusp. On 
the way out we saw a juvenile ornate butterflyfish. A Christmas treat in a small package.
Spectacled Parrotfish Female, photo courtesy of Botany Hawaii

As one approaches the north point at Mahukona, he swims over a deeper patch leading to 
a tall lava wall that becomes the reef. In the deeper area we saw large schools of convict 
tangs and whitebar surgeons. We also saw female forms of the large spectacled parrotfish 
and the smaller regal parrot fish. Neither of these fish are very attractive, but for those of
us who live in the south, they are quite special. 

What we did not see was the Christmas wrasse. The wave washed point is often a good 
spot for this fish, but no matter how long we looked, we could not find one. The other fish
we did not see was the Achilles Tang. This was one of the first fish my boys learned to identify
30 plus years ago. Once common, like the Christmas wrasse it is now a rare treat.

Bluestripe Butterfly at the pier in Kailua, January 2014
As we began our swim across the bay, Sandra said we should check the old pier on the
 north shore of the inner bay for the wrasse. Obviously she had no hope for the southern shore.
And she was right. Aside from a nice blue stripe butterflyfish, we saw nothing of interest on 
that side.

Finally we were back at the foot of the bay. As Sandra had suggested, we worked the area by 
the old landing. There was a juvenile Big eye emperor, the third one we had seen that day. 
And he was very cooperative. We were both in our neoprene, so we weren't getting cold, but 
we had been at it for over an hour. It seemed like it was about time to go. We decided that we 
would swim out a bit and then head in.  As we hit the end of the old landing, we suddenly came
across our Christmas wrasse. He was a nice adult, not as big as some, but full of color. We both 
got a good look as he swam rapidly away. Luckily I had the camera in my hand and I snapped
three quick ones. 
Our Christmas wrasse swims rapidly away,  Mahukona, Christmas Eve, 2019

We surface, exchanged high fives and Sandra said, "Now we'll have good luck all year." 
Sandra and I wish that for you, as well. 

 Mele Kalikimaka, jeff

By popular demand:  A trio of Christmas Tree Worms at Kawaihae Harbor,  April 2019

O Little Town Kailuaville

O little town Kailuaville, how still we see thee rise,
Upon thy deep and dreamless reef, the silent fish swim by.
Yet in the dark depths shineth, the phosphorescent light.
The sharks and rays who sleep by day will swim with us tonight.

The Keiki dream of sugar cane, while Maui seeks the sun.
Please save the fish and grant this wish:
God bless us everyone.

O little town Kailuaville, how brave on Christmas Day.
While pilgrims pray and palm trees sway, the dolphins swim the bay.
Yet ‘neath your shining waters, the Christmas wrasse doth dwell.
His brilliant colors herald in Our Lord, Emmanuel.