Thursday, March 26, 2020

Kawaihae At Last

   Two days after Bob and Kim Hillis flew back to their Rocky Mountain hideaway, I got good and sick.  This lasted about a week.  As soon as I started feeling better, my soul mate fell to the same foul virus.  By the time we were both feeling better the plague stalked the land and social distancing had become the watch word.  We would drive by places like Kahalu'u Beach Park and see droves of people in and around the shelter and snorkeling in
Does this beach look closed?  Sunbathers and boogie boarders at White Sands. Picture SKG
the bay.  One had to wonder who these people were: infected tourists from the mainland taking advantage of cheap airfares?  Whoever they were, we didn't want to be around them.

   Two days ago our Sandwich Islands politicians finally addressed the pandemic, closing many of the local beaches.  Sandra thought we should take a spin along Alii Drive to see what our favorite beaches looked like under the new restrictions.  Kahalu'u, guarded by a variety of maintenance workers and lifeguards, was indeed empty.  But other places like White Sands Beach sported tourists tanning and boogie boarders playing in the waves.  We only have 5 cases of Covid-19 on the Big Island, but it seemed down right unpatriotic for people to use these closed parks.

A lone keiki on the sand at the King Kam
   Our tour ended down at the pier.  Both sides of the pier remain open to swimmers.  In a truly Hawaiian twist, Governor Ige has asked people to shelter at home, but encourages us to exercise.  This specifically includes swimming and surfing.  On this morning the usual battalion of lady recreational swimmers, who daily ply the waters of the Ironman side, were nowhere to be seen.  Only a couple down and out kapunas were in the water.

   In front of the King Kamehameha Hotel, the beach was virtually empty.  One lone mother sprayed her daughter with sunscreen following which the chubby little girl frolicked down the sand to the Inner Harbour.

    Up at the showers, I had the pleasure of watching a down and out kapuna finish his laundry, soaping and scrubbing a sweater on the concrete shower floor while the water ran wide open.  Is this where I want to take my chances against the dreaded Covid-19?
In a couple hours  I have to get up, pee and wander around the house.

   Last night, in response to its failing battery, my cell phone chimed at 2 AM.  This is about the time that, like Bob Newhart  in the Big Bang theory,  I get up to roam around the house.  You know...  do the dishes, paint a butterfly, work on the blog, etc.  So dealing with the pager in the wee hours was no problemo.   Imagine my nocturnal pleasure when I saw an invitation from our good friends up in Kapa'au; Would we like to meet in the morning for a swim at Kawaihae?   Wood eye!?  It had been three weeks since I had been snorkeling.  How exciting!

  We arrived at the harbor to find a virtual gale blowing out of the south.  On a happier note, the sun was out and a wind surfer was racing back and forth.  Considering that in the winter windy conditions are frequently present at this otherwise patch of flat water, its surprising that we haven't seen a wind
surfer here before.

Windsurfing Kawaihae.
    Soon our friends Peter and Marla arrived.   If you are gainfully employed and have not been told to stay home until further notice, you may not be as hungry for human companionship as us retired folks.  Suffice it to say, it was a delight to see our friends.

    Both Sandra and Marla opted out of swimming in the wind, so Peter and I put on our neoprene and headed in to the harbor.  The wind was moving the surface water at a fine clip, so it took only a few strokes to make it out to the first platform.   On my first time around the platform  I spotted a small decorated nudibranch.  For some reason I recalled my youth, ever so long ago,  when I would go fishing with friends.  Back then a wave of relief always accompanied the landing of the first fish.  Never mind if it was a three inch chub. That was OK.  "At least we didn't get skunked!"   This solitary decorated would be the only nudibranch we found on this day.

Trembling Nudibranch, Kawaihae February 2020.  25 feet.  photo Bob Hillis
   The last time we were at Kawaihae, Kim and Bob Hillis and yours truly swam with Peter.  That time out, we saw three species of nudibranchs:  several decorateds and painteds and a single trembling nudibranch that Bob found by diving to the bottom near the third platform.  He got a couple wonderful pictures of this small animal 25 feet below the surface.  Peter was able to dive down and see it, as well.  My limit is about 15 feet on my best day so I was SON.  I hope you enjoy Bob's photo, taken with his Canon D30.

   On the second platform  I found a curious little fish harboring near a small cauliflower coral.  As you can see, he was mostly clear, possibly evolving from a larval stage with his sights set on becoming a mature fish.  This is an odd little fellow and we will need to do some research before we put a name on him.

   The wind wasn't abating.  Every now and then I would surface, only to be hit in the face with spray blowing off the whitecaps.  This was remarkably like having someone spray you in the face with a garden hose. Forcefully. Of course, when you have a mask to protect your eyes, and the right attitude,  it can be a bit of fun... in a wet, off beat sort of way.
Every good snorkel needs a mystery fish.

    The third platform didn't reveal much and so Peter and I made the swim across the harbor to the shoreline mauka to the landing platform.  On my last visit I saw a Philippine mantis shrimp in this area.  Like some sort of aquatic centipede, it crawled out from under and then over the coral for a few seconds before disappearing.  This was only my second mantis shrimp in Hawaii.  On this day the best thing in the coral was a juvenile Paletail Unicornfish.  Well, you can't see a mantis shrimp every time.

   Soon, Peter and I had crawled out of the black lagoon and made our way up to the car park.  Curiously, Sandra and Marla were nowhere to be seen.  I took this moment to reach back to 1974 and whip out a quote from Blazing Saddles.  This quote was appropriate to the absence of our femmes blanche, but, as it came from Blazing Saddles, was not appropriate in any other sense.  I'm not sure Peter, who usually keeps up handsomely with my warped dialogue, recognized the source. As such, he evinced a mild embarrassment as he provided me with a gallon of warm water and
For my next impression : Jesse Ownens
pointed out that the ladies were in conclave with Hai, Lottie and Naia on the ocean side of the
parking lot.

    We enjoyed a quick visit with the young familia On and made eyes at baby Naia, all the time maintaining our six feet of social distancing.  I promise to get another blog in less than three weeks, but it ain't gonna be easy.


Decorated Nudibranch March 2020  At least we didn't get skunked!

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

The Day Bob Went Back to Utah

    The day Bob Hillis flew back to Utah we took an aloha dip at Kahalu'u.  That venerable fish pond is always worth a visit and the Hillises had been so busy on their whirlwind adventure that old K Bay had been overlooked.  We would remedy that even if they had to pack a duffel full of wet swim wear.

    The first thing we noticed was that the bay was really, really cold.  If anyone has taught me to
The red Veiled Drupe from Santa's workshop
estimate with discretion, Sr. Hillis would be the hombre.  And Bob guessed that the water was 70 bone chilling degrees.  Fahrenheit.   For an unprecedented period, daily high temperatures had been remarkably benevolent on the leeward side of the Big Island.  Not only were we wearing real clothes all day, but, apparently the temperature of the earth itself had cooled.  With the possible exception of the Inner Harbour in front of the King Kam Hotel, the water temperature at Kahalu'u is affected more by the temperature of the springs  that percolate fresh water into the bay than any other place I swim.  We had gone through a period of rainy weather just before Bob and Kim arrived and this was the result.

   Being men of steel we swam bravely into the bay, accompanied by a batch of tourists from places like Minnesota, where cold water means something dramatically different than it does in these very Sandwich Islands.

   Aside from the cold water, there was not a heck of a lot to report from K Bay.  Early on I found an unusual shell, at least to my eye, attached to a dead hunk of  Evermann's coral.  As you can see it was a beautiful crimson with flamboyant white tips.  Almost as if it had been made by Santa's elves at the North Pole.  Which, I suppose, might explain the cold water.  After looking at my photo, I decided that it was probably a veiled drupe heavily encrusted with bright red coralline algae that somehow
Fourline Wrasse Kahalu'u 2016
spared the flaring tips. I checked it out with my long time correspondent, Marta de Maintenon and she agreed.  At the end of the day, it was just a red herring.

   I'm including a picture of a blue spine unicorn tang because that was about as good a fish as I was able to photograph.  Later in the swim, I saw a fourline wrasse hiding in a coral.  This fish does his best to define the word furtive.  I got two good looks of about two seconds each.  There once was a certain cauliflower coral in K Bay tht I could count on for this species.  It is good a nd dead now, but I recognize its remains as I swim by and recall this handsome little fish hiding in its branches.  I'm including a picture I took four years ago so you can remember him, too.

    Well, we got the our friends to the airport with sea water dripping out of their bags. Two days later I fell deathly ill.  Fortunately Sandra has managed to avoid the plague and after a full week of coughing sneezing sore throat I am feeling better.  I hope you all survive the Corona virus, especially those among our blog family that live in the greater Seattle area.  Ahh, for the good old days, when Kirkland was associated with an acceptable brand of bathroom tissue.

Stay well,

The Bluespine Unicornfish says, "Institute social distancing!"  

Monday, February 24, 2020

A Funnny Thing Happened on the Way to City of Refuge...Or the Debacle at the Coffee Shack

   This morning, we decided with our friends that we would spend Sunday snorkeling at City of Refuge.  Following a close run thing with a Galapagos shark, Kim is reticent to return to the seemingly placid waters of Ho'okena.  So City it was to be.  In either event, we were going to host our guests for breakfast at the Coffee Shack on the way south.
Star Eye Parrotfish,  City of Refuge  February 2020

   I got the mob out the door by 7:30 and we arrived at the coffee shack well before 8, the time that I thought they opened their doors.  To my surprise, the parking area was all but full and the place was humming.. We dropped Sandra off at the door and headed to the lower lot to park.

   By the time we positioned the Honda and walked back up to the restaurant, Sandra was not in front. We headed back into the restaurant to find where she had secured a table.  As I entered the second room, I saw a waitress pushing two tables together for us.  "Good job, Sandra!" I thought to myself.  That second room with the sweeping view of Kealakekua Bay through the open windows just reeks of Old Hawaii.  I love it there.

    The four of us sat down and waited for five minutes, surprised at the slow service.  About then a young lady in a nice dress asked if we had been helped, to which I replied with a smile, "No. But we'd like to be."  A waitress came a minute or two later and gave us menus.   Knowing that the Coffee Shack serves large portions, we had pretty much decided that each couple would have a three egg omelet, toast and potatoes and one of their cinnamon rolls.  Familia Hillis was going to have avacado on their omelet.
Whitley's Trunkfish  City of Refuge February 2020.

   At that moment, the well dressed lady returned and asked, "Are you the Schnitzengruber party of three?"  She didn't need to pull out her abacus to deduce that we were not a party of three.  She then asked, "Did you check in at the front desk?"  All eyes turned to my beloved who said, "No.  I just walked through and got us seated."

   The pretty lady in the nice dress departed, but was soon followed by the waitress who had pushed the tables together.  "You will have to leave."  she said.  "There is over a twenty minute wait for seating and you didn't check in out front."  Not wanting to create a scene, we slunk out ignominiously. 

   That's what it feels like to get Coffee Shacked!

    Outside, we were pondering the small amount of food we had brought with us, presuming a huge breakfast at our sometimes favorite eatery.   Culprit Number One said, "They sell cinnamon rolls to go."  And so I went back in and addressed the lady behind the counter and next to the sign saying, "Please check in to be seated!"
Pyramid Butterfly wearing papal colors for Sunday.  City of Refuge 2020

   "I represent the poor schmucks that you guys just threw out of your family restaurant, " I said, "And we are wondering if you would sell us a couple cinnamon rolls to go."

    And so, twenty minutes later, we found ourselves seated bayside at City dining sumptuously on the best cinnamon rolls in Hawaii.  You can't beat the view at Two Step and who would dare complain about dining al fresco?  I dare ya.  I double dog dare ya.

    Just before 9:00 we hit the water.  I went in first and before my colleagues could join me I had the pleasure of observing two pretty wanna be geishas speaking to each other in Japanese through their snorkels.  Amazingly, I understood them just as well as if they had been conversing with out their snorkels.  A regular polyglot, he was.

   .As is so often the case, the couples immediately split up, each to find their own fishy treasures.  Sandra and I headed for the north cusp.  On the way we saw a handsome star eye parrot and a
Thompson's Butterfly in mourning because he got thrown of of the Coffee Shack
Whitley's trunkfish, the first of two that we would uncover.  At the corner we were pleased to run into a solitary pyramid butterflyfish.  Dressed in yellow and white, this may be Hawai'i's most elegant fish.  Certainly those papal colors could not have been more appropriate for Sunday snorkeling.   A moment later we saw two more, making a holy trinity of pyramid butterfly fish.

 Dominus vobiscum.

    We swam along until we were just about at the end of our usual route when we hit a small group of Thompson's butterflyfish.  Pyramids and Thompson's share the small genus  Hemitauricthys and on occasion we find both species in this bay at the same time.  Having said that, such an occasion has not occurred for about two years, so this was a real treat.

   To begin our swim back, we chased an Achilles tang for 10 meters and then, temporarily exhausted, we paused to photograph some handsome and remarkably cooperative agile chromis.  Sandra and I then continued back in tandem, defeating the efforts of the competing snorkelers to separate us.

Agile Chromis says, "Where's my omelet !"  City, February 2020
   As we neared the congested Two Step entry I was surprised by a reticulated butterflyfish.  About the time our friends Bob and Kim took flight, which is to say about four years ago, we were seeing this fish every now and then.  Over the last three years this beauty has been uncommon at best.  Along with the pyramid, it is an extremely elegant fish.  I delighted in its crisp markings and hounds tooth coat.  All day the water had been clear (in addition to cold) and this made for a great photographic opportunity.

    Finally ashore, we waited for Bob, who was investigating tiny, obscure species in the caves and crevices of Honauna Bay.  That, along with an astute power of observation coupled with intellectual curiosity, is how you build a really impressive list of species.  I finally captured him, emerging from the sea like a primordial monster.  Not satisfied with his underwater work, he took some amazing pictures of those tiny fish that live in the tidepools.  Cameras filled to the brim, we repaired to Sandra's by the Sea where we feasted on the sausage, cheese and rolls prepared especially for apres swim.

    Who needs that damn Coffee Shack, anyway?


Reticulated Butterfly   City of Refuge  February 2020


Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Kamehameha Butterfly with Kim and Bob

   Late Thursday night our friends, Bob and Kim Hillis, arrived from Southern Utah.  It was 19 degrees Fahrenheit when they left and a balmy mid 70s when they stepped off the plane at 9 PM at KOA.  Yesterday morning we ate a leisurely breakfast and headed south to the volcano with the intent of watching butterflies.  One nice thing about watching butterflies, as opposed to birds, is that they don't start flying until it warms up.  So unlike bird watching, where a start at the crack of dawn is apt to be the best, mid-afternoon can be the best time for les papillons. 

Gulf Fritillary Butterfly courtesy Wikipedia
   Our first stop was Manukā State Wayside, about half way between Oceanside and Naalehu.  Back in the day, Kim had spotted Painted Lady Butterfly at this park.  In the back seat, Sandra and Kim had been studying Hawaii's Butterflies and Moths by Jamieson and Denny.  As we arrived at the shelter where we were going to have breakfast Kim said, "There's a Passion Butterfly."  This was a chip shot for your faithful correspondent;  the Gulf Fritillary butterfly uses lillikoi, aka passion fruit, as its host plant.  Hence Dean Jamieson coined a common name for his book.  There is no discipline among the butterfly people.   

   We looked at this small orange butterfly fluttering around twenty or more feet away and I asked Kim how she could be so sure.  Apparently her eyesight is much better than mine and it was no problem.  The girls wandered down and had a look then Bob followed, finding the beast in resting position on the ground.  He pointed and I approached within three feet and got a wonderful look at the spotted fritillary wing.  I didn't attempt a picture, so I am showing you a photo from the internet of a gulf frit in resting position. This was a great look and I was really pleased.

The amorous red billed leiothrix recovering on our lanai. 
   We walked around the grounds looking at the flowering plants.  Bob plucked a hibiscus blossom, tucked it behind Kim's ear and off we went to the volcano.

   We arrived at the volcano about 10:30.  It took only a few minutes to get organized and we were off on the Bird Park loop trail.  I had us walking in a counter clockwise direction.  This turned out to be a mistake. There were no butterflies on this part of the trail, the portion where Sandra and I had our best look a year ago.  It was extremely pleasant weather, dry and cool, so we enjoyed the walk.  After about an hour we had a little bird action, a distant view of some apapanes (the red endemic honeycreeper with black wings and bill) and a killer look at a pair of red billed leiothrix.  This latter bird is introduced and Sandra and I have a great deal of experience with it.  Five years ago a pair of RBLs were chasing around Casa Ono.  Every few months one would smash into the plexiglass that surrounds our lanai.  I took some wonderful pictures of these dazed birds as they
recovered on our tile.  Eventually they both brained themselves and we have had no leiothrix
My best picture of our Kamehameha butterfly resting under a leaf.
sightings for a few years.

    By this time we were only about a quarter mile from the end of the trail.  We had not seen any butterflies and the pressure was mounting.  Bob had taken the point and he suddenly stopped and said butterfly.  What he had was a Kamehameha butterfly that had flown in and perched upside down on the leaf of a large mamaki plant.  The butterfly had rotated her back wing forward, a common butterfly tactic in which the cryptically colored ventral surface of the back wing shields the more colorful parts.  So complete was this rotation that we could not see any of the front wing.  Even in resting position, the front wing shows a patch of bright nautical orange. 

    The butterfly was somewhat shaded, hanging as it was under a leaf.  And this leaf was back lit.  We took multiple pictures with Sandra's cell phone camera and with the Olympus TG 5.  Considering that the object of our desire was still and we were only ten feet away, our results were disappointing.

  The butterfly was extremely patient with us.  We were able to approach withing ten feet without disturbing her.    I discovered that close focus with our binoculars was approximately twenty feet; by
Victory is our.  Sandra, Bob and Kim on the Bird Park trail.
receding down the trail a couple steps I could get an excellent look.  Bob had some bright compact binocs and by the time five minutes had elapsed, we had all had our fill of this rare insect.  As she showed no sign of taking wing, Bob was elected to shake things up.  We were hoping the butterfly would rise gently from her perch and flutter about our benevolence.  Using a handy stick, he touched the branch and the butterfly shot into the air in a blur of bright orange. 

   Down the trail, a mere50 yards, a large tree had collapsed.  a crew from the National Park Service was there cutting it away.  Kindly, they ceased their activity and let us pass on an alternate route through the forest.  Soon after we were out of the woods, posing for a photo on the unlit trail.   Mission accomplished.


Wednesday, February 19, 2020

A Scouting Trip to Kawaihae

    Yesterday morning I awoke early and gave my upper lip a careful shaving, the better to secure a proper mask fit.  My son Charles, a connoisseur of facial hair, names this treatment a Salvador Dali.  I can live with that.

   Following the barbering I spent twenty minutes loading a variety of limbs into the trunk of the car. 
Juvenile Pale Tail Unicornfish,  Kawaihae   February 2020
Those branches had had the temerity to brush against the house.  In a particularly clever maneuver, Sandra and I extended the pole cutter through our bathroom window to prune a larger trunk that was otherwise in a difficult position..  Our marriage is based on team work and creativity.  And cheap red wine and Costco muffins.

   Our arrival at the transfer station was carefully timed. So popular is the yard debris depository, that if one does not arrive before 7:45, he risks waiting in line for an hour.  This early arrival afforded Sandra the opportunity to meet Jackie, my new best friend and the auntie of the early morning transfer station.  Jackie is old Hawaii; her grandfather emigrated from Portugal and worked as a paniolo.   And she is full of aloha.  

   We enjoyed a group hug and then wandered back to the venerable Honda to wait for the enormous
Christmas Tree Hydra on Platform One  Kawaihae 2020
Hawaiian to open the yard debris at 8 AM.  Or when ever he got around to it...his massive girth being matched in dimension only by his passive aggressive nature.

   Finally we were on our way, north to Kawaihae.  We are anticipating the arrival of that fish finding
wizard, Bob Hillis, and his lovely wife Kim in only a couple days.  He has been reading all about Kawaihae here in the blog and is eager to see a few nudibranchs for himself.  Considering how stormy it has been of late, the day was not half bad.  We enjoyed a fine view of the snow atop the sacred mountain, Mauna Kea.

   We had correctly gauged the low tide and did not need to ford the flood as we drove beside the harbor.  At about 9 AM we were parked beside the sweet little park.  First things first, I was dispatched to check out the seaside shower.  Miracle of miracles, the water has been restored.  I watched with glee as the shower water was carried away in the steady south easterly breeze.

    As I returned to the car an especially vicious gust picked up the dust from the drive and blew it in a sand blasting cloud out to sea.  Luckily we had the Honda parked behind the trees and so we were not exposed to the sand blasting.  Never the less, Sandra asked, "Are you sure you want to go
Decorated Nudibranch with a good look at the foot.

    Well, hell yes!  Soon enough we were swaddled in our neoprene and over by the harbor where I placed our slippers behind a small eroded ridge and buried them in a mound of coral fragments, simultaneously uttering a prayer to the Great God Ku that he leave our footwear alone for the duration of our swim.  Good Ku.

    As expected, the water was cold and the wind was whipping across the harbor.  Just as we started our swim, a  young hau'oli fisherman walked out on the breakwater exposed by the low tide.  We have seen people fish here before, but always from  shore.  Walking out on that tenuous rip rap seemed especially sporting of the young piscator.  Thoughtfully, he left his small yappy mongrel on the boat landing pad to serenade us.

   Along the side of breakwater, we spotted a juvenile paletail unicornfish.  Not a world shattering find, but a nice little fish in his own right.  We swam over to the first platform where Sandra was pleased to see a pair of porcupinefish paddling between the pylons.  On the windward side of the platform , I spied a small group of Christmas tree hydroids that were especially nice.

   As we headed out to the second platform, I was pleased to see how quickly I made the swim.  This
A Juvenile Red Shoulder Tang Cruises Kawaihae
was not because I am the reincarnation of the psychically plagued Michael Phelps, but rather  because the wind was creating a considerable surface current.  If one simply floated he was moved at the rate of about ten feet a minute in a north northwesterly direction.

   On the second platform I spotted a tiny decorated nudibranch.  Hai and Lottie have been good teachers and I was able to pick up on this minuscule mollusc, just bigger than a self respecting match stick.  As we were on the lee side of the platform there was less bounce and current and I nabbed one nicely focused picture.  This picture shows well the foot of the tiny critter.  No wonder the nudis are known a sea slugs.   Mr. Wikipedia tells us that all gastropods, be they terrestrial or marine, produce slime.  Obviously it is easier to see the slime of a terrestrial snail, as Donovan, back in the 60s, must have as the snail navigated his garden wall.   A snail that's what it is.  This, however, was a marine nudibranch and no matter how well we see the foot, I submit that his slime is not readily visible, even with the TG 5. As you look at the nudi, recall that the rhinophores are in front and the external gills are in the back,
A good picture of a pied brittle star courtesy of Keoki Stender

   Around on the windward side of number two, Sandra found a cute little tube worm.  The outlet of the tube was flattened and the worm itself was reddish.  Given the wind and the water movement, and the fact that it was just beneath the surface, I was having a Dickens of a time trying to get its picture.  As I turned around to get readjusted, the elements bumped me into the pylon and the worm retracted, never to be seen again. 
   The third platform was a bust and we swam back in and then headed east to the coral patch where a few weeks ago I saw the juvenile sailfin tang.  He was no longer there, at least we didn't find him.  Our efforts were rewarded with a bright yellow red shouldered tang juvenile bearing a fine red shoulder patch.  And, as  final treat, I got a life echinoderm.  I dove down examine an especially handsome cauliflower coral and noted the finger of a pied brittle star exploring the margin.  I was unable to get a good picture, mostly because the animal was tucked away, but I did get a good look at his pretty black and gold brush-like tentacle.  Sorta like one of those Japanese comic books, only colder and wetter.  To compensate for my inadequacies,
In lieu of another photo, a sign by the Kawaihae shower:  86 papio equals one 'omilu.
swiped a picture of a pied brittle star to satisfy your zoologic curiosities. Isn't it pretty?  As Mr. google says, these images may be copyrighted, so don't go taking any untoward liberties and I think we can all get along.

   Ashore, Sandra and I were enjoying a cold, windy shower, when who should drive up but Hai and Lottie.  With them, they had Hai's sister Poon and baby Naia.  While Sandra and I shivered uncontrollably, we said our hellos.  It sounds like Hai and Lottie are totally up for swimming with the Hillises in a few days and Sandra is more than eager to assume duties as auntie.  Tres Hawaiian, no?


Friday, February 14, 2020

The Blue Goatfish and the Ulua

     Yesterday after breakfast I looked down our long tropical slope to Lyman's, the surfing break that we can see from our lanai.  To my surprise, there was little surf and no surfers.  We have experienced so many days of surf, that I couldn't recall the last day that I didn't see surfers.  Sandra was scheduled to have lunch with a couple girlfriends, so the coast was clear for a solo snorkel at Kahalu'u.

Deep Cruiser   A big ulua at Beach 69 2015
    As I said, there had been many days of surf which translated into many days on the dry.  In my scruffy case, this meant many days without a shave of the critical area that an otolaryngologist might call the frenulum.  For us lay people, it is that patch between the bottom of the nose and the upper lip.  Along with the adjacent territory, it is the narrow strip I keep clear to guarantee a good mask fit.  As I made the short drive down to K Bay, I confirmed that I might have a problem with mask leak. 

   When I got to the beach park, I discovered another issue.  In addition to high surf, it has been cold and rainy of late.  This was a beautiful day, albeit one with a 15 knot kona wind, and the tourists had come out in force.  On my first pass through the parking lot I could not find even an illegal spot to park, so I explored the adjacent streets.  All the parking was taken there, as well.  Unprecedented!   I really wanted this swim, so I returned to the lot and nabbed an extremely marginal parking spot.  Like swimming in cloudy water with tiger sharks, this is not recommended, but
Ulua hunting at Kahalu'u  February 2020
desperate times sometimes call for desperate measures.

    The park was full of sunbathers, but the shelter was only modestly occupied.  I nabbed a table, donned my two layers of neoprene, and made the low tide crawl through the rocky entry out into the bay.  In spite of the low tide, there were many snorkelers with which to compete.  Being tourists in large part, many of these competitors were wearing sneakers in lieu of fins, the better to kick me in the teeth.  Since I have grown fond of my dentition, I proceeded to snorkel in a defensive mode.

    The water was cool and clear and only a manageable amount of it was entering my mask. Stopping for a mask dump every few minutes, I enjoyed some fish, including a close encounter with a pair of lined butterflys.  As you will recall, this is the largest of the butterflies, about the size of a dinner plate.  With luck, that dinner plate might include a toothsome portion of Sandra's famous spaghetti!  But I digress.

    Towards the end of my swim, I encountered a bevy of blue goatfish and an adolescent ulua hunting together.  This ulua is known most correctly (in English) as the bluefin trevally.  Sometimes we encounter schools of small trevally called papio.  These are small guys, less than five inches, with
Ulua Hunting with a blue goatfish  Kahalu'u  February 2020
bright yellow pectoral fins.  I assume they eat plankton.  As they grow, the ulua transitions to a diet of crustaceans and octopus.  Hence their association with the blue goatfish, who has a similar diet: gluten free, heavy on shellfish.

   When they get older and bigger, the ulua is called 'omilu.  these bigger jacks transition to eating mostly fish. Down at the Kailua pier when the baitball is in, you can see five or six ulua hunting in a pack, much like wolves of the sea. Rarely we encounter a really big ulua, which might push up to around three feet in length.  When one of these brutes gives you a close pass it can be a pretty awesome experience.

    Back at Kahalu'u, this group of blue goatfish and the ulua were not swimming quite as fast as usual.  Both species are quite beautiful in their own right, but when they are working together they are all business and swim away faster than I can catch them on film.  This time they circled.  I clicked away and got several good shots.  You have to admit, they make a pretty group, especially if you like that rich tropical turquoise with a splash of yellow here and there.

   The ulua and his hunting mates were the treat for this swim.  After my shower I found the venerable Honda un-towed and un-ticketed.  It was a good day all around.

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

    Yesterday afternoon I received some wonderful news.  In an email from Beth Wood at the Fort Vancouver Regional Library, I was invited to display my art in the main library for the month of June.  This is a wonderful new building on the edge of downtown Vancouver.  Five fabulous floors, the third hosting a children's museum and the fifth a deck from which you can see (I believe)
The shiny new Fort Vancouver Library
Sacramento.   For me, it is dream come true.  I was only asking for enough space to display 15 butterflies out at the small library in Cascade Park.  Instead, they are going to give me a variety of spaces for the art at the award winning main library; there will be butterflies in five pedestals, fanciful fish and butterflies in the entrance window and tropical fish in the display case.  Something for everybody!  I have about 50 fish stashed back in Vancouver, but there is work to do.  If you happen through PDX in the month of June, make the short trek across the I-5 bridge and have a peak!


For an article introducing the library in The Oregonian, see here:

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Alexander "The Crab" Haig

    Alexander Haig was a military man who rose through the ranks and ascended into the the heady world of national politics.  Although he went on to serve President Reagan, he is best known for his tenure as Chief of Staff to Richard Nixon.  It is likely that in this capacity he convinced Nixon to
resign.  During the last four months of the Nixon presidency things got a little hectic around the West Wing and one afternoon Haig confided to a group of reporters, "As of now, I'm in control here in the White House." Those few words stand as Haig's enduring legacy.

    By comparison with our current impeached potentate, those were halcyon days.  One thing is for sure, any aide who suggests to the Donald that leaving office might be the best thing for the country will find himself on the next bus to Hoboken.  If you want to work in this White House, best if you are a toad or a lackey, certainly not a wanna be Al Haig.  Along similar lines, if the Republican party
Snowflake Moray Eel,  Kahalu'u,  February 2020
had rallied behind Nixon (as the pusillanimous Republican solons have supported Trump)  he almost certainly would have survived.  And there would be no Gerald Ford Presidential Library.

    It is a little known fact that Haig, while stationed in Viet Nam, became an avid snorkeler and developed a life long fascination with hermit crabs.  All of which is a sneaky way of leading you into today's blog. 

    As I finished the last blog, in which I made excuses for staying out of the ocean, I found myself in a sea of shame.  That very afternoon I made it down to the pier, where the water was far less cloudy than I expected, given the excellent surfing conditions.  There were a fair number of fish; I saw all the common butterflyfish and an illusive saddle back butterfly, as well.  Nothing blog-worthy, but a very pleasant swim.
Haig's hermit crab,  Kahalu'u  February 2020

     It was great to be back in the water and so, with the surf diminishing, yesterday I went to Kahalu'u.   It was a beautiful winter day with a blue sky and cool, clear water.  Out in the bay, I immediately got an intimate look at a snowflake moray.  He let me dive down and take a picture only a few inches from his snout.  Good eel!  As the coral dies, some species are experiencing the dwindles.  The eels, on the other hand,  seem to be holding their own.

    A short distance away, down in a coral crevice, I spotted a handsome shell, possibly a knobby triton, heavily encrusted with pink coralline algae.  I plucked it from its niche and positioned it, hoping for a hermit.  I was so pleased when after a minute or two, out popped a Haig's hermit crab.  With purple legs and eye stalks, Calcinus hagae is extremely easy to identify.  I encounter this crab infrequently, maybe one crab every three or four years, so it is always an unexpected treat.  This guy waved his purple legs about and we rewarded his histrionics by putting him and his pink home back into the coral.  Be safe my friend.

   I swam further out, into a patch of healthy Evermann's coral.  There, crawling up the side of a coral, I found another hermit.  This fellow was sufficiently exposed that I did not need to move him to get his picture.  Diving down, I secured a handhold under the lip of a nearby coral.  He was positioned in such a way that I couldn't get a very good look with my eyes.  I suspected that it was one of the more common species of dark Calcinus hermits,  hidden or Hazlett's seemed most likely.
Haigs hermit waves his arms, Kahalu'u  2020

     In situations like this, the camera does all the heavy lifting, assuming conditions are such that the photographer can hold still.  On this day, Kahalu'u was giving up without a fight; there were no waves and no current.  I didn't get a chance to examine the result until I returned to shore.  As you can see, here is a second Haig's hermit crab.  This time the TG 5 outdid itself and the photo is in perfect focus.  This hermit is living in a top shell handsomely encrusted in dusty rose. 

    This points out a curious phenomenon.  Haig's hermit crab is far from a common species.  I doubt that I have seen one at Kahalu'u before.  And suffice it to say that in the last thirty years I have looked at a plethora of hermit crabs in K Bay.  So, why two on the same morning?  I believe that there is some physical signal that activates a given species...suddenly the time is right to get active, put yourself out there, look for some action.  Whatever it may be, it is species specific.  How lucky I was to be there when the Haig hermits received their signal.


Haig's Hermit Crab.  Calcinus hagae  K Bay 2020