Tuesday, September 24, 2019

I Like Mike...Or Another Nudibranch Story

   Yesterday I received a text from our old  compañero, Bob Hillis.  Bob and Kim were not in Kona, but Mike Martino  was and he was hoping to go snorkeling in the short time we had available before we left for the mainland.    Four years ago we enjoyed some fish watching with Mike and Angie, so we set up a date for the following morning.  He was such a force that he was
The Familia Marino  Snorkel Kawaihae Harbor
dubbed aquaman.  As we have been preparing Casa Ono for a six week absence, we haven't been snorkeling as much as usual of late, so this was a very good thing.

    Mike arrived bright and early, along with Angie and their god-daughter, Melanie, a San Diego neighbor.  This trip was a sort of graduation (from high school ) gift for Mel.  What nice people!  Mike helped haul our gear up to the minivan where we greeted Angie and Melanie.  At 17, Melanie was tall, gangly, forthright and well presented and just a bit cute.  There wasn't a trace of the attitude that one fears to encounter in teenage girls.  Refreshing.

   We all piled into their rented minivan and Mike drove us north to Kawaihae.  The drive went fast as Mike regaled us with the details of a recent guys trip...he, Melanie's brother (a god-son) and Mike's brother had made their way to Bahia de Los Angeles on the Sea of
A beautiful blue sponge at Kawaihae, September 2019
Cortez, where they camped, rowed a home made boat and generally acted like sea going goats. One has to assume Angie gave him a good scrubbing when he made it back to Imperial Beach.  Suffice it to say, we spent some time reminiscing about our long lost best friends now living Utah.

    I had texted Hai, the godfather of Kawaihae, hoping that he and Lottie might join us. They weren't there, which wasn't a huge surprise given the late invitation.  Still hopeful that they might arrive, the  five of us made it down to the water.  Melanie is tall and fit; even though we hadn't grilled Mike about her swimming skills, we were confident that she would do well.  Mike had worked with Bob Hillis as a lifeguard in the California State Parks; if anyone could vouch for a swimmer he ought to be the guy.
Infant fish swim under the second platform  Watch your head!

     The water was warm, maybe 85 degrees, and surprisingly clear.  Melanie plunged right in and when I spotted a yellow margin moray poking his nose out of a joint in the landing, she dove down and looked at him from about five feet away.  It was her first moray, in fact it was her first Hawaiian swim,  so she didn't loose too many points for being timid.

     Out on the first pylon, I found a nice red cushion starfish.  Not uncommon at Kawaihae, the cushion star was a first for the Marinos.  Sandra spotted a mature scribbled filefish that vanished before anyone else could see it.  A pattern is developing here and I'm thinking she
A beautiful milletseed in clear water.  Kawaihae Harbor  2019
may be experiencing serial filefish flashbacks.  It takes a lot of guts for me to say this, given the side upon which my bread is buttered.   But here at the Beach blog, we call them like we see them...or don't see them.

    In any event, nobody saw a nudibranch, real or imaginary around the first platform, so we headed out to platform two. 
    Mike was pretty interested in the platforms as a mooring device and I think he had fun imagining a great big landing craft with its ramp down on the landing pad and tied up to the three platforms.  For the rest of us, the tide was rising and the huge fenders that the army has placed to fend off the landing craft were becoming an obstacle as we surfaced from our dives.

    On the second platform we ticked off the wire coral goby (it jumped when I pointed at it
Pink sponge at Kawaihae Second Platform
making Mel squeal with delight) and the feather duster worms.  We saw milletseed and saddleback butterflies and a porcupinefish.   And there were sponges in a great variety of

colors. Orange, of course, but purple, pink, black and turquoise.   But still no nudibranchs. 

    Both Sandra and Angie were interested in a school of small silvery fish.  I found them swimming in and out around the pillars.  Peter had mentioned infant fish in this location and when we got home we verified that this is what these little fish were.  for those of you playin' a drinking game at home...Life Fish!

    The third platform was more of the same so we headed across the harbor where we showed off the orange cup coral.  On the way back, a female swimmer passed our group
Painted Nudibranch at Kawaihae  "There you are!"
going in the other direction.  She was wearing a white dive cap, as our friend Lottie does, so I called out, "Lottie!"  She didn't respond, so I figured it must be someone else.  The mystery swimmer almost collided head on with Melanie.  They surfaced and  had a quick conversation and went their separate ways.

    Back at the platforms, I found Sandra, but as far as I could tell our group had dispersed.  Right away I spotted a tiny painted nudibranch.  Imagine one arm of a bobby pin.  Now cut it in half.  Paint this fragment gray and put it on a low pile carpet of the same hue. I called Sandra, and then couldn't find the damn nudibranch.  I searched for five minutes but he had apparently slunk into the low pile carpet of foulin organisms. 

    My beloved had had enough fun and said she was going in.   As far as I could tell, I was out there by myself.  

    On the middle of the second pylon I found a bigger painted nudibranch clinging to the pillar above the level of the fouling.  It was getting to be high tide, I was under the center of the platform and when I surfaced there was about nine inches of air between me and the

bottom of the platform.  This also accounted for the space of uncovered pillar.  I took a couple pictures and then yelled, "Is anyone here!"  And there was the lady with the white cap saying, "There you are."

   It was Lottie.  She explained that Hai was on shore, having forgotten his swim suit.  she came and looked at my nudibranch and then swam to the end of the platform, dove down and surfaced, saying, "Here's another one!"

    I swam around to the south end of the platform and Lottie pointed down to some old rope attached to a brace at the foot of the pillar.  When I am swimming out there, I frequently wonder, what would happen if I dropped my camera.  I had imagined that it was  fifteen to twenty feet deep.  So there I was.  What does one do when a charming young lady wants you to swim to the bottom? 

    Lottie dove down fifteen feet or more, pointed to a spot on the frayed, old rope and then it was my turn.  Luckily (or is it un-luckily) the weights enable one to keep going down, regardless of other issues.  I made it to the spot, at least three feet deeper than I have gone before, took a quick picture.  I held onto the camera, so I didn't need to go the additional couple feet to the actual bottom.  I swam back to the surface and confessed to Lottie that I didn't actually
Decorated Nudibranch  First Platform, Kawaihae Harbor
see a nudibranch.  So she dove again, held position and I followed her.  Not seeing anything, I took a photo of the spot at which she was pointing. 

     Well, we all survived the Peter Benchley Experience.   I asked her what she saw and she said that she thought it was the same one.  Which I presumed was a painted.

    We swam together to the first platform where Lottie immediately found a small decorated nudibranch halfway around a pillar.  As I was attempting a picture of that one, she called me, saying she had found a second more out in the open.  The camera and I did our best work on that one and then it was time to go in. 

     As we arrived at the landing, it was apparent that Hai and Mike had become close friends, standing deep in conversation on the landing pad, while Angie and Melanie reclined on the table.  It was bright mid day sun, so Sandra, being a good Hawaiian, had gone back to the park in search of shade.  

The Lottie Trap.  A pair of feather dusters cling to the landing pad.
   Before climbing out, my friend Lottie had one more thing to show me, a white feather duster at the base of the pad.  I dutifully dove down and took a photograph.  As I surfaced the back of my head passed perilously close to group of  sharp , pointy sea urchins that were clinging to the under side of the lip.  Lottie got a bit of a laugh out of my close call.

    This might be a good time to end the blog, but I've got one more piece.  After a short rest and a bite to eat, I went swimming off the stairs on the ocean side with the Marinos.  I had been led to believe that this was pretty good habitat with some good fish.  In fact, it was a dead reef with very little coral and fish.  the inside is infinitely better, but the ocean made for a refreshing swim.

    Kawaihae Harbor is truly the best kept secret.  


to Pauline, Hai, Cory, Peter, Chuck
Dear Pauline,

    You probably don't remember me... we have corresponded by email a couple times.  I snorkel / live in Kona and have been watching nudibranchs with Hai On, who corresponds with Cory.  I also work occasionally with John Hoover.

    Today we went snorkeling at Kawaihae Harbor.  Hai's partner Lottie, also an ace nudi-finder, had me dive down on this animal.  It was about 15 feet deep, three feet deeper than I usually go.  I actually didn't get a very good look, took the picture where she told me to and i got a workable image.  I went through your site and did not find a turquoise nudibranch with yellow spots and red and white rhinophores and gills.  Can you identify this nudibranch?

     I have tentatively named it Lottie's Nudibranch,  Chromodoris lottii.   Whaddya think?

    I am leaving  for the mainland in two days, but I will watch faithfully for your reply.
Yours truly,
Jeffrey Hill, Kailua Kona
Lottie's Nudibranch, C. lotii.  Actually a very colorful painted.
 Hi Jeffrey,

Your animal probably falls within the range of variation for
Hypselodoris infucata.


Best wishes,


 Hai texted back soon there after.  "Ha Ha.  This is probably Painted, which is quite variable."

   He didn't mention if his partner was pleased about her near miss with immortality.



Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Up Kaloloko

      Yesterday I was putting the finishing touches on a painted lady butterfly, one of the three  butterflies of the genus Vanessa that have been successfully introduced to Hawaii.  The Kamehameha butterfly is also of the genus Vanessa.  If one is a serious butterfly watcher and also a conservationist interested in preserving that endemic, it behooves one to
The paper mache painted lady butterfly perches in some red ginger.
be able to identify the butterflies that would be confused with the Kamehameha.  And so, even though it is unlikely that I will see those other butterflies myself, I'm going to have them in the upcoming exhibit.  

    There are a couple of interesting things about the painted lady.  Originally a North American butterfly, it is found all over the world. Hence, it is also known as the cosmopolitan.  It uses plants of the aster family as its host.  In North America, that includes thistles, among other things.  Who knew that thistles were asters?   A really interesting thing about the painted lady is that the European population migrates 14,500 miles annually.  During migration it pauses 6 times.  On each pause it goes through a life cycle.  So the butterfly that returns to Paris in the spring is the great, great, great, great  grandson, or granddaughter, of the one who left the previous autumn.  
The painted ladies of the Montmarte ala Toulouse Lautrec

   So if you see a painted lady in the Montmarte, it could be the great, great...descendant of a butterfly or the great, great...granddaughter of Toulouse Lautrec.   Ooh la la.

    With my mind full of lepidopteran trivia and my hands covered with paint, I looked up to my sweetie and said, "Why should we be sitting inside on such a beautiful day when we could be outside looking at butterflies?"  And I had just the place in mind. 

    Long ago I would go up Kaloko Drive, a street that climbs up from the Mamalahoa Highway in the Palisades neighborhood that overlooks the Kona airport.  Reaching for the slopes of Hualalai, the volcano that watches over Kona, we would park up around 3,500 feet, get out of the car and
Red Ginger growing wild in the Koloko forest Reserve
walk down the street looking for birds in the o'hia forest.  This was about twenty five years ago and these outings were moderately successful for birds, while simultaneously driving the rest of my family nuts.

    I have returned to Kaloko occasionally, but not in the past six years.  This time, as we drove up the street that was laid down in the virgin ohi'a forest, I noted lots of clearing.  A little had been replanted, but most just lay as open scars on the sloping land.  Sometimes there was equipment, like backhoes and tractors, but mostly just vacant lots.  
   Finally we got to our turn, drove in a couple hundred yards and voila, there were five cars parked on the side of a dead end road.  Compared to the lowlands, the air was cooler, but still plenty humid and there were plenty of puddles.  While we were changing into our hiking
Kahili Ginger growing beside the forest trail
regalia, a young couple emerged onto the macadam.  They were wearing shorts, t shirts and boots and allowed that the trail wasn't too muddy.  

    At the trailhead there is a sign, noting the forest trail and a bit further in a tiny kiosk with a few pictures.  After that, one is deposited onto a narrow trail, with occasional muddy patches that climbed through the forest.  It was around 9 AM by this time and the forest was quiet.  Quiet can be pretty nice, but when one is searching for birds a few twitters and chirps would be appreciated.  

    We walked up and back over the next hour and a half.  There were a few flowers, kahili ginger being the most dramatic, with a few flowering trees and a red ginger, as well.  In the ohi'a forest we saw a few of the signature red blossoms.  The most prevalent plant along the trail was the Hawaiian tree fern, which was growing profusely in this wet environment. 
Ohi'a Blossoms,  courtesy Hawaii Public Radio

     As you may know, but maybe you don't if you are not in Hawaii, the ohi'a is under attack.  A fungus is infecting the ohi'a causing "rapid ohi'a death".   ROD.  Scientists are at a loss as to how to treat this epidemic.  At the head of every trail is cleaning station, where hikers are asked to clean their equipment.   God willing this scourge will be brought under control.  And while He's at it, maybe he can get the land owners along Kaloko to stop cutting the ohi'a forest.

We saw one yellow bird, but our view was insufficient for identification.

Blackburn's Blue Butterfly.  Photo Hai On
    And what about butterflies?  We saw no large yellow or orange butterflies.  Within the limits of my weak botany skills, I didn't identify any koa or the Hawaiian nettle (mamaki) required by the Kamehameha butterfly.  We did see some tiny gray butterflies.  It was hard to get close to them and they never perched in our view.  

    A quick word about nomenclature.  The common names of butterflies are apparently not sanctioned by a scientific body. like the American Ornithologists Union, which meets every now and then and standardizes the common names for birds.  Hence, this little blue butterfly is is known as the Hawaiian blue, Blackburn's blue, Blackburn's sharptail and the koa butterfly.  

   This can be a problem.  Our
Hawaiian Blue Butterfly Perching
correspondent, Dr. Patrick Hart at UH Hilo, referred casually to the Asian swallowtail as the citrus swallowtail.  That latter name is most correctly applied to a different butterfly not found in Hawaii and, assuming anyone pays any attention to me, seduced me into a bit of a faux pas.  Patrick was correct, though; the Asian swallowtail is not infrequently called the citrus swallowtail, even though these two magnificent butterflies live in the same place in other parts of the world.  Just not here in the Sandwich Islands.    

     Back on the beach at Kawaihae Harbor, our friend Hai had told us that when he had seen Blackburn's blue butterfly it was tiny, about the size of you fingernail, assuming you don't have Samoan sized fingers.  He followed that up with pictures, sending us several photos of two different, tiny gray butterflies, which we are including here.   He had seen these in the
Unidentified tiny butterfly  photo by Hai On
forest near Waimea.  One is clearly Blackburn's and the other is yet to be identified.   Suffice it to say, Hai's ability to get close to and photograph small animals approaches the mystical.   In our sad case, it is impossible to say what we saw with any certainty.  

    As for the trail, it might be worth another visit in the dry season.  If you are our age, I would advise taking a walking stick and some insect repellent.  In any event, I'm sure you will enjoy the peaceful o'hia forest.


Saturday, August 31, 2019

Hot Water and the Cauliflower Coral

    It's Saturday morning, the last day of August, and the canoes in the Lili'uokalani canoe are paddling down the Kona coast.  We are watching from our lanai, roughly a mile away.  We used to go down to the Keahou Beach Hotel to watch the biggest outrigger canoe race in the world.  Sandra and I would
watch the race from the ocean front lanai/bar.  Those were the days.  This passing year noted the final demolition of that Kona landmark.

    Over the past week we have had some fine snorkeling and ferreted out a life species.  I'll highlight that observation later in the blog.  About nine days ago, the day before we drove up to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, we went north and snorkeled with Peter and Marla at the Mauna Lani.  The hotel is still closed for renovation, but Black Sand Beach 49 remains open for business.

    It was a beautiful morning at the Mauna Lani and water in the bay, surrounded by volcanic cliffs, was warm and fairly clear.  And here is the main point of this blog.  We are now in the late days of summer 2019, the days when hot water will cause the coral to expel its zooanthellae, the symbiotic algae that creates energy for the polyps.  When this happens, the coral "bleaches".  The algae gives the coral its color, much like a dollop of Pappy Van Winkle's gives some color to the branch.  When
the algae is gone, the coral dies in short order.   The water temperature is within the safety range for the coral.
Sandra's Totem, the Scribbled Filefish.  December 2013, Kailua Bay

    I don't know what happens if you take the Pappy Van Winkle's out of Lucian Connally's branch. At the minimum you'll have one pissed off old sheriff.

    2015 was the year the coral died in Hawaii.  If you refer back to the blogs of 2016 you will find that in many of our favorite locations there was universal desolation among the cauliflower coral.  It is the opinion of the editorial staff here at the blog, that this was an unprecedented situation; marine biologists had never seen anything like it.  It is with great joy that I can report that there is dramatically more Pocillopora coral today than we had any right to expect only three short years later.

    As we have said countless times, its hard to overstate the importance of this genus to the Hawaiian environment as a whole and specifically to our reef fish.  Several species of butterflyfish, parrotfish and others rely on coral polyps for their daily bread.  The nursery function of branching coral is obvious.  And then we have species that rely on these corals absolutely.  If you don't have a Pocillopora coral, you will not find a speckled scorpionfish or a coral croucher.  On this day at the
A nice pair of Teardrops in the clear water of BSB 49.
Mauna Lani I spotted a croucher and two pairs of speckled scorpions.  And not a single bleached coral.

   Before moving on, I will mention that Sandra saw the fish of the day, a scribbled filefish that swam away before she could show it to the rest of us. Although I missed Mr. Scribble, I was able to take a few nice pictures of common fish in the clear water.

    A few days ago, I was dropped off at the pier.  It was Wednesday, cruise ship day, and the beach in front of the King Kam Hotel was teeming with tourists and paddlers preparing for the Lili'uokalani
races. Once out past the jetty, the only company I had was the Marian, the glass bottom boat that sails from the pier.  Happily, I reconnoitered the cauliflower in front of Paul Allen's lagoon and on my third dive I spotted the coral croucher.  The legend lives on.

A Hawaiian Swimming Crab harbouring in a P. meandrina
    The Marian was determined to shadow my efforts, so not wishing to end up in the business end of a propeller, I concentrated my efforts in the small bay.  Two years ago, I would have had no Pocillopora coral to play with.  On this day there were several.  In a smaller meandrina I spotted some sort of shell fish.  Closer examination revealed  a crab, much larger than your average guard crab tucked in between the leaves. A cooperative fellow, instead of retreating this guy turned towards me and I was able to get the face on shot you see here.

     Note the pinching fingers: black stripes with white tips. Its one thing to get a playful pinch from a small hermit, but it would be foolish for a snorkeler to stick his fingers next to those serious claws.  Repairing to the critter book back at the ranch, I discovered that this was a Hawaiian swimming crab.  The Great Oz notes that this crab is nocturnal but it can sometimes be seen during the day in the branches of a   Pocillopora coral.  And there you have it.

   The water remains cool, the cauliflower coral lives and I have a life crab.  I say a little prayer every day for cooler water.  So far so good.

Walt Longmire and Lucian Connally.  Keep clear of the Van Winkle's in Absaroka County

Sunday, August 25, 2019

The Kamehameha Butterfly

   Last week, as I was preparing for my display of Hawaiian butterflies at the Kailua Kona library, I ran into a stumbling block.  Sandra and I have seen relatively few species of butterflies and moths in
Dan Rubinoff working on his Rorschach blots. 
West Hawaii.  I believe the number is four, not counting the little gray moth that sneaks into the house and eats holes in my sweater.  Your probably wondering, "What the hell does he need a sweater for in Hawaii?"

  I had created paper mache models of three of the Kona four, monarch, black witch, Asian swallowtail and orange sulfur) and also the two endemics, Kamehameha and Blackburn's blue, which is also known as Hawaiian blue and Koa.  And also the gulf fritillary, which I knew people had seen on this island, although I had not been so lucky.  Yet.

    At this point I was flummoxed, stymied, if you will.  I'm still at work on a group of orange sulfur butterflies, but that ship will sail shortly, and then what will I do next?  I would really like to present butterflies that someone might see here on the Big island...there must be more than four.
  Sandra in front of dodonea and koa.  Can the butterflies be far behind?

   To solve this problem, I turned to the internet and found contact information for professors at UH Hilo and Manoa.  My questions were:  1. What butterflies and moths actually occur on the island of Hawaii that I can model for the display? and 2. Is it possible that I can see any of these butterflies and moths?

    First to write back was Bob Thomson from Manoa.  In a cordial reply, he said that he didn't know much about butterflies, but he knew just the man, Dan Rubinoff, also a professor at Manoa.  Off went an email to Dr. Rubinoff.

    As it turns out, Dan Rubinoff is a true specialist in butterflies.  He recommended the University of Hawaii Insect Museum, a real place, but also a digital site which he and his students have created.  At the digital museum, I not only found pictures of a few insects, but also a link to the Pulelehua Project, an effort to support the dwindling numbers of the Kamehameha butterfly.  If you haven't guessed,
A male Kamehameha butterfly.  Courtesy of the Pulelehua Project
pulelehua is Hawaiian for butterfly. 

   Trolling on you tube that evening, we happened upon this video starring the Kamehameha Butterfly and Dan Rubinoff:

  Dan encouraged us to go to the Bird Park at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to look for the two endemic species.  He listed the plants that the blue employs as hosts, koa and dodonea   In the process, he pointed out something that I had an inkling about, but did not have firmly in my mind.
Very much like a given species of anemone fish has an obligatory relationship with one or two species of giant anemone, butterflies are usually tied to a single host species of plant.  They lay their eggs on that plant and  their caterpillars eat those leaves voraciously, subsequently becoming  butterflies

    Curiously, the butterflies themselves are dainty eaters.  They don't have mouth parts, per se, but
Our kamehmeha butterfly rests on a māmaki leaf. A classic host plant.

rather a proboscis through which they suck up nutrition.  The blue eats various flower nectars while the Kamehameha sucks koa sap.  

   Next time I need to talk some trash, I'm going to say," Aw, ya mudda sucks koa sap."

    This relationship between butterflies and their hosts has developed over a very long period of time.  Unfortunately, the butterflies use species of plants that frequently are not treasured as ornamental plants in one's yard.  Aka weeds.  Hence, as civilization has encroached on the wild forests and meadows, supplanting these with asphalt, houses and yards of grass and beds of roses, we have been destroying butterfly habitat, specifically the plants that feed caterpillars.   It isn't only the Kamehameha butterfly that is affected in this way.

The Kamehameha looks down at us
   On the other hand, some butterflies employ a host that us humans find desirable.  One of these is the gulf fritillary.  That butterfly lays its eggs on passion fruit, known in these very Sandwich Islands as  lilikoi.  The gulf frit is native to the Caribbean and Florida, but happily lives in Hawaii, home of passion orange guava.  Is POG the state beverage?  If not, it ought to be. Next time you are plucking a lilikoi for your evening beverage, look under the leaves for some tiny caterpillars.  That ought to whet your appetite!

   Appreciating the opportunity to see a new species, one so endearing that it bears the crown of the Hawaii State Insect, Sandra and I set off yesterday morning for the volcano.  Since there is so much trouble on the saddle road with the thirty meter telescope protest, we took the southern route through Na'alehu, arriving at the bird park about 9:30 in the morning.  

   We had studied both the butterflies and the host plants on the internet; at the beginning of the trail we identified both koa and dodonea.  

kahili ginger in HVNP.  Photo Sandra Gray
    Setting off on the 1.5 mile loop, we were immediately in the presence of a large black witch moth which zipped up and down the trail.  Another hundred yards up the trail and we saw a fast moving orange butterfly.  It was 20% smaller and a darker shade of orange than the monarch, which,being the common orange butterfly of Casa Ono, serves as our standard.  It flew around us for a minute and then landed on a tree about ten feet away.  I was within the close focus of my binoculars, so my sighting was eyes only.  Sandra was a few feet behind me and was able to get an excellent look through the Swarofskis. 

   I got a wonderful look at the underside of the back wing.  If you are not used to identifying orange butterflies of the genus Vanessa, this constitutes a surprise. In all these Vanessa butterflies, that back underside wing looks like a set of feathers, mostly in shades of brown and gray.  This Kamehameha had some blue occuli.  In its own way rather attractive. There are four other members of the genus vanessa on Hawaii.  Go to the Pulelehua Project site and look at "look alike species"  google images has even prettier pictures of these species in resting position, that is, with the wings folded up, showing off that back outer wing.
A close up of the kahili ginger blossom.

  We then went an hour without seeing another butterfly.  We did see a few birds, Kalij pheasant, northern cardinal and white eye.  We don't need to leave our yard to notch those species.  Luckily the weather was pleasant, the trail was easy and the company was excellent.  We walked  a little over a mile in that hour and were nearing the end of the trail when we saw our second orange butterfly.  This Kamehameha was far more cooperative, flying quite close to us, showing off the brown hairs that extend like a fan over the upper wings.   

    He lit on a leaf about five feet away.  Sandra forced the camera into my hands and I started snapping away and moving closer.  He stayed put for about half a minute and  I got within about three feet.  Given the quality of my pictures, I would have been better off just watching this magnificent and rare creature.  But if you look, there can be no question but that this was a Kamehameha butterfly.  

  After the last photo, he took off and circled for a short while and then perched face down on a branch. I think that while I was nabbing one more picture he was checking me out.  Having heard that my mother sucks koa sap, he might have been considering giving me a the taste test with his tiny proboscis.
Hawaii Coat of Arms.  Kahili on the right

   Following our butterfly hike, we went into the national park and poked around some spots that looked promising for the blue butterfly.  We had no luck with the butterfly but did see a gazillion of these fancy flowers, the kahili ginger.  As you may recall, a kahili is the standard carried by the attendant of an ali'i, basically a long staff surmounted with a cone of feathers.  Curiously, the most magnificent stands of kahili ginger were out on the highway, not in the park.

    A quick note on the park.  In spite of the cessation of eruptions, a surprising number of things remain closed.  This includes the Jagger Museum and the Thurston Lava Tubes.   The latter is associated with an area good for birding and it might have yielded on of those blue butterflies.  Maybe next time.


     Just before we left on our trip to the volcano, I received a reply from my UH Hilo correspondent.  Patrick Hart added a beautiful black and white butterfly, the citrus swallowtail, to my to do list.  This
Citrus Swallowtail  Papilio demodicus
magnificent butterfly, which hails from sub-Saharan Africa, is now seen  by Dr. Hart around Hilo.  This butterfly uses citrus trees as its host plant.  Hence the wikipedia site devoted to the species is more about controlling than attracting it. this black beauty can lay its eggs on my lemon tree whenever it wants!

   Encouragingly, Dr. Hart noted that the Kamehameha butterfly is seen in Hilo, though infrequently.  The city fathers need  to plant more koa and mamaki in the public gardens.  Is it possible to encourage home gardeners in the use of these species?

   Both Patrick and Dan Rubinoff encouraged me to leave a light on at night in hopes of attracting various moths.  You can look forward to a model of the oleander hawk moth, which is reputed to be common in Kona.  
And what sort of garden do you come from, my dear?   Why I don't come from any garden.

The Kilauea Iki Overlook  Photo by Sandra Gray


Sunday, August 18, 2019

An August Outing to the Pier and the Truth about Fugu

     Yesterday I went snorkeling at the Kailua pier.  The village was swarming with hordes of well groomed tourists.  This was surprising, since the last week has been very quiet here with little traffic
Our beloved beach community under a bruised August sky.
and a paucity of visitors.  We wondered if something was going on, but saw no signs of an event.  One was left with that question posed in children's book about fire engines...Where did they come from?  Where are they going?  I guess that's two questions.

    Anyway, the reason Sandra was dropping me off at the pier, aside from the fact that I can't get enough time swimming in the deep blue sea, was that she was assisting her friend Charlot at the library.  Charlot was teaching a group of ten ladies how to crochet.  Which I guess makes my sweetie the assistant crochet meister.  It also gave me an hour and a half to enjoy the warm summer ocean.

   Under a bruised sky, the type you read about in a creepy Steven King novel, there was a modicum of locals and a very few tourists cavorting in the shallows on the Ironman side of the pier.  You will
The Stripe Belly Puffer, Kailua Pier August 2019
recall that a week ago when I snorkeled this side, the water was virtually opaque.  Yesterday, it was fairly clear, with good visibility up to ten feet.  The lack of sun made my photographic subjects less vibrant, but at least one could see the fish.

  Around the fourth swim buoy I spotted a pair of stripe belly puffers about ten feet down.   One was rather large and the other about half that size. This is a species that more frequently appears singly.  With that in mind, I nabbed a picture of the duo.  They were on the bottom at this point and the picture is marginal.  I dove the big guy and I am including his picture here. 

   While I was floating in the warm water, I mused about puffers.  Specifically, I have been thinking about Canthigaster jacator, the Hawaiian toby.  This little puffer is fairly common at Kahalu'u, not uncommon at the pier, but much less prevalent at City of Refuge, where the water is deeper and faces the ocean directly.   Where this little puffer is super abundant is at Kawaihae harbor.  I believe it is no
Canthigaster jacator.  Kahalu'u 2018.  A moderately toxic individual.
coincidence that this puffer plus a resident porcupine fish or two, are found around those pillars.  If you are a big fan of Homer Simpson, you will hearken back to the episode where our hero insists on eating puffer fish at a sushi restaurant.  As it turns out, the sushi chef has never prepared fugu, the sushi name for puffer, before.  Homer is told too late and then spends the night contemplating his imminent demise.   Spoiler alert:  Homer survives the night.

   If one looks in John Hoover's remarkable Ultimate Guide, he notes that some C. jacator  rely on coral alone for their diet.  Thin soup for those tobies.  While others, and I'm submitting that this Group B is found at Kawaihae harbor,  eat all sorts of poisonous fouling animals like hydras and sponges.  Hence, I speculate that just like the nudibranchs that are on the high sponge diet, the pufferfish at Kawaihae are toxic to the max.  One can only assume that Homer's fugu did not come from Kawaihae. 
Now go do the fugu that you do so well.  Hedley Lamar, loosely

   Having exhausted my brain,  I continued on my swim.  There was nothing special in the deep but back inside I saw a nice pair of blacktail snapper, a lone male elegant coris and a veritable buffalo herd of teenage mutant moorish idos.  There had to be twenty idols in this group.  If you count the ones in my picture I think you come up with fourteen.. Trust me, there were at least six more.   

   The swim finished happily, no one got stabbed with a crochet needle and we all lived happily ever after.  Beware of the fugu and we will see you at the beach.  


On the fourteenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me...

Thursday, August 15, 2019

On the Trial of the Painted Nudibranch

     Over the last few years I have come to the conclusion that high surf in Kona is no less likely in the summer than in the winter.  It could be that the winter storms bring larger waves, waves big enough to wash the sand from White Sands Beach.  But for the proportion of days when the surf is big enough to discourage a rocky entry at City of Refuge or Kona Makai, or cloud the water around the
Three painted nudibranchs on a blue spong.  Kawaihae Harbor August 2019
Kailua Pier, I think it is close to the same.  And, you guessed it, we are in another period of good  surfing conditions right now.   

    Regardless of the surf, I made my way down to the pier a few days ago.  It wasn't only the surf that was of concern; we are now in another very rainy period.  Up at Casa Ono we experienced four inches of rain on three alternating days. That's more than twelve inches of rain in five days!  A week or so ago, Kailua Bay made the Honolulu news, as it was closed for brown water. Woof!  This place used to be  desert, now there are bracket fungi growing on the avocado tree.

    As I arrived at the pier, there was a sweet little Japanese lady (tiny, actually) who was dressing to leave while I was putting on my swim shirt. She told me that the water wasn't too cloudy, but not too clear, either.   All in all, that was good news.

    Well, the water was a little clear near the beach, but I couldn't see the bottom when it was deeper than six feet.  I did some tooling around in the shallows before I got out, but didn't see anything of note.  As I reached the steps, I encountered a problem that may be as bad as brown water.   An insane homeless man was stumbling along pushing a bike and screaming at the voices inside his head.  I let him go on his way before completing my exit.
Painted nudibranchs, Kawaihae Harbor August 2019

    I had a nice cool shower, one of the highlights of snorkeling in the heat of the summer, and then went to change into my dry clothes.  In the restroom, the man and his bike were locked in one of the stalls, where he was continuing his loud assault on the voices.  Kona is not the sweet little beach community it once was.  Rain or shine, we have a problem.

   As the surf was persisting, the following day Sandra and I made our way up to Kawaihae Harbor. 
A Gloomy Nudibranch appears magically on the First Platform
We had checked with Hai, but he was going surfing.  Sure enough, when we arrived his jeep was in the parking lot and he was 50 yards off shore on a board.  Unfotunately for our friend, there was very little surf.  We made it down the the bay, happy to have each other to go snorkeling with.

    We spent some time around the first platform looking for Hai's small black frogfish, but seeing little of note.  At the second platform, it wasn't but a minute or so before I saw a trio of nudibranchs.  They were chubby little guys with green bodies and jaunty red rhinophores and gills.  The largest was about two centimeters long, the smallest half that.  It took me a minute, but I correctly identified them as painted nudibranchs.  This was a species that Hai had found and identified for us a couple months ago.  That animal was small and tucked away.  So poor was that sighting, that I felt guilty including it on my list.  But it did provide the incentive to study the species and file it in the memory banks.

   If we had felt a modicum of shame before, here we had delicious redemption.  These fat little fellows were going nowhere fast and I was able to take a dozen photographs.  I had forgotten my
The distinctive Banded pattern of a juvenile undulated moray.
weights in the car, so I was bobbing around just a bit more than I might have been.  Out of all those pictures I got a few that weren't too bad.  

    We scoured the second and third platforms, seeing some old friends like the wire coral goby and a couple feather duster worms, but no more nudibranchs.  After an hour or so of swimming, Sandra headed to the beach and I took one more spin around the first platform.  Right away, I found a gloomy nudibranch about two feet down, totally out in the open.  Obviously these molluscs are very compressible.  I suppose they can shelter inside sponges and various other fouling plants and animals, but it is sort of weird how they suddenly materialize.  Its almost as if Captain Kirk beams them down.

   Regardless, I nabbed a few pictures of the Gloomy, which is a very handsome nudibranch, similar in coloration to that famous mobile fish, the palette surgeon.

    Having finished with that I was just heading to the beach when I saw, about ten feet down, an undulated moray eel hunting.  The
Kawaihae Harbor, the north shore.  With water spots.
undulated might be the least common of the half dozen morays that we see during the day.  And
there is one other thing about the undulated...they bite.  This guy was sporting the distinctive pattern that John Hoover calls juvenile.  Aware of their reputation, I got a good picture of the tail and didn't get as close for a face shot as I might have.

   Apres swim we enjoyed a nice warm shower by the seaside and then made it over to the restrooms by the marina to change.  While we were there, I nabbed this sweet picture of the north end of the harbor with the tropical foliage in the background, blue water and ffluffy white clouds.   Those water spots in the sky are just what you would expect from a camera after a great morning of snorkeling.


A second look at this day's gloomy.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Snorkeling with Weights and the Gulf Fritillary

    For about the last week or so I have added a weight belt to my standard snorkeling equipment and I've been swimming with four pounds of modestly expensive lead.  The expense might surprise you, as it did me.  A weight belt and two 2 pound weights costs about as much as a reasonably good snorkel mask.
The arc eye hawkfish bemoans the loss of his pal the croucher.

    The change was driven by Hai and his fantastic nudibranch pictures; clearly his technique was improved with weights..  He lead the charge (pun intended) and now Peter and Marla are wearing weights, too.  Just sign on to onebreathkohala and you will see Peter's beautiful pictures. 

    My first day with the extra weight was at the the Paul Allen side of the pier.  It was a rough day, so it was hard to say if the extra weight had any beneficial effect.  The best fish was a super male five stripe wrasse.  He was in the turbulent water just outside the little jetty.  Everything was moving and the water was full of debris, so although I tried, I didn't get much of a picture. 

   I made it out to the coral head where the croucher resides.  There was quite a bit of surge, but I dove down and held on while the waves swept over me.  Although I have never ridden a mechanical bull, the degree of tossing back and forth must have been about the same.  I did not find the crouchers: I'm going to wait until I have one more shot before declaring their run on this coral head at an end.  Perhaps as a benefit of the weights, I was able to nab the picture you see of an arc eye hawkfish giving me the fish eye from inside the cauliflower coral.

The free floating, slightly cubist, elegant hermit crab.  Makes me want to sing My Way
    Our second outing with the lead was up to Mahukona.  We met our friends and Peter showed us his new stake out for the rock damsel.  You will recall this obscure fish, which looks somewhat like a Pacific Gregory with three light vertical stripes.  It lives in the surge zone.  This small family can be found in the boulders very near the south end of pier as it faces the ocean.  We had several good looks, but although the water was clear, the movement was extreme and the fish is furtive to the max.

   In the same area,   I spied a small triton shell about eight feet down.  With the added weight I was able to get down and snag it with ease.  Inside was a small elegant hermit crab.  He was a brave little fellow, coming all the way out of his shell and nipping at my glove with his claws.  Peter and I passed this treasure back and forth, after which I nabbed  a handful of pictures while holding the shell and crab in my gloved hand.   Two of the five pictures were in focus.  I took the best and photo shopped out the glove, recreating a little bit of shell in the
The Stocky Hawkfish and Peter's crevasse.  "Maybe he'll crash this time."
process. Some of the water looks a little cubist and the crab seems to be floating in mid-air (or water).  Nevertheless, I think its a pretty interesting result.

   The second part of this excursion involved swimming across the bay to the spot where Peter sees the gargantuan blenny.  His stake out for this fish is a lava crevice about three feet deep surrounded by wave swept rock festooned with rotten, dying coral.  Suffice it to say, this fish, too, lives in the surge zone.  On this moderately rough day we were asked to sweep with the surge, back and forth over the crevice, while fending off the projecting rocks and coral with our gloved hand and look into the depths for a glimpse of the gargantuan blenny.   We didn't see the gargantuan blenny, a large black blenny with shiny blue spots, but there was a stocky hawkfish perched on the edge of the crevasse who took some pleasure in watching me swoop back and forth, all the while, like a spectator at the Indy 500, hoping for a spectacular crash.

   Later in our swim I saw a snowflake moray eel in about twenty feet.  With the weights I was able to dive deeper and stay down with ease.  Swimming back to the surface was not difficult, but if one chose not to swim up, he would not be drawn up like a bubble.

 So there you have it...a choice.

  Marla keeps a wonderful garden and she gave us a bunch of calamondin.  Although they are the size of tangerines, they look more like small oranges.  They are quite juicy.  The juice tastes slightly of orange, but the over riding characteristic is its  high acidity.  I found it palatable when the juice of half of one small fruit was diluted in six ounces of water and sweetened with half a packet of splenda.  This advice will probably not help you unless you are friends with Marla.  I've never seen this fruit anywhere else and I suppose you can guess why.  On the other hand, didn't Sandra take a delightful picture of the calalmondin with the purple flowers that grow in our yard? 

    We don't know the name of those flowers, which I have been able to propagate with cuttings.  As a result, we have a bunch of them.  If you would like to drop by and take a cutting you are more than welcome. We might even give you a calalmondin cooler.   Better yet, if you know the name of those lovely Husky colored flowers, don't keep it a
secret.  If you can give us the name we might send you a calamondin cooler.

    First prize, a calamondin cooler.  Second prize, two calamondin coolers,

   While I was enjoying my calamondin cooler, I finished putting the mod podge on my rendition of the Gulf Fritillary butterfly.  It took a lot of work, but I like the result.  Now we just have to catch up with Denise and secure a show at the library.


The Gulf Fritillary ala Jeff