Big Island Part 2: Giffard’s Hope

A few hours before flying back to Honolulu, we decided to check out Volcanoes National Park. With such little time, we could only afford to rush Kipuka Puaulu.

Also known as Bird Park, the easy 1-mile loop trail is a short drive from the main park headquarters. I was completely amazed by the drive up to the park; the alien lowland forest eventually gave way to acres and acres of just pure Ohia forest. It was of a size that I wan’t accustomed to seeing on O’ahu.

Kipuka Puaulu lived up to its name. There were ‘Apapane and ‘Amakihi everywhere! But the best was spotting an ‘Oma’o (Myadestes obscurus). It even jumped out onto a solitary branch and sat there quivering its wings….

… but it wouldn’t turn around! Argh, a Jack Jeffrey shot this is not. Oh well, if someone out there ever needs a ventral view of a Hawaiian Solitare, have I got the shot for you!

The native thrushes used to inhabit all the main islands. Unfortunately, they are now only known to be extant on Kaua’i and here on the Big Island.

We heard some rustling in the understory and to our surprise, 2 Kalij Pheasants (Lophura leucomelanos) appeared! Typically, a lot of the introduced gamebirds move away from people but the pheasants seemed more intent on checking us out. They hung around for a while, letting me take some decent shots, before they casually moved off.

Of the plant life, one of the more common trees in the Kipuka is Kolea (Myrsine lessertiana). Here, you can see the auxiliary fruit of the species.

Another fairly common tree is this Holei (Ochrosia haleakalae). This species is cultivated here in the Kipuka. The known natural distribution on the plant is East Maui and the Hamakua district of the Big Island north of the Kipuka.

But I would like to note that there used to be a giant species of Holei endemic to the area. Most native Ochrosia are small trees, growing anywhere from 2-10 m tall. Ochrosia kilaueaensis, however, was known to grow up to 15-18 m tall! That’s a big tree. This species used to be found here in the Kipuka and Pu’u Wa’awa’a on the leeward side of the Big Island. Now no trees are known and it hasn’t been seen in the Kipuka since the 20’s.

With all the weeding of Thimbleberry that I’ve done, it’s nice to come across a native Rubus. ‘Akala (Rubus hawaiensis) has edible fruit though I’ve heard it is more on the sour and bitter side. This plant wasn’t fruiting so I didn’t get a chance to try.

Here is the ultimate sighting for me in Bird Park: another of those leafy rockstars. This species of Hau kuahiwi (Hibiscadelphus giffardianus) has a special history with Kipuka Puaulu. The species is known to science because one lone tree was discovered in the kipuka in 1911 by Rock and Giffard. Rock named the species after his friend, hence the name.

On 3 occasions in the past the species was reduced to a single tree. Through hard work and sheer determination by previous generations, this Hau kuahiwi has made it to a hopefully more secure future.

With its diverse bird life, awesome plants and easy access, Kipuka Puaulu is definitely a spot I would recommend to anyone with an interest in Hawaiian biota.

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