Friends of Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge
Spring 2022 Newsletter
Presidents' Perch Spring 2022

J.B. Friday

President, Friends of Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge

In This Issue



Research News


Stories from the early history of the Refuge


While hiking Pu‘u O‘o trail on the slopes of Mauna Loa this week, I saw not only a bright red ‘i‘iwi, but also a juvenile with mixed red and gold feathers called the ‘i‘iwi polena. It strikes me that Hawaiians have a special word for this bird: they don’t just call it a juvenile ‘i‘iwi or a yellow ‘i‘iwi.
Photo by Jack Jeffrey
When we learn something of other people’s languages, we learn about them and their cultures. One of the things I suggest to new landowners in Hawai‘i is that they learn, in addition to the soils, the rainfall, and the native plants, the meaning of the name of the place where they live. Hakalau can mean “many perches”, from the Hawaiian haka, perch, and lau, which can mean leaf but can also mean very many. One can envision a lush forest full of birds in ancient times. Wai is fresh water, kai is the sea, pu‘u is hill, mauna is mountain, and so forth. Waipunalei, an ahupua‘a near Hakalau, means a garland of fresh water springs, bringing to mind a rich land with many water sources. Hawaiians also named their native birds, of course, but some names have been lost. Several species, however, are regaining their original names. By searching articles in Hawaiian language newspapers of the 19th century, Noah Gomes, a naturalist and cultural practitioner who is fluent in Hawaiian, discovered that the Hawai‘i creeper was originally called the alawī in Hawaiian. The Maui parrotbill has been renamed the kiwikiu. If you want to deepen your connection to the land, learn the meaning of the Hawaiian names. A great resource is the online Hawaiian language dictionary at 
Refuge Update – Spring 2022
Big Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex

We have several projects like our fence replacement contract and APHIS project which are still ongoing. We are excited that our Kupu intern Marcela Ramos-Rodriguez will be staying with the refuge for another year. She will be assisting with greenhouse operations as well as with outreach efforts.

Interviews for the Wildlife Refuge Specialist position have concluded, and a tentative offer has been made to the selected candidate. We will share more details as we have them regarding hiring.

The American Forests and Teaching Change videos that were shot on the refuge were released last week. Links to the videos are below.
Links to a couple more videos also created by Andrew Hara for Teaching Change:

Machine learning to improve bioacoustic monitoring of endangered birds in Hawai`i

Amanda Navine
Listening Observatory for Hawaiian Ecosystems
 University of Hawai`i at Hilo

Patrick Hart
Department of Biology
University of Hawai`i at Hilo

As the Friends of Hakalau Forest know better than most, Hawai‘i has been termed the “extinction capital of the world,” and among the most severely impacted groups are island endemic birds. The Hawaiian archipelago has lost more than half of the avian diversity that used to inhabit the islands, the consequences of which can damage entire food chains and important cultural connections. Preventing further loss of bird species requires accurate and timely assessment of population health and the effectiveness of conservation actions. But many of the remaining birds are isolated in difficult-to-access, high-elevation, or densely forested habitats, making physical monitoring difficult. As hardware and software technologies improve, the use of animal vocal behavior, or bioacoustics, for wildlife monitoring is rapidly growing in popularity. Passively collecting soundscapes provides an appealing, relatively low-cost and low-labor approach to assessing the status of threatened and endangered species. Currently, however, substantially more bioacoustic data can be generated than can be effectively analyzed. Traditional methods for identifying birds from soundscapes require manual annotation of each recording, which is prohibitively time consuming and requires specialized training.
Fortunately, recent advances in machine learning have made it possible to automatically identify bird songs for common species with ample training data. Such technological advancements have led to the creation of research platforms such as BirdNET, a machine learning based approach to the automated detection and classification of bird song created by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology's K. Lisa Yang Center for Conservation Bioacoustics (KLY-CCB) and Chemnitz University of Technology. BirdNET is a citizen science platform as well as an analysis software for extremely large collections of audio, and can currently identify around 3,000 of the world’s most common species. The overarching aim for BirdNET is to provide innovative tools for conservationists, biologists, and birders alike, and the team has already made huge strides toward refining the accuracy of the program to achieve this goal. Unfortunately, it remains challenging to develop such tools for rare and endangered species that lack large collections of vocalizations, such as those in Hawai'i.
To address these lingering challenges, making this exciting tool inaccessible to Hawai‘i’s conservation biologists and practitioners, the Listening Observatory for Hawaiian Ecosystems (LOHE) of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo has teamed up with KLY-CCB to begin incorporating Hawaiian birds into BirdNET. Under the direction of Dr. Patrick Hart, and with funding provided by the National Park Service and an ESTPC Award from the Department of Defense, acoustic bioinformatic specialist Amanda Navine and lab manager Ann Tanimoto-Johnson of the LOHE lab are working directly with the main developer on the BirdNET project, Dr. Stefan Kahl. The LOHE lab has been collecting bioacoustic data in Hawai‘i for over 12 years, and nowhere have their collection efforts been as concentrated as their long-term study site at Hakalau Forest NWR. Hakalau Forest NWR is home to the most intact native forest bird community in the state, and boasts a substantial population of nēnē. As such, the lab has an impressive collection of Hakalau soundscapes annotated by students for bird song that have been used for numerous research projects. By repurposing those annotated soundscapes, and extracting target species vocalizations, ‘i‘iwi and nēnē have been successfully added to the list of species that BirdNET can identify. Both of these species had relatively large libraries of available training data, something that cannot be said for many of the critically endangered and less vocal birds of Hawai‘i’s forests, like the ‘alawī.
To improve BirdNET further, Navine and Kahl joined forces with Google Bioacoustics Group, LifeCLEF, and Xeno-Canto to host an international community code competition named BirdCLEF 2022, which launched on Kaggle February 15th. In this competition, contestants will use their machine learning skills to develop a model that can reliably recognize ten Hawaiian bird species with limited training data. Half of the focal birds of the contest (‘i‘iwi, ‘alawī, ‘akiapōlā‘au, ‘amakihi, and nēnē) can be found at Hakalau Forest NWR, while the other half (puaiohi, kiwikiu, ‘ākohekohe, ‘u‘au, and ‘ake‘ake) can be found in other areas of the islands. Participants were only provided acoustic training data that is available in the online repository Xeno-Canto, and were tasked with classifying birdsong in 5,356 soundscapes collected in Hawai‘i, amounting to more than 90 hours of recordings. The number of training samples provided for each target bird varied by design; for example 37 ‘i‘iwi recordings were included, while only 3 puaiohi (a Kaua‘i endemic) recordings were in the training dataset. With variable amounts of training data made available, the BirdCLEF team hopes to be able to estimate how much data is sufficient to build a robust birdsong recognition framework. They also intend to incorporate the most promising elements of the code submitted for the competition into BirdNET. Prizes will be awarded to the top three performing models, with the best submission receiving $2,500 and another $2,500 in Google Cloud Platform credit.
With ten Hawaiian species of conservation concern as the focus, the BirdCLEF competition not only spreads awareness about the endangered birds of Hawai‘i, it is also a way to crowdsource innovation with direct applications in Hawaiian wildlife management. The contest closes on May 24th, and entries are already steadily pouring in. It will be exciting to see the creative ways machine learning enthusiasts have devised to solve a pervasive limitation to passive bioacoustic monitoring. Continued refinement of BirdNET for rare Hawaiian species may yield a powerful tool for quickly processing bioacoustic data, allowing researchers and wildlife managers to efficiently track endangered bird population trends and responses to conservation actions. More species, such as palila, ‘apapane, ‘akikiki, and ‘akeke‘e, are already in line to be incorporated into BirdNET, each with their own unique challenges that will need to be addressed. But in the meanwhile, training BirdNET to recognize the forest bird species of Hakalau will greatly improve our ability to monitor changes in their distribution and abundance, and to respond to any future declines much more quickly.

To check out the BirdCLEF 2022 competition go to
Stories from the early history of the Refuge

Leah Messer
Many of you are familiar with the Pua Akala Cabin located on the refuge. The cabin, a small, simple structure is 140 years old and was nominated for the National Register of Historic Places. After more than a decade since its nomination the process is once again moving forward.

The Pua Akala Cabin was built by the Hitchcock family in 1883 and serves as a tangible connection to numerous important historical events in Hawaii’s history as well as to the life of one of its most famous painters, D. Howard Hitchcock.
The following is an excerpt from the 2021 Condition Assessment prepared by Lou Ann Speulda-Drews from the USFWS Cultural Resources Team:

The Cabin was a family retreat and hunting camp on the mountain slopes above Hilo. The Reverend and Mrs. Hitchcock arrived in Hawaii in 1832 as members of the Fifth Company of missionaries from New Bedford, Massachusetts. The cabin was built by their son David who used his skills as a lawyer and outdoorsman to assist the land commission with the task of surveying and marking land claims that were tangled in litigation even 30 years after the Great Mahele of 1848. David spent months in the rugged back country working to establish accurate claim markers. During his time as a surveyor, David camped at this location and later purchased it, building the cabin a few years later. The cabin served as the Hitchcock family retreat for hunting parties, hiking expeditions, and as a social clubhouse.
Pua Akala Cabin was even mentioned in the society pages of the local paper. For instance, it was reported in the Hawaiian Gazette that “President Dole and a party from Puuhue ranch have ridden round the base of Mauna Kea and will spend a few days at Hitchcock camp, Puakala” (Hawaiian Gazette, 1893:9).

David’s son, D. Howard Hitchcock, reflected his family’s intense feelings for the Hawaiian Islands in his art. He spoke fluent Hawaiian and traveled extensively throughout the islands, documenting the natural and cultural features in a sketch book and photographs, which he converted into paintings. His paintings often depicted Native Hawaiian’s fishing, building shelters on the beach, and expressing their beliefs in Pele. During his long career he completed more than 1200 paintings, published 700 photographs, and helped form the Kilohana Art League in 1893 that included Native Hawaiian artists (Maxon 1986:199).

The cabin is well-suited as a location for interpreting the refuge’s forest resources and Hawaii’s unique history. The cabin’s ties with the land survey and divisions, missionary families, politicians, hunting, Koa forests, birds of the forest, and current management strategies provides a wealth of interpretive materials. It is frequently visited by special use permit holders as they lead guided tours on the refuge.

Marcia Stone

Just in case you wanted another example of evolutionary diversity in Hawaii, how about 227 crickets? In 1994, Dr. Daniel Otte, a world expert on crickets and grasshoppers, published The Crickets of Hawaii. He found at least 227 crickets native to Hawaii. Almost all are endemic, and most were new to science. Because the Hawaiian islands are isolated and have so many ecological niches to fill, the forces of evolution had a rich opportunity to diversify all the birds, plants, fish and insects that landed here, including a few tiny crickets.
juvenile non-native cricket in native morning glory
Hawaiian sword-tailed cricket
photo Bob Peck
People are familiar with grasshoppers, mostly because they see them during the day. This is one of the ways you can distinguish grasshoppers from crickets. Crickets are generally nocturnal. Another way is the length of their antennae. Crickets have very long antennae; grasshoppers’ are shorter. And then there is the singing, or chirping or just making noise at night. By scraping their wings together, these insects are able to call for a mate. Or not! Several years ago, crickets on Kaua’i made news when they stopped singing in order to avoid a predator using their call to locate them. Their wings had evolved so they no longer made a noise. A few years later, the same evolutionary tactic appeared on Oahu.

On the Big Island, our crickets can still be heard singing. One of the joys of living in the country is falling asleep to the soothing sound of chirping crickets. Just crack your window open and let nature’s white-noise send you off.
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Friends of Hakalau Forest, National Wildlife Refuge is a 501 (C)(3) organization and is recognized as a tax exempt non-profit organization by the Federal government and the State of Hawaii. We appreciate and thank you for your membership and your donations.

   J.B. Friday
Vice President
   Debbie Anderson
   Bret Mossman
   Blaire Langston

Members at large
Charlene Akina
Ken Kupchak
Mike Scott  
Rob Shallenberger
Peter Stine
Marcia Stone 
Jaime Tanino
Gaylord Wilcox