Austin College January Term

Natural History of the Hawaiian Islands

JanTerm 1999

Instructor: Steven Goldsmith, Moody Science 314, 903-813-2204,
Steven Goldsmith's home page

All text and images on and associated with this page are copyright 1999, Steven K. Goldsmith

Coordinator of activities: Becky Goldsmith, 903-870-0238,
Becky Goldsmith's home page

Course Syllabus 1999 First Exam Images

    Field Notebooks
    Important Considerations
    Hawaiian language
    Things  to bring
    Itinerary 1999

Course content: Archipelagoes have been called "crucibles of evolution". This is especially true of the Hawaiian Islands, which combine incredible biological diversity with spectacular natural beauty. This course is an exploration of the biota, geology, and geography of these remote oceanic islands, which are home to numerous endemic species of birds, plants, and invertebrates, many of which are unknown to science. We will visit the full range of habitats provided by the islands, from coral reefs to volcano peaks, from lush tropical forests to hot deserts. Our goal is to observe first-hand the biological diversity and complex ecology of this Pacific paradise. Each student will keep a field notebook (described below) where observations and interpretations will be recorded.

Sources of information: The primary source of information will be your own observations of the natural history of the islands. We will be primarily concerned with observations and interpretations of the ways the plants and animals make their living, and how they came to be what and where they are. We have two required "textbooks". One is the Smithsonian Guide to Natural America -- The Pacific; this book contains a wealth of information about the islands, and includes much natural history and cultural history, as well as lots of practical information. The other is Hawaii's Birds, published by the Hawaii Audubon Society. This is a thin but beautifully illustrated guide to the extant (and in some cases extinct) avifauna of the islands, much of which is threatened or endangered. There are two other field guides that might be useful but are not required. They are An Underwater Guide to Hawai'i by Fielding and Robinson (marine invertebrates, fish, and other vertebrates) and Trees of Hawai'i by Kepler. These can be ordered through the campus bookstore or purchased once we reach the islands. There is also a requirement of reading one book from a selection of environmental or biological books (not textbooks) such as Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle or On the Origin of Species, Leopold's Sand County Almanac, Wilson's Diversity of Life or Naturalist, Weiner's The Beak of the Finch, Tinbergen's Curious Naturalists, Who Gave Pinta to the Santa Maria by R.S. Desowitz, or Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World by M. Kurlansky. Any other book of this sort that interests you would be acceptable.

What does the term "natural history" mean? Most biologists who study whole organisms would agree on a few common themes, but each would probably emphasize some things over others. I am most interested in how organisms are adapted through the action of natural selection (including sexual selection and indirect selection) to fit their abiotic, biotic, and social environments. There are a variety of manifestations of adaptation. Morphology (how a body is structured on the outside), anatomy (how a body is structured on the inside), physiology (the chemical workings of a body), life history strategy (allocation of resources to and timing of somatic growth and reproduction during ontogeny), and behavior (how an organism responds in the short term to stimuli in its environment) are all characteristics of organisms that can be interpreted from the perspective of evolution and adaptation. The "environment" can be any physical, chemical, or biological factor (including conspecifics) that influences or impinges on an organism. This takes in a lot of territory. In general, physical and chemical factors constitute the abiotic environment, heterospecific organisms (viruses, bacteria, plants, insects, vertebrates, etc.) form the biotic environment, and conspecific organisms form the social environment. Ecologists think of the environment in terms of the "ecological niche" of a species; the niche comprises an indeterminate number of niche "axes" or "dimensions", which are essentially environmental variables (including other organisms) that affect the survival and reproduction of individual organisms. I say "indeterminate" because one can always think up new variables that might affect organisms. Organisms are conglomerates of characteristics that function together as a unit, and the unit is designed (by the action of natural selection) to function efficiently within the environment. The conglomeration of design features or adaptations is termed the "adaptive syndrome". So, in a few words, natural history is the study of the adaptive syndrome of organisms, and how organisms fit their ecological niches.

Field notebooks: You will record activities, observations, and impressions in a field notebook. The format of the field notebook varies greatly among field biologists, and takes on different forms in different specializations within field biology. Traditionally, the field notebook consists of three sections: the log, the species accounts, and the journal. Most field biologists keep notes in a loose-leaf notebook (5.5" x 7.5" or 6" x 9") with the three sections separated. The traditional writing materials were a stylus pen with india ink on cotton bond paper. I recommend ball-point pen for written records of observations, and a #2 pencil with blank or bond paper for drawings.

In this course, loose-leaf binders are mandatory -- they allow you to rearrange your species accounts to keep them in proper taxonomic order, and to add new ones as you make more observations. It is useful to have pockets in your notebook to keep things like maps or directions to field sites, pens and pencils, rulers, conversion tables, receipts, etc. Notebook binders, dividers, and paper are available in the campus bookstore and in other places around town.

In addition to morphological descriptions, your accounts should include information about microhabitat (where specifically within the larger habitat was this organism found?), population or social group size, interspecific and intraspecific interactions (both competitive and cooperative), and behaviors such as foraging and predator avoidance. The species accounts should make reference to the log so that you know where and when you found a certain creature. Some of our accounts will be "community accounts" rather than species accounts, because we will be interested in the composition and structure of plant and animal communities of particular habitats. These accounts will contain descriptions of the general type of plant or animal community, and will include information about species diversity and the dominant species of the community.

Grades: Grading in this course is S/U. My grading of your notebooks will be based on my observation of how thoroughly you record observations. I expect everyone to record observations thoroughly, legibly, and accurately. We will record many observations as a group, so that you learn to be observant. We will discuss and share our interpretations and impressions, but your journal should reflect your own ideas and biases. Your field notebook is your own record of the trip. It will be a permanent record of what you saw and what you did -- it will only be as good as you make it. Unfortunately, this may be the only time you see the islands in this condition; rapid habitat transformation places many species in great peril of extinction, and entire ecosystems are endangered as well. I will collect field notebooks before we land at DFW on our return trip, and will return them at the beginning of the Spring semester. I will not make any marks in your notebook, and anything that you write will be held in strict confidence.

Important considerations:

It is important to have an inkling of the language of a place that you visit, and although Hawaii is officially one of the United States, there are many words of the native tongue that are commonly used. Below is a smattering of some useful ones:

Aloha: this is a universal greeting which is also used when parting. It also connotes a feeling of gleeful friendliness (as in "the aloha spirit"). It is easy to have this feeling in Hawaii. There is nothing in English with a similar meaning; the closest we can come is "howdy".

Mahalo: translates essentially as "thank you".

Haole: (pronounced howlee) -- an American (usually white).

Makai: a direction, meaning "toward the sea". On an island, north and south are less important than where the ocean is.

Mauka: the opposite direction, meaning "toward the mountain".

Kona: the leeward side of an island. Winds in Hawaii generally blow from northeast to southwest, which causes dramatic differences in climatic conditions on different sides of the islands. In general, the northeast, windward side is very wet, and the southwest, leeward side (in the rain shadow of the mountains) is dry.

The Big Island: refers to Hawaii (the island) to distinguish it from Hawaii (the entire state).

Haleakala: the volcano on Maui. The name means "house of the sun" and is pronounced ha lay ah ka LAH, with the emphasis on the last syllable.

Pele: the goddess of the volcanoes. Halema'uma'u in Kilauea on the Big Island is the traditional home of Pele. Do not remove any lava rocks from any islands -- this irritates Pele, which has unfortunate consequences.

Pahoehoe: a form of solidified lava. Pahoehoe (pronounced pa hoy hoy) is the smooth, ropy-looking, massive lava that results from lava flows.

A'a: another form of solidified lava. A'a (pronounced like it looks -- ah ah) is rough, jagged lava that results from frothy or bubbly lava. Be very careful walking on a'a, or you will find out why it is called that.

Nene: the Hawaiian state bird, descended from the Canada goose. Obnoxious like a goose also.

Humuhumunukunukuapua'a: the Hawaiian state fish (Rhinecanthusrectangulus), whose English name is the "reef triggerfish".

See the NPS site on the Hawaiian language for more information.

Things you must bring:

a photo ID or passport (for airport security).

good hiking boots with adequate ankle support, and that fit well. Plan on a break-in period before the trip.

good hiking socks -- I recommend at least 2 pairs of Thorlos or something equivalent, designed for hiking, and made with acrylic and wool.

snorkel gear -- a mask that fits well is essential; the snorkel can be something simple, and the fins should fit your feet well.

bathing suits -- I recommend two that are comfortable and durable -- this is not a fashion show.

appropriate clothing -- be prepared for both warm and cool conditions. Hiking can usually be done in shorts and a light shirt, but long pants and warm clothes are necessary for night time and at higher elevations. I recommend a pair of convertible pants (the legs zip off to make shorts). I plan to wear jeans and my boots on the plane, so that I do not have to pack those items. I recommend a sweatshirt, sweater, or polarfleece garment for warmth, and a windbreaker as a shell. Other clothing should pack small and be light to carry.

rain gear -- I recommend something lightweight and durable, not an umbrella nor a plastic Sears poncho. A rain jacket can double as a wind shell.

backpack of some kind; preferably a day-pack that is both comfortable and sturdy.

field notebook (described above), lined paper and pens for writing, blank paper and pencils for drawing.

tennis shoes or other comfortable shoes for when we are not hiking.

hat -- you may exercise your own preference here, but you will need something that protects your head from sun and rain, and one that is warm. I usually bring two.

flashlight with extra batteries.


personal toiletry items including any prescription medicines. I recommend bringing copies of essential prescriptions, including those for eyeglasses (if necessary).

Things you should bring:

a copy of your "proof of medical insurance" card

extra cash (I recommend about $200 - $250, mostly in travelers checks) and a credit card (if available) for emergencies

a phone card if you think you will need it

an insulated mug with your name on it

a camera with plenty of film and extra batteries

sport sandals or other shoes you can get wet (for aquatic work).

a small spare bag for items purchased that will not fit into your luggage

binoculars (preferably small, lightweight ones). The college has a limited number of binoculars which can be checked out.

spare glasses or contact lenses

sunscreen and aloe vera sunburn lotion

plastic bags/mesh bag for dirty clothes

reading material for time in the airplane (in addition to required reading material described above). It is a good idea to form "trading groups" for novels.


All times are local; Hawaii is five hours earlier than Texas.

Sat Jan 2:  Travel -- fly from DFW to Oahu, then on to Hawaii
           American Airlines (AA) flight 5K, departs DFW 9:30 am, arrives Honolulu 2:16 pm
                Hawaii Airlines (HA) flight 288Y, departs Honolulu 4:20 pm, arrives Kailua 5:01pm
                You must arrive at DFW at our departure gate at least 2 hrs before departure (this
                means 7:30 am); plan for time to park, to check luggage and get boarding passes,
                and to get through security

Accomodations on the Big Island:
Royal Kona Resort Phone: 808-329-3111
75-5852 Alii Drive Fax: 808-329-7230
Kailua-Kona, Hawaii 96740 1-800-221-5641

Sun Jan 3: Hawaii -- Driving tour of the Big Island

Waipio Valley
Akaka Falls State Park
Mon Jan 4: Hawaii -- Hawaii Volcanoes NP: Hiking and driving tour
Crater Rim drive, Chain of Craters road (stay after dark at the volcano)
Tues Jan 5: Hawaii -- Hawaii Volcanoes NP: Hiking
Halema'uma'u and Byron Ledge trails
Thurston Lava Tube
other short trails on Kilauea
Wed Jan 6: Hawaii -- Hawaii Volcanoes NP: Hiking and birding
Kipuka Puaulu
lower slopes of Mauna Loa
Ola'a Forest
Thurs Jan 7: Hawaii -- Hapuna Beach

Fri Jan 8: Hawaii -- Snorkeling -- Kahalu'u Beach Park, Kona Coast

Sat Jan 9: Travel -- Hawaii to Maui -- be ready to leave the lodging at 7:30 am

HA flight 317Y, departs Kailua 9:40am, arrives Maui 10:07am
The rest of the day is for laundry, resting, working on notebooks, watching NFL playoffs, etc.
accomodations on Maui:
Maui Islander Hotel Phone: 808-667-9766
660 Wainee Street 1-800-367-5226
Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii 96761
Sun Jan 10: Maui -- Haleakala NP: Hiking and Birding
Pu'u Ula'ula
Mon Jan 11: Maui -- Haleakala NP: Sunrise at Haleakala summit
depart from lodging at about 3:30 am
Later in the day will be hiking and birding on the upper slopes of Haleakala
Tues Jan 12: Maui -- Tour of Island, Whale Watching
Pacific Whale Foundation -- depart lodging at 7:30 am
Wed Jan 13: Maui -- Snorkeling at Olawalu Beach, Beach time at Ka'aNapali Beach

Thurs Jan 14: Molokini -- Snorkeling

Maui Dive Shop in Kihei -- depart lodging at 6:00 am
Fri Jan 15: Travel -- Maui to Kauai; be ready to leave lodging at 10:00 am
HA flight 525Y, departs Maui 12:00n, arrives Kauai 1:45 pm
The rest of the day is for laundry, resting, working on notebooks, etc.

Accommodations on Kauai:
Kaha Lani Resort
4460 Nehe Road
Lihue, Kauai, Hawaii 96766
Phone: 808-822-9331
Fax: 808-822-2828

Sat Jan 16: Kauai -- Snorkeling, northwest Kauai, Na Pali Coast
Na Pali excursions -- depart lodging at 7:00 am
Sun Jan 17: Kauai -- NFL Playoffs

Mon Jan 18: Kauai -- Hiking tour -- NaPali Coast

Hanakapiai Falls
Tues Jan 19: Kauai -- Koke'e State Park: Hiking

Wed Jan 20: Kauai -- Waimea Canyon: Hiking and Birding

Thurs Jan 21: Travel -- Kauai to Oahu; be ready to leave lodging at 10:00 am

HA flight 532Y, departs Kauai 12:15 pm, arrives Honolulu 12:46 pm
The rest of the day is for laundry, resting, working on notebooks, etc.

Accommodations on Oahu:
Coral Reef Hotel -- Waikiki
2299 Kuhio Avenue
Honolulu, Oahu HI 96815
Phone: 808-922-1262
Fax: 808-922-5048

Fri Jan 22: Oahu -- Bishop Museum and Lyon Arboretum

Sat Jan 23: Oahu -- Tour of Island

Waimea Bay/Banzai Pipeline (NO SURFING ALLOWED!)
Sun Jan 24: Oahu -- Pearl Harbor

Mon Jan 25: Oahu -- Free day for shopping and sightseeing

Tues Jan 26: Travel -- Oahu to DFW; be ready to leave the lodging at 3:30 pm

notebooks due upon departure
AA flight 8K, departs Honolulu 6:17 pm, arrives DFW 5:35 am Jan 27
Wed Jan 27: Arrival at DFW, 5:35 am; we will aggregate in an out of the way area near the gate;

Thurs Jan 28: JanTerm ends