Back to nature

LIHUE — A moorhen cackled from somewhere in the bushes bordering a swampy square of land below Kipu on Thursday.

It caught the attention of about 10 people hiking through the Hule’ia National Wildlife Refuge, but they didn’t get to see it.

“That laughing you hear, that’s the moorhens,” said Jennifer Waipa, U.S. Fish and Wildlife visitor coordinator for the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge.

While the rest of the group moved on with their hike through the refuge, walking on strips of grass between the wetland areas, one Texas man held back with his binoculars trained in one spot.

“I got to see one, a moorhen,” said Mark Steen, from Fort Worth, Texas. “Coming out here, that’s what we’ve enjoyed, a chance to see the birds.”

Steen and his wife Sarah have been vacationing to the island for a decade and said they always come back for the same reason: to reconnect with nature.

“We’re here, especially this time, for rest and relaxation,” Sarah Steen said. “We’re here to focus on nature and when we heard about this tour, we thought it was right up our alley.”

Thursday’s Hule’ia National Wildlife Refuge tour started earlier that morning with a morning kayak along the Hule’ia River with Outfitters Kauai.

Then attendees learned about the management of Hule’ia’s wetlands from Waipa and other USFWS staff members, who also spoke about invasive species and their impacts on native plants and animals.

Established in 1973, the Hule’ia National Wildlife Refuge spans 241 acres and is home to about 30 bird species, five of which are endangered.

It’s made up of human constructed wetlands in the lowland areas along the Hule’ia River, which are managed in phases to allow for year-round nesting conditions for the birds.

The tour is one of several talks and demonstrations within Kauai’s wildlife refuges throughout the week in celebration of National Wildlife Refuge Week, which extends through Oct. 14.

On the docket for the rest of the week are block print demonstrations and book signings from artist and author Caren Loebel-Fried, and a story swap session about history and events within the refuge system.

Tours of the Daniel K. Inouye Kilauea Point Lighthouse are being offered and on Saturday, KPNWR is hosting a free day at Kilauea Point — complete with booths, educational materials, temporary tattoos and activities for keiki and adults.

Thursday was a chance for people to get into one of the wetlands that’s set aside for the birds, Waipa said; it’s not usually open to the public.

For Sorrel Weiss, of Waipa, the experience was a chance to get back to nature, as well.

“There are no people here and it’s quiet, about the nature,” Weiss said. “It’s cool to see what they’re doing out here. It’s such a beautiful and sacred place.”

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