COURTESY NOAA FISHERIES
Humpback whales appear off the Hawaiian islands from November through May.
Winter abounds with natural wonder by air, land and sea
The next few weeks usher in some diverse opportunities for nature lovers, from the viewing of tiny, delicate cherry blossoms to the counting of giant, mega-ton whales.
While early morning frost can still be found on windshields in Wahiawa (one of the coldest places on Oahu ... brrrrr!), buds are forming on the cherry blossom trees that actually love these chilly temperatures. Many of the trees were planted in the early 1970s by Wahiawa Nikkei Civic Association in hopes of making Wahiawa the "Sakura Town" of Hawaii.
Trolley rides through Wahiawa to view the blossoms take place at 9 and 11 a.m. Saturday, with community experts and celebrities commenting on curious and historical places along the ride.
Reservations are required; cost is $12. A bento to eat onboard costs $5 more. A traditional Japanese program, including a bon dance, begins at 12:45 p.m. Call 306-1876.
There are advantages to being the most isolated state in the nation, not the least of which is the November through May parade of humpback whales.
February comes right in the middle of the season, and the Hawaiian islands are right in the middle of a national marine sanctuary, so next month has become Humpback Whale Awareness Month in the state.
As many as 10,000 humpbacks may visit our waters during the season and this thrills marine scientists, who flock here to observe them. But there are only so many scientists and so many eyes, so help is needed for the annual Sanctuary Ocean Count. Volunteers will be placed at various shore locations around the Big Island, Kauai, Oahu and Kahoolawe to count whales and record their behaviors.
The 2008 count takes place from 8 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. on the last Saturdays of January, February and March. January's count is complete, but to participate in later counts, call the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, 397-2651 ext. 253. On the Big Island call (888) 55-WHALE, ext. 253; on Kauai, (808) 246-2860. Or visit www.hawaiihumpbackwhale.noaa.gov.
The Web site offers other ways to support the sanctuary, including purchasing specialty license plates to support education and outreach efforts.
Also, a Kids' Page offers downloads of games and activities that teach about Hawaii's marine environment, an online encyclopedia and a guide to publications.
On Maui, visit the sanctuary's Education Center in Kihei, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays.
Trees of gold
One day it will be a dark, dreary ride over the freeway and on to work, the next a tree that seems to be self-illuminating will almost make you forget to shift your eyes back to traffic.
That will be the Gold Tree, Tabebuia donnellsmithii, and a few closely related species. One often wonders who had the vision of planting those trees in just such perfect spots for those of us weary of the winter darkness.
If you don't smile after seeing this brilliant tree backlit by the morning sun, you are probably not awake enough to be driving.
The plovers are once again preparing for their nonstop flight to Arctic breeding grounds.
The incredibly hungry young bird who came to visit your yard -- or the parking lot that used to be a meadow -- is all grown up, its drabness replaced by darker feathers with seemingly spun gold highlights. Soon it will take off to find a mate across miles of Pacific Ocean, and its call -- tsueet! tsueet! -- will be missing.
But on a schedule only these birds know, they will return to the same spot, year after year after year. For those of us who have trouble finding our car in a parking lot, this seems even more incredible.
teaches botany, ethnobotany and environmental science at Chaminade University. Her column runs on the last Monday of the month. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org