Sunday, August 3, 2014

Cleaning Up Poop In Paradise

[Caution:   Squeamish?  Have good taste?  Read the title again and then don't say I didn't warn you.]

I've lived in Hawai'i for over 13 years and I love it.  There are many reasons why I enjoy it so much -- the weather, the culture, the geology, the natural beauty, the fact that our one measly Electoral College vote means we don't have to listen to very many obnoxious Presidential Election campaign ads.

However there are costs to residing in (near) Paradise.  We locals call these "Paradise Taxes," and although we gripe about them we are also glad they exist, otherwise everybody would want to live here. The most obvious one is implied in the term "cost" -- Hawai'i is an expensive place to live in terms of housing, food, energy, all of which are about 30-35% higher than on the mainland, sometimes more depending on the category.  For example, we pay about four times more for electricity per kilowatt hour here than we did on the mainland.

But there are also less obvious costs, one of which is the subject of this blog -- the trials and tribulations of cleaning up poop. 

That's right, there's a lot of poop in paradise and if you're a conscientious home owner you have to learn to deal with it way more than if you live on the mainland US.  I'm not talking about your usual pet poop, which of course is the same here as anywhere.  I'm talking about "critter crap" that is perhaps unique to our constant and benign climate.

There are at least a couple of ways to discuss the scope and characteristics of the maintenance challenge of poop. One is to examine the different categories of poop based on variations in the qualities of the target substance.  Another is to talk about the major sources of poop and how they differ in the maintenance efforts required.  I've chosen the second approach for this blog because it will more clearly contrast living here versus on the mainland since the major sources aren't likely to be encountered by mainland residents.

Source 1:  Geckos 

Culprit 1
I've written extensively about these little lizards in my blog, "More Than You Ever Wanted To Know About Geckos."  The most common type, the Gold Dust Gecko was introduced to Hawai'i from Madagascar in the 1970's and has become a common feature both outside and inside of most households.  In my earlier blog I mentioned the poop problem just briefly so now I'll explain more about it.

We tolerate geckos because they are very good natural controllers of flying insects, and because we find their intelligence and social nature very endearing. However, "bugs-in-poop-out." Given the open nature of most houses in Hawai'i, including ours, geckos are almost bound to find their way indoors and no screen door or window can prevent this.  We try to keep their numbers low by catching and re-locating as many as we can, but invariably there are a few who manage to take up residence inside -- which means we must deal with their poop until we can catch them.

Geckos are like cats in that they tend to go in the same place every time.  They prefer to do it dangling, usually choosing a high beam or a piece of corner molding to do their business, which is in the form of a small missile about the size of a grain of rice.  If these hit carpeting or a hard flat surface cleaning them up is pretty easy with a vacuum or a broom (best to let them dry first, otherwise they smear).  However, if the poop strikes the wall or the floor molding on its way down things are more difficult. Some ingredient in Gecko poop seems to allow it to bond very strongly to housepaint.  This produces dark streaks on walls or dark spots on molding that are very difficult to remove, and the longer you wait the worse it is in terms of both quantity and the tenaciousness of the bonds.  Besides the daily cleanup of the missiles, we try to go on regular "poop patrols" around the house to wash the walls and molding.  If you wait too long the only remedy is another coat of paint. We've learned that it helps to repaint with a glossier finish, but this doesn't totally eliminate the problem.

Source 2:  Myna Birds

Culprit 2
This poop source was introduced to Hawai'i from Asia in 1866 to control insects in sugar cane fields (see the Bishop Museum's authoritative account ).  Although this worked, the myna adapted very well and is now considered a nuisance by many residents due to a number of rather obnoxious traits (a nice succinct description is in the Hawai'i Nature Journal).  To the list I will now add Myna Bird Poop.

Mynas are omnivores, meaning they will eat ANYthing, including the aforementioned geckos that live outside (I suspect this is one reason geckos find living indoor environments attractive, despite less food and having to deal with irate humans).  During fledgling season mynas have discovered that geckos are a good source of protein for their chicks, and they hunt them relentlessly around our decks (lanai's).  And while they're doing that they poop.  Lots.  And sometimes while flying.

The result?  Many splatto's on the tops of the wood railings that go along our lanai's (their favorite hunting grounds), on the wooden deck surfaces below the railings, and on the flagstone around our swimming pool.  The poop-while-flying resembles something from a military plane on a strafing run -- a splat of poop that can be several inches long.  Like gecko poop, this also can bond to paint if you don't clean it quickly, and it penetrates the surface of porous sandstone making it very difficult to clean up unless you periodically seal the stone with a special (expensive) product.

Unlike our catch-and-release program with geckos, we have no control options with mynas other that shouting and clapping our hands to scare them off.  Unfortunately this doesn't work very well, and we probably look like crazy people.

Source 3: Turkeys

Culprit Maximus
A number of different types of turkeys have been introduced to Hawai'i over the last 200 years, but the ones that are most common now were brought from the mainland U.S. in the early 1960's.  Like the gecko and the myna bird, turkeys have increased in numbers very quickly and now are found in almost every neighborhood walking down the streets, roosting in monkey pod trees, and marauding through people's gardens (see my blog, "The Curious Case of the Kona Coyote," for more).  

Turkeys travel in flocks, leaving a swath of poop as they go that can be astonishingly nasty. Turkey poop is hands-down the worst excrement we have to deal with in terms of quantity, variety, and gag-reflex-producing olfactory and visual obnoxiousness.

Our first encounter with Turkey poop was on a rainy day not long after we moved here.  Turkeys were still a novelty to us and we found them interesting and sort of endearing.  A female turkey and one of her young offspring took refuge from the rain by roosting on one of our lanai railings.  How cute, we thought, as we took a couple of photos.  On the third shot I could see in the viewfinder a remarkable stream of brown liquid shooting first from Mama Turkey and then from Junior, both streams hitting the deck with a sound that was reminiscent of spilling brownie batter on a kitchen floor. The analogy stops there, however, as I found when gagging during the cleanup operation.

Not long after that incident I was sweeping another lanai one day when I discovered the most amazing pile of poop I have ever seen with maybe the exception of elephant droppings (which don't stink nearly as much, by the way).  Yup, a turkey had found the railing a good place to park for awhile -- long enough to repeatedly poop in the same place, building up the mound so that it resembled one of our island's volcanoes.  The magnitude of this pile was so incredible I took photos of it, but I'll spare you the sight -- let's just say it was 3-4 inches tall and really foul-smelling.  The deck surface here was flagstone and when I washed off the poop I found it had stained the stone badly and it was very difficult to remove.

I quickly rigged up a string system to keep turkeys from roosting there in the future, and I try to re-apply stone sealer regularly.  I also chase the flocks whenever I catch them in our yard, brandishing a broom as I run toward them yelling and shouting (again, crazy person?).  This seems to work, though I find they keep testing me to see if I'm still vigilant -- every once in a while I find a nice dollop in my driveway to remind me they're still around.

So there you have it.  Paradise is not perfect.  We have to struggle with homeowner problems that are perhaps unique but like elsewhere require effort, expense, and time to confront them.  Perhaps this will give you some solace as you huddle around your heat vent this winter.

Could I send you a nice holiday turkey?


Larry Sherman said...

Holy shit! But that happens here in the foothills of the Rockies, too! The Spring Creek trail where I walk R-Mutt Mali (and dutifully pick up her do-do), has some 'horse shit' land mines that need to be watched for. Also, our avians, Canada Geese, drop bombs once in awhile (that happened back in Oxford, Ohio, too). Of course, us Ph.Ds know about this stuff. Stay well in Paradise... and if you get a chance read Peter Matthiessen's latest book, In Paradise. Good read. Stay well and stay in touch... cheers.

Dennis Nord said...

No turkeys have made it to our parcel, so far. I've seen them as close as .5mile. Now I'll be more vigilant, thanks. Spiders might not seem worthy competitors to your geckos, but they are insidious and build up tightly sticking wastelands in the corners if we are not careful to remove them and their missiles. The anneal to tiles, wood, carpet etc. Haven't noticed that they discolor paint and that sounds like an upgrade for the gecko & myna! Mice invasions have been incredibly common, & we are in an interlude of some wonderful length, come with telltale pellets almost anywhere. Our bats are gone, their poop is similar to the mice poop, but concentrated on the deck where they egressed from an opening in the room I closed. I am grateful for the close of the horse on the open road and don't believe I miss the road apples a bit!

Coleen Hanna said...

What the crap as my granddaughter says. We don't have that problem here. It's so cold for so much of the year--you'd think critters would try to come in out of the cold but they don't.
I'm not tempted to move to Hawaii anyway--I'm too cheap! said...

That was really interesting and funny! Thank you for sharing it! I would love to know more about such interesting facts about the live there.