It is always exciting when one happens upon an albatross courting dance. Last month I heard the distinctive sounds of two albatross just four doors down from Honu Point Vacation Rental. I grabbed my phone and sat down on the other side of a hedge to watch the show. Soon one of the birds came through the hedge and walked toward me. I started this video as the other one came over in hot pursuit. Some preening and bobbing started; sure signs that there was love in the air.
Those of you who have been following my blogs for awhile know how much I LOVE our Kauai albatross. Each November we wait, not-so-patiently, for the adult birds to return home to our neighborhood. They have been up north, as far as Alaska, gorging on the summer’s wealth of food. But, when the weather starts turning cold, these amazing birds head south to their place of birth where they hopefully meet up with their partner in order to produce yet one more offspring.
I was anxiously awaiting the arrival of Larry and Dora, the proud parents of Pela who was born last year in the cul-de-sac at the foot of Honu Point’s driveway. I was given the opportunity to choose his/her name (still don’t know the gender). Pela means “soar” in Hawaiian. Once you see an albatross in flight, you will know why I chose that name.
Photo: Pela – one month old
We knew it was going to happen soon because this precious Laysan albatross chick was sooooooo ready. Pela (born January 30th, 2019) had been fed by both mom (Dora) and dad (Larry) last week so her tummy was plenty full.
Two of the seventeen albatross chicks born in Princeville have taken flight. All of these chicks were born the end of January and have stayed close to their nests until now. Mom and Dad have been bringing them sustenance for months. Now it is time for each of them to head out to sea to find their own food thousands of miles away.
Pela (Hawaiian for “soar”), the chick I was lucky enough to name, is still in the cul-de-sac just at the foot of Honu Point’s driveway. He/she, like the others, has much of her body covered in flight feathers but still maintains the baby fluff around her head and chest. It is not her best look.
It has been a month since I reported on Pela, “my” Laysan albatross chick in Princeville, Kauai. He/she is now ten weeks old and growing like crazy. I will not know his/her gender for awhile so until then I am choosing the “she” pronoun. When she gets closer to fledging (first flight), the Biologists will tag her and pluck a feather to be analyzed. At that point we will know her gender.
Pela is on her third nest. She started in the nest her parents lovingly built prior to laying the egg from which she emerged. Several weeks later she moved to a spot next to the fire hydrant and built her own nest (see photos here). Now she is a few feet away at the base of a tree. Much better for photographs!
Yesterday I was gardening at Honu Point, our vacation rental next to Pela’s nest, and I heard the very distinctive sound of albatross communing with one another. So, I dropped my tool (any excuse for a rest) and headed in the direction of the noise, camera in hand. In the yard of a nearby neighbor I found two albatross beak to beak, both with tags on their left leg. I happen to know that Dora, Pela’s mom, has her tag on her left leg so I assumed she was one of the pair. But, who was the other adult bird? Larry, Pela’s dad, has his tag on the right leg. Oh dear.
Of course he/she is “my” albatross chick because, after all, he/she was born on my birthday and I was lucky enough to get to name her. Pela means “soar” in Hawaiian and that is what he/she will do in about four months from now. With in any luck, the fledge will take place off the bluff of Honu Point.
Recently I uploaded two videos of Pela with Larry, his/her dad. The first shows Pela, at five weeks old, greedily asking for some food. Not this time. Lesson: patience is a virtue. Best with volume.
One week later, Pela fares a bit better. This week’s lesson: everything in moderation. Again, don’t miss the communication between these two. Turn up your volume.
If you find yourself falling in love with the albatross in Honu Point’s neighborhood, consider a walk with Cathy Granholm. She lives just down the street and checks on the albatross almost daily. With her computerized list of tag numbers handy, she scouts the neighborhood (and Princeville in general) to see which adults have flown in. She has been following some of these adults for years and has a family tree showing the lineage of many of the birds. She also checks each nest to make sure the chicks are progressing as they should.
Cathy’s walks are fascinating, filled with facts, theories, and lots of stories about birds she has observed over time. Because albatross return to where they are born and where they nest, it is much like a family reunion each year when the birds return from the north. She, like I, and many of the neighbors, feel totally invested in their welfare. Cathy has anecdotes about who has paired up with who (not all mate for life apparently) and about times when she has had to step in and help out a fledgling trying to fly for the first time. There are some funny stories as well as some sad ones. I keep telling her she needs to write a book.
I’ve written thirteen blog posts about the Laysan Albatross at our Honu Point Vacation Rental on Kauai, but, by far, this is the one I am most excited about. I have always appreciated these graceful creatures but it was while building our vacation rental that I fell in love with them. Being on the property on a daily basis and watching them soar overhead was magical. Hearing and seeing the mating dances of young birds and eyeing nesting couples snuggling along Kaweonui Road made them even more endearing to me.
Each year I have been jealous when neighbors up and down the street are given the “right” to name a new chick because of it being born on their property. Our bluff property is not safe enough for nests and fledglings wait until they are six months old to waddle down our driveway ready for their first flight.
This year one pair, Larry and Dora, returned and scouted the area for the perfect spot to nest. They eventually decided on the interior of the cul-de-sac at the foot of our driveway. This was my chance! Because the property is not private I asked (okay, begged) our resident albatross historian, Cathy, if I might have the honor of naming this chick. She agreed!
Spending lots of time on Google translator and waiting not so patiently, I searched for the perfect name. An egg was laid and about a month later “my” precious chick started pipping its egg in order to meet his/her surrounding world.
You know how excited I get when the Laysan albatross arrive back on Kaweonui Road in Princeville. For the last couple of weeks partners who have not seen each other for months are reuniting and it is a happy scene.
There is lots of preening and affection happening up and down the street. The couples are deciding on the perfect spot for their nest and then starting its construction. Females are laying their eggs (one per bird) while the males take one last period at sea before having the first, long sit on the egg. From that point on, the two partners take turns on the egg while the other flies a thousand miles for food.
Meet Dora. She arrived first this year and patiently waited until Larry showed up. Together they decided to nest in the cul-de-sac at the foot of Honu Point’s driveway. I captured this short video of Dora as she started to build a nest around herself just one day before she laid her egg (one of the landscapers witnessed the event).
Larry is at sea for a few days. When he takes over Dora will be off to find food. If this egg is fertile we can expect a chick the fourth week of January. In the meantime Dora seems pretty content.
They’re back! Each year Hob Osterlund, author of Holy Moli, Albatross and Other Ancestors, has a contest to guess when the first albatross will return to Kauai. This year one eager bird (not the one shown in the photo) was spotted at a Kilauea property on Thursday, November 8th! A second sighting happened at the Kilauea Lighthouse on Friday. That means many more will follow over the next few weeks. We can hardly wait to see who shows up on Kaweonui Road.
Those of you who have been following my blogs know how crazy I am about the Laysan albatross. In fact, if you go to my blog category list you will see that I have already written ten blogs about these birds. Therefore, I won’t go into much detail, here, about what makes these birds so special to me and others on Kauai. You can read about that in my other blogs. But, I did want to share with you a short documentary that Hob Osterlund has created, Kalama’s Journey. She has been working on the footage for this video for a couple of years. Those of you who have been to our vacation rental, Honu Point, will recognize the opening shots.