Midway Albatross Count: Day 2

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Midway Albatross Count: Day 2

Posted by: Kim Steutermann Rogers
Destination: Hawaii Island , Kauai , Maui , Oahu
Dec 15, 2008

The plane may be child size.  Cellular service may be non-existent.  Internet speed may be the equivalent of dial-up.  But you’ve got to hand it to Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge:  The showers are hot, hot, hot.

After a day spent crawling through verbesina (an invasive weed that’s as tall as I am in places and that’s crowding out albatross habitat here) and plunging up to my knee through bonin petrel burrows (we repaired them), nothing makes me happier than a scalding shower.  It helps soothe the sore muscles.

While the Laysan albatross are far-and-away the majority here when it comes to birds, we are also counting the black-footed albatross.  They are slightly bigger than the Laysan, maybe pushing a seven-foot wingspan compared to the Laysan’s six-and-a-half.  For some reason, the black-footed albatross like to nest near the ocean.  Today, then, was a black-footed albatross jackpot of a day.

When I first started volunteering at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge on Kauai, I learned an interesting tidbit about the seabirds nesting there.  Because albatross evolved in areas where they faced no land predators, their DNA is not encoded with a flight or fight mechanism.  As such, we can walk right up to them at the refuge and tag them.  Here at Midway, we can walk through the fields of albatross and squeeze a squirt of paint onto the ground a foot away from the birds’ nest sites without them flying away.  (This is now a problem in the main Hawaiian Islands, because pet dogs can-and have-killed dozens of albatross in no time at all.)

That’s not to say the albatross don’t react to our presence.  The Laysan may look up at us and clack their bills a few times.  Others may stand and watch carefully as we make our marks.  But they don’t chase us or try to bite us.  And it’s amazing how cavalier I now am about walking through a field of albatross.  I mean, these are big birds.

The black-footed albatross are another story.  They get a little more vocal than the Laysan.  And their vocalizations vary.  One sounds to me like they’re calling out, “Pick me.  Pick me.”  Another sounds like a donkey braying.  Another like a cow mooing.  Still another like a dog growling.  Like the Laysan, the black-footed albatross do not leave their nest, they do not chase us, and they do not chomp on us.  But they do clap their bills.  They are like the dog whose bark is worse than their bite.

The day’s total trigger pulls:  2,260.


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