“Longshot’s widow,” the story of KP458

I found a crushed egg at nest 2 on the Lakes golf course on Saturday, January 15th.

This was an egg from the Pacific Missile Range Facility.  Every year albatrosses with bad eggs are given good ones from the PMRF.  (If you are new to this blog and want to know more about this “egg swap,”  please read my December 18th entry.  Or at least read Dr. Lindsay Young’s short article about this year’s egg swap in Kaua’i at http://www.acap.aq/2011-news-archive/sixth-year-for-the-laysan-albatross-egg-swap-on-kauai-hawaii-deemed-a-success.)  The egg appeared to have stopped developing at some point.  There were no chick parts in it, just liquid.  Sometimes bad eggs crush under the parent’s weight.

This nest belongs to KP458 and bluKP027.  Let me tell you KP458’s story.

Those of you who have lived in Princeville for 8 years or more may remember the Pepelani Loop before condominiums were built on it.  It was a half-circle of land with weeds and a few trees on it.  There were two albatross couples who always nested there, and they were forced to relocate during the 2005-2006 season when construction started on the condos.

One of those couples was KP458 and Kp495.  They built a nest across from the Pepelani Loop, near the main road through Princeville.  It was close to a bike path that is used every day by residents and visitors.  Tour buses would pull off close to the nest, and dozens of people would get out and stand close to it.  Volunteers from the lighthouse would sometimes sit at a safe distance from the nest to try to convince people not to get too near.  Some people cannot be convinced that the very act of staying too close to an albatross can be detrimental to its health.  It was a very stressful environment.

Unfortunately, KP495 was hit be a car and suffered serious injuries.  Someone gave him the name “Longshot” because the odds were against his survival.  He never did fully recover and eventually he died.  That left KP458, now known as “Longhot’s widow,” with a chick to raise by herself.  Both mother and chick would run the risk of also being hit by a car, and I have only ever seen one chick successfully raised by a single parent after the other one disappeared.

At the time of KP495’s accident, 10 Laysan albatross chicks from Midway were being hand-raised by Japanese scientists at the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge.  Japan was trying to preserve their endangered population of short-tailed albatrosses, most of whom nest on islands.  Many of them nest on an island that has an active volcano, and the scientists wanted to move some of the chicks to a safer island and start a new colony.  If they moved the adult nesters to the new place, the birds would fly back to the nesting area they were used to.  The safest option for the scientists was to move chicks to the new place and hand-raise them there.  Albatrosses are known for returning to the place they fledged from, so these chicks would be the pioneers of a new, safe nesting area.

The scientists did not want to practice their hand rearing techniques on the short-tailed albatrosses and run the risk of losing any of them.  Midway is home to hundreds of thousands of Laysan albatrosses, and the U.S.Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to let the Japanese scientists perfect their techniques on 10 Midway chicks which would be flown to Kaua’i and kept safely at the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge.  Since they were already feeding the 10 Midway chicks, it was easy for them to add just one more.  KP458’s chick was brought there in April for hand rearing and later fledged successfully.  As far as I know, this female has not yet returned to Kaua’i, but she will probably return to the refuge when she does come back.

I would like to add that the translocation of short-tailed albatrosses in Japan has been a resounding success, thanks to the handling and feeding techniques the scientists learned while working with the Laysan chicks on Kaua’i.

That season I did not see KP458 again.  However, she was the first non-nester I saw in the 2006-2007 season.  For 18 days she waited near the place where her nest with KP495 had been.  But there were no other albatrosses who visited that area regularly.  She started to join the birds on the golf course, and spent more and more time with another female, bluKP027.  Eventually I saw them displaying together and quietly grooming each other, the behavior typical of mates.

For the next 4 years, KP458 and bluKP027 nested together on the golf course.  They never had a good egg, and they were given PMRF eggs every season but last year.  The first year the chick started to hatch out of the wrong part of the egg and died.  The following year, the chick hatched but died of an unexplained injury.  In the 2009-2010 season the chick hatched successfully and fledged.  Last year they abandoned the nest 3 days after the egg was laid. Many eggs were abandoned last year.

This year they were taking turns incubating another PMRF egg, the one which I found crushed in the nest.  The whole time I was checking out the remains of the egg, KP458 was staying in the area.  In the photo below, you can see her to the right of the golf cart path.  The nest is in front of the first tree on the left.  As of yesterday, January 20th, she is still hanging out near the nest, probably waiting for her mate to return.  Albatrosses do not place blame on each other if something goes wrong during incubation.  Experienced nesters like these two will just want to spend time with each other, renewing their bond so each knows that next season she can count on having a reliable mate to share the nesting, incubation, and hopefully chick rearing.

KP458 waiting near her nest, in front of tree to left

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