When I first moved to Princeville there was a large weedy piece of property not too far from my house, with two albatross nests on it. The land was zoned for condominiums and eventually work began on two developments that now cover the lot.
One of the couples relocated directly across the street from the condos, close to the bike path that parallels the main street through Princeville. When the chick hatched, tour buses started including a stop at the nest on their schedules, and although we put signs all around the nest asking people not to get too close, and volunteers from the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge sometimes sat nearby to educate people about the need to give the birds space to themselves, it was a stressful situation for the albatross family.
I once watched one of the parents walk to the street and take off there; I could feel a breeze on the street and I assume the bird did, too. Fortunately there was no traffic at the time. But the male’s luck ran out one day when he was hit by a car and suffered injuries which eventually resulted in his death.
I said that there were two couples nesting on the empty lot before the condos were built. The second two albatrosses were the parents of K243. They also relocated across the main road, but they were further away from the street and bike path in a location that gave them more privacy.
K243 was their first chick to hatch at this new location. That year all of the chicks were DNA tested to determine their sex, so I know he was a male. As fledging time grew closer and he started walking further from his nest, he would sometimes wander out onto the fairway. Once there was a golf tournament on this course and several people volunteered to sit by the fairway and keep an eye on the chick, gently walking him off when golfers approached.
When it is time for a chick to fledge, they fly into the wind, whichever direction it may be coming from. If there is no wind, they just walk; I don’t know how they choose the direction they will take off in, but they may end up in an area that is not safe for a chick. K243 walked across the main road. Fortunately, a resident saw him and escorted him as he began his journey. I used to think albatross chicks would instinctively know how to find an ocean bluff, but this guy ended up on a residential street wandering around. My sister and I brought him to a safe bluff with unobstructed exposure to the prevailing winds, and at the entrance we put a sign warning people that there was an albatross chick out there. K243 fledged safely.
The next time I saw him was last year, when he was four. Often when chicks first return to the area they fledged from, I see them only a few times, sometimes only once or twice. I assume I miss many of the albatrosses making their first trip back since fledging, even checking every day as I do. I was glad that he never went to his old nest site, he spent his time across the street on the side of the course on the ocean bluff.
This year, I saw him several times on the ocean side. Once he was on the other side of the golf course away from the ocean, across the street. I assume that when he was hit by a car last Monday he was walking across the street to or from that area. I got the call when I was volunteering at the Kilauea Refuge, and I immediately called Marilou Knight, who left at once; by the time I got there, she was already preparing to take K243 to the seabird rehab facility at the Kauai Humane Society, the Save Our Shearwaters group. Marilou is also a trained albatross observer and does rehabilitation work at the busiest time of the year at SOS. There is nobody I would rather have respond to an albatoss medical emergency.
Unfortunately, K243 suffered terrible injuries and had to be euthanized.
My last memory of K243 is from my Sunday observation on the ocean side of the golf course. He was in the middle of the course, between the greens, watching other albatrosses fly overhead and whistling to them as they passed. Eventually he was able to convince three other birds to join him in a display, and I watched them for awhile. Sometimes these displays look almost choreographed, with the more experienced birds changing partners several times. I am never bored by these dances and I don’t think the albatrosses are, either.
I am so glad K243 had that one last dance before he had to leave.