Before I started to collect data about the Princeville albatrosses in 2005, there were two couples who regularly nested in a spot called the Pepelani Loop. This was a half circle of unused land that bordered Ka Haku Road, the main road through Princeville. In the 2004-2005 season, building began on two condominium developments on this property. Neither couple nested that year. I was not collecting data then, so I do not know if they came back to meet up with each other. I have no reason to think they didn’t.
The next year, as work continued on the condos, one of the couples chose a terrible spot for a nest, right across from the Pepelani Loop close to Ka Haku Road. Tour buses regularly stopped near the nest, sometimes allowing people to get out and to surround the nest. My sister Cindy and I put a number of signs around the nest area. Most people stayed behind them, but there are always the ones who think they are different and should be allowed closer than other people. Note to all of these special ones: the real bird people never do this, they stay at a respectful distance. Birders are interested in observing the animals; observers do not get too close because their nearness may influence the animal’s behavior.
The other Pepelani Loop couple did not nest that year. I saw them at various locations around Princeville. I saw the female, KP459, on 19 different days. I saw the male, KP496, on 32 different days.
Usually when a couple who have nested before come back to an albatross colony, they will return to the area where they raised their last chick. Where else would they meet each other? But this couple had lost their familiar topography. How would they know where to meet? The answer appeared to be that they did not know where to find each other at first. I first saw the female on a street in Princeville where I had never seen an albatross. She spent two days sitting there, then a few days later she showed up in my neighborhood.
The next day I saw them sitting together on a vacant lot across from the Pepelani Loop. It was about as close as they could get to their old nesting area without being surrounded by buildings. To be honest, I do not know why they didn’t choose this area for nesting, it was so close to the old area. In the months that followed, I saw them together or separately in several areas:
1. across Ka Haku Road from the area on the Pepelani Loop where they used to nest, down a ways from where the other Pepelani Loop couple were nesting
2. on a part of the golf course that overlooks the ocean, where other albatrosses were already nesting
3. across Ka Haku Road from this part of the golf course, where no albatrosses were nesting
The area where I saw them together or separately the most often was the first on this list. It was an unsafe spot, way too close to Ka Haku Road. My last sighting of both of them together was in the last place. And that was the place where they chose to nest the following year, far away from an ocean bluff and from the other albatross nesters.
Their new nest site was behind a fairway on the part of the golf course across Ka Haku Road from the ocean bluff. They successfully raised a chick that year. Volunteers kept an eye on the chick when he started practicing his flight skills on the fairway during a golf tournament, and gently walked him back to his nest area. Some days later I got a call from a woman who had seen the chick walking across Ka Haku and who had made sure he was not hit by a car. She then followed him into a residential area. He was walking through yards, getting further and further away from the ocean bluff he needed for his first flight, so I took him to a spot with a grand view of the ocean. He later fledged successfully.*
The following two years they began the season with an egg in a nest. The first year we had 7 inches of rain the day after their chick hatched. Cindy and I found the chick washed 4 feet away from the nest, dead. The mother was still sitting in the nest. Albatross parents seem to be hard-wired to stay on the nest, no matter what. That does not make them bad parents, it makes them parents who operate on instinct much of the time. Perhaps staying on the nest no matter what is the best way to keep a chick alive in most cases.
The second year after another heavy rain the egg ended up totally submerged in running water below the fairway. The golf course has since been reconfigured to better handle drainage from the pounding rains that we get here.
They raised a chick together in 2009-2010. On June 21st, the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge got a call from a man who had seen the chick trying to walk across Ka Haku Road, and he said that he had walked the chick back to his nest area. When I checked later, the chick was sitting near his nest. The next day I could not find him. I got another call from KPNWR. A resident had reported seeing a chick in a residential area across Ka Haku. I went there to see where he was. He was headed towards a greenbelt, a heavily vegetated area. Four years previously a chick had broken a wing flying into a tree there so I had to bring him to a safe takeoff area. The next day he fledged.
The following year they raised another chick who fledged successfully. While he was practice flying he got closer and closer to Ka Haku, until I finally moved him across the street to the golf course. In less than half an hour he was gone.
In 2011-2012, KP496 returned on November 23rd, but his mate never returned. When an experienced nester does not come back, I always assume he or she has died because they never return. I made a silent prayer to the albatross gods that KP496 would decide to relocate across the street on the part of the golf course that overlooks the ocean. He would never have to cross Ka Haku, nor would his chicks face that scary obstacle at fledging time. Unfortunately, the albatross gods laughed at me, as they usually do, and brought him two females to join him on the wrong side of the street. KP788 had raised 3 chicks with her mate, but he had not come back after the 2009-2010 season. KP416 had nested the previous year and either she or her mate had abandoned the egg.
He chose KP416, and they raised the first of two chicks in the 2012-2013 season.
Their second chick was Jesse. Jesse is a Biblical name and it means “gift.” I worried about his ability to fledge safely, not just because he was on the “wrong” side of Ka Haku Road, but because he had been afflicted with avian pox and one of his eyes was misshapen. I was afraid that would affect his ability to see.
I was also worried about Jesse walking across Ka Haku. I knew that if he was practicing short flights near that road, it would be time to bring him across to the ocean side of the golf course.
In July I had a call from Lisa, who had watched Zorro walk down fairway 6 to the ocean bluff and take off. She said there was a chick near hole 6, which is close to the area where Zorro had fledged. There was only one chick left in that area, and that was Jesse.
I got over there as soon as I could, and called another volunteer, John, who has helped keep an eye on the golf course chicks for the last few years. Of course, the chick was Jesse. Somehow he had managed to get himself across Ka Haku safely and make his way to the ocean bluff. As golfers ignored him, Jesse did some serious wing flapping.
His eye was still not normal, but it was much better than it had been.
We were there for a very short time before Jesse left us. I was so impressed with the slow, strong wing strokes that took him out to sea the way all of the adults who nest here go, down to an area below hole 6 that leads out to the ocean. If he had not had some of his fluffy baby feathers left, he could easily have been mistaken for an adult. I had never observed him doing practice flights, in fact I had never seen him doing much more than flapping his wings vigorously. I heard that he did make some short flights, but this is the first chick in that area that I never had to keep an eye on because he was getting too close to the main road. How was he able to fly so superbly on his first attempt? The albatross gods did not desert me, after all.
* This chick came back in 2011, at the age of four. That year, I never saw him anywhere near his old nest area, he was always on the ocean side of the golf course. The following year I saw him once across Ka Haku, away from the ocean bluff. That year while walking across the road, he was hit by a driver going too fast. As a result of his injuries, he had to be euthanized. My April 18, 2012 post was dedicated to him.