The albatross chicks have been exiting Princeville with increasing regularity. As of this writing, 13 have left and 9 remain. Some of them have just disappeared, most likely flying off the ocean bluff in the early morning hours or late dusk. I do not know of any who have fledged in the evening, but I rarely spend the night camped out near an albatross chick, and I have learned to avoid using words like “never” and “always” when discussing albatross behavior.
My neighbor, Bob Waid, called me one morning to say that one of our neighborhood chicks had left his comfort zone, the area that included the location of his nest and extended a couple of houses away. This is a typically a sign that a bird has heard the call to fledge and has started to move towards an ocean bluff. By the time the chick got there, four of his human admirers had joined him. Bob thought this albatross had an attitude so he started calling him Vinny, after the character John Travolta played on the old TV show, “Welcome Back, Kotter.”
Bob took some beautiful photos of Vinny’s Big Day Out and has allowed me to share them. His blog is http://www.albatrosskauai.com.
We watched Vinny check out a bluff that does not get much of an ocean breeze and that has tall trees that a first-time flyer might have difficulty propelling himself over. Then he walked over to some thick vegetation that led down into a green belt, which then climbed uphill to some local condos. Five years ago one of our local birds, Niko, plowed through that jumble and took two days to climb up to the condos. There is always the possibility of damage to a wing during the course of a hike like this, so we humans were happy to see Vinny climb back up on the grass.
He kept walking and decided to try another direction.
Fortunately, this house belongs to neighbors who love the albatrosses, and they left an albatross take off spot at the side of their home. Vinny was happy to be the first chick to try it out.
He found just the right spot….
He practiced a little….
And the rest is history.
We will not see Vinny back in Princeville for at least 3 years, probably more.
People may tell you that an albatross fledges when the parents stop feeding him. Tell that to Vinny’s father, KP460, who flew into the nest area about 2 hours after Vinny had left. He spent about ten minutes walking around the area, clacking his bill and vocalizing, looking for his chick. Then he gave up the search and sat down to rest.
At this time of year, the parents look like their feathers are rumpled, they all seem to be molting on their heads.
Vinny’s dad stayed overnight, then left late the next day. He knows that he will not have to return this season, now that his chick has begun his life as an adult albatross. KP460 will return in November to meet up with his mate. They have raised a remarkable number of chicks, eight, in the last ten years. No other couple in Princeville have achieved this level of nesting success.
Vinny is somewhere out over the Pacific, learning how to find food by himself, flying with increasing confidence through powerful, pounding storms and benign sunny days. Those of us who watched him fledge will be looking for him, and the odds are good that we will celebrate his return a few years from now. Many of the chicks who have fledged from Princeville in the last 14 years have come back here.
Wherever these former residents are, they carry with them the love and respect of those of us who feel privileged to catch glimpses of these lives lived parallel to ours, as they ignore our human world and follow ancient instincts that each one embellishes with a unique personality that we humans find so endearing. They are at once so complicated and enigmatic, and at the same time so simple and familiar.