July 12th was the last time I saw Kirwan.
I saw him when I walked my dog earlier that morning. He gave Chico stink eye as we walked by, as he always did. Ten minutes later I glanced out my living room window. My neighbor, Roger, was looking around the area where Kirwan had just been sitting. Roger shrugged as if to say, “I can’t find him!”
I grabbed my gear and went outside. Roger was already walking down Keoniana Street, and indicated that Kirwan was walking ahead of him. We followed him as he headed down the street. I contacted a few people who do not mind getting 6:30 A.M. calls and who will stay to observe an albatross if I have to leave to check on another bird. My backup team!
Kirwan spent most of he next hour and a half exercising his wings.
Keoniana Point is a favorite takeoff and landing spot for all of the local albatrosses. There is no vegetation but grass along the area that they leave from. If there is any wind in the area, it can be felt there. The ocean winds come directly at them. I have seen a fledging that began as a chick was being lifted off of his feet by a strong breeze, then the chick flapped his wings and steered out over the ocean.
In the photo below, the point of land above the ocean to the left is the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. The trees below the hill where Kirwan is standing are in the area where the path to Sealodge Beach is located. One year a chick took off and we watched her fall slowly into those trees. Roger and I went down to the Sealodge path and found her thrashing around in a tree at the top of a cliff. I was afraid she might hurt a wing. We could not find any younger person willing to risk breaking something to climb up after her, so I made my way up up and grabbed her while Roger followed, testing shrubbery right below me and showing me where to put my feet when I carried her down. The bird did not move at all while I was carrying her down the cliff, but the moment I stepped onto flat ground she bit me. When we got to a little stream that involved a bit of boulder hopping, an activity which I shun, I waded in after telling Roger, “If I start to fall, grab the bird!” He said, “I know!”
There is a vacation rental located on the next promontory of land to the west of this one. The people who are currently renting it were walking by during a previous fledging and had come out then to see what was going on. They had patience enough to wait for some time and were hooked when they got to see the chick take his first flight. During Kirwan’s fledging, they saw us out there from their rental house and came over. Two fledgings on one trip! I don’t know how the home owners will top that if this family comes back next year.
Kirwan tried another part of the bluff, perhaps feeling how the breeze felt in a different area.
As the wind grew stronger, his wing flapping increased in intensity. Near the beginning of this clip you will see him do a “sky moo.” This is a part of the albatross courtship display; the albatross lifts up his bill to the sky and makes a soft mooing noise. When an adult is doing it, it does remind one of the noise a cow might make. However, when a chick does it, he seems to do it when he is alone and is excited about something, and the sound he makes is so tiny that it is usually difficult to hear.
The flapping continued to intensify. Often the chicks poop just before fledging. To a bird, particularly to a chick making his first flight, every tiny bit of weight counts.
At last the moment Kirwan has been gearing up for.
Bye bye, Kirwan! I’ll see you in 4 or 5 years! If you should run into your mom and dad, please tell them that I am saving a patch of garden for them for their next chick. That offer is good for you, too. The moment I first see you back here, I will notify the humans who watched you leave Princeville. They will remember that moment when your feet left the ground and you flew off into adulthood. Such a great leap for one so young, so inexperienced.
I wish you tons of squid, and fish, and flying fish eggs, and the wisdom that will make you a good parent. I hope all of your future journeys are safe ones, and that you find your way back here when instinct compels you to return to us.
Princeville is a safe harbor in many ways, visited and lived in by people who will always value the wild things that are still left on this island, and who realize that it is their responsibility as human beings to offer them sanctuary. It is not always easy or convenient, but in the words of a native American proverb, we do not inherit the world from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.
Let us return it to them with albatrosses.
Such a loving and very moving post! Thank you so much for this, for the work you do with these glorious birds. Thank you for your stories of rescue of the fledgling, even risking falling and getting bit! I always look forward to your posts. heartfelt thanks.
I held my breath when a homeowner whose property is a favorite with these birds climbed down the side of a cliff to chase a bird back up. It was a really BIG cliff, too!
Beautiful words, Cathy, absolutely beautiful. I hope to see Kirwan with you in a few years. Safe travels Kirwan, and all our 2016 Princeville chicks whom you’ve watched over so diligently, as always!
Kathy I loved seeing this. your blog is great. you do a wonderful job and are an unsung hero for the albatross in Princeville.
Great to hear from you, Diane! This season I really depended on some “unsung heroes” during fledging time, and I intend to devote a blog post to them. Spending long hours on the golf course, and putting up signs and fences, and sitting on wet grass, and climbing down a slippery slope to help a fledgling, and stopping traffic for a chick nonchalantly crossing Ka Haku Road, they have all earned the thanks of everyone who loves these albatrosses. Getting these birds to safety was a real team effort!
you do such important work Kathy because of your efforts the Princeville albatross continue to thrive. I am sure the visitors who volunteer find this to be one of the very best experiences they have Hope to return in mid. jan. Looking for a place to hang my hat for a few weeks – end of March – mid April, if you know of anything let me know.
It’s already too quiet around here, isn’t it?
We are thrilled to know that Kirwan fledged safely! We are also grateful to have seen him when he was little more than a feather ball early last March, so we count ourselves among his friends. Best to you and Cindy and thanks for this lovely report, as always. Mona, Dixie, and Janet
Thanks, Mona. It is amazing how many people have fallen in love with these birds. The albatrosses, the ‘alalas, and all of the other Hawaiian natives need everyone to care what happens to them!
I have just returned home today from Kauai and am grateful to have seen a chick along the 9th hole of the Makai course. I finally got enough courage to ask one of the volunteer watchers about the bird and shared the information with rest of the 8 I was traveling with on your beautiful island. I was fascinated with the bird and looked for s/he each time we drove or walked by. I got to see wings being stretched/tested and eventually the bird crossed over Ka Haku Rd to Hole 6. The only baby feathers I saw looked to be two on either side of the head. I would be curious to know the name of this bird. The last day I saw this bird was July 15th. I was a bit sad, but happy for the bird to start its adventure! Thank you for getting me interested in these beautiful birds!!!
That was Mo, and he fledged July 15th at about 5:45 P.M. He walked down fairway 6 to the ocean bluff and took off, watched by 2 volunteers who had spent many hours that day and the day before keeping an eye on him. I think that was an experience they shall never forget.
The father of that chick used to nest on the Pepelani Loop, where there are now many condos. I wish he did not nest on the “wrong” side of Ka Haku because his chicks must cross that road to get to the ocean bluff. They need the updraft in order to take their first flight. I hope when Mo comes back he (or she) meets a mate on the “right” side of Ka Haku!