Friday and Saturday were more of the same for Dalton: some flapping, moving from safe spot to safe spot. He was definitely restless, but he never made any move to walk out to the nearby ocean bluff to fledge. The weather report was predicting strong wind on Sunday, but similar reports had made some previous days seem like they might be the ones.
Just as we were getting ready for Sunday to be another long day spent keeping an eye on Dalton’s movements, he surprised us. He walked out of his yard and headed in the direction of the ocean. I always tell people who live on the golf course, when you see an albatross chick walking down the fairway towards the ocean like he knows what he’s doing, follow him if you want to see him fledge. We almost lost sight of him, he was walking so fast, but eventually we saw him heading in the right direction, feeling the ocean breeze in his face, smelling the new, watery world that lay before him.
He was out on the bluff for just a few minutes before he ran, flapping, until he was lifted up into the air. It looked like a perfect takeoff, until….
The area he was flying over borders a path to a local beach. One albatross chick had already been rescued from near the top of a cliff down below, and it looked like that was where Dalton was headed. Fortunately, two neighbors volunteered to help look for him. Carl and I went and changed our shoes, Matt brought his yellow Lab home, but kept his flip-flops on.
The three of us spent some down below trying to figure out where Dalton would have landed. It is difficult to picture from down there. Carl and Matt looked all over the place, and I mostly stood in the general area where I thought Dalton might have ended up and listened for any sound. Once when a chick ended up on top of a cliff I heard him thrashing around in the vegetation. In retrospect, it appears that Dalton was probably quietly walking along the top of the bluff, hidden from anyone down below.
Instead of wasting time going over the same places down below the fledging spot, we all walked back up and I went to get my camcorder so we could see exactly where he went down. Matt thought if he went back to a particular point and held a pole up there the rest of us could judge Dalton’s location, using the film I had taken of the aborted take off. Then Carl decided to try climbing down to where we saw the bird descend.
I was just standing at the top of the bluff, scanning the area. Suddenly I saw something in the grass-covered bluff down below to the right. It was the top of a feathered head, slowly moving through the thick, snarled grass, up the uneven terrain. Dalton was not having an easy time climbing through weeds that were mostly taller than he was.
I was very lucky that the daughter of the property owner was there to guide me by calling out where I should walk to get to Dalton. The bluff was eroded, with crests and dips, and the uneven surface and tall vegetation made it difficult to walk through in hiking sandals. I did finally manage to get down to Dalton, who was none too happy to see me. I lifted him up and he let me know what he thought of that by nipping at my arms. I put him down, thinking I could get him to walk up and follow him to help when he fell back. But it was very difficult for both of us. I picked him up again because he was having an even more difficult time than I was trying to climb up the bluff.
Then Carl and Matt climbed up the hill behind me. Carl had the towel I had brought for carrying Dalton, so I wrapped it around him. Carl helped keep me from falling backwards, and it was definitely slow going. How many times have I said it, “I’m too old to be doing this!” When we reached a big dip in the bluff Carl kindly took Dalton from me and continued the climb up. When my grandmother was my age she wore house dresses and sensible shoes. And she never once picked up an albatross.
At the top of the bluff, Carl set Dalton down. There were two choices to select from. If Dalton had worn himself out, he would need to rest to recover his strength. I have seen that happen through the years, the chicks who spent the night above the bluff or near their safe spots, then regained their strength and took off the next morning.
On the other hand, the wind suddenly picked up; it was the strongest we had seen for several days. If he missed it, he might have to wait for some days. He had been fed recently, he was very agitated, and the weather was perfect. He did not sit down to rest, he was standing and facing the ocean. Suddenly he was off, borne aloft over the ocean bluff. He dipped down a bit and then flew into the wind, rising up out over the ocean, flying far out to sea. All the people watching were cheering and laughing, it was a huge relief for everyone to see this albatross finally leave.
Some chicks make fledging seem effortless.
Some just disappear with nobody to see if they safely made it to the ocean.
Some, like Dalton, make us realize that fledging is not as easy for some as it is for others. Those are the ones we remember the most. Those are the ones we will be looking especially hard for in the years to come, and when they return we will know that anything we did to help them was worth every minute.
I pray that I will never be too old to help an albatross, or any other creature that has landed on a cliff and needs some gentle guidance to find safety in this big, scary world.