Princeville patriarch returns

I am always so relieved when Joseph, Princeville’s great-grandfather, comes back to Kauai.


He has an interesting history.

Joseph was originally banded as an adult at the Pacific Missile Range Facility, the navy base on Kauai, on March 3, 1989.  The earliest we have had chicks come back to land as adults is at the age of 3, so he was at least 3 years old, which would make him 31 or older today.  He was rebanded with KP505 in 2004.

In 1992, he had a chick, KP465, with an unknown female.  KP465 has raised 7 chicks since the 2005-2006 season, including the father of Phoenix, Joseph’s great-grandchick.

He then raised 3 chicks with KP461:

  • In 2003-2004 they raised KP617, Mystery, who now resides on Midway.
  • In 2004-2005 they raised KP889, Dora, who raised a chick with K229, Larry, a couple of years ago.
  • In 2005-2006 they raised Gator, who helped his mate raise two chicks.

KP461 did not return in the 2006-2007 season, so Joseph found a new mate.

Joseph and KP729 had two chicks.

  • In 2007-2008, their chick died while hatching,
  • In 2008-2009, Obama, K621, fledged successfully, but has not been seen in Princeville since.

I was at Foodland one day in 2009 when my neighbor and fellow albatross observer, Bob Waid, called across to me, “Hey, Cathy, is Obama still here?”

“Yes.  I’m beginning to think he’ll NEVER leave!”

A hush fell over the Foodland crowd.

Joseph and KP729 did not nest in the 2009-2010 season and Joseph began spending a lot of time with KP792.  Some helpful albatross fans suggested that Joseph had dyslexia, and just mixed their band numbers up.

Joseph and K792 had 2 chicks.

  • In 2010-2011 K848, Coconut, hatched in a nest under a coconut palm.
  • In 2012-2013, they raised Lanea, A496.

KP792 did not return in the 2013-2014 season.  Joseph made a simple nest in the bushes he prefers.  Various albatrosses came by and did little displays with him in the nest.  It seemed to this observer that he was auditioning females to be his new mate.  His former mate, KP729 came by, and he chased her away.

Joseph started spending quality time with K065.

Joseph and K065 had 2 chicks.

  • in 2014-2015, they raised Joy, H090.
  • In 2015-2016, they had Peace, H224.

K065 did not return to Princeville during the 2016-2017 season.

During that season, he met Elaine, who had raised 8 chicks with her previous mate.  Elaine and her mate nested year after year at Dragon House, down the street from Joseph’s favorite yard.  Elaine’s mate had disappeared during the 2015-2016 season, leaving Elaine to incubate their egg from December 27th until the chick hatched on February 5th.  The little chick died shortly after hatching.

If I ran a dating service for albatrosses, Elaine is the one I would have picked for Joseph, and Joseph is the one I would have picked for Elaine.  They both take parenting very seriously, and both lost their mates.  When one member of a couple that has a pattern of nesting together in the same area year after year does not return, I assume that individual has died.  They are so programmed to return to each other, either to nest or to renew their bond so they can nest the following year.

When I see Elaine, I will post that information for all of the Joseph and Dragon House fans out there.  I know the readers of this blog get attached to particular albatrosses, and I am happy to encourage their devotion.

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First albatross sighting

I have been checking the usual places for albatrosses for the last few days.  The first one arrived at the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge on November 9th, which is a bit later than usual.  Princeville always has a first spotting after the lighthouse, and this year I saw my premiere albatross on November 1oth.

Nesters usually precede all of the others;  they return to agreed upon meeting places, then wait for the mates to arrive.  Sometimes a few of the older non-nesters come in early, also.  While walking my dog I caught a glimpse of a large bird flying over my neighbors’ house, and as I walked in that direction, Bob told me that an albatross had landed.  He thought it might be one of his birds, perhaps Mr. Clackypants, but when we saw the albatross walking at a brisk pace towards the street, we both knew this one had another destination in mind.

She walked quickly across the road, through another neighbor’s yard, and ended up in the backyard voted “most popular” by several generations of albatrosses.  She sat down and the waiting began.

Mystery Bird

Mystery Bird

I love to be able to tell stories about the first bird back.  After 12 years of observing them almost every day they are in Princeville, I know these birds as well as I know my old friends.  I have anecdotes to share about most of them.  Unfortunately, this one is unbanded.

Every year I keep a record of who was doing what on which day.  I vaguely remembered that one of my local banded birds was spending quality time with an unbanded bird, so I checked him out in my Excel file.  Yes!  If I made a circle around Unbanded with a radius of 10 feet, that would be the area where I saw these two sitting close together.  K232 is 10 year old, and hatched during a year DNA testing was done to determine the sexes of the Kauai albatrosses.  It was part of a project organized by Lindsay Young, who has been studying the Laysan albatrosses in Hawaii longer than anyone and probably holds the record for the number of scientific articles about them.  She was studying the female/female couples, which make up about 30% of all nesters.  We do not have any male/male couples, since an egg is the minimum requirement for nesting.  K232 is a male, which makes Unbanded a female.

The spot they spent all their time in last season is not far from where K232 spent his chickhood.  His parents always nested in that yard or next door.  Some albatrosses are faithful to a small area, others move around more.  If K232 takes after his parents, he will not go very far from the spot where Unbanded is comfortably resting.  This yard is beginning to look like Midway.

Of course, I could be wrong about this unbanded bird.  They have fooled me plenty of times before, and I do not begrudge them their right to put one over on me again.  It is part of the fun of being an albatross observer.*


*Please remind me that I said that the next time I am climbing a cliff after a fledgling.

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Dalton – part 2

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.





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Getting ready to leave

Saturday was a big day in Albatross Land; two chicks fledged that morning.

One was Orion, who disappeared from a neighbor’s front yard on Friday.  I have no idea where he went, but by the next morning he had made his way to a grassy circle at the end of my street, a plot of land that was inhabited by two chicks from other yards.  I saw him there when I was walking my dog around 6 A.M.

I took a photo of him with my cell phone.  I really need a new cell phone.

Orion makes an appearance

On other occasions I had watched Orion do some flap-hops, the kind albatross chicks start doing as fledging time approaches.  But I had not seen any of the long practice flights down the street that we often see as the time gets near.  I had no idea that he was getting ready to leave Princeville.

When I went back to check on him around 9 A.M. Saturday morning, he was gone.

Fortunately, a visitor noticed him walking by her rental house, which is on the path an albatross takes to get to an ocean bluff favored for takeoffs and landings.  She followed him there, just in time to see him take his first flight.  He flew out over the ocean, strong and resolute.  A baby no more!

Someone asked me if they fledge in hatching order.  It is possible to predict when an egg will hatch, give or take a couple of days, if the date on which it was laid is known.  In a neatly ordered, sensible world, the order of fledging would follow.  However, there are a variety of variables that help to determine when a chick will fledge,  enough that nobody will get rich betting on the exact day.  Some chicks are fed more than others, some are more active, some may have better genes, the list of individual differences is a long one.  It would be unlikely that a chick would fledge before one who was two weeks older, but it is possible that could happen.

A chick on the golf course also took his first flight Saturday morning.  Usually when they leave they still have some of their fluffy, grey-brown baby feathers on their heads, but this one did not.  Undoubtedly some people thought Coltrane was an adult.  The homeowner who named him noticed that he was walking down fairway 6 towards the ocean bluff, and knew that he would soon be gone.  People who live on the golf course look for this sign that a chick is ready to fledge, and will follow him for a chance to observe the miracle of the first flight.


I am starting to see most of the chicks practice using those big wings, waiting for a good breeze to provide some uplift.  Some of them are also jumping up, some are running, some just flap and hope for the best.  Last weekend I took this video of Hibiscus, who relocated to a circle at the end of my street.  Yesterday afternoon, sometime between 1:45 and 4:00, he disappeared; he is probably somewhere over the ocean at this moment.

Another bird on the golf course fledged yesterday.  Glitz, sibling of Gaga and Glitter, had been spending more and more time practicing in the middle of the golf course.  I have some film of him, but it is so difficult to put film in this blog that it will have to wait until I have a few hours to kill.  Take my word for it, he was really trying to be airborne.

This is the time of year that I have a love/hate relationship with.  There is no greater honor than to be present as a chick begins his new life as an adult, flying alone and unprotected into a big, scary world.  If they published a schedule of probable fledging times, I would be more than happy to be there.  Instead, they sit there calmly when I come to check on them, then take off an hour or so later.  I am starting to feel unloved.







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Listen up, chick!

I have pointed out before that these birds refuse to read what they are supposed to do according to the literature.  This results in social gaffes like:

  • divorce
  • non-nesters hanging around in Princeville when they should be spending all their time soaring over the ocean
  • a non-nester who spends at least part of every day sitting near a chick that is no relation to him or her

Now here is one that is not in ANY book.

What do we do about a chick who gets out of the sun by sitting under motor vehicles?

Brady cools off

There are perfectly good bushes close by.  But Brady has consistently chosen to sit somewhere much less safe.

Brady sits next to the street

When people started standing next to him, I added some signs.

a chick and his cones

I have discovered over the years that most people will read the signs and follow the suggestions, especially if a reason is included.  I would say that we generally get a rather high class type of visitor here.  Thank you, visitors.  You make my job so much easier, and you help to keep these seabirds safe!

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Name that lunch!

I have on occasion found some unusually disgusting rejected meals sitting next to albatross chicks.  Sometimes a parent will try to stuff an incredibly large piece of food down the chick’s throat.  This is generally a large chunk of squid or fish.  People who are not familiar with albatross chicks would be surprised at the size of meals they can eat, but I think this chick was a bit too young for the thing I found near one who was sitting near his mother.  Once chicks reject or are unable to swallow something like this, they do not go back to it.  Seafood left sitting outside gets fairly whiffy, and it must be removed so cats are not attracted to it.  If I were a true scientist, I would have wrapped up the stinky item and taken it home to dissect, but the thought of taking this for a ride in my car did not give me a warm tummy feeling.

I took these photos with my cell phone, putting a pen near the object so the size was apparent.  I should have taken better photos once the object was further away from the chick, but someone offered to bag it, put it in the back of a truck truck and carry it away, and that was an offer I could not refuse.


Closeup of lunch


Chick with lunch

So far, people have suggested that this might be a smooth sea cucumber, a giant tube worm, a marine worm, and a decomposing eel, partially digested and de-pigmented.  It may have died and floated to the surface, and Mom might have grabbed it thinking it would keep the chick full for some time.  She did not seem to hold it against her chick that her effort had all been for naught.  Albatross moms are quite forgiving.


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Albie quiz

Are these two adults the adoring parents of this chick, eager to feed him a wonderful meal?

Or are they two good-for-nothing, pesky non-nesters, just using a poor chick as a backdrop for their annoying, pathetic attempts at courtship?

There are non-nesters that a chick can tolerate, but they do not travel in pairs.  Here is the same chick with K342, an adult that just likes to sit near chicks.

Chick 23 and K342

Chick 23 and K342

At this time of year, never assume that the adult you see sitting near a chick is a parent, unless he or she is actually feeding the little one.  Mom and Dad are spending most of their time searching for food for the chick and for themselves, and usually do not have much time to waste sitting near the nest.  In fact, when I do see parents, they are often sitting at a distance from the chick.  I do not know if they do that to get the chick used to being alone or if they simply do not want to be pestered for food.  You will rarely see the two parents at the nest at the same time, the odds are overwhelmingly against that fortuitous timing.

Here are the chick totals for the last 5 years:

2016-2017       20

2015-2016       16

2014-2015       22

2013-2014       10

2012-2013       18

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Marital dispute

I was hoping to have another chick in my yard this year.  I think Kirwan was the most photographed albatross in Princeville last season, standing by the side of the road, running to Mom or Dad with an excited little 2-note greeting, letting neighboring chicks know that this was his territory.  But although his mother, Roger, came back on November 27th, his dad, Hanai, showed up on December 11th.  By that time, all of the eggs in Princeville had already been laid.  I have rarely seen fertile eggs laid in late December.  It may be that when a nester chooses not to nest in a season, he or she returns long after most of the nesters have come back.

Roger was very excited to see him, and so were their human admirers.   They spent a short time together, then both flew off again.  When they returned, they shared more time sitting together, grooming and displaying.  During one display in my yard, another female attempted to join them.  Roger immediately reacted, chasing her away and biting her on the wing.  Hanai then chased Roger, who was very distressed.  When I went outside to see the outcome, the other female was running away and Hanai was gently grooming Roger at the spot where they nested last year.  I have observed that Hanai was happy to display with other females, but he never sat at the nest site with anyone other than his mate.

Hanai grooms Roger

Hanai grooms Roger

All was forgiven, I think.

They will probably be back during the season, to renew their bond and for other reasons I have never been able to determine, sometimes just hanging out.  For birds that are supposed to spend almost all of their time at sea, particularly when they are not raising a chick, many of the Princeville nesters spend a surprising number of days on land.

I think the solution would be to teach these birds to read, so they act the way they are supposed to.  So far, I have only found one albatross that respects the written word:

I'll humor the humans....

I’ll humor the humans….


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Little inconveniences of living in Princeville

I just had to take a detour through my yard to get the newspaper that was left in my driveway.  There was an albatross sitting on the flagstone path from my front door.

Don’t you hate it when that happens?

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Nest update

On Saturday we had 8 nests in Princeville.

We now have 32!

I know already that a number of them will not produce a viable chick.  I found an abandoned egg in my neighbor’s yard, not far from where I found one last year.  We have female/female couples who each produce a nonviable egg.  Rarely, one will be jumped by one of the males waiting for his mate to return and she will have a fertilized egg, but Princeville nest areas are so spread out that this is unlikely to happen here.

Some of the nesters are still waiting for their mates to come back.  I live across the street from one, KP505, or Joseph.  I first saw him on November 20th waiting at his favorite spot for his mate to return.  They have raised two chicks together.

505 waiting for K065

505 waiting for K065

Most nesters remain in the same general area from year to year, but often they move around a bit within it.  In the case of my neighborhood, that may mean they choose different yards.  Not Joseph.  He remains faithful to my neighbors’ yard.  And not just anywhere in that yard.  He is steadfast in his choice of the side yard near a line of trees between “his” house and the neighbor’s.

Many mornings I have seen him patrolling this little area, waiting for his mate.  Being a male albatross, he is happy to take advantage of a passing female, but he will be nesting with Mary.  I have never seen a couple nest together without getting to know each other the preceding season.

Sometimes a nester returns later, after the period when couples reunite and begin the whole process of raising a chick.  It may be a way of avoiding the physical  strain that raising a chick can cause to an albatross.  I have a couple that raised 6 chicks in a row, but that is not the norm.  They need time to recuperate, and that varies with each couple.

Joseph has left the area.  I know that the homeowners he shares his property with will be looking out for him and for Mary.

Me too.

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