Tuesday, December 23, 2014

In the Sanctuary of the Albatross

For our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary on Jan. 1 we wanted to go someplace special, and since we were visiting my parents during the holidays we had San Diego as our starting point. Since we have seen so much of the Southwest already it was time for something even more exotic, so I suggested Hawaii and didn't get any arguments from the rest of the family. And while this was intended as a family trip I couldn't help checking google for what kind of birds and wildlife we might find on the island of Hawaii. I have been to Hawaii a couple of times before and wasn't expecting anything new, but then I just happened to stumble upon information about an albatross sanctuary on Hawaii, and that their nesting begins in December. Apparently the population has been decimated in the past by wild dogs and off-road vehicles, but a few years ago the state put a fence across the peninsula of the albatross nesting site and since then their numbers have quickly increased.  Access to the nesting grounds entailed a 4 kilometer hike across open terrain that can get very hot, but as luck would have it we managed to time our visit with a real cold spell and the threat of continued storms and rain, YEAH! (not)... The girls were more interested in the shopping malls and generously offered to stay in Honolulu...

Johan and I, still under the influence of jet-lag, left Honolulu around 5AM with coffee and breakfast from Starbucks and made the 90 minute drive to the parking area. The weather did not look promising and we were sure that we would be drenched by storms on the horizon, and although we felt a few drops we probably found the least rainy spot on the island. During our one hour hike we saw no sign of albatross over the ocean, so we weren't completely convinced that they we were going to see any...

Even as we reached the fenced area we did not see any albatross, until we begin walking along the trail, and then suddenly only a few meters away a lone albatross sat in the grass obviously on a nest. We were very careful to avoid making any noise but the bird did not seem particularly concerned about our presence. After taking a few telephoto close-ups we continued our hike further into albatross territory.

Due to the storms the winds were hard, but that didn't bother the albatross and we saw more and more in the air performing acrobatics, hanging in the winds and then diving just over the ground before landing in their courting and nesting areas.

When they landed we observed the typical greeting behaviour as they shake their beaks together and sound like a noise maker.

But this behaviour was not just reserved for couples, but even extended to the neighbors, and after greeting their spouse the newly landed bird would also wander over and greet the neighbors

After making the rounds the spouses traded places and the sitting birds waddled off to the launching pad and pointed their beaks against the wind and began their wild flapping and running to get airborn...

Once up in the air they made a few passes over the nesting area, maybe to see who else was at home, before heading out to sea to search for food.

After three hours the activity died down and there were almost no flying birds over the colony, and we decided that was a sign that it was time to make the 4km hike back to the car and head back to civilization. Next time we will have to time our visit so that the eggs have hatched, probably February...

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