I heard my first Newell’s shearwater of the season on Saturday morning, that distinctive braying-wheezing call, directly overhead, low and close, sending a shiver through my body as I stood outside with the dogs in the damp grass and darkness of 4:30 a.m.
“They’re back,” I thought with a thrill that was shortly followed by a sense of foreboding and the second thought, “I hope I don’t find any dead ones this year.”
Or as a friend in the Midwest wrote this morning, after stopping to move off the highway an opossum that had regularly visited her home, and was now dying after being hit by a car: “There's the worry about creatures trying to navigate a human world...”
Especially one that’s hostile.
But still, there are people who care, like my friend, who paid enough attention to recognize that little opossum by its markings, and another friend, who reported hearing first the faint calls of a Newell’s last week, and then heartier, more robust calls this past weekend, and Kathy Valier, whose heart was so touched by finding a downed Newell’s chick last fall that she helped out at the SOS (Save Our Shearwater) program and just returned from five weeks of volunteering at the Wetlands and Wildfowl Trust in Slimbride, England, where they reared nene in the 1950s for release in Hawaii.
While there, she kept a thoughtful, photo-heavy blog that recorded some of her encounters with nene, Laysan ducks and other birds. It’s definitely worth checking out.
And I had the opportunity to see an adult Laysan albatross feeding its hungry chick this past weekend. I’d always heard that they feed the chicks squid oil, but this meal was all squid and fish, in copious quantities.
As the hungry chick pecked at the parent’s bill, the parent regurgitated the partially digested fish and deposited it directly into the chick’s gaping mouth, without a speck of waste. This was repeated numerous times, over the span of about 10 minutes, then the parent headed over to the bluff and flew out to sea to catch another meal. The chick, almost as tall as its parent, and chubbier, waddled after it, still making its feeding cry, then returned for a nap in its nest beneath an ironwood tree.
The albatross chicks will be leaving in another month or so to begin their lives at sea.
It’s been a rough year for the albatrosses on Kauai, with a lot of egg abandonment, avian pox (a sometimes fatal disease spread by mosquitoes) and even crossbill, a deformity caused by pox that will prevent the chick from feeding itself upon maturity.
The chicks reared on private lands have apparently fared better than those hatched at the Kilauea Lighthouse, for reasons that remain unclear. Overall, it seems that food has been an issue, as is often the case in a La Nina year.
But as with everything, there's still so much we don't know.