For Laysan Albatross Chick, Independence Day Awaits.

When no witty sentence or meaningful anecdote lies ready at my fingers to write about, I generally turn to one of two things: Setting. Or weather.

Today, it’s the weather. It’s hot. For Hawai‘i. Highs in the 90s are expected. Now, I know elsewhere in the world that might be considered a break in the heat. But, here, it’s hot. I repeat: hot.

Especially because our usual cooling trade winds have apparently left for the holiday weekend. Flown elsewhere. In their place, a hot breath of air from the southeast is hovering. When our winds switch around like this—from north to south—we call it a “Kona system.” Then, all the humidity—and bugs—in the air falls from the sky, draping us in a thin film of slime. Since most of us don’t have air conditioning, we sit slimily in our kitchens as we eat dinner, we recline slimily on our sofas as we lethargically binge-watch the latest series of Orange Is The New Black, and we lie slimily in our beds as we sleep—or try to.

Konas make us tired and cranky and complainers. We are, after all, only human, I tell myself. That’s what heat does to a person. But what if you are an albatross?

Laysan albatross chick Cornell web camera
Wing-flapping Niaulani

If you are a healthy Laysan albatross chick all set to fledge—fly to the sea for the first time—Kona winds can seem perplexing, I imagine.

About this time of year, chicks move closer to cliff edges and sit, stand, and exercise their wings all while facing the sea where trade winds, I imagine, when they are blowing, whisper titillating messages. Come, they say. This is your home, they encourage. We have your favorite food, they taunt.

But our chicks are facing mauka, inland, toward the mountain, right now. No scent of the ocean and its goodies is blowing off the ocean. Instead, the aroma of dirt and musty organic matter has replaced that of squid and fish in the albatross chicks’ nares, nostrils. They still stretch their wings and flap, strengthening their flight muscles, and some experimental wing-hopping takes these chicks even farther from their eventual watery destination. All the while, they wait for the perfect flying weather.

Laysan albatross chick Niaulani, star of Cornell albatross web cam
We’ve got lift-off! Barely. Momentarily.

Niaulani, our chick to which the Cornell Lab or Ornithology webcam has been glued for the past five months, is ready to fledge. Her last meal came from her father last week. She’s had time to digest it. She’s probably at optimal flying weight. Her mantle of down atop her head is left with one sideburn and a few sprigs atop her head. It’s time. There’s just one thing missing. Wind.

Trade winds are forecast to return tomorrow. Will Niaulani-o-Ko`olau fly free on Independence Day? Tune in and see.


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