It’s late October. That means leaves are turning the colors of jewels and carpeting the ground beneath trees in places on the continental United States. In Hawaii, the temperature needle hovers around 70 degrees at night, a cool breeze seeps in from the north, and we pull up the sheet to sleep. This is fall.
Maybe it’s the shift in temperature. Maybe it’s the angle of light as the sun steers below the equator. Maybe a certain hormone is released. Whatever it is, something, a siren song louder than Ann Wilson of the rock duo Heart belting out Barracuda, (keeping it fishy, eh) tells the whole of the Laysan albatross species to stop what they’re doing in the North Pacific some 2,000 miles from Kauai, to tilt their long, aerodynamic wings stretching six feet and more, and to head south for land. Right now.
Some stop at Kure Atoll, the northernmost spit of land in the Northwestern Hawaiian Island chain. Many, many haul up at Midway Atoll while others drop their webbed feet at one of the numerous tiny islands and islets that arc across the oceanic waters north of Kauai, all part of a protected marine monument known as Papahānaumokuākea. A relatively tiny few, like one percent of the entire population of Laysan albatross, wing their way for the high bluffs of Kauai’s North Shore.
Wherever they land, in early November, Laysan albatross will meet up with their partners, do some canoodling, and then spend the next seven or eight months incubating and feeding and making long-haul treks to and from the chilly climes of the North Pacific in the great effort to raise the next generation of Laysan albatross.
I spent this week at one colony preparing for their arrival—weeding, securing fences, removing downed tree limbs, checking for evidence of predators. A beautiful ocean swell rolled in from the north, another indication of the changing seasons in Hawaii. The colony was quiet. Very quiet. But it won’t be for long.
For now, we wait.