Last week, a friend on a walk along a coastline saw a bird and texted me:
Friend: Do shearwaters have a super big wing span? White underneath? Dark brown?
Me: About three-foot wingspan. And they nest along the coastline.
Friend: I’m watching these huge brown birds fish! I think bigger than 3 feet! Diving and swooping.
Me: Could be ‘iwa.
Friend: Not frigate.
Me: Could be brown booby. Pointy bill. White chest.
Friend: Yep. That’s it.
It’s not unusual for people to ask me bird questions. Good and bad. The same day, another friend texted about nēnē. Unfortunately, this one was an adult and gosling that had been hit by a car.
Not that I’m a birder.
Yesterday, the text I received was about an injured albatross. I was overdue for my weekly bird survey, so I responded.
Me: Heading your way. Should be there in 10 minutes unless I hit a checkpoint:-)
I was being only half facetious. Our mayor continues to crack down on unnecessary travel around the island. In fact, he’s now got the National Guard helping with checkpoints. Would an injured albatross be considered essential travel? Maybe not in everyone’ s playbook, but they are in the mayor’s.
And as I’ve said before, I can perform my weekly bird surveys without coming in contact with anyone for miles, and it’s only a 10-minute drive from my house. These wildlife surveys also serve as my exercise. I hike a good two to three miles in the process. So, all that is my justification for venturing beyond my driveway. (I’m careful, Dad. Really, I am.)
Our chief of Police, Chief Todd Raybuck reported that yesterday’s two checkpoints tallied almost 10,000 vehicles. His officers estimate half of those “essential” travelers reported they were headed to Costco. “Those shelves must be empty,” Chief Raybuck commented. “Ask not what you can do for yourself. Ask yourself what can I do for my community?”
He and the mayor make a good team. Today, our mayor closed county golf courses, because apparently people were not following proper social distancing. He ordered all employees involved in the sale of food (restaurants, grocery stores) and medical items (pharmacies) to wear face masks. And he shut down vacation rentals, saying some unethical people were advertising Kauai as “COVID-19 retreats.”
His message was similar to one I’d heard in my childhood from my father: If you don’t behave, I’ll make you.
Turns out the albatross wasn’t injured. Instead of dancing with other courting birds, it was intent on resting. Phew! I wasn’t looking forward to driving an injured albatross across the island (and through a checkpoint) to the seabird rehabilitation facility.
So, I went about my usual business of surveying—using my binoculars to read the bands attached to albatross’ legs. I noted three or four when I saw one that was different. Most bands start with a letter or two and are followed by two or three numbers. However, this one only had three numbers. I immediately thought of a specific bird. A specific special bird. That’s the cool thing about bird bands. Because of bird bands, you can track the life histories of birds. It’s because of a bird band that scientists discovered the Laysan albatross known as Wisdom—and that at, at least, 70 years of age, she is the oldest known wild bird in the world.
The one I was spying isn’t nearly that old—just six. However, she might be the second-most famous albatross in the world. But I wasn’t 100% sure it was the bird I had in mind. So, I texted my tribe of albatross spotters.
“What is KK’s band?”
Louise answered almost immediately: 119.
“Got her!” I texted back.
“KK” is short for Kaloakulua, the very first chick to be featured on Cornell’s AlbatrossCam. She hatched on January 27, 2014. Her first re-sighting since fledging took place last year at the very spot where she’d hatched. This was her first re-sighting for this year, and it wasn’t her natal site.
“KK’s checking out another hood?” Nicki texted.
In the midst of sad news coming out of New York with hundreds more deaths due to COVID-19, at least, we found some good news on Kauai. KK survived another year. Maybe this year, she’ll select and mate and come November will be incubating an egg. I believe in miracles. As you can see, KK’s got some dance moves, too. (She’s in the middle back.) It can happen.
We’re up to 435 cases statewide. A sixth death was reported, the second from Maui. No new cases here; we’re at 19 cases on Kauai.
Be well. Be sane.