One June some years ago, 19 Laysan albatross chicks were banded. The chicks, some still with downy heads, were days away from fledging, days away from taking their first flights out over the ocean where they’d stay for the next three to five years before returning to land. The day after banding, I returned to the colony late in the afternoon to check on the chicks and make sure everyone was coping with the new things dangling around their legs. Bands are slight and used to track individual birds. A band is how we learned the oldest known wild bird in the world was a Laysan albatross known as Wisdom, first banded as an adult in 1956.
It was nearly dusk when I discovered tragedy. Seven of the banded chicks were dead. Another five were injured. As I arrived, the killers, two dogs, fled the scene. I have never before keened in my life, but that’s what I believe you’d call the sound emanating from my body that evening as light slipped from the day and my heart.
I pulled out my cell phone and called my mōlī people—Kim, a bird biologist; Hob, whom we call Hobatross; and Tracy, the rehabilitator at the island’s only seabird care facility. Neighbors offered towels, a couple boxes and a dog kennel. Jeanine turned out to help. As we drove away, I’ll never forget looking in my rear view mirror and seeing Hob sitting in the backseat, a Laysan albatross chick under each arm.
It was long past dinner and a curtain of darkness had closed over Kauai, but Tracy stayed late into the night to evaluate and stabilize the chicks. One had to be euthanized, but the other four spent anywhere from one to three weeks under Tracy’s care. And one by one, they were released back into the wild, and one by one, each one fledged, finally taking their very first flights to sea.
The work of tracking albatross is one of patience, something we learn from the albatross themselves. So, once the four rehabbed albatross chicks fledged, we had to settle in and wait to see what would become of them.
Two seasons ago, one was spotted down the coast from her natal site—and she was on an egg. It hatched, and the chick fledged.
Last week, I re-sighted the second of the rescued and rehabilitated Laysan albatross chicks–now this beautiful adult.
One of the famous poet Emily Dickinson’s best known poems starts:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—
I find Emily’s poem to be poignant during these times, suggesting bottomless hope resides within each of us, something that albatross remind me again and again. Sometimes we face setbacks. Sometimes we need a hand from a friend. But with hope and help, friends, we’ll make it through this.
Hawaii’s statewide COVID-19 cases bumped up by one to 635. Kauai is still at 21.