Meet Hawaii’s Avian Climate Refugees

[Are you following me at Albatography.com? If not, you’ve missed some blog posts. Here’s my latest.]

Among the hundreds of thousands of Laysan albatross that nest at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge also nests another albatross species—the Black-footed albatross—but in much fewer numbers. The Black-footed albatross is listed as near threatened by the IUCN Red List. Along with the Laysan and Short-tailed albatross, they are one of three species of albatross found north of the equator.

BFAL chick with decoy 2

We all have our preferences when it comes to where to raise a family. City. Suburbia. Country. Mountains. Islands. Valleys. Apparently, Black-footed albatross like the beach, as their nests can usually be found along the edges of the islands and islets across the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands making up Papahānamokuākea Marine National Monument.

But like all albatross, the Black-footed albatross is highly philopatric, meaning they return to the same place they grew up to find mates and build nests of their own, and they’re as steadfastly loyal to their nests and chicks as Laysan albatross, even in windstorms that sweep across the wintry Pacific and all but bury them in sand.

Unfortunately, these nesting preferences face some challenges. As ice caps melt at the poles, sea levels are rising. High tide line is moving higher, swallowing up beaches on these flat-as-pancake atolls in the central Pacific where 99.99 percent of Black-footed albatross nest. As ocean temperatures are warm, storms the world over are intensifying, generating winter waves big enough to roll over the rings of once-protective reefs encircling atolls and washing up, and in some cases over, nesting birds. On the beaches, Black-footed albatross are the first to lose their nests, their eggs, their chicks.

It’s fitting that yesterday, among Laysan albatross soaring in figure eights above my head, I spotted a dark shape. The color black isn’t always associated with good, but seeing a Black-footed albatross felt like good luck to me. It was my first sighting of the big black bird—with a seven-foot-plus wingspan—in the Main Hawaiian Islands. Hopefully, in a half dozen years or so, I will be seeing more.

A couple weeks ago, before the next big winter storm could sweep them out to sea, 22 Black-footed albatross chicks were rescued and brought to O`ahu where they will be hand-raised for the next four to five months. All this is part of an effort by multiple organizations to create a new colony of Black-footed albatross on the “high” island of O`ahu. It’s a repeat of a similar recent effort on behalf of Laysan albatross.

BFAL chick with decoy

Last year, I wrote a three-part series for Audubon about the (re)creation of a Laysan albatross colony on O`ahu’s North Shore. (You can read part one here, and part two here, and part three here.) Many of the same organizations are involved this year in the creation of a Black-footed albatross colony in the same place—at James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge; however, the ones tasked with the monumental task of raising the chicks falls in the hands of Pacific Rim Conservation.

I also find it fitting that I first met Drs. Lindsay Young and Eric Vanderwerf ten years ago at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, where we counted albatross nests together. Since then, they started the non-profit conservation and research group called Pacific Rim Conservation. Their efforts can be summed up in their vision statement: Restoring biodiversity. Their goal in this project is “no net loss.” That is, restoring every square foot of seabird habitat that’s lost due to climate change. In 2017, Pacific Rim Conservation worked with 22 different bird species, banded more than 200 birds as part of their research, translocated four species of Hawaiian seabirds to safe breeding colonies, wrote three scientific journal articles and five management plans, built 3,200 linear feet of predator-proof fencing, eradicated non-native, terrestrial predators from 65 acres, and restored 18 acres of habitat by removing invasive weeds and replacing them with native plants. They’re busy people making an impact on Hawaii’s native birds by conducting pioneering science and implementing visionary conservation projects.

So, of course, I would choose Pacific Rim Conservation as one of Albatography’s #AlbatrossAmbassadoring recipients. For the month of March, 20 percent of Albatography’s net proceeds will go to Pacific Rim Conservation to help them feed a few Black-footed albatross.

Since I started this website late last year, Albatography has made donations to three different organizations working on behalf of albatross totaling $500. And it’s all because of you. When you add a little Albatography to your life, you help albatross. Mahalo!

 

Consider the Egg

A432 and EggConsider the egg. The obvious part, the shell, is made up of calcium carbonate crystals and on close examination, its grainy texture contains thousands of tiny pores. The shell is actually a semipermeable membrane through which air and moisture can pass. I figure that must also be how Laysan albatross are able to communicate and, possibly, imprint on their chicks, because as soon as an egg is laid, the parents start talking to their newborn. They’ll stand, point their serrated four-inch bill between their legs and speak every so sweetly, “Eeh, eeh, eeh.” Both parents get in on the action, because the world of albatross parenting is an equal opportunity endeavor. Read more

Introducing Albatography

Screen Shot 2017-11-30 at 10.27.26 AMFirst, let me introduce to you a seabird known as the Laysan albatross. Or mōli, in Hawaiian. This seabird is equipped with magical powers to cause your eyes to widen, your jaw to drop, your opinion of birds to change, and your understanding of an albatross to be anything other than a burden. Albatross will make you a birder. They will make you a science geek. A fan of physics. Albatross will make you a believer in the goodness of the world. A lover of nature. A protector of the ocean. A champion of the environment. Don’t believe me? Follow along throughout this breeding season, and let’s see what you say in seven or eight months. Read more

September in the Rear View.

September’s come and gone. How did that happen?

I blame it on Mark Twain.

My head was down all month, re-living his escapades in Hawaii. I poured through his 25 dispatches for the Sacramento Union. I dug into his notebooks and letters. I scoured a gem of a book–Mark Twain and Hawaii–by Walter Francis Frear. And I wrote.

I wrote.

I wrote.

I wrote.

So much so my head hurts. No, it really does. I’m off to see my reflexologist for help this afternoon.

In an 1896 notation, Mark Twain penned, “There is in life only one moment and in eternity only one [moment]. It is so brief that it is represented by the fleeting of a luminous mote through the thin ray of sunlight–and it is visible but a fraction of a second. The moments that preceded it have been lived, are forgotten and are without value; the moments that have not been lived have no existence and will have no value except in the moment that each shall be lived.”

I interpret Twain as reinforcing the importance of living in the moment. What many self-help and spiritual gurus might say as, “Be. Here. Now.”

green sea turtle
Green sea turtle.

I managed to drag myself away from my laptop and managed a few outings this past month. There was the trip to Volcano on Big Island. There was a celebration of the opening of Ke Kai Ola, the monk seal hospital. There were a few treks along a few beaches in search of Hawaiian monk seals. There was an evening watching an unusual visitor to Hawaii–the common ringed plover. And there were a few snorkel outings.

I spent this morning reviewing photographs taken in September. It’s just my way of grabbing hold of a few luminous motes of moments in an effort to extend their value a few more moments. Here are my September motes in pictures;-)

Labor in Nature? O.K.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the holiday we know as Labor Day—the one that provides a day off from work and rolls around every year on the first Monday in September—was the “creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

For me, as a child, Labor Day signaled an end of summer.

For me, this summer, after quitting my J-O-B in April, my economic contributions to our country have been slim.

In further researching the origins of Labor Day, I discovered a few tidbits that made me scratch my head.

First, while I’m not surprised that New York and New Jersey were two of the first states to institute statewide holidays, I am a little surprised that Colorado was also one. Should I be?

Let’s put things in context.

Some 120 years ago, in 1894, Labor Day became a national holiday. The bill to make it such was introduced by Sen. James Henderson Kyle of South Dakota.

I know. I know. I’m showing my ignorance here. But Colorado? South Dakota? Big labor states? In the 1890s? My guess would be mining. Anyone know?

Most of us think of Labor Day as a chance to kick back and have fun. Maybe fire up the BBQ grill. Go on a road trip. Bust out the camping gear. Open a beer or two. In short, celebrate life.

If I understand the intention behind Labor Day correctly, it also encourages that we contribute to something larger than our selves. And, that is, the place in which we live. Our community. Our world.

While my economic contributions this summer may have been slim, I like to think I’ve been contributing to our social world in a little fuller way. And one way, I suppose, is by celebrating nature in photography. So, here’s a slide show (click on any of the thumbnail images above to start it) of my summer, shared not to be smug about the place in which I am blessed to live, but to encourage more love and respect for the natural world around all of us, no matter where we live.

How will you celebrate Labor Day this weekend?