Laysan Albatross are huge birds. With a wingspan of six and a half feet, these birds soar over the Pacific with hardly a wing beat. They roam the Pacific from California to Japan and nest on the islands of the mid-Pacific. There are quite a few of them that nest on Kauai, so while we were visiting Hanalei, we went in search of these magnificent birds and perhaps even a peek at a chick.
Laysan Albatross have been nesting on Kauai for centuries, long before man mowed down the native vegetation and built resorts and housing tracts. Even though their natural environment has been disturbed, the Laysan Albatross return year after year and will nest in the front and back yards of the homes on the north shore of Kauai. They can also be found nesting right on the golf course. In fact the golf club offers a late afternoon tour of the nesting sites. For a fee, you can rent a golf cart, and armed with a map supplied by the golf club, you can tour the course and get great views of the different nesting sites. We didn’t know about the golf course tour and didn’t allocate time for that, so we took our chances on finding a nest on our own. Click the images to view larger.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is currently hosting a webcam of a Laysan Albatross nest on its website. I got pretty excited when the chick at this nest hatched just a few days before we left for Kauai. I was pretty confident that we would be able to find a nest site, and now I was feeling pretty good about finding one with a recently hatched chick.
We spent some time driving around a neighborhood that I knew had albatross nests but didn’t turn up any right away. Then we spotted an adult Laysan Albatross waddling across a front yard, so we decided to follow him in the car. Laysan Albatross are not very mobile on land. They are designed for flight and swimming in the ocean, so it wasn’t hard to keep up with him. He waddled around the side of the house where we lost him in the beautiful flora that the homeowner had in their yard. The house was on a cul-de-sac, so as we followed the road around, we found the mother lode! Right where I expected to find them, there were nearly a dozen adult Laysan Albatross in yards, in gardens and milling about. Many were on nests while others were just hanging out. We pulled over and I started shooting out of the car window.
Laysan Albatross are fairly tame and tolerant of people. While we were parked on the roadside, local residents, some with their dogs, walked right by us and stopped to watch the albatross as well. In each case the nesting albatross would simply glance at the spectators and go about their business. It was really neat to see the birds resting on the manicured lawns with the pretty gardens in the background. We even saw a pair of albatross going through their courtship rituals. I really wanted to get some shots of that behavior, but they chose a spot that didn’t lend itself to any photos.
After a while we decided to move on and see if we could find any chicks. As we started to pull out, a couple walked by and we started up a conversation with them. They asked if we had seen any chicks and I told them, “not yet”. They then pointed behind them and said, “well, there’s one right over there up against that house”! Jackpot!!! So we inched the car forward a few feet and setup to see if the chick would make an appearance. We didn’t have to wait long before mom stood up and showed off her newest family member. Of course, it just HAD to be a nest up against a house! And of course mom had no intention of turning around.
Before long, mom did turn around and I was able to get some better shots. There was no way to eliminate the house in the background, so I just have to take what was available. I would have preferred if the first bird above had been on a nest and given us some opportunities with the pretty background, but you take what you can…especially when you’ve traveled 5000 miles to see a Laysan Albatross chick!
Needless to say, this was a “card full” day … and a very good day!