Monday, March 30, 2009

Nothing Else Will Do

There are a few birds here that I know individually. Usually, its because I know where there nests are or they are so rare that they are easy to keep track of. There is the White Tern sitting on its egg outside my back door. There is the lone female Eurasian Wigeon, and her three Northern Pintail (all female) girlfriends at The Catchment. There are the three Laysan Albatross chicks next to the front door, and the Pacific Golden-Plover next to our "driveway".

However, by far the most glamorous bird that I've met in the atoll is the adult male Short-tailed Albatross that lives on Eastern Island. He is smart, suave, sexy, strong, and frankly, not to be fucked with. He is the biggest bird here, period, and possibly the best looking. Most of the world's population (which isnt much) breeds on Torishima Island, off of Japan, and one dedicated researcher has seen to it (for decades now) that practically every bird that is born there receives a shiny aluminum leg band that stays on (theoretically) for life. Each band has a unique number stamped on it, so when someone reads it they can find out when and where the bird was banded and how old it is. Shorty here is 26 years old......exactly the same as myself.

The female, on the right, is less than half his age. Draw your own conclusions.

When I first heard this, I was amazed at the coincidence. I too, am the biggest, smartest, strongest, sexiest and most suave person here. Ok, maybe not. But I am 26, and wonder what sort of existence this albatross has had in its similar lifespan. I think he has been coming to Midway for a few years now, and has generally been relegated to bachelor status due to the rarity of his species. He hangs out in a plot of hand-painted decoy birds meant to lure real members of his species to the area.....much like I am relegated to bachelor status and hang out with a bunch of mannequins meant to lure real members of my species into my living room.

Their age differnce, however, is no obstacle for their love!

Who said that? Er, scratch that last statement.

At any rate, he is one of my favorite birds here (and was a factor in me deciding to come here over another island), and I was happy to see yesterday that he managed to get a female of his own species to do a little dancing with him and to do some mutual preening with. If you are not acquainted, all albatross perform elaborate, multi-step dances with each other (the Laysans are rumored to have 27 steps in their routine) when they are seeking mates, which is pretty funny to watch. Once they are hooked up, or if they are both interested in each other, they will affectionately preen each other for extended periods of time. Its really cute, and not anything like the disgusting PDA (Public Displays of Affection) that I have to endure when I'm watching my coupled-friends grope each other in broad daylight. It was pretty funny watching them preen each other though, because the female probably isn't old enough to breed yet (should we name her Lolita?) and didn't quite know what she was doing, so the old male would frequently snap at her when she did something wrong. I'm sure she will figure it in a year or two though, and hopefully they can start raising their kids here on Midway.

These are Christmas Shearwaters. They live over on Eastern Island, and aside from having a great name they make these weird little moaning haunted-house sounds. They're great.

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