Tuesday, December 21, 2010

You Can Fly With Us, Or Hang On To The Walls

A Laysan Albatross over Midway's lagoon.

It's nesting season for albatross out in the North Pacific, and since I attempted (unsuccessfully) to go back to Midway this year, I thought it would be best to revisit them. For those who don't know, I spent 3 and a half months on Midway Atoll last year as a volunteer for the Fish and Wildlife Service. They were 3 and a half months of hell.


To call the place "epic" would be a gross understatement. They have an incredible number of seabirds nesting there, which now include all 3 North Pacific albatross...Laysan, Black-footed....and Short-tailed Albatross, which are one of the world's rarest seabirds.

The Shorties did not attempt breeding last year, but I did get to spend a fair amount of time with them. They are huge beasts that effortlessly make the bold and ornery Black-footed Albatross run for their lives. Truly imposing beings. Of course, there are many other signature birds out there...terns, boobies, noddies, tropicbirds, frigatebirds, shearwaters, curlews, etc....but its the albatross that seem to really set the tone of the place.

This is the famous pair of Short-tailed Albatross that, of late, have been stoking the birding community. When this photo was taken they were obviously an item but I don't think the female was, er, ready yet, although The Golden Gooney was probably down. Thankfully they're taking turns sitting on an egg this winter, and everyone is quite excited for them. Note the decoys in the background.

Black-footed Albatross.

Meet the third Short-tailed Albatross that was at Midway Atoll last year. When on-island (they can spend weeks at sea on fishing trips) it lived a few feet from a bike path. While watching this bird, sometimes from a golf cart, I frequently thought of the millions of rabid birders who would kill for an opportunity like this and it made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

This Laysan Albatross chickie had a grisly hang out. That's a pile of dead albatross it's sitting on.

The seabird community out there is amazing....everything seems big, loud, flamboyant and eye-catching, and almost every little thing you did was like some out-of-control birder fantasy. Let's take going to dinner for example. You walk outside to your bike, which entails stepping around and over several Laysan Albatross and their chicks. As you ride away you glance into the naupaka bush in your yard and see a Red-tailed Tropicbird lurking beneath it. On your bike ride you are briefly accompanied by a couple White Terns, and a few Ruddy Turnstones and Pacific Golden-Plovers calmly step out of your way. Black Noddies fly overhead with nesting material. Everywhere you look are albatross. You park your bike between a couple of attendant albatross chicks and gorge yourself (it's always all-you-can-eat at the Clipper House). At dinner you discuss playing cards later that night and who you liked and didn't like in the last tour group that came through. You then share your review on the state of the soft-serve ice cream that evening. On your bike ride home the air is warm (but not hot) and a touch humid (but not like a sauna), and you are in no rush, because stress and anxiety seem to evaporate just a bit faster out there than anyplace else. When you look up there are thousands of Bonin Petrels in the sky, just coming back from sea. You call this place home and can't help feeling a little smug.

Albatross can be quite friendly. It's nice when the Black-footeds don't hate you, as they generally don't have the pleasant disposition of Laysans. To answer your questions, no this is not a mated pair, no that is not their egg, and yes I love albatross.


  1. Yep I'm jealous. And I want some soft serve. And for some reason I kinda want to hug one of those albatross. They look squishy.

  2. I got to give them hugs, but it was not consensual (we were banding them, dont worry).

  3. Steeping in a toasty warm pot of envy, but LOVING the pictures. Heaven. Those birds are so gorgeous and stylish. And I want to eat that first photo. YUM!

  4. sweet lil' baby jesus, Mr. Tucker! Still jealous of this (duh) and these pictures are just plain badass. Niiice!

  5. Aw, thanks guys! Warm and fuzzy again.