I’ve been a volunteer with Cornell’s Kauaʻi Albatross Cam since its first season in 2014, but I live in Seattle, so I didn’t see an albatross in person until a trip to Kauaʻi in April 2016. I was walking the manicured streets of Princeville with my husband and another cam volunteer when she pointed to an adult Laysan albatross soaring overhead. There it was, my first albatross! I was downright giddy. My second came moments later: a fluffy chick named Kirwan, sleeping in a front yard. (Read all about Kirwan and more Princeville albatross here: My Albatross Diary.)
We saw additional fluffy chicks and sleek adults on our stroll through Princeville, then later that day a KAN (Kauaʻi Albatross Network) volunteer made my dreams come true with a trip to the current cam site. As in previous years, our cam site is on private land, generously made available by an anonymous Kauaʻi landowner. Out of respect for the owner, the birds and our cam viewers we kept our visit short.
Each of our chicks was in their usual spot: Honua in the lawn beyond the “art rock,” Kialoa near the step at the other end of the building, Haulani in the trees at cool, shady nest two. We saw adults, too, including frequent visitor A381 who circled joyfully overhead in the breeze before coming in for a landing. Honua looked back at us curiously with those big dark eyes, strolled and stretched. Haulani sat up and cocked his/her head. Kialoa sat peacefully and kept an eye on the neighborhood.
There I was, seeing our downy celebrities in person. I didn’t beg for an autograph although it was tempting. I fell in love with the birds on cam and face to face they were just as magnificent. It was a true joy to see them. I felt like I won the lottery.
There is a part of me that wishes these albatross could understand how special they are to me (and to many other albatross lovers in the world), but a wiser part recognizes that it is better for all albatross simply to be albatross, without being weighed down by human wishes, interactions or expectations. It’s our job to appreciate them and to learn from them, not the other way around. They’ve already got more than enough to learn without worrying about what humans are up to. What is squid and where do I find it? How do these wings work? How does this landing gear work?
Because of the albatross cam, people all over the world can observe Laysan albatross behavior daily from hatching to fledging without ever troubling the birds. The handful of people that do enter their sphere do so with great care, always mindful of the birds’ well-being. I can’t thank KAN and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology enough for putting the Laysan albatross cam together and giving us all this opportunity.
An thank you to the Laysan albatross for being themselves: fluffy and feathered, loving, goofy, gentle and wild.
Before my plane touched down again in Seattle I’d finished reading a brand-new copy of Holi Mōlī: Albatross and Other Ancestors by KAN founder Hob Osterlund. It is a book about both albatross and human experience, moving as poetry. Beautiful. I teared up on the plane, but that was ok. I highly recommend the book!
Iʻm back to Seattle and daily viewing of our cam chicks. I’ll be drawing a map of the cam site now that I’ve seen it in hopes that it will help our viewers understand the area too. Chances are good that I’ll come up with some additional ‘tross art as well! I still can’t get enough of these birds.