Returning roosters at Kilauea Point

…and, by roosters, I do not mean the omnipresent Kauai chicken!

At the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge (KPNWR) the Wedge-tailed Shearwater chicks (‘Wedgies’) are getting close to fledging. The oldest of the visible chicks will probably be gone within the next couple of weeks. Which means the adults will no longer return to feed them. Adults and fledglings will all (individually) fly south to the Gulf of Panama for their winter vacation.

So, Steve and I headed out to the overlook at Kilauea Point just before sunset one evening last week, hoping to catch a glimpse of the adult Wedgies returning to their burrows and their chicks dotted around the Point.

If they did, we missed them! However, while we were waiting, we were treated to the marvelous sights and sounds of the Red-footed Boobies returning to their roosts.

The adults have bright red feet (I guess their name gave that away, didn’t it!), and also a very blue bill – a bizarrely beautiful color scheme.

These boobies stay with us year-round, and the evening ritual is evidently a popular sight, as we were joined by a number of visitors while we were there.

Our next ornithological treat will be the return of the Laysan Albatross from their Summer break in Alaska which should be any day now! During the three-month break between last seasons fledglings in July and the anticipated adult arrivals, I’ve been enjoying some local albatross stories and photos posted by Bob Waid, a neighbor and fellow volunteer at KPNWR.

KPNWR’s newest recruit at Kilauea Point

Tuesday marked my first day on the ‘job’, as a volunteer at the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge (KPNWR).

I had a brief orientation with Jennifer Waipa who’s the park ranger responsible for the volunteers. Then, for the afternoon shift from 1 to 4pm, I shadowed a long-time, very experienced and equally entertaining volunteer named Bruce Parsil.

Bruce Parsil, knowledgeable and entertaining mentorI felt like a new kid on the first day at school, and the afternoon was a great experience: perfect weather, with sufficient wind for the birds to be constantly playing and drifting all around us, and a ton of fascinating information to absorb from Bruce.

The main residents at this time of year are the frigate birds, shearwaters, red-footed boobies, and tropic birds (both white-tailed and red-tailed). The Laysan albatross have already bred, the youngsters have fledged, and all have returned to sea.

Btw, if you caught my previous post about the late-bloomer albie in our neighboring street, I’m delighted to report it fledged Monday morning, sometime between 7:30am when the owner went to work and noticed the youngster was still hanging out, and 8:15 when I walked Freya and it was gone…oh and, Nan, I admit my biased gender assumption was wrong, apparently it was a ‘she’! 😉

Here are just a few of the many facts I learned from Bruce and Jennifer (these notes are as much for a memory for myself as for any reader’s edification): 

  • ‘Our’ frigates are female only. No breeding occurs here; they just seem to hang out and chill. Either they are non-breeding females, or they are stopping off on their way to or from their breeding grounds. So, sadly, not much chance of the glorious sight of a male frigate with his huge engorged red throat.
  • There are two species of shearwater on the island, the Wedge-tailed Shearwater and the smaller Newell’s Shearwater. The ‘wedgies’ are not endangered, and breed in burrows around the bluff including close to pathways (so close that sometimes the chicks fall out and roll down the path). The Newell shearwaters, on the other hand, are endangered, and usually breed further inland…high in the mountains. However, a recent program seems to have been successful in establishing a number of Newells on refuge land.
  • The shearwaters are now hatching. The first wedgie on the refuge hatched three weeks ago and, surprisingly, is situated in one of the most public, exposed areas, immediately outside the interpretation center beside the lighthouse. The parents return year after year to nest in that spot, so evidently the human activity doesn’t bother them too much. The chick is currently a cute pale gray/white fluffball which attracted a great deal of visitor interest and gave me several opportunities to regurgitate Bruce’s words of wisdom.
  • There is a hybrid tropic bird. The traditional white-tails have a pale beak, and the red-tails have a red beak…then there’s the hybrid that has a white tail and a red beak! I know, I’ve seen them!

I’ve omitted any details about the red-footed boobies…they will probably have a dedicated post in the future.

There were some other entertaining sights as well as the birds. We spotted a large number of spinner dolphins, who often hang out in the bay to the west of the Point until mid-afternoon, and we had just one sighting of a green turtle. No monk seals that afternoon, but I’ve seen one near the Point in the past.

Moku’ae’ae islet off Kilauea Point

Even an albatross can have a bad hair day

The albatross return each year to breed on Kauai. Since they are exceedingly ungainly on land (hence their nickname of gooney birds) and require an extensive runway for landings and take-offs, a few roads in our area close to the bluff are prime nesting sites.

The adults return in November. Courtships, egg-laying, hatching, and chick-rearing follow. Eventually the parents leave the almost full grown chicks, and by mid-to-late July all the youngsters have fledged. All, it seems, except one this year.

Albatross bad hair dayThis one chick is evidently a late-bloomer, or just plain lazy, but I am delighted he hung around long enough for our arrival this week. I’ve had the pleasure of watching him grow during my previous visits in February and again in April, so it’s a treat to witness the final stage in this year’s cycle.

As the chicks lose their baby fluff and gain their sleek adult plumage, each has its own highly amusing pattern of ‘hair’ loss!