Our albatross girls: futile not fertile


IMG_5681It seems that KP338 has finally decided enough is enough, and has left the nest that’s in our front yard.

She swapped with KP643 for the last time on March 12, and on that occasion they spent a particularly long time sitting side by side on the nest, ‘chatting’ together, and occasionally sitting up to look at, and chatter at, the egg.

Was it just my imagination or did I detect a worried look on their faces, and maybe frustration too?…

IMG_5672On the morning of March 14, I noticed 338 was standing over the egg for several minutes, with no sign of settling down; whereas usually, when a nesting bird needs a stretch, it’s a quick stand-up-shuffle-and-sit-down-again, to keep that precious egg warm.

By lunchtime she had left the nest, waddling around the front yard and back-and-forth across the driveway for a while, before settling down a few yards from the nest under the sago palm…yes, the same sago palm where both she and 643 had laid their eggs back on December 4 and 5, before 338’s egg rolled down the slope to its resting place nearer the garage.

IMG_5683

We won’t remove the egg yet (amazingly, it’s still whole after almost 3-and-a-half months!) unless of course it breaks and emits an unholy smell!

We’ll just let nature take its course. 338 is likely to  return to the nest a few times, even though she has now let the egg go cold. 643 might return, and they might still hang out in the neighborhood together for a while, just like our neighbor’s couple that I featured in my previous post.

If we’re lucky, they’ll treat us to some noisily entertaining and affectionate displays of their own, before eventually heading off to Alaska for the summer months.

I’m already looking forward to November, assuming they return for another try, when I’m hoping some randy male gets to one or other of them before they settle down together.

Our albatross girls

I must have compiled half a dozen or more posts since my last of December 28. Unfortunately, they were all composed in my head, either while driving around the island (plenty of time for contemplation at a maximum of 50mph), or during one of my frequent bouts of insomnia (which I attribute to age, not location!) So, apologies for the extended absence and, obscenely belatedly, Happy New Year…or, rather less belatedly, Gung Hay Fat Choy!

One of the most frequent topics for my mental musings is our local population of laysan albatross. I briefly mentioned some weeks ago that they were/are back on Kauai.

Nov 2012: returning albatrosses find their mates

Nov 2012: returning albatrosses find their mates

They started returning mid- November. Once one appears, it seems they all stream in. After courting and mating, all the nesting pairs concentrate on incubating their (single) egg and raising their chick.

Each parent takes it in turn to fly all the way back to Alaska to feed (yes, seriously, a round-trip of roughly 6,000 miles), while the other is dedicated to sitting full-time on the egg. They swap every two or three weeks until the egg is hatched, then more frequently as the chick grows, often covering the round-trip in only four or five days. Not surprisingly, the nesting bird is too hungry to hang about for long once its mate returns to relieve it.

So, during this incubation stage, the neighborhood goes a little quiet for a while.

IMG_5386However, the activity level picks up considerably early in the new year, when the non-nesters start appearing.

"If I stand really still, perhaps they won't notice me."

“If I stand really still, perhaps they won’t notice me.”

Non-nesters include those adults who for one reason or another do not have a partner this year, as well as the three to seven year old juveniles who are not yet old enough to mate, some of whom have returned to the island for the first time since they fledged (they usually spend the first three years at sea).

Each chick is banded before it leaves the nest; Kīlauea Point and Princeville chicks are given a ‘KP’ prefix. Last year, KP338 and KP643 nested on the border between our home and our neighbor. I learned a little about this pair at that time, but, since we only visited our new ‘vacation’ home for a week or two in February 2012 and again that April, we didn’t see the whole process through all the stages. However, we did find out that they are both females.

We were surprised to discover that female pairs are quite common. It’s not known why this happens, but they are definitely as dedicated as their male/female counterparts in incubating the egg. When both females lay an egg, one of the eggs has to be removed, as they only have the resources to incubate and raise one chick. Of course, the chances of them having a fertilized egg are somewhat limited…but not impossible, since there’s sometimes a randy male hanging around the neighborhood ready to jump their bones when they first return to the area!

Sadly, last year’s egg was not fertile. In some cases, an adoptive egg can be given to an all-female pairing. A program was instigated some years ago to replace infertile eggs with proven fertile eggs from pairs nesting on PMRF (Pacific Missile Range Facility) land. The idea was to reduce the PMRF colony of laysan albatross to avoid collisions with aircraft by relocating the eggs prior to hatching, since an albatross will typically return to the area where it hatched.

Initially, adoptive eggs were relocated to the KPNWR (Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge) only, but it was later extended to those birds nesting on private lands (such as Princeville).

This wasn’t an option for our pair last year as, for some reason known only to herself, 643 decided to move two doors down to lay and incubate her own egg, while 338 was left alone at the original nest site. Without two adults to incubate an egg, there’s no hope of success, since, as I already mentioned, they must take it in turns to leave the nest to feed.

KP338 and KP643 (with 643's egg)

KP338 and KP643 (with 643’s egg) at the top of the slope

This season, the same pair returned, and this time ended up with their nest just a few feet from our garage, on the edge of the driveway. Not that that was their original intention! They started off tucked behind a sago palm and a bird of paradise plant, at the top of a small slope.

643 laid her egg first, on December 4, and left 338 to incubate it.

KP338 followed her egg after it rolled down the slope

KP338 followed her egg after it rolled down the slope

338 laid her own egg the following day, slightly to one side … unfortunately, it was closer to the slope and at some point during the day, presumably while 338 was shuffling around and beginning to pull some grass around her to form a nest, the egg rolled down the slope.

KP338 on the eventual nest site, admiring her reflection in the car!

KP338 on the eventual nest site, admiring her reflection in the car!

At least, 338 had the sense to follow her egg and sit on it! (An albatross will often ignore an egg that has accidentally rolled out of the nest, and will stubbornly remain on the nest while the egg goes cold – not the sharpest tool in the box!)

On the positive side, since 338 was by now nesting some distance from the sago palm, it was easy to remove 643’s egg without causing 338 any grief.

To avoid disturbance, the ideal is to keep at least 15 feet away from nesting birds but, given their location, that’s simply not feasible for us, or at least for the car, this year. Thankfully, neither 338 nor 643 seem too bothered by our comings and goings (though, of course, we don’t open the passenger door right next to them). At the risk of imposing human characteristics on these beautiful creatures, our pair do now seem to recognize our voices and appear quite comfortable on their accidental nesting site.

We had hoped that their infertile egg would be replaced with a PMRF egg, but sadly this year the State has decided not to extend the adoption permit to private lands. 😦 So, for now, our pair continue to incubate their egg, with no hope of hatching a chick. At some stage either the egg will break or the pair will simply give up hope and abandon the nest. They have been particularly faithful to each other and to their nest this time, despite the egg relocating itself, so we’re hoping they will have another go next year.

This chick (less than a week old) was hatched on a neighbor's front yard

This chick (less than a week old in the photo) was hatched on a neighbor’s front yard

Meanwhile, the happier news is that we now have 18 chicks in Princeville.

We’re enjoying watching the little balls of gray fluff grow, day by day, in our neighborhood.

Once again, I highly recommend Cathy’s blog, My Albatross Diary, as an excellent and entertaining source for more detailed updates on our Princeville chicks, an insight into albatross parenting, and many more great photos and videos.

The Mango Tree Project [continued]

Since my first post about our Mango Tree Project, we’ve completed Steps 3 and 4, and are now on Step 5 (waiting and praying…dum-di-dum-di-dummmm).

IMG_6512Step 3: We wait and watch for some new shoots to appear.
We didn’t have to wait too long. Pete gave the mango tree its dramatic haircut on October 1; we noticed the beginnings of tiny shoots within just a week or two, and after a month there was plenty of healthy growth noticeable from the lanai [photo, Nov 2].

IMG_7379Step 4: Pete grafts new varieties to existing shoots.
Once the shoots are large enough, about the thickness of his finger, a similar sized shoot of a different variety can be grafted. For us, after another three weeks of growth [photo], Pete decided our tree was ready.

IMG_7401So, on November 22, Pete gave us four initial grafts, and we’ll see how those take. He can repeat as necessary, when newer shoots grow to a suitable size.

Tools of the trade: A selection of potential grafts, tape, and a very sharp knife (which it appears he had already tested on his thumb!) 😉IMG_7386

Step 5: We step back, wait, and pray.
This will be a longer wait. Though I assume we’ll be able to tell pretty quickly if the grafts have not taken (if they wither and die!), we’ll have to be patient until next year to see if we have any fruit to harvest.

P.S.
For those who read the original Mango Tree Project post to the end, I’m sorry to say my stand-out against the coconut palm cull didn’t last as long as I’d hoped. Two palms have met their demise since that post.

However, while the exposed green belt at the bottom of our yard is currently rather straggly and unsightly (mostly caused, insists Steve, by lack of sunlight due to those palms), I have to admit that the increased light across the yard, together with a tiny peak of the mountains that we didn’t realize we’d be able to see, have probably justified this latest mini-massacre.

The Mango Tree Project

Mango prior to its near-death experienceIn our back yard stands a large mango tree.

Correction!

The effects of a chain saw massacreIn our back yard stood a large mango tree.

Today, that mango tree is a mere skeleton of its former self.

Weep not, however, as we have a cunning plan!

The huge mango-tree-that-was overshadowed much of the back yard, and with little benefit as we’ve not seen a single mango on it in the year+ that we’ve owned the house. It cost us a fortune to have it trimmed last November, and it was already back to its previous size.

Turns out that Steve’s massage therapist Pete (yes, Steve found an excellent chap who’s managing to keep Steve’s poor old damaged body ticking over with regular deep tissue massage) is something of a horticulturist/landscape gardener in his spare time. An odd combo perhaps, but we’re beginning to realize odd combos are pretty much the norm on this island.

Pete has another friend who’s an expert in growing different varieties of mango, and Pete has experience in grafting mangoes, to provide one tree that will fruit at different times of the year. (Heck, if we end up with mangoes of any damn type at one time of the year, we’ll be happy! Different types at different times? Clover!)

Pete and his victim

Hence our mango tree project!

Step 1: Pete (for a very reasonable fee) chain saws our existing tree to near-death.

Hanalei transfer (recycling) station

Step 2: Steve and I haul the debris from the back yard, up a wicked slope in searing heat to the front yard, and borrow a friend’s truck to take it to the local tip. (Anything to save a few bucks on haulage!)


[Steps 1 & 2 achieved!
]

Step 3: We wait and watch for some new shoots to appear.

Step 4: Pete grafts new varieties to existing shoots.

Step 5: We step back, wait, and pray.

Step 6 (in theory): We harvest tons of mangoes, and have a tree that we can ourselves keep trimmed to a manageable size!

Coconut AveBehind the mango, in fact across the whole back border of the property, is a row of coconut palms. Steve has been ‘negotiating’ with me for months, trying to persuade me that we should have the majority of them removed to let more light into the property. The theory (there’s that word ‘theory’ again!) being that this should encourage more growth of our sickly looking citrus trees, or more precisely our pathetic, mangled citrus bushes, and also (with luck) reduce our mosquito population.

I know he’s right (of course), but I’ve been resisting the demise of so many trees, following hard on the heels of the two attractive but admittedly useless pink tacomas that were removed last year to reduce the shade on our solar panels, as well as the enormous almost-barren avocado tree that had been planted as little more than a seedling 20 years ago in a totally inappropriate location.

We had finally come to a relatively amicable agreement, to conduct a 50% coconut cull but, thankfully, my tenacious negotiations had delayed that massacre. So, thanks to me, we still have a screen at the back border while our mango tree recovers.

Once we’re assured of some growth on the mango tree, we’ll start the coconut tree project, but that could be months away. Meantime, we are enjoying plenty of our home-grown coconut juice, fresh off the trees!

20 Years on from Hurricane Iniki

This week marked the 20th anniversary of the day Hurricane Iniki struck Kauai and caused massive destruction across the island.

We knew of Iniki before we moved here, and we viewed several clips on YouTube showing the power of the hurricane, both during and after, but we learned much more this week from a local TV station, KGMB, which replayed a news broadcast from that day in 1992 that brings home the trauma that the islanders suffered, especially due to the lack of warning, something that has evidently been improved upon in recent years with advances in technology.

I was fascinated to see the path that Iniki took (and why), since it at first appeared to be skirting the Hawaiian islands relatively harmlessly to the south, as it grew in intensity from a tropical storm, but then took a disastrous turn north.

Another KGMB news segment this week recalled the aftermath of that day, but focused on the tremendous community spirit at the time, and how well the island has recovered since.

We were aware of the risk of hurricanes when we bought our home here. The hurricane season typically runs from June to November (though these days there doesn’t seem to be anything typical about the weather anywhere in the world), and the community is frequently encouraged to be prepared – know of evacuation routes, maintain food and water reserves, etc. – but it’s not something that overshadows our day-to-day lives. It’s not much different from living in an earthquake zone, as we did in California where we were perched almost on top of the San Andreas faultline. We’ve simply traded one of Mother Nature’s risks for another.

However, it’s comforting to know that our current home was locally dubbed ‘The Shelter’ when it was built, immediately after Iniki swept through. [Incidentally, while there are several evacuation centers, such as school halls, provided for visitors, there simply isn’t enough room for everyone, so, in the event of a hurricane, residents are requested to shelter-in-place! Bummer, that!]

The previous property on this lot was completely destroyed, its roof sheared off and structure so badly damaged and buckled that it was an insurance write-off, so the lot was cleared.

Not surprisingly, the owners had no wish to suffer a repeat performance, and employed an experienced architect and builder, in an attempt to ensure that their replacement home could withstand a similar onslaught.

The house is a single-storey dwelling built into a sloping lot, so that its roofline is way below that of the surrounding houses, with the back supported on 16″ square solid concrete pillars. The roof is tied down with metal hurricane clips at every rafter (as opposed to every 3 or 4 in many houses). In brief, just about everything in this house is over-spec’d as far as hurricane-proofing is concerned.

It’s also wired for a generator. Just a flick of a switch can divert us from the grid to a generator tucked in the over-large crawl space under the back of the house; a crawl space, incidentally, that’s deep enough and tall enough to provide shelter for us, and probably several neighbors too, with plenty of room to store food and water reserves. [The photo shows merely a third of it!]

While I’m not freaked out by the possibility of a hurricane, it’s very reassuring to know that if ever the island-wide alert is issued to shelter-in-place, we have as a good a chance as any, and better than many, of still having a roof over our heads when the storm subsides.

The metamorphosis from house to home

Well, that was a mighty busy couple of weeks!

Matson containerOur containerized home arrived from California a week ago last Thursday, and we’ve been unpacking, sorting, and rearranging ever since (with admittedly some beach, tennis, and golf time in between our surges of homemaking).

Final furniture collectionThe previous few days had been spent removing the existing furniture, to make room for the incoming items. I found a non-profit housing project in Koloa whose manager was so delighted to have the donations that she was happy to collect the bulky furniture. It took them a few days to organize a couple of trips, but to our relief the last load disappeared the day before the container showed up.

Since we had bought the house last year (June 2011) with the initial intention of using it for our own and for friends’ vacations for, oh, perhaps a couple of years or more, until we were ready to make the ‘big move’, it had been very convenient that the purchase came with furniture included.

Master bedroom 2011The seller left pretty much all the basics: beds, linens, sofas, chairs, chests-of-drawers, lamps, silverware, as well as a large number of paintings and nick-nacks (even a couple of old TVs and VCRs), while our generous and thoughtful realtor gifted some important missing items: coffee table, saucepans, towels.

Living room 2011So, we really didn’t need to add much for our occasional one- or two-week vacations. [The only item of ours in the photo (right) is the painting, a spontaneous purchase from a local gallery in April 2011 when we first saw the house.]

While our taste in furnishings is very different, I was grateful for everything in the house, and even found the heavy accent on Hawaiiana amusing, perhaps because it was so very different from our CA decor. I assumed that we’d retain many of the smaller items once we moved in full-time.

Master bedroom August 2012All that changed, however, once we started unpacking our own possessions. Very quickly the previous furnishings, ornaments, and paintings looked out of place and just ‘not us’!

At the risk of sounding ungracious, I couldn’t wait to box up and remove all (well, almost all) the remaining vestiges of the previous owner.

Living room August 2012

Still, I don’t feel so bad knowing that there are others out there who are grateful for the donations…as were we, last year.Living room August 2012

Office August 2012

What a mess! Looks like we’ve lived here for years! Still need more drawer space in the office.

We’re not done yet, but this house is very quickly becoming our home. The final push now is to unpack more of our artwork, ornaments, and glass…once we figure out where on earth to put them. 

Dining area August 2012

At last, my keyboard’s out of storage, having been packed away in May during the pre-open house declutter.