Our albatross girls: the vigil continues

In my previous post, I introduced the pair of albatrosses nesting on our front yard, KP338 and KP643, and their infertile egg.

Last Tuesday, 338 returned to take over nesting duties from 643.

338 had departed on February 6, so she was gone for 13 days. That’s the shortest swap for our pair. The whole nesting process must be very tiring for both birds, and their stamina level must drop as the incubation period continues. The first nesting period is usually the longest (for 338 and 643, that was 26 days this season from December 4 to 30).

I was in the ‘office’ (at the front of the house) at 4:15pm when I heard them chatting together. The sound of a returning mate is very different from the interactions that a nesting bird might have with passing ‘acquaintances’.

IMG_7912I watched as 338 settled down beside 643 (still on the nest) and as they preened and chatted; then 338 stood up and wandered around, picking at grass or leaves, and dropping them nearer the nest.

Finally, 643 lets 338 take over the nest

Finally, 643 lets 338 take over the nest

I’m not sure whether 643 was reluctant to leave the nest (I’m told that pairs swap quite quickly on an egg, but are more resistant to their mate once the chick is hatched), but it took some 15 minutes before 643 relinquished her warm spot to 338.

Roles were then reversed,  with 338 plucking grass and debris for the nest, occasionally stopping to chat and preen her mate, while 643 adjusted herself on the egg.

I didn’t see 643 leave, but I know it was some time between 5:00 and 5:25pm, while I was walking Freya and watching whales at the bluff. Such is the unfortunate conflict of activities that nature provides at this time of year! 😉

I wish I knew if our pair had ‘discussed’ their egg, and reached a decision as to whether to give up on their hope of an offspring this year. Still, for the moment, it seems as if 338 is content to take another turn.

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.

Fledging Wedgies

I’ve been cataloging the progress of our Wedge-tailed Shearwater chicks over the past three months (mostly the same one near the lighthouse building), as it is the most accessible, having been laid and hatched above ground instead of in a more typical burrow).

I’ve snapped at least one photo a week since it was a couple of weeks old.

I’ve watched it grow from a tiny ball of almost white cotton wool, through various stages of grey fluff and the appearance of its flight feathers.

It has morphed into an adult as I’ve watched. Its chest is now whiter, with only patches of the grey chick-fluff remaining, and it is far more active, though still not moving more than a yard or two from its nest.

One day soon, I’ll arrive for my afternoon volunteer stint, to find an empty nest. I’ll be disappointed not to see the chick, or to share it with visitors, but delighted to know it’s fledged safely and is on its way down south.

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.

On the lookout for mongooses and other invasive species on Kauai

I previously mentioned that I’m now volunteering at the KPNWR (Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge).

I thoroughly enjoy working being there. I’m learning so much from the rangers, and have such fun conveying all that I learn to the visitors.

One of the privileges of being a volunteer is that we get to attend the monthly meeting…a couple of hours on a Friday morning.

The first half of the agenda is an established sequence of updates, to keep us all up-to-date with what’s going on at the refuge, including a biological report…whatever’s happening depending on the time of year (currently, the wedge-tailed shearwaters have hatched a few weeks ago and are growing, and the Newell Shearwaters are approaching their fledging season); followed by, among others, an update from the KPNHA (Kilauea Point Natural History Association) which runs the Visitor’s Center.

After those various reports, for the second half of the meeting we’re treated to a “Featured Nature Nugget” speaker. Today, three members of KISC (Kauai Invasive Species Committee) joined us, to discuss the invasive species on Kauai and how to recognize them. Tiffani Keanini fascinated us with her talk and samples.

MongooseOur main interest was the mongoose (a truly vicious looking b*stard), since we’ve been hearing of several sightings and a couple of captures in recent months, and they would be a particular threat to our ground nesting birds and hatchlings if they were to establish a colony on this island.

However, we also learned of several plants that threaten the environment in a number of ways.

Ivy Gourd

The Ivy Gourd is the vine standing on the far right behind the speaker. Its flower and seed pod are shown in the slide.

For example, Pampas Grass (well known to my California friends) is a big no-no here. Apparently, some well-meaning but naïve homeowners have tried to plant them in their yards. However, I’m now on the case … looking for any further PG occurrences.

Other examples were the Ivy Gourd (“regarded as very invasive and on the Hawaii State Noxious Weed List”), plus another vicious, but teeny critter, the Little Fire Ant, which was inadvertently transported from South America and made its way to the North Shore of Kauai via a landscaping company working on an individual homeowner’s yard in the area.

A good reminder for me was how seeds can be spread inadvertently by hikers. KISC pleaded with us to brush off our boots whenever we’ve been for a hike, to avoid spreading the seeds of one species (particularly an invasive species) from one part of the island to another (which reminded me of a trip to the Galapagos Islands with a good friend back in 2002, when we diligently washed off our boots, snorkel equipment, etc., whenever we left one island to go to another).

Gotta love the KISC guys who provided us all with free boot brushes, as well as key rings and fridge magnets, to try to spread the word.

Heads up, any keen hikers who comes to visit us! From now on you will definitely be subjected to the boot brush!

No Rain – No Rainbows! *

I set off with Freya for our usual stroll this morning…opened the door to a gentle passing shower. Not enough to stop us; in fact, rather refreshing!

Turned the corner from Keoniana to Kaweonui and was treated to this!…
Double rainbow

Out at the point, the rainbow was starting to fade, but the moon was still up…

I do love where we live!

* Researching the origin of this popular saying led me to Kimo’s Hawaiian Rules (below). Turns out, according to Lonely Planet, that it’s Kauai’s own Nite Owl T-Shirts that takes credit for bringing together this collection of rules.

Kimo’s Hawaiian Rules

Never judge a day by the weather.
The best things in life aren’t things.
Tell the truth – there’s less to remember.
Speak softly and wear a loud shirt.
Goals are deceptive – the unaimed arrow never misses.
He who dies with the most toys – still dies.
Age is relative – when you’re over the hill, you pick up speed.
There are 2 ways to be rich – make more or desire less.
Beauty is internal – looks mean nothing.
No Rain – No Rainbows

However, we also have G.K. Chesterton to thank for that last one:  And when it rains on your parade, look up rather than down. Without the rain, there would be no rainbow.

Enjoy many more of his best quotes here.

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.