Amazing Flight of the Albatross – Part – IV

Posted in Wildlife A-Z | March 22, 2010 | Comment Now

As I reached the north cliffs, the skies were covered with dense clouds. I was touched by the thousands of birds gliding through the shafts of the sun. They glided between the low heavens and pewter sea. Their braying and cooing lingers in the air. The scent of guano, too, is strong. The nests contain month-old chicks that sit like snowmen. As the adults arrive to feed them, I am spellbound. The adult albatross converts food into high-density oil that matches the calorific content of diesel. The parent and the chick greet each other with crossed bills. Following this, the adult squirts oil resembling the filling of a tank. Adults spend nearly 15 minutes feeding its chick. The chicks consume food three times its body weight. The adults then travel for thousands of miles. The young one converts oil for the development of bone, flesh, and feathers. The young ones gain a lot of weight and cannot be recognized by sight. Their voice and scent help to identify them.

I soak in the atmosphere, but I know there are miles still to cover. The spectacle may seem awesome, but the entire journey needs to be covered.

Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge is home to the largest albatross colony. There are nearly half a million pairs. In 1909, the albatross population was under threat by the Japanese plume hunters. They killed thousands of albatrosses. In response, President Roosevelt declared most of the surrounding area a conservation area. The gun seems to have won! This saved the albatrosses of the North Pacific region from extinction. Some islands are swept clean of albatrosses, whereas some have abundant numbers.

My first glimpse comprised of young albatrosses that were poised between being hatchlings and flying machines. At this critical juncture, the line between life and death is very thin. The island can be a litter of young chicks. Many of the young ones have developed deformities by eating the lead paint from high rises. Shockingly, some of the cavities of the dead bodies contain cigarette lighters and harmful plastic. This was mostly ingested by the parents at sea. While some chicks have starved, others have succumbed to the extreme heat. However, there is no lack of survivors.

The surviving birds sport downy remnants on their hands like the mane of the lion. As soon as they sense the breeze, they flap their wings. The stronger the winds, the greater the intensity of flapping. Their first few flights are short. The adults who have mastered the art of flying hover around effortlessly.

Today is different. There seems to be no breeze at all. When flying becomes impossible, they take a stroll around. They enter the water with their wings like sails. They paddle gently across the lagoon. They wait till a sizeable number gathers. They then stretch out of sight.

The month of March sees the albatrosses leaving the area. Nearly 13,000 leave daily. They paddle away as it is the month of March.

My binoculars come to my aid. I realize that the tens of thousands of albatrosses lie across the lagoon. Hundreds are testing their prowess among the sea breeze.

As I leave the natural sanctuary, my mind still lingers with afterthoughts. The sight of the soaring albatross has left me spellbound.

Part – I

Part – II

Part – III

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