We got a tip from a guide on the James Campbell NWR trip to get to Ka‘ena Point early and arrive from the south side. There is a 2.7 mile trail that follows an old road bed along the rocky coast to Ka‘ena Point Natural Area Reserve, a rare protected area of natural coastal sand dunes and home to nesting seabirds, especially Laysan Albatross. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I sure hoped to see an albatross.
We followed Kurt’s advice and got to the trailhead parking lot before sunrise. But not early enough to avoid a truck commercial shoot. Luckily, the crew let us park close to the trail. Tomas was too sore from marathoning to go on the hike so he stayed behind to rest and enjoy the view.
I hiked along, sort of not believing this place was real.
Until eventually I reached a long fence.
Oh, I thought, this must be as far as visitors can go. I also thought I spotted a bird flying in the distance so I walked closer.
Wait, what? “Slide Gate”? I can go in there? No way. Turns out the fence is intended for rodent control not to keep people out.
I walked in and could not believe my eyes.
Albatross, albatross, albatross! I’d died and gone to albatross heaven.
Oh look, a Grey Francolin!
No, don’t look at the francolins. Albatross, albatross, albatross!
Holy shit. They were everywhere. And they were 5 ft from my face. I almost walked right into this one along the trail.
So close! I can’t believe they let people in here. And the reason Kurt said to arrive early is because the birds are more active in the morning. Indeed they are. And since it was December, the birds were also doing their mating dance!
They squeak, nuzzle, and clack beaks together, shake their heads, look under their wings, waddle back and forth a bit, then raise their heads and call, “hoooooongk.” My videos didn’t turn out, but here’s a great one of the Dancing Layson Albatross.
Meanwhile, other albatrosses flew right over my head.
Their wingspan is incredible.
I was already near tears of joy when, what’s that breaching out in the ocean?
Of course, Humpback Whales. Surreal!
This was one of those moments I think that birders dream about. I was alone on this corner of the island, just me and the whales and the albatross. It doesn’t get much better than that.
I snapped out of it long enough to register a couple of other birds present.
A Red-crested Cardinal and a Northern Mockingbird – what are you doing here?
There were also Common Myna and Zebra Doves, but mostly I couldn’t take my eyes off the sultry albatross.
This species, the Laysan Albatross, is the same as the famous albatross named Wisdom – the oldest banded bird in the wild, at least 65, and she’s still laying eggs! She’s considered a symbol of hope for ocean birds.
And this is the site where in December of 2015 a group of teenagers killed a dozen albatross and destroyed many nests. It’s deplorable. And complicated because two of the boys were minors, and a third who was 18 at the time and has plead not guilty. The case is ongoing. I can only hope there are serious consequences. It’s news like this that makes me wonder if the general public should even have access to this vulnerable area.
It’s heartbreaking but I want to believe most people are good. And that things are getting better. For the most part at this site, they are.
Plagued by feather and egg collectors early on, the birds were then accosted by 4×4 vehicles, dogs, cats, rats, and mongoose until the breeding population was all but decimated. Once Ka‘ena Point was designated as a reserve and off-road vehicles were banned, restorations efforts were rewarded with a glimmer of hope when the first chick fledged in 1992. Since then the breeding population has increased 27% annually. Susan Scott wrote a lovely article about their comeback.
So that’s the good news.
At this point the birds settled down to sleep as the sun warmed up the skies. Ka‘ena means ‘the heat’ after all. I started the return hike back to the trailhead forgetting to check for nesting Wedge-tailed Shearwaters that are also there but less obvious than albatross.
As I hiked back, I finally saw people coming in from the opposite direction, the commercial crew must have finished filming. It was perfect timing. And perfect timing for more occasional Humpback Whale sightings as well as my first Brown Booby!
Another unbelievable day in paradise.
Tweets and chirps,