Saving their wildlife

The New Zealand Department of Conservation takes care of the country’s wildlife. If there is a problem, especially one created by humans, there will be ways to intervene on behalf of the non-humans. The country is quite amazing. I have a dear friend who lives there who says, “New Zealander’s love their birds and what the government is doing to protect them”. The only other comment my friend has is that they hope the country will end the use of coal.

Northern Royal Albatross. Wikimedia Commons.

During 2021, the NZ government will be undertaking a broad study of the Northern Royal Albatross. A part of this study will involve attaching trackers to birds on Chatham Islands as well as the mated pair that are the parents of the Royal Cam chick at Taiaroa Head. The solar powered trackers are extremely light and weigh 20 grams. They are placed on the back feathers and will stay in place until the first moult, approximately one year. You might remember from an earlier posting that Australia put a tracker on Solly, the female Eastern Osprey, born on the barge at Port Lincoln this year. Already Solly is changing what is known about those amazing sea birds and the tracking of the Albatross will yield, hopefully, good results, too.

Lime-Green-Black (LGK) was on the nest so his transmitter was attached today. When Lime-Green-Lime (LGL) returns to relieve LGK from his feeding duties, the rangers will attach hers.

Below is an image of LGK spreading his wings. You can see his tracker. And look! there is the chick looking at its dad. Hopefully the information the trackers provide new information for the researchers. At the same time, we know that these transmitters are able to show how close the albatross are to legal fishing vessels as well as illegal. Perhaps, some way, they can help bring about international legislation to end fishing practices that cause these gentle birds to become bycatch.

Royal Cam Chick of 2021 looking at its dad, LGK.
Royal Cam dad, LGK with his tracker, resting above the chick at sunset, 11 August.

The New Zealand DOC is extremely active ridding Taiaroa of predators that humans have introduced. Those in need of protection that are listed as vulnerable, endangered, or near threatened include the Otago Shag, the Northern Royal Albatross, the Sooty Shearwater, and the Red-billed Gull. The predators that have required eradication are stoats, rabbits, hedgehogs, and feral cats. The DOC has various methods that they use to capture these animals. In their information, they indicate that they gauge their success rate by the number of chicks that are alive not by the number of predators that are caught. Increased heat causes more flies and there are issues with fly strike and newborn albatross. Rangers spray the nest with an insecticide to eliminate this issue.

There are other human introduced issues to other wildlife at Taiaroa such as the Blue Penguin. The rising heat from climate change, fishing net, line, and hooks, marine pollution such as oil spills, chemical spills, and plastic are among the direct threats caused by humans.

Halfway around the world from New Zealand is tiny Gough Island.

Gough Island, December 2005. Photo by M. Chowd. Wikimedia Commons.

They are separated by 10,964 km (6812.7 miles) and yet Taiaroa Head has much in common with Gough – mainly, Albatross! Gough Island is rugged and is a UK territory and it is home to the Tristan Albatross which is on the verge of extinction by human introduced rats that have grown into mega-sized monsters.

Tristan Albatross, 2009. Photograph by M. Clarke. Wikimedia Commons.

In the 19th century, sailors brought mice with them when they arrived on Gough. They have no natural predators on the islands. The mice learned to love the taste of the Albatross eggs and the chicks. With no where to flee, the birds were literally ‘sitting ducks’ so to speak for the mice who grew into enormous rats. They are so big and so bold now that they are attacking even larger sea birds and endangering the Atlantic Petrel and the MacGillivray prion. They are, in fact, able to eat a large seabird whole and alive. Cameras have caught the rat behaviour and it is alarming. The rats gather at night and form groups. As many as nine will attack a nest.

The operation is due to take place in 2020. Given the location of the island, it is an enormous logistical challenge.

It involves chartering a ship from South Africa, which will carry two helicopters and a load of poisonous, cereal pellets. These will then be spread across the island by the helicopters. They contain an anticoagulant which should kill the mice within 24 hours.

The eradication of the mega-rats was supposed to happen in 2020 but will now take place this year. And it is a seriously difficult task. In fact, sitting on the Canadian Prairies, this seems like a logistics nightmare. Gough Island is tiny and in the middle of the Atlantic. The plan, as I understand it, is to charter a ship in South Africa that will then travel over some of the roughest seas in the world carrying helicopters and poisonous cereal pellets. They will be dropped from the helicopters onto the island. The poison that will be used is the same type as that which people are lobbying to be banned. I have been writing about this since the death of Peace and Hope at the Captiva Nest.

Of course, before any of this can happen any birds or other animals on Gough will need to be removed safely. I wish I could ask someone questions. What happens to the cereal pellets that aren’t eaten? could the poison go into the soil? what if there are cereal pellets left and the returning birds eat them? I am sure that these have been answered somewhere because the debate on how best to deal with the issue of the ever-growing rats and rat population on Gough has been on going for at least a decade.

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Updates: Gabby is feeding E24 a gourmet meal of squirrel and fish. And this little one is so cute. When mom gets up it follows her big yellow beak because it knows that food is coming. Its eyes, feathers, and general overall appearance, despite the mass of nasty mosquitoes at night, seem fantastic. There appears to be no more change to the egg.

Cute and fuzzy, changing from white to grey before our eyes.


E18 was wanting more of the fresh catfish and then…

E17 woke up and noticed! E17 immediately came over and demanded to be fed while pulling at the little one’s wing. This kid really needs a time out.

E18 is, however, learning how to deal with the issue. It goes down in a pose of submission but making sure its back is to the larger sibling. This protects its head and neck.

Both eaglets had big crops and after two bites, E17 fell over in a food coma and the little fella turned back around and ate lots more fish. Good work around E18! Maybe you will give your sis another one of those mysterious wing pokes today!!! Bad old sister.

Ah, sweet. Nothing like having a fresh catfish dinner by yourself.

Proud parents, M15 on the left and Harriet on the right are really enjoying having their babies back. I know many worried that they might not accept them but from the evidence above all is well. Including E17 being a little stinker!

The bitter cold that hit Canada, that Polar Vortex, dipped way down into the United States including the eagle nests along the Mississippi River. Historically, Starr has laid her eggs around the middle of February. She is seen in the image below on the right with one of the Valors to the left (apologies I can only identify them from the front). Ground watchers say that the trio have been working on the nest despite the very blistery cold weather. They have also reported that Starr spent last night sleeping on the nest. Eggs coming soon!

It’s a great photo actually showing the difference in size between the female (on the right) and the male (on the left).

The cold weather in the US is treacherous. The birds are definitely not used to these types of dipping temperatures. Many spend the winter in Kansas and Oklahoma and do not migrate. I wonder if this winter might change that. It is being reported in Kansas that the beautiful hawks are freezing. Many are being rescued by kind individuals. If you live in areas where there are hawks, put the number of the local wildlife rehabilitation clinic on your cell phone in case you see a bird that needs help and you don’t know what to do. Thank you!

All of the eagles and the Albies are doing good today. There is news coming out of Pennsylvania, despite the cold weather than another mated pair of Bald Eagles have laid their first ever egg. It is eggciting! News on that later tonight in a quick update on that and I plan to check in on Solly and she where she is today. Wonder what new records that beautiful Eastern Osprey is breaking today?

Stay safe everyone. If you are in the area of this extreme cold weather, stay inside. Make sure your cell phone is charged. Stay warm. Double up your socks. Whatever you need to keep well.

Thank you so much for stopping by. It is so nice to have you with me.

Thank you to Cornell Lab Cams, the NZ DOC, the SWFL cam and D. Pritchett family, and the NEFL streaming cam where I grab my images.

No, we didn’t forget about you…

How could anyone forget about Lime-Green-Black and his beautiful baby chick? One of the countries that I often applaud is New Zealand. I have a good friend and colleague who lives there and he is quick to say that New Zealanders love their birds! He wishes they would do more to clean up the coal industry but, he is thrilled at what they do for their wildlife. And that is where we are going to begin today: the Royal Albatross Colony on Taiaroa Head. It is on the southern Island near Dunedin.

It is summer in the Southern Hemisphere. And we are checking on the Royal Albatross couple, LGL and LGK. I know. What is with all the letters, right? The New Zealand Department of Conservation puts coloured bands on the Royal Albatross. They have specific date ranges for the beginning colour so that the Rangers can tell immediately the approximate age of the sea bird they are trying to identify. So our couple is: Lime-Green-Lime (female) and Lime-Green-Black (male). You might think that Black should be B but that goes to Blue. So K is used for Black.

LGL and LGK have been a mated pair since 2017. Albatross mate for life. If one dies, then it is hoped that they find a new mate. And sometimes, there are divorces! Or Threesomes. It can get complicated. But, generally, we consider them a mated pair for life which can be very long, into the 60s and 70s.

LGL laid their egg on November 7, 2020. The parents each took turns incubating the egg so that the other could go out to sea to feed. The incubation period is approximately 80 days. The NZ DOC rangers check the eggs early to find out if they are fertile and they continue to check them. Near to hatch, they check closely as they will remove the egg and replace it with a dummy egg. This allows the chick to hatch in an incubator. It is returned to the parent once it has hatched and is dry. At that time the Rangers sprayed the nest with an insecticide so that no fly larvae can get on the wee one. The insecticide is not harmful. Until such a time as the chick can regulate its own temperature and it is safe to leave it on the nest by itself, the parents will continue their rotation. One will keep the chick warm and feed it while the other is out to sea fishing. This nesting period lasts ten months. The laying the egg and the nesting period is so hard on the Albatross that they only have one chick every 2 years. As it happens, LGL and LGK were the Royal Cam parents in 2019 and their little one received a Maori name, Karere. It means ‘Messenger’.

I bet you are wondering about the names. Normally, the people of New Zealand submit possible names for the Royal cam chick. A number are selected for a final judging and a committee picks one of these. And that becomes the name. The individual who submitted the winning name gets a trip to see the Royal cam chick in person. In practice, only Royal cam chicks get names but they also get coloured bands. In 2020, because of the pandemic, no one could see the chick so the decision was made to open the naming contest to everyone in the world. The winning name for the female, known fondly as Pippa, was Atawhai. Atawhai means ‘kindness and caring’ in Maori.

One thing that I noted in checking the history of this Royal Cam couple is that both of their chicks hatched on the same day, 24 January. Karere in 2019 and this little one in 2021.

Look at that beautiful little baby being fed by its dad, LGK?

The parent teaches them to feed by tapping on their bill. In the image above you can see the chick with its bill inside the parents being fed a nice ‘squid shake’. It does not take long for the chick to figure out the tapping so that they can stimulate the parent to feed them. The parents regurgitate an oil squid liquid from a second stomach for the feedings.

In the image below, LGK (the male) is looking on as the chick is weighed. Remember that the chick hatched on 24 January. The weighing that you are seeing was 2 February. It is normal that the chick would be weighed inside a small sock. If you look carefully you will see a linen bag in front of the elbow of the ranger doing the weigh in. The chick needed a bigger bag! Oh, my goodness. This little one is growing so fast. Only nine days old and already needing to be upsized.

Now, everyone likes to speculate on the gender of the chick and there are also games played on how how much weight the chick has gained over the week. I am going right out there and saying that this is a little boy. Male albatrosses are bigger than the females. (It is the opposite for raptors such as Bald Eagles, Peregrine falcons, Red tail Hawks, etc.). We should know in about a week.

Any chick weighing more than 500 grams will only be weighed once a day, not twice. So, what I know is that this little one is more than 500 grams but it is only being weighed once. Someone mentioned 660 grams or 1.4 lbs. But I have to verify that.

This is an image from the weighing yesterday. You can see the linen bag instead of the sock much more clearly.

The proud parent looks on waiting very patiently for the return of their baby! All is well with our little one.

The picture below is priceless. Can you spot that little cutie pie poking its head out? Precious.

I have learned so much about these beautiful birds. The Southern Albatross are the largest seabirds in the world with an average wing span of in excess of 3 metres or 9.8 feet. (I should mention that for a very long time it was thought that the Wandering Albatross was the largest both in wingspan and bulk but recent studies indicate that it is the Southern Royal Albatross or that they are the same.) When they are adults they will weigh about 8.5 kilograms or 18.73 pounds. Wow. Our little one has a long way to go. Once our chick fledges (or flies out to sea), they will spend four to six years on the ocean feeding and growing before they ever set their paddle feet on land. In fact, they have ‘sea legs’. You have probably heard that term. They can be quite wobbly. They will return to where they were born, as juveniles, looking for a mate. But they will not breed that year.

The parents are very tender with one another. They do sky calls, holding their head up proudly to the sky, and they preen one another. They see one another when they switch incubating and nesting duties. Once this chick fledges which is normally in September, they will not see one another again until the following November, if both survive. They are remarkable sea birds. I like to call them ‘Gentle Giants’.

LGL and LGK preening one another.

The Albie on the right is doing a sky call. They will raise their long neck as if looking straight to the sky and give out what some call a ‘high pitched screaming bray’. Some say it sounds like a donkey! Not so sure about that but, maybe. Definitely higher pitched. When one or another of the parents arrive, they will often do a series of sky calls. In this instance it is really a way to say ‘hello’. Eventually the little one will copy their parents in the welcome.

Skycall.

Good Morning E17 and E18! The good news about our little eaglets from Harriet and M15’s aerie in Fort Myers is that they had their eyes open this morning with little to no discharge. Isn’t that fantastic? E-17 still has mild irritation in its right eye and conjuctivitis in both eyes. I wasn’t sure what that meant so I checked. We used to call it pink eye! It is an inflammation of the clear membrane that lines the eyes and covers the white part of our eyeball. You will have seen someone, maybe even yourself, where the blood vessels are visible. This is when they are inflamed and the white of the eye will appear pink or very red. That is what E-17 is fighting. E18 eyes are better. Both are really eating well. E17 is now 385 grams while E18 is 295 grams. If you have forgotten the weights from my last posting. E17 was 285 grams and has gained 100 grams and E18 was 220 grams and has gained 65 grams. Oh, they just look so much better and they are definitely gaining weight. This is so good. Maybe they can be delivered back to their parents by the end of the week. Let’s all send them warm wishes cheering them on. It looks like the antibiotics are starting to work.

There is also some good news for our Bald Eagles at Duke Farms. The snow gently fell again last night but by noon today (3 February), we can now see that it is beginning to melt off parts of the nest. Oh, this pair of eagles will surely be wanting spring to arrive. Just like I am. It is -4 and grey today. Cold to the bone but it is at least not -26 like it was a few days ago.

Take care everyone. Stay safe. Thank you so much for stopping in to check on the birds around the world with me. I hope that you have a really nice day!

And if you are looking for a different poster to send out about rodenticides, here is another. All our creatures will thank you for spreading the word. This is especially good if you live near a Bald Eagle nest.

There are some bright spots in the bird world

There is been much sadness in the world of birds. But there is also a lot of happiness. The sheer joy that our feathered friends have given to millions trapped inside their rooms or homes this past year, during the pandemic, is to be celebrated. Over and over again I heard from people with physical disabilities who were entirely empathetic with the situation that WBSE 26 found itself in when no one thought she would be able to walk, never mind fly. Many said that seeing that little bird try so hard gave them the courage not to give up. Those letters were really heart warming. A woman in England told me that she was bedridden and dying of liver cancer but getting up in the morning and watching first the hawks in Ithaca and then the falcons in Melbourne gave her strength. And from my last post, you will know that the sea eagles and Daisy were the reason my friend, Phyllis, got up in the morning. So, never underestimate the power that nature has in lifting spirits. Daisy brought us so much joy and while we are distraught that she did not get to see her precious eggs hatch into ducklings, we are thankful for the time we got to learn about her and the behaviour of all the other birds around her, including the sea eagles. They were simply perplexed! I am most happy to know that Daisy is safe.

Tonight there is word from the wildlife clinic that handles SW Florida, CROW, that the little eaglets, E17 and E18 might be well enough from their eye infections to be returned to their parents, Harriet and M15 in Fort Myers tomorrow. That is wonderful news. The parents wait on the branch of the nest tree for the little ones to return.

Waiting for E17 and E18 to come home.

People noticed the little ones eyes getting more and more crusty. Reports went in and permission was given to retrieve them. The little ones are doing well on the antibiotics. Thrilling that they might be rejoined with Harriet and M15 so soon.

In New Zealand, the Royal Cam chick is growing by leaps and bounds. There the Royal Albatross have round the clock care. Once the eggs begin to pip they are moved inside to an incubator to hatch and a dummy egg placed under the parent. Once the little one has hatched it is returned. The reason for this is fly strike. The rangers continually check the chicks twice a day weighing them and doing supplemental feeds for any chicks or parents that need it. Nothing is left to chance. The New Zealand Department of Conservation and the people love their birds. They are aware of how much climate change has impacted the wildlife and they are doing everything possible to not allow any declines in populations.

LGL feeding his chick.
A good look at the new Royal Cam chick for 2021.
LGL and LGK watch as Ranger Sharyn weighs their chick.

The little Royal Albies are so tiny that they are weighed in a sock. But they grow so fast that they quickly outgrow that and move to the laundry basket! Parents take turns on the nest. One heads out to sea to feed while the other ones remains at Taiaroa taking care of the chick. When the chick is old enough, it is left on its own while both parents forage at sea. This is such an exhausting process that the Royal Albatross only have a chick every two years.

The chicks are fed from squid in a second stomach of the parent which is regurgitated in a rich oily liquid that helps the baby grow. The little one learns right away that tapping the bill of their parent will stimulate this process. When the Albie is older and can walk but not fly, they run to meet their parents so they can have some squid shake.

If you are interested in watching the Royal Albatross, Cornell University and the NZ DOC support a 24/7 cam. You can find it at:

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/cams/royal-albatross/

If you are interested in Bald Eagles, I suggest you go to the American Eagle Federation’s page on youtube where there are many 24/7 cameras. You can find them at:

https://www.youtube.com/user/BaldEagleInfo

Thank you for joining me today. Birds and wildlife enrich our lives. I cannot imagine a world without them!

Tomorrow I am going to review three new books for all your bird lovers!