Nova is Wandering

Today’s ‘brief’ focus is on Wandering Albatross. This is because the British Arctic Survey and the Albatross Task Force have just posted Nova’s tracking. Yes, she is being monitored by a satellite transmitter, just like Solly. Today, Nova is feeding near the Patagonian Shelf off the coast of Argentina.

Nova right before she fledged.

The Wandering Albatross is also known as the Snowy Albatross and it has the largest with a wingspan of 3.4 metres or 11.15 feet. They weigh between 8 and 12 kilograms or from 17.6 lbs to 26.45 lbs. In other words, they are enormous compared to many of the other seabirds. They live and breed on remote islands such as South Georgia or smaller islands in the Southern Ocean. The word ‘live’ is misleading. The albatross spend all their time on the ocean except during breeding season, laying and incubating eggs, and raising the chick. Like all Albatross the parents take turns feeding the little one. And, like the Northern Royal Albatross, most will take a year off between breeding so that they can rebuild their bodies. They will spend that time foraging in the Southern Oceans. Like the Kakapo in my last posting, Albatross can live for a very long time. Some are older than sixty years while many never reach their first birthday.

The vast majority of the deaths are entirely caused by humans except for the fur seals who eat the vegetation on the islands. The Wandering Albatross spend the majority of their life on the high seas foraging for food, mostly squid but some fish. As well, they are carried great distances by the high winds. Because of this they have the potential to come into contact with many different legal and illegal fishing trawlers. These beautiful seabirds get caught in the long fishing lines or get trapped in gill nets and are killed. But, they don’t have to be. There are some easy solutions. These include the use of streamers, brightly coloured metallic streamers like people use to play with their cats, only a much larger size will scare the birds away. An even easier solution is to set the fishing lines at night. The third is to weigh down the lines so that they sink very quickly. Normally, they are so long and stay near the surface with their bait that the Wandering Albatross see the fish and want to eat it. The Seabird Task Force is working with fleets of boats from Spain to use demersal longlines. These catch fish at the bottom of the ocean and have been proven to be effective against bycatch.

The following graphic made by the Albatross Task force shows you how long lines and gillnets attract the seabirds.

Nova’s transmitter will, like Solly’s, let the researchers know where she is foraging for squid and fish. And because there are satellite maps of the locations of legal fishing trawlers, many of the Albatross with transmitters have helped to locate illegal fishing fleets. I do not condone industrial fishing and definitely not illegal boats that churn out fish from the ocean on a 24/7 basis but you would think that if they were illegally fishing they would want to have all of the safe systems in place so as not to have the Albatross with the transmitters be attracted to their boats.

Diagram designed by the Albatross Task Force showing the Patagonian Shelf and Nova’s locations along it.

What can you do to help? If you are concerned about the fish you eat, you can go to seafoodwatch.org for lists of sustainably caught fish. You can also learn to read the labels. Look for the red and blue label ‘Friends of the Sea’ or the blue and white label ‘Marine Stewardship Council’. Friends of the Sea has lots of information on its Website about what they are doing to make the information about the fish you eat more transparent. Have a look!

Check out the website of the Marine Stewardship Council for lots more information.

Below is a link to certified products:

https://friendofthesea.org/certified-products-and-services/

There are phone apps such as Seafood Watch which help in addition to several restaurant watch dogs. One of those is Fish2Fork.com

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Some quick updates:

Arthur and Big Red were both at the nest on the grounds of Cornell University in Ithaca chipping away at the snow and ice that formed overnight. For the next month they will be restoring the nest of the Js and getting it ready for the Ks. Oh, this is such a sweet couple. They work so well together.

Big Red checking out nest cup.
Arthur is helping with nestorations.

Bonnie, the Great Horned Owl, the owl that everyone loves, still has occupancy rights. The Bald Eagles have, so far, not attempted to kick her out of their nest. She sure has had it a lot easier than Daisy the Duck. In part that is thanks to the cold. There is currently no snow falling and the sun is out. The temperature has risen to 8 degrees F which is a lot warmer than the -7 F temperatures yesterday. Let’s hope that her mate is able to scare her up a nice fat mouse for dinner today. He had trouble finding prey yesterday.

Bonnie is happy the sun is shining and it is warmer.

The torrential rains that fell on the NEFL Eagle nest near St Augustine last night are gone. The sun is out and Gabby has been busy venting the nest while keeping the little one close to her in the shade. Samson did a terrific job bringing in all the fish yesterday ahead of that storm. He is now my official weatherman for this nest!

So hot that E24 is staying in the shade of mom.

When I first checked the twins over at the SWFL nest in Fort Myers, I couldn’t tell where one began and the other ended. They are very much looking like their dinosaur ancestors if they get their bodies positioned just right.

Looks like a pile of dinosaurs!

Ah, it is always nice when E17 is full and passed out so that E18 can get a private fish feeding! All is well on the SWFL nest. Just hot like it is for Gabby and Samson over at St Augustine.

E18 getting a private feeding.

So far, that E18 has been eating solid for twenty minutes! The adult tried to stop and clean its beak and E18 indicated ‘nope, I am still hungry’. The image looks the same but it isn’t. E18 is simply not moving. You can see that 17 has shifted its wing a bit. The little one wants his private fish dinner while 17 is passed out in a food coma. So smart. These little underdogs that get picked on often turn out to be highly creative. After all, it is all about surviving.

E18 is STILL eating.

And no. That parent is not going to be able to eat that fish or leave because now E17, the oldest, is awake and wants some more too! Fresh fish must taste a whole lot better than week old dry catfish!

It is also a time when they are growing and changing so much that their consumption of food is increasing steadily. But, I just love it. There is something about seeing a parent have food in the nest and filling the babies up that just makes life so much more serene.

In the image below, the oldest one, the one that picks on the little one, is now up getting some more fish and the little one, E18 is acting like it is the caboose. But wait! That older one is full quick and now the little one is back up at the feet of the parent. E18 has learned if it pecks at the feet of the parent it gets fed. Wonder if he will get another twenty minute feeding?

E17 decides it wants some fish.

E18 kept tapping on the parents talons and the parent is now feeding him again. I think this little one is going to stay there and eat every last flake of that fish even if its crop almost bursts!

E18 is back eating…again.

The wind is really blowing over in Big Bear California but the sun is shining and there isn’t any snow. Jackie and Shadow are really happy about that. It is so nice to see the weather improving. Jackie and Shadow lost their first clutch of three eggs and Jackie is incubating the second clutch of two eggs. I hope everything goes well for this great couple.

Jackie incubating her two eggs.

And, oh, my goodness. We can see the nest at Duke Farms. For more than two weeks, this poor eagle has been snowed in. How amazing. There is another system moving through on Wednesday. Let us hope that it bypasses New Jersey and gives this mom a break. She is incubating three eggs – three!

Snow is off Duke Farms Eagle nest.

I wanted some news of the Trio since Starr laid her first egg on Valentine’s Day for the Valors. The only person going in and out is this amazing photographer Dennis Brecht. The image below was taken by him and I hope that it is OK to use it since it was posted on the Trios FB page.

I would love to know what the conversation is between the three of them. Starr, the female, is the one standing up with her wings spread. Valor II is to the left and Valor I has his beak open. From the recent history of this nest, I understand that Valor I does not like sharing incubation duties. He wants to do it all by himself. But so do Starr and Valor II. Starr might even want to get on there to lay another egg! Too funny. Remember this is the guy I called the ‘Dead Beat Dad’. Look at him now. Wow.

Photo of the trio taken by Dennis Brecht.

Thanks for checking in today. Everyone appears to be doing fine. Temperatures appear to be warming up in places and we hope that they stay that way. These birds are so intelligent and beautiful. But they need to eat and those little critters hunker down in the cold! But I wish you could see the smile on my face. That little E18 melts my heart. When he was brought back from the clinic and crawled over to Harriet, his mom, well, it was priceless. I sleep a lot easier when I know that he is full to the brim!

Stay safe everyone! See you tomorrow.

Thank you to the Albatross Task Force for the images of Nova. Thank you to the streaming cams at NEFL, SWFL, Big Bear, Duke Farms, Pritchett Real Estate and Farms, Farmer Derek’s and Cornell RTH. Thank you so much to Dennis Brecht for getting out in the storm and posting the picture of the Trio on FB.

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.