Saturday, 2 August 2008

Albatross Chicks Die

Two of the Northern Royal albatross chicks that were born on the  Taiaroa Head colony last spring (when I was there as a guide) have died. The reports are here and here. The chicks that were hatched when I was there, are by now very large balls of fluff, probably weighing something between 4 - 8 kilos. They sit on their nests waiting for mum or dad albatross to fetch them back (every three or four days) some food  - bits of squid and octopus - from the feeding grounds out at sea. They are big enough now to wander about a little and will be getting ready to stretch their wings for their inaugural flight from home next month sometime. 
In such a well-managed colony as this one is, there is a lot of sadness when a chick dies (especially these two who have made it so far through.) It also means that at the moment there will be mean pickings for any visitors wanting to view any chicks on their nests from the observatory. I don't know if these chicks were any of the ones able to be seen from the windows of the observatory, but if they were, there won't be much to see there now.
I remember when I was guide there, the dissatisfaction of visitors when they didn't see any birds flying, and instead just got to see one or two parent birds 'sitting on the ground' (their rudimentary nests causing this impression) was definitely one of the downers to the job. Most visitors get to see albatrosses flying, but if they arrive early in the day the chances - especially on a calm, windless day - of seeing the birds flying in or out; or around the headland; aren't great.
Guides are unable to say much about it; it's more than their jobs are worth. Even if we did think the tourists who didn't see anything were entitled to get their money back. At the same time, I had no time for those who complained about not seeing hundreds of birds."What!?" they complained,  "You call this a colony?" Well, yes, actually we do. Check your definitions - a colony is a name for a place not a definition of number. 

I see now that customers who are disappointed, are getting a free ticket for a return visit. However, for a tourist heading away, this is of no use whatsoever. Personally (and I can say this now because I no longer work there) I think they should give any unhappy punters their money back. But then, I'm what is known as soft. Or Scottish. Or both.

My advice: if you are thinking of visiting the colony - go about five o'clock at night, and in summer when there is guaranteed flying. You may not even need to pay. For the price of a coffee, you may be content to see them circle the headland from the comfort of a seat in the cafe.  But  if you do pay for a tour, the experience of close views of these magnificent seabirds flying, are unbeatable. The sight of an albatross in flight at close quarters, is a stunning, memorable sight. I believe some writer said that those who have seen such a sight are instantly promoted to a higher order of being. (I cannot locate the quote, but if anyone else can, I will send them a Crunchie bar.)


rel said...

Those photos are impressive.
What a bummer about the chicks dying. We know this happens in nature but it's especially heart wrenching when the species is endangered and you have witnessed their growing up.

Joyce Ellen Davis said...

I think it was I. I said it. (I'll say anything for a Crunchie Bar).

I am sad that the chicks died. I wonder what was the cause of their deaths?

Catherine said...

I wonder if the terrible winter weather this year is anything to do with the deaths?
Thanks for the advice - what months do you think constitutes "summer"?

mareymercy said...

I love the pictures!

Anonymous said...

"Well, yes, actually we do. Check your definitions - a colony is a name for a place not a definition of number."

Very good point.

Di Mackey said...

I don't know who said 'that' but I do remember seeing one fly over me repeatedly before leaving NZ and described it as a little like seeing God.

I hoped God didn't mind but it was a truly stunning experience. :)

Crafty Green Poet said...

Lovely photos. Any ideas, why the chicks are dying?

Clare Dudman said...

Beautiful photos, Kay - very evocative. I know they must be nowhere as good as the real thing, but it gives an impression, I think.

Kay Cooke said...

rel- That's right.

joyce - The cause of their deaths are noted in the links - or what they think was the cause. (One probably from kidney failure and the other broke its leg while being banded ...)

catherine - Good point - I believe it's from November on through to March.

twitches - I took the photos, but they never turned out anything like, or as awe-inspiring as, the real thing looked! If you know what I mean.

dana - I think so too!!!

di - I know the feeling!! :)

cgp - The links I posted give the best reasons known so far ... also see above in comment to joyce. Thanks for dropping by :)

clare - You are soooo right in that they are nothing like the real thing - also see comment above to twitches :)

Clocking Out

 I have been neglecting this blog for some months. I think perhaps I should face facts and accept that it is indeed time to retire this blog...