Tag Archives: Seabirds

Great frigatebirds on the wing

This week’s Sunday Stills challenge theme is ‘Freedom.’ See more offerings here.

When Terri posts the Sunday Stills challenge themes for the month ahead, I usually check out what’s coming up. That way I can see what photos I have that fit the themes, or come up with ideas for what I could shoot.

When June’s themes were posted, my first thought for this one was of flying. Since the earliest of times, people have looked to the skies, watched birds, and envied their freedom of flight. Of the various birds I see here, the great frigatebird most epitomizes that freedom. These large birds cover great distances, gliding effortlessly across the sky, rarely flapping their wings but using the wind to maximum advantage.

I picked a couple of photos from my archives, expecting to use them since I hand’t seen any frigatebirds for many weeks. But a couple of days later, I saw one, though I didn’t get any good photos. That’s the other thing about these birds: they seem to have a knack for sneaking up on me, so that I usually notice them disappearing into the distance.

Over the next week or two, I saw a few more birds in similar situations. Then, one day, as I neared the coast below Upolu Airport, I saw a frigatebird flying into a strong wind. By the time I had my camera ready, it was again getting smaller. Still, I took photos and as I did so I saw a second bird, then a third. They continued heading east and I carried on down to the coast.

I hadn’t been there more than a couple of minutes when one of the birds shot by in front of me. It was pointing east, but heading north of west riding the stiff northeast trades that were blowing. A second followed, then a third, and a fourth that I hadn’t seen before. I expected them to quickly disappear on the wind, but once over the water, they regrouped and held their position, circling and gliding up and down. Then I noticed them edging back into and across the wind, heading my way. Slowly they came closer, still appearing to make little effort.

Eventually, the four of them passed directly overhead, the lowest maybe 20 feet above me. Almost immediately they turned and slipped back they way they came, only this time they kept going, gliding sideways in the general direction of Maui. I watched until I couldn’t see them anymore. The whole episode probably lasted no more than 15 minutes, but it seemed to last much longer.

I’m not much of a poetry buff, but these birds made me think of the opening lines of a poem called High Flight, written in 1941 by John Gillespie Magee Jr. when he was 19 and a pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force, stationed in England. They read:
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings.

Laysan albatross

Not the greatest photo, I know, but when I saw this bird flying off the North Kohala coast I knew it was something I hadn’t seen before.

It’s a Laysan albatross, more often seen on Kaua’i and O’ahu, but also on other Hawaiian islands. This wide-ranging traveler can cover a couple of thousand miles or more as it searches the Pacific for food.

Great frigatebirds meet Tropical Storm Darby

A great frigatebird angles into the winds of tropical storm Darby.
Tropical Storm Darby reached the Big Island yesterday. It was due to pass over this corner of the island during the night. The predicted track followed the north coast and since it was packing 60 knot winds on its approach, storm warnings were issued.

The power went out here Friday, getting the jump on the storm, but luckily it was just for an hour or so. Saturday dawned dark and windy with sudden, intense downpours, but in the early afternoon the weather broke for a short while and I went down to the coast to see how things looked. In truth, while it was very windy, it didn’t look that much worse than it often does around here.

On the way back from a short walk, some movement caught my eye. A large bird angling along the coast. Then another. In all, three great frigatebirds headed east, into the teeth of the storm. They made slow progress, sliding toward the coast, then away. Even though it was slow going, their progress looked effortless. They glided on the air currents, beating their wings only occasionally. The nice thing about their slow progress was that they remained in view for some time.

Returning home, the power was out again, but as the afternoon progressed the winds died to nothing (the storm had tracked farther south than anticipated). The early evening was tranquil enough that when I stepped outside, mosquitoes quickly buzzed around me. Mosquitoes do not do tropical storms.

Around 8:30 in the evening a decision needed to be made. Power had been out for seven hours or so and the contents of the refrigerator weren’t likely to last the night. It was time to pack the essentials into a cooler while trying not to lose whatever cold air survived in the fridge.

A smooth, military-style operation was worked out. Doors opened, items whisked from shelf to cooler, ice blocks rearranged. The operation was a success. I snapped the lid down on the cooler and the exact instant I did so, the microwave beeped and the power returned.

Great frigatebird

Great frigatebirds on the wing

A great frigatebird on the wingUsually I see this bird in ones or twos, but on this occasion, I saw a flock of 15 or more cruising along near the coast.

It’s known in Hawaii as the ’Iwa, which means ‘thief.’ It gets this name because it sometimes harasses other birds into dropping their catch, which it then swoops down to retrieve. Mostly though, it feeds on squid and flyingfish. Since it can’t take off from water, it scoops prey out with its hooked beak while on the wing.

The single bird pictured is a female, distinguished by the white breast and neck.

For more information about great frigatebirds, go to fws.gov/refuge/hawaiian_islands/wildlife_and_habitat/great_frigatebird.html.