Meanwhile, on Eastern Island, sooty terns rule. There are still goonies, but nearly a million terns swarm over the island, squawking and diving
I spent a lot of time trying to fenagle my way onto Eastern Island. The main island where everyone lives is Sand Island, but across the reef, tantalizingly close, but separated by a deep lagoon, is the low form of Eastern. It is constantly engulfed in a cloud, which turned out to be a colony of about a million sooty terns! They wheel around the island forming the cloud. One day I was able to hitch a ride on the ancient landing craft that occasionally visits the island. Besides terns and the usual albatross, there are frigatebirds. These are sinister looking black birds with long hooked beaks that appear to be just a pair of wings and a head when they fly. These are "pelagic cleptoparasites" Instead of catching fish, the lurk around islands, robbing other seabirds of their catch as the return from foraging.
Sinister looking frigatebirds.
They'll dive and poke at an albatross until it expels it's hard-caught meal, catches it in mid air, eats, and moves on to the next returning bird. The albatross returns to it's chick empty handed (ok, empty-stomached...) Here you can also see a common problem. Along with the floating flying fish eggs the albatross scoop up, they end up with all sorts of small trash- fishing floats, toothbrushes, shotgun shells- whatever floats. This is fed to the young who often succumb to the load the build up in their stomachs. You find big piles of toothbrushes where chicks have died and decomposed, leaving their "trash load" as a memorial.
There were a couple bad days. An albatross got past me on the far side of the truck and was crushed one morning.
This was a sad day, one of the albatross got past me and was hit by a truck. It's mate of many decades spent hours trying to revive it, not understanding what was wrong
It's mate spent the rest of the day and night trying to wake it, until we finally took it away. It wandered the section of road for a long time after, not sure what to do, alone for the first time in maybe 40 years. Another was hit by a drunk golfcart driver one night.
Part way through my stay, the first albatross chick learned to walk and stumbled off the seawall into the harbor. This is usually the first step in the transformation from a penguin-like pile of wool to a graceful world-soaring adult. This was also the last day I went in the water. We saw the chick go in on the way to lunch. Half an hour later, there were just feathers "tiger shark, big one!" a Sri Lankan said. There hadn't been a tiger shark seen, but the timing of these predators is so precise that they had moved in exactly as the albatross fledged. By the next day, chicks were regularly dropping into the water, and the tiger sharks were there to take advantage of it. You could see them cruising offshore, pop! a chick would vanish. You could see them feet from the beach, 15-footers inside of the tiny waves lapping the shore. Up until that point I'd spend every available waking moment in the water, now I was land based!