Birds! I hinted in my questionnaire that birds are important to me and here's why. When I was in college I majored in biology and I always knew I wanted to work with live animals. I was most interested in animal behavior and considered studying mammals, but then I got a job as a reseach assistant to a professor studying gulls. It was all paperwork at that point, but I then got involved in a study of captive canary-winged parakeets. This turned into a senior thesis and it's where I met my best friend in college.
I knew I wanted to go on to graduate work and so I ended up in the UC Davis Avian Sciences program (with above best friend too!). I was still studying captive birds and my MS thesis is actually about the reproductive hormones of cockatiels. While in the program I found my true calling when I took a class about the wild birds of California. It was there I learned the finer points of identification, about conservation of birds and how to do field biology. Later I did an internship at the Manomet Bird Observatory in Massachusetts and learned even more. I started a PhD program in San Diego after that and during that time I studied gnatcatchers in the wild and California Condors at the Wild Animal Park. This was when there was a total of about 35 Condors alive (all in captivity). It was pretty exciting to be so close to these magnificent birds.
Life circumstances intervened and I dropped out of the PhD program, but later I took a job as the banding biologist at the Coyote Creek Riparian Station on the San Francisco Bay. That was a great time, but after my second child was born, the hours and pay were not worth it anymore and I quit. I haven't worked since that time, but I've kept my interest in birds and have volunteered as a bird bander.
All of this brings me to my photos of the day. This is a Laysan Albatross in Kauai. We were walking along the path about 10 feet from the road and came to the bird sitting on its nest and placidly watching the world go by. I really hope this chick makes it. It will hatch in early February and be left on the nest while the parents search for food on ocean going trips that can take several days at a time. This will leave the hatchling at risk of death by cats, dogs and even people. This nest is right on the edge of the golf course too. These albatross nest in several places on Kauai including the area of the lighthouse that I posted yesterday. They are usually in much more private locations. The wildlife biologists from the Kilauea National Wildlife Refuge are keeping an eye on it and have roped off the area.
If you are ever on Kauai, I think the Kilauea Lighthouse is a great place to see. Not only does it have a lot of natural beauty, but it's home to many wonderful birds. Depending on the time of year, you'll see Red-footed Boobies, White-tailed Tropicbirds, Laysan Albatross, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and the Hawaiian goose called the Nene. I just happen to have a photo of a little Nene family enjoying the grass on the grounds of the lighthouse, within a few feet of many tourists. The Nene are an endangered species so it is wonderful to see them up close like this.