The Long Flight Home—CHAPTER ONE

A BOOBIE AND A MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRD

Magnificent Frigatebirds: Seabirds indigenous to the South Pacific that obtain most of their food on the wing, but a small amount of their diet is obtained by robbing other seabirds, often, boobies.

magnificent frigate bird
Magnificent Frigatebird photo from the Audubon Society

Frigatebirds do not swim and cannot walk well and cannot take off from a flat surface. Having the largest wingspan to body weight ratio of any bird, they are essentially aerial, able to stay aloft for more than a week, landing only to roost or breed on trees or cliffs.

Magnificent Frigatebirds have iridescent black feathers and deeply forked tails. The males have inflatable red-colored throat pouches

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For Talli, the day started like any other morning high above the waters off the Galápagos Islands. Searching for his first snack of the day, he soared more than two hundred feet above the surface of the blue Pacific Ocean. Aside from his brother, Dooley, flying and eating made Talli one happy boobie.

Talli sported the deep aquamarine colored webbed feet that identified him as a blue-footed boobie. He was about two and half feet long and his pointed, brown wings were nearly five feet from the tip of one wing to the tip of the other.

Unlike many birds, even other seabirds, Talli’s eyes pointed forward from inside the facemask of his bill. Boobies have permanently closed nostrils so they don’t get water up their noses whenever they dive into the ocean, which is often. Those two features make them especially suited to diving into the water from great heights.

Boobies have excellent vision, so it was perfectly natural that Talli could spot a school of Pacific Creole fish—a boobie’s favorite dish—swimming just beneath the ocean’s surface. To Talli, spotting Pacific Creole fish in the morning meant one thing: breakfast.

He smiled to himself, and then went into a steep dive, his wings tucked and body shaped like a missile. He hit the water at high speed and continued below the surface. Using his wings and webbed feet to propel himself, Talli chased the quickly scurrying fish.

After several twists and turns, he finally caught a fish and started swimming back to the surface.

Although boobies are terrific fliers and superb swimmers, their take-offs and landings are nothing to brag about. To describe Talli’s take-off as awkward would be kind. Anybody watching him emerge from the water and starting to fly might find the spectacle somewhat amusing.

Several hundred feet above, Mooch, a magnificent frigatebird . . . and Talli’s lifelong nemesis . . . watched him break the surface of the water and flap his wings hard to gain altitude. “Ah, boobies,” Mooch observed. “They are nothing if not entertaining.” Then he swooped down toward the ocean.

Looking up and seeing Mooch flying directly at him, Talli immediately banked away hard right and flapped his wings with all his strength.

Mooch gave chase.

Bigger and faster, Mooch engaged Talli in a classic aerial dogfight, swooping, banking, looping, and diving until all the twists and turns caused Talli to drop the fish from his beak and watch it float down toward the water.

Seeing the fish in freefall, Mooch laughed and called out to Talli, “Made me work for my breakfast today, boobie.”

Defeated, Talli was left to observe Mooch glide gracefully through the air and catch the grey and copper colored fish in his beak inches before it hit the water.

As Mooch flew away, Talli shouted, “Darn frigatebirds!” to no one.

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Come back Tuesday, August 7th as the adventure continues . . .

© 2013, 2018 Sawyer Creative, LLC

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