Albie, the black-browed albatross, was blown off course and is now the loneliest bird in the Northern hemisphere

Albie, the black-browed albatross, was blown off course and is now the loneliest bird in the Northern hemisphere

Name: Albie the albatross.

Age: It’s not known how old Albie is, but albatrosses can live for more than 70 years.

Appearance: A bit like a big gull, to be honest. The black-browed albatross is medium-sized – for an albatross – which is pretty damn big compared with most birds. Wingspan can reach 250cm. Guess what, it has black eyebrows.

Albie! It’s ringing a bell now. Yes, he’s a regular at Bempton Cliffs on the Yorkshire coast. He was there most of last summer, and he visited in 2020 and 2017. Bird-watchers – including Bill Oddie, Lee Evans and Samuel West – have flocked to see him.

And he’s there again? Yes, earlier than usual this year; he’s never been in spring before.

Just explain why it’s a big deal. Are black-browed albatrosses rare? Rarer than they once were, but there are still an estimated 600,853 pairs breeding in places such as the Falklands, South Georgia, the South Sandwich islands. Notice anything about those places?

Er, they’re all quite a long way south of the UK? Exactly. And Bempton Cliffs?

In Bridlington, Yorkshire? Exactly. You don’t generally get black-browed albatrosses – or any kind of albatrosses – in the northern hemisphere.

Like penguins. In some ways. Better flyers though, much better flyers.

So Albie is lost, then? Yes. Most likely blown off course; he’s thought to have been in the northern hemisphere since 2014. He has also been spotted across the North Sea in Germany and Scandinavia where he spends the winter.

Will he ever get home? Unlikely, I’m afraid, because of light equatorial winds.

And he’s alone? Well, he hangs out with gannets a bit, but he’s the only one of his kind in the northern hemisphere.

It’s like I Am Legend with feathers. No, we’re not talking about him here. But yes – and Albie has been attacked by white-tailed eagles in Denmark.

This is the saddest story in the world. There’s another thing about albatrosses, isn’t there, that they’re known for? The Rime of the Ancient Mariner?

No, something else I remember from The Blue Planet. Monogamy? Albatrosses famously remain with their partners for life (though they do sometimes stray off course, as it were). Good at sharing childcare duties, too.

But Albie … Well, he’s never going to find a partner, is he? Or maybe there was someone left behind – Alberta, circling the Southern Ocean, still looking, calling …

Do say: “Alone, alone, all, all alone / Alone on a wide wide sea! / And never a saint took pity on / My soul in agony.”

Don’t say: “You don’t look quite right, but you’ll do. What’s your name? Janet? Janet the gannet.”

This article was first published by The Guardian on 6 April 2022. Lead Image: Guess who’s back … Albie the black-browed albatross. Photograph: Phil Palmer/RSPB.

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