Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Tim Worfolk discusses the naming of Soft-plumaged Petrel

The Two Bird Theory: Why is it called Soft-plumaged Petrel? A short and thoughtful discussion by Tim Worfolk - illustrator for the upcoming Albatrosses, Petrels and Shearwaters of The World: A Handbook to their Taxonomy, Identification, Ecology and Conservation with Hadoram Shirihai and Vincent Bretagnolle. Includes a sneak peek at one of his plates.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Multiple Band-rumped (Madeiran) Storm-Petrels off Long Island, NY

The highlight of an offshore fishing trip this past weekend (28-29 July 2012) by John Shemilt, Keegan Corcoran and myself was the discovery of six or seven BAND-RUMPED STORM-PETRELS [aka Madeiran Storm-Petrels]. This was over very deep water (c.4,500 ft) at the continental shelf edge some 92 miles SSE of Shinnecock Inlet on eastern Long Island. After stumbling upon one bird in the late afternoon we hurriedly dropped a chum slick that
quickly drew in the others. These were watched and photographed for close to an hour before the evening light became too poor for photography and word of fish biting nearby drew us away.

Also present over the slick were 70 or more WILSON'S STORM-PETRELS and a single LEACH'S STORM-PETREL, affording ideal comparisons. Although the number of sightings is definitely on the increase, Band-rumped Storm-Petrel remains a significant rarity in New England and adjacent the Mid-Atlantic States. Whether this is due to changes in marine conditions or more consistent access by birders to deep offshore waters is hard to gauge. In New York, the species has been photographed only once before (6 Aug 2011, John Shemilt), a few miles north of this more recent encounter.

The numbers of birds seen on this overnight trip were lower than we expected, with totals of 16 GREAT SHEARWATER, 3 unidentified large Shearwater, 1 MANX SHEARWATER, 1 AUDUBON'S SHEARWATER, 26 LEACH'S STORM-PETREL and 330 WILSON'S STORM-PETREL. Our only CORY'S SHEARWATER were 5 birds seen inshore on the return trip, with two individuals less than 2 miles from the inlet. No offshore terns, gulls, jaegers, sulids, shorebirds
or passerines were seen.

As is often the case in this area, we encountered some terrific marine mammals with several pods of RISSO'S DOLPHINS (70++ total), 10+ SHORT-BEAKED COMMON DOLPHINS, 10+ OFFSHORE BOTTLENOSE DOLPHIN and 7 FIN WHALE. It is equally gratifying to report that we tallied a mere 11 discarded helium balloons; well below normal. Sadly this is probably a reflection of the predominantly easterly winds rather than more responsible behavior by folks onshore.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Sowerby's Beaked Whales and very early Audubon's Shearwaters off New York (24 June 2012)

During an offshore fishing trip last Sunday (24 June 2012), John Shemilt, Derek Rogers and I observed a pod of at least 7 SOWERBY'S BEAKED WHALES cruising for 10 minutes or more at the surface. We were about 88 miles SSE of Shinnecock Inlet, which is towards the eastern end of Long Island, New York. This location (39.730419°, -71.646500°) is the at head of a deep submarine canyon (McMaster Canyon, aka Lobster Claw) that cuts into the continental shelf about midway between the larger Hudson and Block Canyons. Interestingly, in past few years there have been several sightings of Sowerby's in this section of the shelf edge, including some very nicely photographed examples of animals leaping and somersaulting, suggestive of a resident group. In our case, the whales were just cruising at the surface, disappearing briefly and then disappearing for good.

In the same general area we observed three separate pods of Offshore Bottlenose Dolphins, Risso Dolphin and 3 Sperm Whales. Several squid boats working the shelf edge and apparently the tuna we sought were also feeding on squid, hence there was not too much activity at the surface. Other cetaceans noted during the day were a Fin Whale, two more pods of Offshore Bottlenose and some Short-beaked Common Dolphins. Three marine turtles were noted but I need to review my photos to ID them.

Avian highlights were three exceptionally early Audubon's Shearwaters (all in active molt, one especially ratty) and a Leach's Storm-Petrel. We do not normally see Audubon's in New York waters until August, so this encounter was unexpected. Otherwise, seabird numbers were relatively low (9 Cory's Shearwaters, 96 Great Shearwaters, 2 Manx Shearwaters, 138 Wilson's Storm-Petrels).

The most abundant sight throughout the day were party balloons. We must have seen more than 200 of different shapes and sizes. Who knows how far this terrible flying garbage had traveled to end up on the ocean where they poison the ecosystem.

Cheers, Angus Wilson
New York City, USA

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Announcement: Extreme Gadfly Petrel Expeditions

Background: The following challenging pelagic expeditions are being organised as part of the on-going Tubenoses Project (Shirihai, H. & Bretagnolle, V. In prep. Illus. by Cox J. Albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters of the world: a handbook to their taxonomy, identification, ecology and conservation, A & C Black, London), and represent an effort to collect further data on the identification, variation, distribution and population sizes of some of the least known petrels on the planet.

The expeditions listed below are non-commercial pelagic voyages with all participants, including the organisers, equally sharing the costs of chartering the vessels. The expeditions will be conducted in a similar manner to recent voyages that led to the rediscovery of Beck’s Petrel Pterodroma becki in 2007 in the Bismarck archipelago (Shirihai 2008), and the first pelagic observations of Zino’s Petrel Pterodroma madeira in April 2009, off Madeira (Shirihai 2009), and Fiji Petrel Pseudobulweria macgillivrayi, off Gau Island, Fiji (Shirihai et al. 2009).

Up-coming expeditions (2009):

(1) Search for the Jamaican Petrel (presumed extinct) off Jamaica: This voyage will run from 17th November to 1st December 2009, using a fast ocean-going boat. Depending on the weather conditions, we will spend 7 to 10 days at sea off Jamaica.

The Jamaican Petrel had been described to science, when it promptly disappeared; its last confirmed record was in 1891, almost two decades after mongooses were believed introduced onto the main island of Jamaica. Hopes remain that a tiny population of Jamaican Petrels still survive in the extensive tracts of suitable forest habitat. Moreover, mongooses have not prevented Black-capped Petrels from breeding in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Several attempts have been made over the last decades to find the Jamaican Petrel on land, specifically in the Blue Mountains, without success. None of these expeditions have searched at sea, a proven strategy as described above.

In preparation for this expedition, HS visited Jamaica (March-April 2009) to see habitats that might support a population of breeding petrels, and also viewed the breeding habitat of Black-capped Petrels in the Dominican Republic. HS and Vincent Bretagnolle have made a geographical survey (using satellite image maps and marine charts) and have analysed meteorological data for the region; parameters that contributed to the successful studies of Beck’s, Zino’s and Fiji Petrels at sea. From this analysis, a very specific oceanic corridor has been proposed that might be used by any Jamaican Petrels travelling to and from the island.

The plan is to intensively search this area and to use 1.5 tons of chum that will be prepared by our ground team and a local fish factory. The material will be kept aboard ship in dedicated freezers.

For logistical reasons, there is room for only 4 expedition members and currently there is only one spot available; the expedition share is US$7000.

Please contact HS at albatross_shirihai@hotmail.com to sign on, or for further information about the voyage, its plans and conditions.

(2) Search for the recently rediscovered Vanuatu Petrel in the remote Banks Group: This two-week voyage, 13th to the 28th December 2009, will use a 72ft. expedition research vessel sailing out of the port of Santo, Vanuatu.

The Vanuatu Petrel Pterodroma occulta was collected in January 1927, by Rollo Beck (Whitney South Sea Expedition), though it was overlooked as a White-necked Petrel P. cervicalis until Imber and Tennyson (2001) drew attention to the fact that the specimens were distinctly smaller and represented an unrecognised species. Since then an additional specimen was found ashore in eastern Australia in 1983. The first at-sea record was of a bird observed by HS in January 2006 between New Caledonia and Vanuatu. Then in 2007, two/three birds were sighted off southern Vanuatu. There is recent evidence (still unpublished) that suggests a breeding population on at least one island in Vanuatu.

In December 2009 we shall try to obtain further data on this population, both at sea and on several islands in the remote Banks group. Dr. Vincent Bretagnolle, Dr. Orian Shirihai and HS are the organisers of this expedition. Besides studying petrels and other seabirds, the expedition will seek out some of the landbirds of the islands and also study tribal customs of the indigenous islanders, including the use of alternative medicines.

Only 7 expedition members can be accommodated on the vessel, the remaining space will be occupied by a set of huge freezers that will store two tons of chum for use during the planned mass chumming operations.

To date there are 5 on board, and two more are welcome, at US$7000 per person. This rate will be discounted for students and those from conservation bodies to US$5000 per person.

Please contact directly HS at albatross_shirihai@hotmail.com to sign up, or for further information about the voyage plans and conditions.

Expeditions planned for 2010 & 2011 (with further information on the following to be posted nearer the times):

Off Madeira: To study Zino’s Petrel at sea, 20th-30th June (with Hadoram Shirihai & Tony Pym, and the organisation of Madeira Wind Birds).

Guadalupe Islands, Mexico: In search of the (believed extinct) Guadalupe Storm Petrel, March 2010 or 2011, with Hadoram Shirihai.


Chatham Islands: In search of the Magenta Pterodroma magentae and Chatham Island Petrel P. axillaris (tentatively scheduled for Dec), and most of the local land-bird endemics. With Tony Pym & Hadoram Shirihai. For further information please contact Tony (tony_pym@hotmail.com).

Juan Fernández archipelago, Chile: For the three endemic eastern tropical Pterodroma (during Nov-Dec), namely Juan Fernandez Petrel Pterodroma externa, Stejneger's Petrel Pterodroma longirostris and Defilippi’s Petrel Pterodroma defilippiana; with the organisation and co-leadership of Ross Wanless (and Hadoram Shirihai for the work on petrels at sea). We will also endeavour to see the landbird endemics. For further information please contact Ross (rosswanless@gmail.com).

Eastern Tropical Pacific off Peru: To study storm petrels (tentatively Jan 2011), with Hadoram Shirihai, and with the organisation of Gunnar Engblom (Kolibri Expeditions). For further information please contact Gunnar (kolibriexp@gmail.com).

Off Reunion, Indian Ocean: Seeking field knowledge on the poorly known Mascarene Petrel Pseudobulweria aterrima with Tony Pym and Hadoram Shirihai (expedition dates to be announced).

Regular updates on these expeditions will be posted on Seabird-News (Angus Wilson and/or Tony Pym) and the website of Kolibri Expeditions (Gunnar Engblom).

Friday, October 23, 2009

New seabird blog from Greg Gillson in Oregon

Greg Gillson (The Bird Guide Pelagics) has created a new blog called OREGON SEABIRDS that focuses on seabirding along the west coast of North America, with emphasis on Greg's home state of Oregon. Check it out!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Black-capped Petrel returns to the Azores?

On 22 May 2009, a Black-capped Petrel (Pterodroma hasitata) was photographed at sea by João Quaresma some 5-6 miles south of Queimada, Pico. Interestingly, the first record for the archipelago was photographed off Graciosa on 26 May 2007. Photos of both birds are posted on the Birding Azores web site.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Salvin's Albatross found on Gough Island in South Atlantic

Ross Wanless brings news of an adult SALVIN'S ALBATROSS (Thalassarche salvini) in the Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross (T. chlororhynchos) colony on Gough Island in the South Atlantic (-40.3207°, -9.92871°). Gough is part of the Tristan da Cunha archipelago. This photo was taken by Paul Visser, a biologist working on this remote island. The majority of Salvin's Albatrosses nest on the Bounty Islands in Sub-antarctic New Zealand, with smaller numbers on the Snares and a handful of pairs on Penguin Island in the Crozet Group (French Southern Territories) in the Indian Ocean. Salvin's occur in South African waters as non-breeders but are more numerous in the Pacific where they forage in the Humbolt Current as far north as Peru. To my knowledge, this is the first documented occurrence on land in the Atlantic Ocean. In Nov 2001, Javier Arata found an adult Salvin's with Black-browed Albatross (T. melanophrys) on Gonzalo Island in the Diego Ramirez Group off southern Chile (2003 Notornis 50:169).