Sunday, 31 July 2011

Back Catalogue: Paddyfield Warbler

The very first time local ringer, Jim Askin, set up his nets (at the rear of Porth Hellick Pool, St Mary's, 9th September 2006) he trapped this adult Paddyfield Warbler Acrocephalus agricola. It was not seen prior to capture and it was not seen after release - one can only wonder at the many interesting and unusual birds that must pass through Scilly undetected...

Paddyfield Warb

Friday, 22 July 2011

Beck's Petrel

by Bob Flood

Most experts agree that Tahiti Petrel and Beck’s Petrel cannot be separated in photographs. There are some clues in video though. Have a look at our Beck’s footage and compare it to the Tahiti footage we put on the blog a few days back. The Beck’s did not come close, but even so a number of differences are apparent. See what you make of it. We will post some thoughts soonish (busy on the launch of our Guide right now).


Saturday, 16 July 2011

Getting to see Tahiti Petrel on a One-day Pelagic Trip – Southport, Brisbane

by Bob Flood

Southport is situated on the south coast of Queensland adjacent to the southwest Coral Sea. The waters are dominated by the warm south flowing East Australian Current which runs well to the south eventually breaking eastward as the Tasman Front. In most winters, cold water moves up along the coast from the south, pushing the warm water further offshore. This can lead to an interesting mix of tropical and cold water species. Since 1995, when the pelagic venue was switched from Brisbane to Southport about 70 species of seabirds have been identified; some regularly logged here are rarely seen elsewhere in Australian waters.

The star attraction that made Southport a must for Bryan Thomas and I in November 2003 is the Tahiti Petrel Pterodroma rostrata, which has been seen off this port in every month except July. It was one of our major target birds. We departed port at 07.00 at the start of a c.40 kilometres steam past the continental shelf. Crested Terns Sterna bergii were common in the harbour. Over the next ten kilometres we encountered Short-tailed Puffinus tenuirostris, Wedge-tailed Puffinus pacificus and Flesh-footed Puffinus carneipes Shearwaters, species that were seen throughout the day. Excitement was tangible with just 10 kilometres to go before the continental shelf and, hopefully, Tahiti Petrels. At about this point on the trip, organiser Paul Walbridge of SOSSA (Southern Oceans Seabird Study Association), who proved to be very knowledgeable and extremely helpful, called a Black-winged Petrel Pterodroma nigripennis. Shortly after this he called a Gould’s Petrel Pterodroma leucoptera. Then he called a Mottled Petrel Pterodroma inexpectata. Wow! We had scored with a hatrick of the enigmatic Pterodroma petrels, including the highly prized Mottled. A second Gould’s rounded-off a prolific half-hour.

We reached the turning point at about 11.00 and drifted with chum deployed. Shortly after this I picked-up a large, dark, long-winged Pterodroma petrel and my heart rate increased because, surely, this could be nothing other than a Tahiti Petrel. It banked and revealed a white belly allowing me the privilege of calling the first of eight or so Tahitis that put on an impressive show over the next few hours, although they did not approach very close for photographers. A Black-bellied Storm-petrel Fregetta tropica fed over the chum for about ten minutes and perhaps five Wilson’s Storm-petrels Oceanites oceanicus put in an appearance, however, I remained preoccupied with the Tahiti Petrels. Only a Black Petrel Procellaria parkinsoni, one of just five Procellaria petrels, drew my attention away from the Tahiti Petrels. Black Petrel is very rare and was a total surprise on the day, with our individual just the second ever reported from Southport. A Bridled Tern Sterna anaethetus also drifted through. We started the steam home at 13.00 and saw plenty more shearwaters to keep us occupied to the end of the trip at around 16.00.

Southport definitely was the surprise package of our venture. There may not have been the quantity of seabirds available at other locations, but the quality of the species seen is in no doubt. We went to Southport only because of the Tahiti Petrels, but discovered on the day that this port promises more Pterodroma petrel species in each season than other ports and a wealth of other seabird species. This is not yet well publicised in the literature and is worth summarising below.

September-November. A few winter birds remain such as Providence Petrel Pterodroma solandri, Fluttering Puffinus gavial and Hutton’s Puffinus huttoni Shearwaters with the occasional ‘Wandering’ Albatross. Summer birds like Wedge-tailed and Flesh-footed Shearwaters and Tahiti Petrels start to re-appear. The period is notable for passage birds, particularly Short-tailed Shearwater. Wilson’s and Black-bellied Storm-petrels numbers increase before they head south. In recent years, however, Soft-plumaged Pterodroma mollis, Kermadec Pterodroma neglecta, Mottled, Gould’s and Black-winged Petrels have been logged. December-February. This period is dominated by breeding Wedge-tailed Shearwaters. Tahiti is the commonest Pterodroma petrel. Species often sighted include White-necked Pterodroma cervicalis and Gould’s Petrels and occasionally Lesser Frigatebirds Fregata ariel. Streaked Shearwaters Calonectris leucomelas arrive from Japan. Tropical terns such as Sooty Sterna fuscata and Bridled Terns, and Common Anous stolidus and Black Anous minutus Noddies also feature. March-May. A ‘reverse passage’ period, with March in particular turning-in some freakish results; e.g., March 2002 turned up seven Pterodroma petrels on one day – Tahiti, Great-winged Pterodroma macroptera, White-headed Pterodroma lessonii, Kermadec, White-necked, Black-winged and Gould’s Petrels! Tahiti Petrels start to congregate, White Terns Gygis alba are seen in small numbers and plenty of Wilson’s Storm-petrels move northwards. June-August. With a mix of cold and warm water, this is the period of greatest species diversity for Procellariiformes. Providence Petrels and Black-bellied Storm-petrels arrive, with Kermadec Petrels frequently sighted. Also likely are Northern Macronectes halli and Southern Macronectes giganteus Giant Petrels, Cape Petrel Daption capense, up to four species of ‘mollymawk’ (small Albatross), five species of prion, and Brown Skua Catharacta antarctica lonnbergi (Subantarctic form). Herald Petrel Pterodroma heraldica is occasional. Additional. White-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon lepturus can turn up at any time of year. Recently, Black Petrel and South Polar Skua Catharacta maccormicki have been logged in both Spring and Autumn.

A Southport pelagic trip is highly recommended and would complement an itinerary from Brisbane that in any case is a must for birders visiting Australia.

I include footage from the Brisbane trip, but it was taken on an old-style camcorder. To whet your appetite further, I have also included some of my footage from an expedition cruise in the Western Pacific in 2008.
Thanks to Paul Walbridge for assisting with background information.

Check out our new multimedia ID guide to North Atlantic Storm-petrels Click here

Friday, 8 July 2011

Preview of Storm-petrel ID Guide

Sample pages from our multimedia ID guide and comments by reviewers Steve N. G. Howell, Killian Mullarney, Magnus Robb and Hadoram Shirihai can be found via the link below:

August pelagic weekend - places still available

There are a limited number of places available for the 13th & 14th August 2011

To book click on link below:

Here's a short video from last years weekend filmed by the team at Birdguides

Monday, 4 July 2011

Back Catalogue: Polynesian Storm-petrel

The first record for Australia by Bob Flood

During the Western Pacific Odyssey 2008 on April 7th over Norfolk Ridge, en route from Norfolk Island to New Caledonia, I located a Polynesian Storm-petrel Nesofregetta fuliginosa from the stern of MV Professor Khromov. There was a force 4-5 wind and the sea was choppy with a two metre swell. The bird passed port side of the stern approximately 80 metres off drifting towards the wake, but was soon lost to sight. A handful of birders witnessed this sighting.

I radioed out the news and very quickly all other birders on board gathered on or above the stern. We were dripping cod liver oil. Evidently when the bird crossed the wake it caught a whiff of the odour and headed back towards the stern. After several minutes a shout came from an upper-deck that the storm-petrel was heading back. It advanced to about 80 metres and showed for about six minutes enabling reasonable photographs and video to be secured and excellent views for all. A few Grey-faced Petrels Pterodroma gouldi and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters Puffinus pacificus were present at the time.

The relatively huge size of this storm-petrel was self-evident as it effortlessly glided back and forward across the wake, jizz reminiscent of a Wood Swallow Artamus, foraging by rising over crests and swooping into troughs where it was seen to collect oil droplets. The storm-petrel hardly ever flapped its wings, but gently twisted them and its tail in effortless turning manoeuvres. The head looked relatively small on a thick neck and against a stocky body. The bill was relatively long and slim. The caudal projection was long, comprising rump, a long forked tail, and toes projecting well beyond the tail tip. The wings were long and broad with the hand especially long and somewhat attenuated with fairly blunt tips. The wings were held outstretched with the leading edge moderately angular and the trailing edge mildly angular.

This was a pale phase individual, dark grey-brown overall with white throat, breast, belly, thin rump band, and broad white secondary underwing-covert panels becoming dusky on the primary underwing-coverts making the underwing of the hand overall dark. The dark breast band extended onto the underwing to form a thick dark leading edge to the hand mirroring a thick dark trailing edge formed by dark secondaries. The undertail-coverts were dark. Flight feathers were darkest being black-brown. Narrow indistinct upperwing greater covert bars were visible in the field at close range. The flight feathers were visibly worn with notches and abrasion evident in photographs.

This individual is the first ever Polynesian Storm-petrel to be recorded within Australian waters and was accepted by their rare bird committee.


Multimedia ID Guide to North Atlantic Seabirds: Storm-petrels & Bulwer's Petrel

Manuscript goes to press...

After many many months of hard work, our 212 page multimedia ID guide has gone to the printers (normally a 4 to 5 week turnaround). The 2 DVDs will be off to the replicators shortly (normally a 2 week turnaround). We will be taking advance orders soon. Watch this space...

Friday, 1 July 2011

Pelagic 30/06/11

Six miles south of St Mary's...

Another quiet pelagic trip (no doubt due to 4 trawlers in the vicinity) - birding highlights were two Sooty Shearwaters, 10+ European Storm-petrels and a single Bonxie.

Two Blue Sharks were tagged and released, one of which, took a liking to a participants pair of jeans by adding a series of 'designer' holes...

MV Sapphire skipper Joe Pender deploys his underwater camera. It might look like a 'Heath Robinson' type of contraption, but it certainly produces fine images (see below)
Positioning the camera just prior to the shark coming inboard produces the best results
Look at this stunning image of a Blue Shark! It was taken using the above technique on the 27/06/11 by Joe Pender. We might all take the mickey out of Joe's propensity for gadgets, but it can pay dividends, as here