Thursday, September 5, 2013

Shearing Atlantic Waters

Another year, another September. Those of us in California know that this is the grandest month of the year...seabirds, shorebirds and passerines (and associated vagrants) are all moving into the area in massive numbers. Reports of quality birds up and down the state are already coming in. I've started my fall trips leading for Shearwater Journeys, which you will hear all about soon.

But before we get to the West Coast, there are many lessons to be learned from the Hatteras pelagics I was on in August. With seven lifers and an ABA bird (now that I am an official member again for the first time since the nineties, this becomes more important), things have never been the same. I am a superior birder now, and all those extra Global Birder Ranking System points filtering through my veins feels empowering. I have leveled my warrior, as they say, which is not something someone who is already the 7th best birder in the country can claim very often.

What lessons did I learn now? Let's start with Audubon's Shearwater. They are common. They are black and white. They are hella flappy. The above bird is dingier than most, but shows the characteristic junky-trunk of the species.


Just a classic Economy of Style kind of shot. If this doesn't get your salty juices flowing, then you must not be alive. Amirite?


They are usually very striking birds; sharply delineated black and white, with a varying amount of white in front of the eye. They are the Gulf Stream shearwater that you would want to give a hug.


Check out how long that tail is. Them black undertail coverts. Audubon's is very distinct among the shearwaters expected off Hatteras. Of course, these are also tiny birds compared to other shearwaters in the area, so identification problems are few, unless maybe you are trying to string a Barolo Shearwater. Again, they possess a wonderful smallness that all but the most callous observer can appreciate.


Great Shearwater was a species I was really looking forward to meeting, and I got to meet quite a few. Most were not exactly fresh-looking, but hey I usually don't look very fresh either.



Black. White. Gray. Brown. What else could you ask for? Really, you colorblind birders just need to completely embrace seabirds and forget about everything else, because you won't be missing out on anything.

Although the shape and flight style isn't exactly similar, I couldn't help but get a mild Buller's Shearwater vibe from these birds. Maybe it's that neat dark cap.


I crushed on this bird a little bit. Nice wingpit pattern, don't you think? I can't look away.


Of course, Cory's Shearwater was the most abundant shearwater on both trips (hundreds each day). They are large and generally remind me of Pink-footed Shearwaters most of the time. What I wouldn't do to find one of these yellow-nosed beasts off the coast of California...well, maybe it's best if you didn't know.


We had good luck with finding rafting birds on the water. It didn't lead to any Cape Verde Shearwaters, but it was nice to get an idea of the variation between individuals.


This is the typical borealis, the common subspecies of Cory's Shearwater off Hatteras. When I claim to know what subspecies a Cory's Shearwater belongs to, I am primarily looking at the extent of white in the outer primaries (there is very little on this bird).


And this is an apparent "Scopoli's" Shearwater, hypothesized to be a distinct species from borealis, but at the moment there isn't enough evidence to confirm or deny this. Hella white in the outer primaries. Easy. Usually it requires some chimping though. Perhaps the next field guide could have an asterisk next to this bird about mandatory chimping.


Here's a token Pterodroma for you. This is a "light-faced" Black-capped Petrel, one of the many subspecies of tubenose found in the Gulf Stream that may actually be a separate species. Note that unlike the vast majority of "dark-faced" Black-capped Petrels we saw, this bird is not undergoing any wing molt. Nemesis Bird has a recent special on Black-capped Petrels; check it out here.

1 comment:

  1. One of my best birding buddies is truly colorblind. According to what he told me, he specialized in seabirds because of this. He was fond of saying, "Real birds eat squid." See you out there. Debi

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