Friday, February 18, 2011

Chronic Infatuation

The phantomesque Christmas Shearwater.

Good Friday to ye, birder. How was your week? I thought I would resurrect some of the good times at Midway Atoll, specifically the two species of shearwaters that breed there, since they don't get as much attention from visitors as the albatross, tropicbirds, boobies, terns, etc.

Christmas Shearwaters arrive in March on Eastern Island (one of three islands there....they are probably on Sand and Spit as well but I did not see them there). Early in the morning you can see them taking low, circular flights over patches of vegetation that look like good nesting spots. Often they will do this in pairs, which I assume is some sort of courtship flight as well. They nest under naupaka and heliotrope bushes and are usually hard to find during most of the day....if not for the hilarious sounds they make. They sound like children pretending to be ghosts....except much cuter. Sometimes they will do this during their courtship flights, and its hard not to smile when a fluttering shearwater goes by saying "wooo...hoooooooo....WOOOOOOOOOO!". Despite their drab, unicolored appearance, they are some of the most endearing birds out there.

This Christmas Shearwater sports some fashionable USFWS jewelry.

Praise the bird gods when Christmas Shearwaters land out in the open. 

Wedge-tailed Shearwaters are most active at night, hobbling around looking for mates and burrows.

Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, rare visitors off the California coast, arrive later in the spring and are quite a bit more common than Christmas Shearwaters, also being widespread over Sand Island, which is where everybody out there lives. They are not quite as inconspicuous as their dark relatives, and somehow manage to be even louder. Wedgie calls, however, sound substantially more evil, and have a lot of range. My favorite Wedgie call is the "crying baby". The nonbirding population of Sand Island are not infrequently creeped out by the Wedge-taileds, as they generally vocalize after dark where there aren't a lot of people around. With all the ghost stories Midway has, this isn't surprising.

Wedge-tailed Shearwater, aka Muttonbird in some circles. Who would want to eat something with a face like this?

Wedgie Love.

A typical scene on Sand Island in February. Yes, that's a lot of Laysan Albatross.


  1. Frozen with envy. Such sweet faces! And that new header is AMAZING. LOVE that shot. Nice description of the call--now I'm going to have to look that up. Thanks for sharing, as ever! =)

  2. The new header is a bit large...but why not? I tried looking for CHSH calls online as well...I dont know about any Wedgie samples they might have but the CHSH calls on xenocanto dont even hint at the sounds they are capable of making.