The day of the Shearwater

Our thanks are due not only to Peter Wilcox the skipper of the ‘Days Catch’ (www.seawatchtours.com) who took us out to sea each day when we were in Canada but also to his crew particularly Durlan Ingersoll. Durlan is just as much a birder as a whale watcher and he got to know we were also so minded.

On one occasion we were listening for whales in thick fog. The blows are audible over a large distance and everyone on the boat was asked to be silent so we could determine a direction in which to head.

It was on one of these occasions that I heard Durlan shout ‘Manx Shearwater’. I looked up to see the familiar form of a black and white shearwater pass from the stern to the bow of the boat at some 30 metres range. I broke off from watching the ever present Petrels and fired off a few shots of the bird as it passed me. Among the many Great Shearwaters and the Sooty Shearwaters it was the only Manx we had seen so it deserved at least a few frames despite the fact I have hundreds of Manx Shearwater photos. Even through the viewfinder the bird had a distinctive non-Manx attitude; the way it flew, the distribution of colouring.

Durlan was the one that crystallised my thoughts when he came over and asked if I had any shots of the bird. He pointed out on the back of his camera the bird had dark undertail coverts – not a feature of Manx Shearwater but an indication of Audubon’s Shearwater. Durlan duly informed me that if it was an Audubon’s Shearwater it was a first for the state of New Brunswick!

I reserved judgement until I could see my shots on a larger screen. It was that night when it became overwhelmingly apparent that the bird not only showed dark undertail coverts but also white lores, again not a plumage feature of Manx but of Audubon’s. This together with the flight characteristics, for me, put the bird’s identification beyond doubt.

It would be a new bird for me; I’ve never seen Audubon’s Shearwater before. Given it’s similarity to Manx I started to ask myself if we are overlooking these within UK waters. Anyways, we were without doubt the envy of many New Brunswick birders but lets see what label the New Brunswick rare birds committee put on it.

Audubon's Shearwater


2 Responses to “The day of the Shearwater”

  1. 1 aabirdpix@btinternet.com
    September 12, 2016 at 9:46 am

    Hi Carl,    Hope all is well with you and yours. I don’t normally comment on blogs, as you know from Mike I’m a social media dinosaur, but thought you might like my opinion on your shearwater. Basically, it looks like Audubon’s to me, I’ve never seen one but have seen most of the others in the complex, and the jizz, as far as you can tell in a still photo, looks good, in particular the rounded wingtip. The plumage details all fit, including the small white “tabs” where the rump joins the wings (some species have much larger tabs, some, including Black-vented Shearwater, none). Manx can also show small tabs, but it’s definitely not a Manx because of the dark undertail among other things. Incidentally, the lores can be light or dark depending on the breeding area, but more records are occurring towards the north of the eastern seaboard. They’re common off Hatteras, so dispersal from the Caribbean is obviously northwards. Mike’s got the seabirding bug after Madeira, so we’re off to Hatteras next year, hopefully I’ll be able to grip this one back.       Incidentally,I don’t think we’d get one to overlook in the UK, far more likely would be Cape Verde Shearwater, which many authorities still consider a subspecies of Audubon’s. However, with pelagic seabirds anything can happen,                             Regards, Alan

    • September 12, 2016 at 10:04 am

      Thanks Alan. Good to hear comments from someone so experienced with seabirds as yourself. The comment regarding the lores came from reading Sibley but there’s nothing like first hand experience. I hope you’re both well and enjoying life. Hope to see you out and about one of these days. All the best. Carl

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