November 2009

We did a short trip on the ocean on Nov 18, although the plan was to make a full day pelagic there was no suitable boat available. This was the same trip as the swim-with-the-sea-lions post the other day.
The day was not totally at loss, as there were good photo-opportunities and a few identification challenges.


As we were approaching the port again after the Palomino trip, I spot a distant Skua. Unfortunately, there were not more photos than these poor ones.
Skua in heavy molt . Nov 18, 2009 CallaoSkua. Callao Nov 18, 2010Skua. Callao Nov 18, 2010Skua. Callao Nov 18, 2010Skua. Callao Nov 18, 2010.

The pictures are very poor. First when looking at the pics, I thought I could see some reddish tone on the belly which suggested Chilean Skua. However, there are several details that support South Polar Skua which I ultimately think this bird is:

  • The pale contrasting neck patch
  • The seemingly longish bill
  • The general blackish coloration
  • The black under wing coverts

Comments anyone?


Alvaro Jaramillo kindly discussed the ID on the Birding Peru list.

I agree that the skua photos are marginal. Still, this looks much more like a worn and messed up young Chilean Skua than a South Polar. Isn’t it molting outer primaries? Did you notice this in the field?


As for the Skua, I saw Ryan Shaw’s pic on the Facebook group – pelagics of a molting South Polas Skua
Her is the FB link.

and  I thought it was contemporary with my pic i.e. taken in November.

However, it was from July. Yes, my bird is missing an inner primary at least on the right wing. Do Chilean and South Polar Skua vary that much in molt-time? If so, I should pay some more attention on this.

What about the very pale neck. Can Chilean also have this?


Its not a rule, but a good “rule of thumb” to think that birds which have no or short migrations will have different molt timing than those which have long or amazingly long migrations. South Polar Skua falls into the amazingly long migration category, Chilean into the short migration category, or moderate at the most. So molt timing should differ in these two species, and it is well known to be in the May – August time frame for South Polar when they are in the northern hemisphere; not clearly known in Chilean yet. Timing also varies depending on age, with younger age classes molting earlier than adults. Having said this, retention of juvenile feathers for a long time (sometimes over a year) in the first cycle of many large birds (various seabirds for example) can also cause some weird patterns when you see them in terribly worn states. As well, often feather bases are a different color than feather tips, and the fading process itself can lead to odd patterns showing up. So it is complex, and the way to go about figuring all of this out is to photograph everything, and determine when molt periods are, and if birds you are seeing fall into more than one group of molt periods (= different age classes). But when you have a terribly worn and then molting individual, especially of a dark species like a Skua, all sorts of weird patterns can show up. For example, it is common for Westland Petrels off Chile in November (when they are worn and in molt) to show nearly white panels on the upperwings. These are incredibly worn and faded coverts which have not yet been replaced; probably a first cycle bird retaining juvenile feathers. The pattern is as bright and obvious as that of a Pintado Petrel! It is weird when you see it the first time, but after seeing it over and over again, and noticing that it only shows up only on Westland Petrels in November; I have found it to be an easy way to identify some Westlands from a long way away. Weird patterns are sometimes predictable and usable, but you need to determine their pattern of occurrence. I think that all of the weird and messy skuas you have shown us over the years have been Chileans, yet the 1 or 2 photos of good South Polars from Peru are relatively clean looking (or am I remembering this wrong?). From this perspective it may be safe to use the worn and messed up look to actually identify these birds as Chilean!!

Continuing in this train of thought – Is that really a pale neck? Or is it a patch of retained worn juvenile feathers contrasting with newly molted crown/face feathers? In other words, a feature such as a pale neck in the context of a worn and messy looking skua is not all that useful. Similarly near lack of cinnamon feathering on the underparts is also something that is common on worn Chilean Skuas, although with a close look you will see some feathering with warm coloration somewhere.


Terns always represent a challange to ID.

South American Tern juv and Common TernSouth American Tern. Immature with some juvenil scapulars retainedSouth American Tern Immature in flight.

The immature bird is a South American Tern. It has retained some juvenile barred tertial feathers. Barred tertials are a good field mark to ID young South American Terns. Also note the stout bill.

What about the Tern to the right in the first photo?

I must say this one confuses me. A couple of years ago, Dan Lane sent this photo with 3 different winter plumage terns to the Birding Peru yahoo group, arguing that South American Tern has they eye surrounded by black and that Common and Arctic Tern has “head-phones”.
My bird has both characters – eye surrounded by black and headphones. I am guessing the bird is nevertheless Common Tern, because it is November and South American Tern should still be in breeding plumage and at least have a red bill.
Again comments are appreciated.


Again I got excellent input from Alvaro Jaramillo on the Birding Peru list.

The non-South American Tern in your photos is a Common Tern. It has the classic headphones pattern, and very narrow mask around the eye. Also look at the dark marginal and lesser coverts, something that all Commons get early in the winter and often is strikingly darker than the rest of the wing. South Americans only have dark here as immatures, and it is not so dark and contrasting. I don’t recall the details, but I think some South American Terns breed in Peru, or at least used to, in winter? They may do so in northern Chile as well, but there is no proof yet. However, in terms of molt timing and appearance it is clear that there are two populations of this tern. One is a far southern summer breeder, with a classic Austral molt timing. However from Santiago, Chile on northwards there are lots of adult South American Terns which are in basic (non-breeding) plumage between November- Feb; suggesting they are breeding in winter somewhere, presumably to the north. So molt timing may not be all that useful in identifying this species, contrary to what I though and wrote in Birds of Chile.

Thanks Alvaro for the great comments. I learnt a lot! You rock!

Google Buzz

Share with

Powered by Twitter Tools

Google Buzz

Share with

Anyone seen the Great White Shark or the Killer Whale lately?

Sooner or later someone's going to die! Sealions and swimmer at Palomino. Photo: Gunnar Engblom

Sooner or later someone's going to die! Sealions and swimmer at Palomino. Photo: Gunnar Engblom

Eco-tourism can often be good for conservation, but sometimes the operators are just not responsible. This example is from Palomino islands outside Lima, where it has become popular to swim with the sea-lions. This is totally unregulated. There are no specific areas designed where impact with the breeding colony is minimized – a less impacting area would be in front of the bachelor resting rocks. There is no minimum distance to the island established, nor any code of conduct.

The water of the Humboldt current is ice-cold – the risk of hypothermia is evident. The swimming is just next to the colony. There are no rules of minimum distances.  The sharp teeth of the sea-lions could potentially be dangereous. Males can weigh over 300 kg – take that into account.

Killer Whales and Great White Sharks are rare in Peruvian waters, but both have occurred – and when they do show up again, could they avoid this virtual smorgasboards of prey?

So far there has not been any serious injuries, but it will happen – sooner or later someone will be serious injured or killed. It is an announced accident – that will happen.

Swimming with sealions - Invasive tourism.

Swimming with sealions - Invasive tourism.

In spite of this, there seems to be very little interest in regulating the activity. On the contrary the municipality of Callao promotes it. I ask myself if it is really necessary. At Paracas, 300km south of Lima, most tourists content themselves with observations of the sea-lions from a boat. They do not need to get into the water. Why can’t the same tourism be applied in Lima?


Since I published this blogpost, I found by accident a blogpost on Living-in-Peru that totally praises the activity. Two sides of the same coin! Which do you chose?

Google Buzz

Share with

Help me define 2010’s birding program.

Marvellous Spatuletail. Photo: Gunnar Engblom

Marvellous Spatuletail. Photo: Gunnar Engblom

What fixed departures shall we offer next year? Traditionally, Kolibri Expeditions have offered trips on request, but I am wanting to set a few fixed departures that people can take for a lower price.

Yesterday I sent our first opt-in regular newsletter. Within this newsletter is an invitation to help us define what trips to offer to a larger public at a better price next year. I am reposting that part of the newsletter here. I am looking forward to your comments.

The rest of the year 2010?

There are still very few departures scheduled for 2010. And in the coming two weeks, we shall start filling the calendar. I would like your help. Are you ready to interact with me? I am playing with the idea of offering some fixed departures for max 10-12 people, with 2 fixed top well prepared guides (not only for birds), fixed (very compatible) price and fixed dates. I know everyone prefers small groups – and most of our trips are like this, but there are advantages being in a larger group. If split between two guides, there be less need to compromise. One part of group can bird from dusk to dawn if they wish, while the other part of the group can take it easier. One part of the group may want to do trails, while the other part do the road. You can not have this flexibility with a small group with only one guide. What do you think?

When and where should the tours go? How long should the programs be? One idea which is already happening is promoting the community lodges in Manu through the blogging tours, but one may also do a longer trip to maximise the yield. There are also the community programs in Central Peru of various lengths (one week or Birding Carpish and Satipo road 18 days). We may also want do offer some more comfortable trips ot Manu and Amigos as well as North Peru.
For Amigos, I am playing with an idea of offering a 14 day workshop at Amigos to learn rain forest species both by sight and ear ending with a BIG DAY attempt – and a go at the world record. Have to break 332 species for the record of one site!

North Peru could have a combined Cactus/Orchid/Butterflies and Birds trip in January-April. Furthermore the lek of Marvelous Spatuletail is active between December and May and can be sample in trips as short as 5 days or 7 days. I am planning one fixed departure to North Peru for June with myself and Santos Montenegro (yes, the Marvelous Spatuletail famed Santos) as guides.

I have a several other trips piled up that need to enter the web-page and the calendar – work for the coming two weeks. Several trips in Asia with Ashley Banwell, a trip to Guyana/Suriname/Roraima in SE Venezuela and possibly trips to Bolivia, Colombia and NE Brazil as there are already requests for these areas.
Please comment below


Google Buzz

Share with

Extinct birds don’t count!

Slender-billed Curlew. Photo: Chris Gomersall

Slender-billed Curlew. Photo: Chris Gomersall

Slender-billed Curlew is undoubtedly one of the worlds rarest bird. I am enjoying immensly 10000 birds’s effort to spread information about the threatened birds around the world.  After the splendid series about Spoon-billed Sandpiper now it is another shorebird under the microscope. Charlie Moores is giving us a review of Slender-billed Curlew and interviews.

So far the following deliveries have been published.

This reminds me of  an idea I played with a few years ago. For critically threatened birds the birder observe he/she would get 5 points. If the bird later is downgraded to a lower threat category and consequently be worth less points, one would still be able to keep the 5 points earned.  The accumulated effect over time with more birders taking on this system would be  spending eco-dollars where the value would be the greatest.

On the other hand, if the situation becomes as dire as it is now for Slender-billed Curlew, the points would be completely lost if the species become extinct.  A couple of very wealthy birders taking on this system could make the difference for some species. Nobody, would like to lose hard earned points, right?

I introduced this system in a database, and you may record your threatened birds on line and add up your point. I call it: Expedition Birding.  The full rules can be found here.

The last three years, since the birth of my daughter,  I  have not had time to update the system with new scores as a BirdLife have revised some birds. However, during December the system will become up-to-date, and I have also secured some collaborators to help me manage the system.  With my blog and social media such as Facebook, there is a better platform to involve more people.

Ultimate blockers – sorry mate, that does not count!

It is sad that some birders regard Critically Threatened birds as possible blockers. They carry the fact that they have seen Spix’s Macaw, Atitlan Grebe and Slender-billed Curlew with the highest pride, as it was some sort of achievement to have seen a bird that now nobody else can see. I would feel awful.
Not saying that there was much these birders could have done, but they probably could have done more than they did. And this is the mentality that needs to be promoted. We can do more than we do – for critically threatened birds!

Maybe, ABA and other listing promoting birder organizations should make new rules. Extinct birds should not count! When seeing a critically threatened bird, every birder should make everything in their might to get it down-graded to a lower threat category. Donations, voluntary work, promotion, petitions, etc.

Google Buzz

Share with

Beware of the birder – I’m coming to take you away, ha ha!

Bay-vented Cotinga. One of the special birds in the remote Unchog in Carpish, Huanuco

Bay-vented Cotinga. One of the special birds in the remote Unchog in Carpish, Huanuco

The news of  Peruvian human oil extractors – pishtacos- is now not only a legend of the central highlands of Peru after yesterday’s news release that travelled the world. (See World War 4 Report and BBC)

This quite seriously damages Peru’s reputation and could also have effects when birding.

In the Central highlands of Junin, Pasco and Huanuco the Pishtaco is the Bogeyman. The adults tell the kids that if the don’t eat up or behave, the Pishtaco will take them. The Pishtacos are white mercenaries killing locals, extracting their oil, to sell to Europe and to the US for use of beauty lotions, plastic surgery, grease the railroad and – believe it or not – to run the Space Shuttle.

When I first travelled in Central Peru with a group in 1996, the kids upon seeing us jumped into the ditch as we drove by silently screaming “Pishtacos”. A few years later our car was bombarded with stones as we drove up to Unchog. At the trail just beyond the Carpish Tunnel a man directly accused us of being Pishtacos.

Over the years, the people in the Carpish/Unchog area have become more accustomed to see gringos birdwatching. Also there have been direct benefits with donations to the schools in the area as well as an entrance fee established to visit Unchog for birding and I until recently thought the Pishtaco episode – taking birders for pishtacos – was over and done with.

The myth becomes reality

With  the national police showing the evidence yesterday and three suspects have confessed to killing five people for their fat, and two were arrested carrying bottles of liquid fat, the legend suddenly get some substance. It is hard to believe however that there really is a commerce with human body fat going on around the world. As Dr Adam Katz, professor of plastic surgery at the University of Virginia medical school,  says:

I can’t see why there would be a black market for fat, It doesn’t make any sense at all, because in most countries we can get fat so readily and in such amounts from people who are willing and ready to donate that I don’t see why there would ever be a black market for fat, of all tissues.

If it is true, and these crimes have been committed, it seems that the gang may have believed the legend so much that they got absorbed in becoming producers of the oil wanted by “beautiful white first world”. Sad when you think of it. Like digging for gold at the end of the rainbow.

In some Peruvian sources, it has been claimed, that this type of news-story – urban legends “proven” true – such as pishtacos or blood-crying madonnas, always pop-up as smoke screens when the reigning authorities are in trouble.  Time will tell, but watch carefully what pops up to be officially forgotten within the following days.

Recommendation for birders

Unfortunately, the deep-rooted myth is getting fuel by such news. This may become dangerous to adventurous travellers off the beaten track – as birders often are. Here are some examples for you.

Last year we took some farmers from Central Peru (Carpish and Satipo road) to Mindo so they could experience eco-tourism in practice. We wanted to bring more people from Carpish, but rumours had it, that we were Pishtacos and that the participants would be beheaded, slaughtered and adipose extracted when exposed to foreign buyers in Ecuador. One of the members from Carpish, was suprised to see that none of this was true and that he returned living and well to Carpish.

Earlier this year, in another part of Central Peru, in Pucacocha in the Andamarca valley, Junin, our car was surrounded by villagers accusing the birders inside the vehicle for being Pishtacos. The situation was somewhat uncomfortable, but our guide and driver managed to explain what we really were doing and the group could leave with somewhat of a scare.

In light of the hysteria and psychosis that follows news like this I recommend that independant birders visiting the departments of Huanuco, Pasco and Junin to be very careful. You should speak good Spanish if you want to visit these areas now or go with a Peruvian guide. Birders travelling with tour companies should have no worries, as these companies make pre-arrangements with the local communities.

Also, I don’t expect any complications whatsoever along the normal tourist circuit Lima-Paracas-Nazca-Colca-Titicaca-Cusco-Machu Picchu-Manu – or other parts of Peru for that matter.

Google Buzz

Share with

DNA analysis from Darwin’s specimen gives important information for restoring population of Floreana Mockingbird on Floreana.

Floreana Mockingbird. Photo: Paquita Hoeck

Floreana Mockingbird. Photo: Paquita Hoeck

In news releases yesterday (in for example BBC and Telegraph) it was announced that DNA had been extracted from specimens of Floreana Mockingbird that was brought back to England by Darwin himself.
This DNA was compared to DNA from the existent subpopulations on the small islets Gardner and Champion off Floreana.  The Floreana Mockingbird became extinct on the main island Floreana soon after Darwin’s arrival due to the introduction of livestock, rats, cats and dogs which soon became feral and now this rare mockingbird only persists on these small islets with a total stable population of around 100 birds in 2007. Floreana Mockinbird is listed as critically threatened by Birdlife International. With such small population, it is clear that it could soon become extinct if there would be any natural disaster of any sort. The main strategy for the survival of the species must include a plan of restoring the population on the main island. The DNA tests confirmed that, in spite of in-breeding on the small islands, the genetic material is basically still the same and that an introduction with mixed stock from both islands at least would be genetically fit to once again occupy the main island. The main problem is not the DNA, but getting rid of the introduced animals. In an article from Galapagos Conservancy the Floreana Mockingbird Restoration Plan is discussed. An eradication campaign of feral animals and restoring Opuntia cactus habitat has already been started.

More background information from the researchers.

The two articles from BBC and Telegraph are a bit shallow giving headlines as if the Mockingbird on Floreana will be restored with the DNA of Darwin’s bird (sic!). But I found this blog from last year by the researcher Karen James, who was doing the DNA tests that were referred to. Now this is interesting reading: Saving Darwin’s Muse

I also found an article by researcher Paquita Hoeck about the current population in 2009, which now estimated to around 500 birds, due to two very good years for reproduction. This is great news for a forthcoming restoration on the main island.

How to see Floreana Mockingbird?

It used not to be too difficult. Any boat passing by Floreana could just go close to Champion island and the birds could be seen from deck without actually not landing. Now, researching for a birder’s trip to Galapagos, I found out only small boats that are allowed snorkling or scuba-diving around Champion and Devil’s crown off Floreana have permission to be in the area. There is obviously still landing restriction on the island, but the species should not be difficult to see if you are on the right type of boat.

Google Buzz

Share with

The Jamaican Petrel, is it extinct or alive?

Winds Jamaica Nov 13 - Too slow winds for Petrels?

Winds Jamaica Nov 13 - Too slow winds for Petrels?

I am pleased to be allowed to report on Hadoram Shirihai’s expeditions of the seven seas in search of lost seabirds.

Here is the last update from Jamaica, from the upcoming search for Jamaica Petrel. Background About Jamaica Petrel can be found on Birdlife internationals Data Zone pages and the announcement of the gadfly expeditions.

Nov 13, 2009.  Hadoram writes:

The expedition will start in few days, all is ready, the boat and the two ton chum etc

The image above is the ocean/wind pattern between Jamaica and Cuba for at least the first week of the expedition, perhaps a bit too calm for petrels, so I hope for stronger wind, we will see…

Best regards,


Here are some related posts where Hadoram’s explorations have been featured.

Google Buzz

Share with