Pelagic birdwatching in Peru

I have arranged pelagics in Lima since 2000. We usually run around 10-12 pelagics per year. Since an accident last year, the port regulations in Lima for commercial activities at sea have become stricter. Even boats with permits to take tourists around, don’t have permit to go further than 16 nmiles (or 10 nmiles from San Lorenzo island), because of lack of specific security equipment for deep sea operations. Since, birding at sea is such a small activity per se, the boat owners we have used in the past are not very interested in investing.

Nevertheless, during the cold water season (June-August),we have had great success thus far this year with several of the best species seen with the limited range, but in the long run the only viable option for us is to get our own boat. During the summer months it will be essential to go out further at sea for the good birds.  Having our boat would ensure flexibility as well as always collecting data for research.

Naturally, twelve trips per year will not be enough to make it economically feasable, so we shall compliment with whalewatching, which is very good in Lima, especially for little known species and forms (see this recent whale-watching blogpost). Nevertheless, we shall be needing some sort of guarantee that there would be enough participants. And this is where you come in.

How? You could become our sponsor with a payback that vastly exceeds your modest investment. A special offer which make you eligible to watch seabirds at sea for FREE in Peru for the rest of your life plus many other bonus features.

Hadoram Shirihai, Steve Howell and Peter Harrison make their testimonials below about the importance of continued pelagics from Lima.
Interested? Scroll on. If not, just scroll down a little bit only to see pictures of  the 10 best birds of Lima pelagics. The next 10 will be presented in a future blogpost. Which species are you missing? Have you done a pelagic with us? Which species were your favorites? Do you have pictures to publish here on the blog or on the Kolibri Facebook Page?

The 20 best birds of Lima Pelagics – top 10.

1.Ringed Storm-Petrel Oceanodroma hornbyiRinged Storm-Petrel Oceanodroma hornbyi. Photo: Gunnar Engblom

The Ringed Storm-Petrel or Hornby’s Storm-Petrel as it is also known is perhaps the most wanted of all the seabirds in Lima. It is very difficult to see in coastal waters, although we have struck lucky sometimes on shorter trips. One usually needs to go all the way to the continental shelf some 30 nmiles out. It is a large powerful Storm-Petrel which gets interested in the chum, but usually just makes a few turns and keeps a distance.
No breeding area of the Ringed Storm-Petrel is known. It may well nest inland. Individuals have been found at 3800 meters in the Cordillera Blanca in Ancash department.

Ringed or Hornby's Storm-Petrel Oceanodroma hornbyi. Photo: GUnnar Engblom

2 Markham’s Storm-Petrel Oceanodroma markhamiMarkham's Storm-Petrel Oceanodroma markhami. Photo: Gunnar Engblom

Markham’s Storm-Petrel is the other Stormy high on the birders wishlist. It is also a powerful Oceanodroma. Blackish brown in color with a broad and usually quite prominent carpal bar. It often comes to the chum, but seldom as close as for instance White-vented Storm-Petrel below.

It is also usually found in deep water quite a ways out. Having said that we were lucky two see one recently on July 13 on a mini-pelagic to only 15 nmiles.

3. Peruvian Diving Petrel Pelicanoides garnotiiPeruvian Diving-Petrel Pelicanoides garnotii PotoYunco

The Peruvian Diving-Petrel is numerous off San Lorenzo island (the large island you see in front of La Punta, Callao). It is a strange bird looking very much like a little auklet both in appearance, flight and behaviour. It takes off on the water with very rapid wingbeats – or makes a dive to get away from the boat.

4. Waved Albatross Phoebastria irrorataWaved Albatross Phoebastria irrorata. Photo: Gunnar Engblom

Although, as you probably know, Waved Albatross principally breeds on Galapagos, you can almost always find this magnifiscent looking albatross in Peruvian Waters. Adults often take sabattical years from breeding and young may stay around the rich peruvian waters longer.   We often see them also on our recent short pelagics.

The Waved Albatross is Critically endangered according to Birdlife International. Main threats seem to be bycatch in fishing procedures and direct hunting by fishermen at sea.  According to one captain on a fishing boat in Northern Peru they “taste good“.

5. Inca Tern Larosterna incaInca Tern Larosterna inca. Photo: Gunnar Engblom

The prettiest tern of the world no doubt, the Inca Tern is easy to see well and one can see them even at the port at close range. It is by no means uncommon, but since it is such a popular and photogenic bird, it just has to be among the top 10 – don’t you agree?

6. Swallow-tailed Gull Creagrus furcatusSwallow-tailed Gull Creagrus furcatus. Photo: Gunnar Engblom

Another visitor from the Galapagos that can be seen almost all year around in small numbers. The pattern is like a giant Sabine’s Gull. The immature and the adult in non-breeding adult have a black goggle around the eye that gives it away. The Swallow-tailed Gull is active at night feeding on crusteceans, why we often find groups of birds sitting on the sea.

7. Chatham Albatross Thalassarche eremitaChatham Island Albatross Thalassarche eremita. Photo: Gunnar Engblom

There are now five records from our Lima pelagics of the formerly Critically Endangered Chatham Alabtross. Recently it was downgraded to Vulnarable, but still with a small range only breeding on The Pyramid, a large rock stack in the Chatham Islands, New Zealand, it is a darn good bird to see in Peru. We have seen both adults and young birds. Best time of year to see one in Peru is between May and August.  Sorry about the crappy photo. It is the only one I have got.

8. Northern Giant Petrel Macronected halliNorthern Giant Petel Macroncetes halli. Photo: Gunnar Engblom

The Northern Giant Petrel was according to older literature hypothetical in Peru. It turns out it is actually as regular, or maybe even more regular than the Southern Giant Petrel. We  see all dark immatures with pink-tipped bills yearly and often relatively near the coast. Our records from 2002-2007 are summerized in this paper in Marine Ornitology journal.

9. South Polar Skua Stercorarius maccormickiSouth Polar Skua Stercorarius maccormicki. Photo: Gunnar Engblom

South Polar Skua is less common than Chilean Skua, although through the years we have seen it between April to November. It is slenderer, much darker and with a smaller bill, than Chilena Skua.

10. White-vented Storm-Petrel Oceanites gracilis

Elliot's Storm-Petrel White-vented Storm.Petrel Oceanites gracilis. Photo: Gunnar EngblomWhite-vented Storm-Petrel is the most common Storm-Petrel off the Peruvian coast, yet it is one of my favorites. They are very fragile – a small Storm-Petrel that trips on water. They are always the first tubenoses that come to the chum. Yet, they are not easy to seperate from Wilson’s Storm-Petrel – or the other way around as Wilson’s Storm-Petrel is much rarer. If the diagnostic white belly is not seen, the best feature is the light butterfly-like flight with rapids wingbeats. Wilson’s Storm-Petrel is steadier in flight.

Special offer for pelagic lovers.

Now you know what is awaiting you when you come to Peru and do pelagics with us.  And don’t just take my word for it.

The importance of Lima as a destination for seabirders is evident. See what other pelagic experts have to say.

Steve N. G. Howell, author and tour leader with various book such as Birds of MexicoGulls of the Americas and Petrels, Albatrosses, and Storm-Petrels of North America, in press with Princeton) argues:

Lima is one of the best areas for pelagic birding in the Americas, with access to several species that can’t be seen easily anywhere else. Keeping pelagic trips going here is important both for birders and for gathering data on the seasonal distribution and abundance of numerous species, some of which are globally threatened.

Hadoram Shirihai, photographer and author of various books such as Whales, Dolphins and other Marina Mammals of the World and The complete guide to Antartic Wildlife says:

Lima is a unique seabird pelagic hotspot for me. The pelagic off Lima with Kolibri Expeditions is one of the best that I tested for the work towards the Handbook of the Tubenoses of the World project, and I call to anyone to support Gunnar to continue the good work he has been doing for years.

Also Peter Harrison, pelagic Guru, who will be in Lima on August 9 for either a short pelagic or hopefully a full day pelagic with one of the ships of IMARPE – the Peruvian Sea Institute, which we hope to hire for the day, is supportive of our project:

The continuation of pelagic voyages from Lima is critically important to further our knowledge of seabird biology and distribution along this important avian flyway. I would also add that although I have not been with Gunnar in person, his reputation is well known and he has added much to our knowledge and provided great service for passing ornithologists and birdwatchers over the years. It is perhaps significant that when the author of Seabirds of the World: An Identification Guide wanted a pelagic trip from Lima, Kolibri Expeditions and Gunnar Engblom was the outfitter he contacted.

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, you have the possibility to be able to go on our pelagic birding trips for the rest of your life for free.  We are investing in our own boat.  You can help us by becoming a member in:

Kolibri Expeditions VIP Club

Your contribution is:

500 US$

Seems like a lot of money?  By taking a few trips with us in Peru and elsewhere in South America, as Kolibri VIP you will regain you investment through a series of benefits. You don’t loose, we don’t have to borrow money and a permanent resource for nature lovers is created and puts Peru on the pelagic map. Here are the benefits:

  • One free space on a Lima pelagic once we have the boat that you can book on very short notice. You decide the date and we’ll run the pelagic – Value $175 to $1000  depending on the number of people taking part in the end.
  • One free space on a Lima pelagic/whalewatching trip any day of the year,  booked with minimum 9 months in advance. Value $175 to $1000  depending on the number of people taking part in the end.
  • Perpetually free 1 day pelagic/whalewatching on standby basis – this also applies if we arrange pelagic away from Lima.  Value $175 each time.
  • Perpetually 10% discount on all our tours – discounting the airfares and train tickets.  It will not only apply on Peru tours, but also on our international tours. On a two week tour this discount amounts to between $200-300
    We mostly do birdwatching tours, but we are also arranging standard nature tours and cultural tours.  Our activity is expanding also outside of Peru.
  • Perpetually free Lima day trips as long as there are 2 other paying clients.  Value around $150 per trip.

Read more about the background to this offer on this previous blogpost. It also relates to our environmental, conservation  and social commitment. The Special offer has been up for a while on my blog, but since this specific post directed to pelagic birders was published only today, the offer is extended to December 31, 2011.

Write me to sign up for the program or to ask questions how this can benefit you.

And don’t forget to let me know in the comments below which are your favorite seabirds off Lima? Do you coincide with me?

Top Photo: Waved Albatross. Photo: Gunnar Engblom
Google Buzz

Share with

Chumming on Pelagics

Gary Allport of Birdlife International recently placed a question on Seabird-News about chumming techniques to attract seabirds while doing pelagic birding. He was overwhelmed with replies and decided to summarize what he had learned in an article, which Gary has allowed to be shared and spread.  Therefore, his summary appears here in my blog. Thanks for sharing Gary.

General reviews and techniques

It seems that there are precious few actual written pieces on chumming, indeed the only two sources cited were Tony Pym’s posting of a floating chum block recipe and the piece on storm-petrel techniques in Bob Flood & Bryan Thomas’ excellent paper Identification of ‘black-and-white’ storm-petrels in Annexe 2 “Chum and chumming” (paper can be downloaded via the Scilly Pelagics website). I was also pointed to a useful discussion thread on BIrdforum .

Based on the fulsome thoughts of many I have pulled them together into the following groups of techniques:

  • Making a trail – dripping oil from a bottle, trailing chum in a mesh bag etc
  • Feeding – dead fish, frozen blocks etc
  • Holding birds as attractant
  • Using Dimethyl Sulphide

Plus some words of caution and trivia.

Some terms that Flood & Thomas (F&T) use which are good to keep for consistency are ‘Soft’ Chum, such as ground fresh fish, fish guts and livers, and ‘Hard’ chum such as fish bones and heads. Also “Chum-and-drift” the practice of working an area of sea using the wind or very slow steaming downwind to create a slick upwind and a scent trail downwind.

Making a trail

The method of attracting many seabirds to the boat for viewing is to use a combination of scent, slick and food items to lay a trail that draws birds and channels them into the boat. This can be done whilst steaming from place to place, or as a Chum-and-drift setup. The techniques are:

Oil bottle – in its simplest form this is done by punching a small hole into the base of a plastic water bottle full of fish oil and then tying some string around the neck and dangling it off the railings of the boat. There are more sophisticated versions using a pipe fixed into the neck of the bottle and a pinch bolt to regulate the flow but there were no mentions of write ups of exactly how to do this.

The quantities used seem to vary from several litres down to one pint for a day trip. I think this also reflects the type of oil used.

Many people use Cod Liver Oil (CLO) but there are lots of warnings that the CLO available for medicinal purposes are treated to remove the scent and are ineffective. No-one mentioned a good source of raw CLO, although some referred to Fish Oil Concentrate but it’s not clear what that is or how to get hold of it. Other fish oils mentioned were Tuna Oil and Menhaden Oil (Brian Patteson amongst others, mentions using the latter). Others use vegetable oil as a carrier or slick former, mixed either with CLO (3 litres CLO with 20 litres veg oil was one recipe) or with oils from tinned and bottled fishes. Anchovies, sardines and pilchards were mentioned although the general feeling was that these blends were not as effective as CLO. (One birder deliberately went out on an Anchovy fishing boat owner simply because he knew that the whole boat would form its own slick…). There is also a feeling from some that veg oils should never be used as they are not naturally occurring in the marine environment and their properties once mixed with seawater and cast onto birds’ plumage are unknown and could be harmful.

Soft chum – mashed fresh fish and oils mixed are trailed from the vessel when steaming or are used on a chum-and-drift. When steaming, frozen blocks are often trailed and these have a very high density of soft chum i.e. very little water frozen in, and are placed in a mesh bag (onion sacks were mentioned as good for this purpose by several people). In NZ the ‘Berley Bomb’, a commercially available grind up of salmon scraps frozen into 5kg blocks for fishing uses, works very well for this. Chunks of unfrozen soft chum are also used but it needs to be treble-bagged whilst steaming else it will all wash away very quickly. When adopting a chum-and-drift tactic for stormies then it is recommended to use unfrozen chum in a single bag secured just below the surface to create the slick (F&T). Fish livers also get special mention as they float and are especially attractive in their own right. These can be put whole into a mesh box (as is done off Kaikoura) or chopped up into tiny pieces (F&T) as part of the mix. Note that old or rotting fish is apparently not as attractive as fresh fish.

Popcorn is also used in the un/frozen blocks of soft chum either ground up into tiny pieces and infused with eau de chum thereby (F&T), or whole popcorn, mixed in and left to infuse of its own accord. The ground up popcorn is thought to carry the oil further on the surface and is apparently taken by storm petrels; it also has the advantage of attracting fewer gulls in this form if that’s what’s needed (see below). The intact popcorn also carries oil but less of it, is not taken by stormies but does attract gulls and several folk also mentioned that the pale floating grains help show up where the oil trail is lying when routing the boat back along existing oil trails, and in both finding and pointing out birds feeding along the trail. Rice bubbles and cornflakes have also been used but both seem to float below the surface film and drift less quickly than oil, get separated from the slick and so scatter the birds. Note that there are some who feel that any of these floating additives are not great for seabirds to eat, especially processed popcorn.

F&T highly recommend using a grinder to make soft chum. The exact details of the grinder are not given but heavy duty manual or motorized machines are available from the USA where it seems that there is a whole chum-based micro-industry – see for instance or . I think that these are just big meat grinders in truth so anything that’s used to make minced meat would do the trick I suspect.

Hard chum – a whole battery of fairly sordid things have been trailed behind boats in the name of slicking. Dead fish, especially large oily fishes which have been filleted, or just the heads, have been used with success. But there were also mentions of punctured sausages, beef suet, a rotting cabbage (not so stupid – see below) and a dead fulmar (well they are very oily and stinky…). One person mentioned following the slick from a dead Cuvier’s Beaked Whale. The key point though is that hard chum generally work best when the boat is steaming so that small chunks of chum get washed off and sit in the wake; not so good when the boat is at rest.

There were also the comments that laying trails only work in fairly calm sea conditions with light breezes that will carry the scent but not so rough that the oil slick gets dispersed too quickly before the birds get close enough. Note also you might have to wait 15-30 minutes before the first birds come gliding up the driftline.

Feeding birds

Food is generally used to bring birds closer in to the boat for closer and longer viewing – the holding of birds as an attractant in themselves is treated below.

Feeding of seabirds has been done in many, many different ways but mostly as some form of soft chum either thrown over the side or in mesh bags, wire mesh boxes etc. There are also the opportunistic approaches of other food sources such as trawlers or bait balls which are not covered here.

The main recent advance in this regard has been the use of soft chum frozen into blocks. This idea is mostly credited to Hadoram Shirihai and the most recent recipes used in the Pacific, and with further recommendations, are helpfully posted on Tony Pym’s website. However, a couple of people told me that shark divers have been using these frozen blocks for a very long time and they know them as “Chumsicles” (I was also told that chum is known as rubby-dubby by some shark fishers). The advantage of feeding with frozen blocks is that they can be made up so that they float so the food stays on the surface (most fish meat will quickly sink out of sight in sea water) and that the food will be gently dispersed over a period of time as the block defrosts. Birds can also feed directly off the chumsicle too, holding them close to the boat yet longer.

The key point here seems to be to ensure that there is a very large amount of freshwater used in the recipe in order to guarantee that the block will actually float when flung over the side. Several people reported that their lovingly made beautiful chumsicle simply sank like a stone into the depths much to their dismay. If fish dust and oil are used in the recipe then the chumsicle is quite light in itself and 25-30% water is fine but if pieces of fish and meal are used then there needs to be 50% freshwater plus 50% meal/pieces and oil to guarantee a floater. It was also pointed out that freshwater is less dense than seawater so do use fresh. 10-12 kilo blocks are recommended. The other point to think about before making the blocks is exactly how they will be carried onto the boat. Shaping them to fit into you cooler box is recommended! Also bag up and separate blocks in the cool box else they might all freeze together and then require hacking up on deck.

One other advantage of these blocks is that they are simple to use, less messy and smelly, and this can be helpful with certain boat owners who are not used to birders and their chums. To mention here also that a tarpaulin draped over the working area helps, and do take a pair of long arm rubber gloves to keep hands clean and so quickly free to grab the binocs.

The feeding technique is to drop a frozen block over the side then steam uplight and heave to at about 80 metres and wait. Birds will mostly come from downwind following the scent trail so note both wind direction and light carefully. Additional floating food such as livers or oil soaked popcorn can be tossed in once birds are around the boat. When birds are engaged in feeding from the block itself then closer approaches can be made.

The other food which I had never heard of as chum before is beef suet. This seems to work well since it floats, is cheap and easy to get hold of, is relatively easy to handle and can be used as either big blocks which birds have to come in to and tear pieces off, or cut right down to milled fine scale pieces which stormies like (Black, Leach’s and Band-rumped all mentioned, though Least did not take it). It does not carry scent so it needs to be used in tandem with other more smelly attractants.

Holding birds as an attractant

The above mentioned techniques will draw in many pelagic species which in themselves may help to attract other perhaps even more desirable birds. The key thing here is that both higher flying birds, which show above the horizon further away, and birds exhibiting feeding behaviours – hovering, dip diving or circling – will draw in birds that will not necessarily come to chum. Species mentioned were Skuas/Jaegers, several Pterodromas (Black-capped rarely comes to chum, Tahiti too).

It is clear that in some areas ‘less interesting’ species such as gulls or in some places frigates can be actively fed and thus held behind the boat for longer, indeed in the case of some gulls they can be drawn well offshore and kept by the boat to act as attractants. Popcorn and bread thrown from the back of the boat, actively feeding such species (on some pelagic trips there is a designated person simply doing this) to keep them tagging along helps to maintain a clamour of birds around the boat. In most circumstances this is thought to work well but there are certain circumstances where there are mixed views on this. Some people said that gulls, in particular, deter certain storm petrels and also some of the smaller alcids like Cassin’s Auklet, Xantus Murrelet.

Dimethyl Sulphide

I was rather surprised by the strong and uniformly negative response to my enquiry on this. Having looked at the paper on Tony Pym’s website (Nevitt & Bonadonna. here ) I was assuming that someone would have sussed out how to use it productively, but everyone who responded said that it is tricky to get hold of and only comes in a highly concentrated form. The liquid itself is quite dangerous and can apparently damage human sense of smell and it is supposed that it may have negative effects on birds (F&L). The recommendation is to steer clear.

I guess many of these problem are to do with the concentration of the DMS supplied commercially and having looked at the paper on Tony’s site it seems it does not easily dilute. The authors used Ethylene Glycol (best known as car antifreeze) to dilute it but there was no talk of its properties in oil. One person pointed out that it is widely used in the perfume industry and is the source of the smell of cabbage, indeed apparently the smell of cooked and rotting cabbage is actually DMS and one person even tried cabbage at sea but with no results (rotted and trailed). It sounds mad but one wonders if boiled cabbage steeped in oil might work?!

Some words of caution

There were wise words of caution expressed in some of the emails. Several stressed that chum is an attractant to things other than seabirds especially sharks and in certain places sea lions. The latter can be overzealous and are a potential hazard when in a small boat.

The other point is to please bear in mind the sensitivity of the birds especially when near to colonies and especially chumming breeding birds etc. Carrying gulls behind a boat out to a breeding island of vulnerable breeding species was also a caution expressed.

Trivia – chumming for the land-based seawatcher

I was also reminded of a hair-brained scheme mentioned in one of Anthony McGeehan’s articles, in Dutch Birding I think. He described a conversation with an old Irish coastal seawatcher who concocted the notion of “The Chum Cannon”. The idea was to fire a packet of chum offshore into an onshore wind, in order to bring seabirds, especially stormies, closer inshore of the seawatching point as the slick drifted closer on the breeze. At the time of the article I don’t think frozen chum had been thought of so the problem posed was how to propel what would effectively be a liquid – but with modern day thinking the concept of the frozen chum projectile might be a reality…

So I hope that that is a useful pull together of ideas. I am conscious that there are still quite a few things not covered, like recipes for chum and more of the actual practicalities (where do you get raw CLO? Can anyone recommend a specific chum grinder? etc) but as I say I hope that this helps to be going on with. It has certainly given me plenty of food for thought before heading off from Maputo again.

Finally Check out  Lima pelagics.





Google Buzz

Share with

Star-spangled Pelagic

Join the 8000 club for a Lima Pelagic

Hornby's Strom Petrel. Photo Gunnar Engblom

Hornby's or Ringed Storm Petrel. Photo Gunnar Engblom

It is not often I find a reason to write a blog post about a pelagic trip, before it actually happens. But on this trip, there is a reason. Some of the participants on this shine more than the birds we will be seeing. There are several participants who have seen more than 8000 species in the world. There are experienced Peru birders. There is a former Vice minister of Tourism. Some renowned bird illustrators and one famous author and photographer.  Are you intrigued?

Let me make a small presentation of the birding stars that shine brighter than the birds on this pelagic.

  • Hadoram Shirihai. With books such as The Complete Guide to Antarctic Wildlife and  Whales, Dolphins, and Other Marine Mammals of the World Hadoram has earned a place as an authority among seabirders. Additionally, he is now in Peru to do a photographic expedition with Kolibri Expedition in his quest to photograph 7000 species of birds for the book in production with Hans Jörnvall “The photographic guide to the birds of the world”. I interviewed Hadoram in this blogpost regarding the re-discovery of Fiji Petrel.
  • David Beadle is a British Bird Illustrator living in Canada for many years and has illustrated work such as Birds of Chile and Warblers of the Americas.   Currently he is finishing a book on Moths of NE North America and illustrating Birds of Brazil.
  • Eustace Barnes another British bird illustrator who made major contribution to Field Guide to the Birds of Peru and Pigeons and Doves: A Guide to the Pigeons and Doves of the World will also be onboard
  • Barry Walker – owner of Manu Expeditions and the person who has seen most bird species in Peru – close to 1700 species.
  • Hugh Buck -Currently number 3 in the world with a world list of  8523 species.  My guess is that Hugh is after Markham’s Storm-Petrel or Ringed Storm-Petrel.
  • Phil Rostron another Brit in the 8000 club number 4 in the world with 8430 species.
  • Pablo Lopez de Romaña – former Vice Minister of Tourism in Peru

And then there are other well known world birders that you may have met in the field or heard about. Brian Beers, Neal Clarke, Pearl Jordan, JOhn Pennhallurik., Mark Eaton, Lieven de Temmerman and many more.

Oh yes, guess who is guiding? ME! (HELLLLLLPPPP!!!!). Not at all intimidating. I will find some corner to creap into and hide!

We have room for yet a few birders if there is someone keen on joining on Oct 2. We shall do an early start at 5 AM to have some additional time at our chumming spot. Next Pelagic is planned on Oct 4 (full) and on November 13 and November 26. Hope to see you.

Last Pelagic

To wet your appetite what we will see below follows the result from the last pelagic on Sep 25. Here are some of the highlights. I did not fill in the names yet. See if you can ID them?

Google Buzz

Share with

Some tricky ID:s on our last Pelagic Sep 25.

Sorry folks. Here are some eally poor pictures from the last pelagic on Sep 25, 2010 and some nuts to crack. I will be very pleased and honored for your help to solve the riddles.

South Polar Skua?

South Polar Skua I presume 25 Sep 2010. Gunnar Engblom.

South Polar Skua I presume 25 Sep 2010. Gunnar Engblom.


Salvins or Chatham Island ALabtross Sep 25 2010. Photo: GUnnar Engblom

Salvins or Chatham Island Albatross Sep 25 2010. Photo: Gunnar Engblom

I would have said Salvin’s by default, since the lack of yellow orange on the bill? But could it be a very young Salvin’s?

Salvins or Chatham Island Albatross. Photo: GUnnar Engblom

Please leave comments in the discussion below.

Google Buzz

Share with

Pelagics in Lima

New setup for Lima Pelagics

Swallow-tailed Gull. Creagrus furcatus. Photo: Gunnar Engblom.

Swallow-tailed Gull. Creagrus furcatus. Photo: Gunnar Engblom.

We have had some great pelagics in Lima the last couple of months.  I shall soon list the highlights, but before that I would like to talk a bit about our current pelagic strategy. Up till now we have used comfortable, but teadiously slow boats, doing a mere 7-8 knots, and taking up to 5 hours to reach the continental shelf.  We have also used open speed boats in past for smaller groups,  but the lack of a toilet and old engines, made this solution less desirable.  However, since August we have operated with a larger speedboat with permit for 30 people seated, with small groups up to 12 passengers.  It has a toilet and 2 brand new 100hp engines – and it cruise at 12- 16knots. There is a risk of getting sprayed if there is a lot of wind, but thus far on the two trips on August 9 and today September 9 – this has not been a problem.

In reality, the risk of getting wet does not deter birders in other famous pelagic hotspots around the world such as North Carolina and Cape Town. The Pacific in Peru is relatively calm (sic), there are rarely such conditions that we have to cancel the trip.  The important part is to be prepared. Rain Poncho and protection for the camera are necessary precautions.

If the group size is larger than 12, we shall use the large Catamaran with permit to take 90 passengers. We limit it the groups to  around 30 passengers. The Catamaran is slow, but for the upcoming Oct 2 pelagic there we shall do an earlier start at 5 AM and also go on until dusk, to allow slightly longer time at deep water.

Winter in Lima = Cold water

We have had a fantastic winter in Lima. Colder than usual. Some say it is la Niña, which is the opposite of El Niño bring cold and damp weather to Lima. The temperature of the sea has been lower than usual, and this brings good cold water loving species.  The cold water is full of nutrients and oxygene, which is the backbone of plankton production and in ende higher up through the foodchain eventually feeds the millions of seabirds in the Humboldt current. Exploding life!

Here are some of the highlights seen this winter. Click on the thumbnail to see the larger photo. Pass the cursor over the photo to see the name. First I have added the photo’s from the September 9, trip, but I shall add photos from the other departures during the week. Enjoy – and  come back later.

Google Buzz

Share with

So what is this then?

Possible Gray-headed Albatross. Photo Gunnar Engblom

Yesterday, we made an excellent pelagic from Lima. We thought we recorded three species of Albatross, but after reviewing some photos we discovered that two of the called Salvin’s Albatross were in fact Chatham Island Albatross. This is only the second third confirmed record from our Lima pelagics. Here are some photos on our Facebook page.

But what follows are four photos of an individual on the water that I had ID:ed tentatively as Black-browed as default, but I wonder if it could in fact be a Gray-headed Albatross. There has been cautionary notes about ID:ing Gray-headed Alabtross in tropical waters. Alvaro Jaramillo made a note about this fact in the Neotropical Birding article about the birds of the Humboldt Current. The species has been taken off the SACC approved Peru list, due to lack of tangible evidence.

On some of the earlier pelagic expeditions I did from 1998-2002, there are sight records put down as Grey-headed Albatross, but without photographic records and no detailed notes, it is impossible to give any verification of these records. I was not a very experienced seabirder then.

So humbly I present four photos that at least to me indicate some signs of  being a juvenile Gray-headed Albatross turning into immature plumage.

  • Smudgy gray head
  • very dark bill
  • on-start to collar
  • large black eyepatch
  • almost all black underwing

UPDATE: Turns out it was Black-browed Albatross after all. See comments below.

Possible Gray-headed Albatross. Photo Gunnar Engblom

Possible Gray-headed Albatross. Photo Gunnar Engblom

Possible Gray-headed Albatross. Photo Gunnar Engblom

Black-browed Albatross after all

I am very thankful for the comments supplied by Alvaro Jaramillo, Brian Patteson and Chris Robertson for the kind comments they have given.  Truth is that the literature is quite misleading when it comes to identify immature and juvenile Gray-headed Albatross and this is probably the reason why there are so many sight records without proper documentation.

Chris Robertson: You have a juvenile-sub adult Black browed albatross (Thalassarche melanophrys). The culmen and bill plates are definitive as are the eyebrow and neck collar.

Alvaro Jaramillo (Field Guides): This is a young Black-browed. Grey-headed will be much darker headed, with a restricted white throat and cheek area that stands out. They have all dark bills, not the bicolored darker tipped look of young Black-brows. Here is a photo of the northernmost confirmed record we have yet from Chile (Valparaiso).

Gray-headed Albatross juv. Valparaiso. Photo: Alvaro JaramilloGray-headed Albatross juv in flight. Photo: Alvaro Jaramillo

Brian Patteson: In these albatrosses, the bills start dark and lighten up, so juvies should have the darkest bills of all.  And when it comes to books about seabirds, they aren’t always right- even the new ones.  All of the young Gray-headeds I have seen had much darker heads.  Anyhow, here is one in a photo from Drake Pasage.

Gray-headed Albatross in flight. Drake Passage. Photo Brian Patteson.

Thanks Brian, Alvaro and Chris for comments and photos. The have made me little wiser.

Google Buzz

Share with

This one got away!

Red-legged Cormorant. Photo: Gunnar Engblom

Red-legged Cormorant. Photo: Gunnar Engblom

For November 18 there were 8 people ready to do a pelagic tour, but no matter how hard I tried, there was no boat suitable to take us. There are only three boat owning companies that have permits to operate with tourists in Lima.  One boat was too large – and weeks before the trip already occupied, the boat we have used in the past has propulsion problems and been in dock several times the last year, but seems never to get it fixed. For this particular departure, we were told it should be ready…..but alas it wasn’t. The third company has open speed boats without toilet.  We got very wet the last time last year –  my camera was destroyed. It was my last resort and certainly not my favorite substitute. But that did not work either. One idea remained, to go to Paracas and charter an open boat there, but it meant a surcharge at around 100 dollars per person, and some people in the group were not prepared to take that.

So we ended up doing a short trip to the sea-lion colony on a nearby islet called Palomino. Not what we expected. One passenger asked whether to bring bread crums for the ducks in the pond.

End result: very common birds photographed  and, as I blogged about the other day,  two good ID-nuts to crack – a Skua and two Terns (now supplied with comments from Alvaro Jaramillo). I also already ranted about how eco-tourism should not be carried out in my blogpost about Swimming with the sealions  in  Until Jaws or Willy comes along.

We also visited the excellent Poza Arenilla mudflats at la Punta  before the boat trip. On the way there we stopped at a recently reliable stake-out for Peruvian Thick-knee along “La Costanera” highway.  The boat-trip was pleasant and the Pisco Sours small but repeated!

Peruvian Thickknee.

Peruvian Thickknee. Photo: Gunnar Engblom

Here is a sample of the birds we did see, which hardly made up for not seeing all those tube-noses we did not see, but at least gave us a pleasant days birding.  Three of the people asigned to the pelagic cancelled. When you want tubenoses, you want tubenoses. It is not negotiable!
But the Chilean Skua and the South American Terns were good.

Google Buzz

Share with

Short-tailed Albatross and White-chinned Petrel found on two recent pelagics.

White-chinned Petrel

White-chinned Petrel. Photographed in Peru by Gunnar Engblom

Alvaro Jaramillo is one hell of a birder. Born in Chile, but grew up in Toronto where he started birding and eventually specialized on Icterids leading to the publication of New World Blackbirds The Icterids with Peter Burke. A major milestone was his book together with Peter Burke and David Beadle on the Birds of Chile (Princeton Field Guides). He is particularly fund of seabird and have lead numerous pelagics on the Humboldt Current, Antartica  and in Californa. He is a popular guide for Field Guides. He lives with his family in Half Moon Bay, California. Alvaro is also one hell of a nice guy. I am much obliged for a half day he took me birding when visiting California several years back.
Recently, he struck gold as he was leading pelagic birdwatching tours off his home of Half Moon bay organized by Sequoia Audubon Society when the California’s first White-chinned Petrel was found and photographed. The week before Short-tailed Albatross was seen.  He posted a note on BirdChat of his encounters which presently can be found on  He writes:

I had the pleasure of being on a superb pelagic trip right out in my backyard, off Half Moon Bay, California yesterday. Sequoia Audubon Societyorganized this fantastic, trip – thanks Jennifer Rycenga and Gary Deghi for helping to put this together. To give you all some background, I have lived here over a dozen years and we have not had any pelagic trips until last week when the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory organized one as a fundraiser. This trip ended up finding three species of albatross, Black-footed, Laysan and the ultra rare Short-tailed Albatross.

Short-tailed Albatross. Photo: Alvaro Jaramillo.

Short-tailed Albatross. Photo: Alvaro Jaramillo.

The latter is a highly endangered with just over 2000 individuals. The Japanese are trying to establish the albatross on several other islands to minimize the chance of the entire breeding population being wiped out by volcanic activity or a typhoon. The bird we saw was one of these translocated albatrosses which was sporting a satellite transmitter! It has been great fun learning more about the travels of this bird from the researchers, as well as its history. Amazingly we saw it off central California and a week later it was off Vancouver Island in BC! When they want to move, they go.

We thought there was no way to top last Sunday’s trip, yet we did! Amazingly just after lunch time we saw a dark chocolate colored bird with pale bill that was coming up behind the boat. Obviously, in California waters the default should be Flesh-footed Shearwater as the only thing that fits that general description. But it looked off, as it came in closer, and it became clear that this was a petrel in the genus Procellaria. It was too bulky, with a short tail, thick-neck and had the fulmar-like quality of  looking down at an angle rather than keeping the bill straight ahead as in shearwaters. The default then becomes Parkinson’s Petrel which has been seen in California, but that was wrong too!! This bird was too big, larger than Pink-footed Shearwater and had a dull yellow bill all the way to the tip. I have to admit that I had absolute goose bumps when I realized that this was a White-chinned Petrel, a species I know well from South America – but in California! We were wonderfully fortunate that the bird chose to do some close passes by the boat, and that with some quick chumming from Phil the deckhand we were able to get it interested enough in us to park itself on the water behind the boat. At this point all participants were able to have a look at the bird, and take in the features we were calling out to identify it. As well there were plenty of cameras on board and the bird was duly documented.

White-chinned Petrel. Photo: Alvaro Jaramillo.

White-chinned Petrel. Photo: Alvaro Jaramillo.

More photos of mine can be found on my web-page. Also have a look at these better photos from John Sterling and Kris Olson.

If accepted by the California Bird Records Committee this will become the first for the state. Not only that, it is only the second for the continent. The first being a bird found moribund on the Texas coast which was taken to a rehab place. The bird was photographed, and actually identified years later as being a White-chinned Petrel rather than a Sooty Shearwater as it was identified at the time. This Texas record has been contentious as the petrel is a real cold water species, and Texas waters do not offer it the habitat it prefers. Suggestions were made that it may have been a bird brought in on a ship from the south, or at least ship assisted. No one will ever know of course what the history of the Texas bird really was. But it sure is nice to find a White-chinned Petrel in cold California waters, side by side with species like the Pink-footed Shearwater which share its habitat in the Humboldt Current off Chile and Peru.

This was one of those amazing birding moments, when all came together and we connected with a great bird which just brought absolute happiness to our gang of birders. We marveled at the bird and reflected how when trying to explain to a non-birder what is so exciting about birding, how attempting to explain this particular exciting moment in our birding lives would be difficult. All of that ocean, so much of it, and one White-chinned Petrel happened to cross to the wrong hemisphere and we just happened to be where it was, the chances of that encounter boggle the mind. But it happened, and wonderful things of all types happen when birding. Aren’t we lucky we have this hobby?

I had to ask Alvaro:
Gunnar: Did you ever think that the area could be so good, did you have a hunch or was it a complete surprise to you?

Alvaro: I figured it would be good as it is good to the north and to the south, I just wondered how easy it would be to get to the shelf given weather and winds. Thus far it has not ben too bad.

Anyone wanting to do a pelagic from Half Moon Bay this weekend should contact Debra Shearwater. The Saturday trip is sold out, but there is still space on the Sunday departure.

Google Buzz

Share with

White-chinned Petrel in California.

White-chinned Petrel, Lima, Peru. Oct 22, 2006Only second record to the ABA area and the first record for California, the White-chinned Petrel Procellaria aequinoctialis is a Mega bird in North America, in spite being quite common as migrant bird in the Southern seas. In Peru it is seen regularly on our pelagics in spite that birds visiting us in Peru breed in New Zealand and sub-antartic islands.

The California bird was seen and photographed in Half Moon Bay, San Mateo off the continental shelf on Oct 18 a pelagic trip organized by Sequoia Audubon Society. Good birds have been showing in Half Moon Bay lately. Alvaro Jaramillo reported on a Short-tailed Albatross the other day – with a satellite transmitter on its back!! Amazing.

Here are two galleries to with pics of the Petrel.

Extraordinary pelagics in the area are now being planned. There should be a lot of birders in the US, that want this bird on their ABA lists.

Photo above taken in Peru 22 Oct 2006 by Gunnar Engblom

Google Buzz

Share with