Newsletter from Gunnar Engblom

This is a very exciting newsletter with10 topics, for example The-Best-Bird-of-the-World Cup, an attempt to break the Big DAY World Record, the Future of Birdwatching, How to Niche an Ecolodge into a Birding Lodge, stunning Bird Photography from Peru by Glenn Bartley and several articles from Peru about our recent AvistarPeru event in Lima, Pelagics, Whalewatching, the popular selection of a New National Bird of Peru, etc.

It is a bit long to read completely, so I have done teasers so you can click through to get the full story for each article. Mark this mail to read it later and please consider sending it forward to a birding friend. I hope you like it.

TIP: If you use lots of different devices, such as Ipad, laptop and a smartphone with Internet I suggest you try Instapaper which works like magic to transform web-pages to reader-friendly articles you can save for later reading across the devices.



1. Bird World Cup

Make sure you follow this exciting December game to choose the Ultimate Bird of the World.  Right now we are playing Quarter finals.  The games are as follows:

  • Spoon-billed Sandpiper vs Kakapo
  • Marvelous Spatuletail vs Wandering Albatross
  • Harpy Eagle vs Wilson’s Bird-of-Paradise
  • Philippine Eagle vs Shoebill

How can one choose, when they all are good birds.  And why was your favorite missing? It didn’t make through round 2 (where you can see photos of all) last week nor the Facebook filter the week before.  Yet, here we are with 8 matches played and entering the quarterfinals.  Vote HERE!

2. The biggest Day

Ted Parker in action by Haroldo Castro.It is soon 30 years since legendary Neotropical superbirder Ted Parker set the amazing record of 331 species in 24h at Cocha Cashu together with Scott Robinson.

The year was 1982. Scott has later told me that they had around 300 species already by 11 AM, and that they from then on searched for more birds rather casually.

They did not have access to terra firme and did not use motorized vehicles. The record was beaten in Kenya by  John Fanshawe and Terry Stevenson who recorded 342 birds on a single day, but also using light aircraft.

I have often thought that these records could be beaten in Peru with modern playback equipment. This year it will happen.  In fact there shall be a competition between the US and Peru in September 2012 at Explorer’s Inn. BirdingBlogs’ Rich Hoyer is on the US team and I am on the Peru team.  The whole thing shall likely be filmed by Adventure Birding TV. Read more about this birding event of the year on……
Maybe you want to join us?

3. The future of birding

I am wondering if traditional birding as we birders knows it really has a future.  You know, the whole listing game and the finer arts of bird identification.  Are Big Days or Big Years really that interesting to people in general?  Is twitching? Can birding really become main stream, and will listing be interesting enough for masses of people?  The only thing regarding watching birds that seems to become main stream is bird feeding, and hard-line birders argue that that is not really birding.

Did you ever wonder why there are more hunters in the world than birders? Why are there more people interested in fishing than in birding?  For all I know, there are probably even more stamp-collectors than birders.

Maybe that is the point. Birding is just a collection of observations. At the end of the day, you only write down in a notebook (or insert in a database) your observations – and if you are really lucky, you can put a tick in the check box in a yearlist or a lifelist or next to the bird’s name in the birdbook.

Take a look at yourself, and try to explain to a non-birder, that that is really exciting. A hunter or a fisherman at least gets a trophy. A stamp collector at least has the actual stamps. But YOU, what do YOU have?  You have a tick in a checklist!  Try to explain to the non-birder, that this really is more exciting than train spotting.
Read the rest of this article on

4. Jaw dropping bird photography from Peru by Glenn Bartley

Once in a while you come across bird photography that is so jaw-dropping that you simply want to throw your camera to the floor in dispair and scream “I need a new camera with a longer lens, more megapixels and a flash as strong as sunlight”.  Then  you buy a new camera only to realize that the results are still not what you wanted.  The simple truth is of course that you suck as a bird photographer.

Glenn Bartley is a professional photographer, who just returned from a 3 month trip in Peru, and has produced the best set of photos from Peru I have ever seen. Not only of common species, but some that are rarely photographed. The Long-whiskered Owlet for example at the top of this post, is of a species so rare that it has only been documented with some shaky video and a few half decent shots. I have only seen the bird once, and then it was a dark object flying from one perch to another without actually seeing the bird sitting.  That is all, after some 5-6 tries for the species.

Fortunately, for those of us who suck, Glenn organizes bird photography workshop in the Neotropics. I was fortunate enough to get Glenn to agree on an interview for Birdingblogs and I am allowed to share some of his amazing photos from Peru.  Check out the  rest of the interview with Glenn Bartley on Check this video too

5. How to niche a nature lodge to a birding lodge.

Ten years ago, the Wattled Curassow was thought to be practically extirpated from Peru. Then came rumors of sightings by fishermen from the fishing village of San Juan de Yanayacu. All of a sudden the Wattled Curassow was not only present in Peru, but in fact quite accessible.

Of the three areas in South American where you can spot one, Yanayacu is the easiest.  In Bolivia it is a very  long journey and at the site in the Brazilian Amazon, the birds are difficult to see.  So for a very special birds and a fantastic Varzea/Igapó experience the Yanayacu area has a secure place for visiting birders in the future.

I visited Amazon Refuge Lodge on Yanayacu. They have initiated a new program to turn the eco-lodge into a birding lodge with a 10 step program recounted here.  The strategy can be used for any lodge really. Check out 10 ways to turn an eco-lodge into a birding lodge.

6. Avistar Peru

I already talked about Avistar in the last newsletter that ran Nov 2-6, 2011.  just wanted to make a fast recap of the event.  It lasted 3 days in Miraflores. We had several excursions to near and afar. At least 5000 people attended the fair. 192 photographers participated in the bird photo contest.  Here you find the 10 best photos in the dslr category and in the compact camera categories.  Around 380 people went birding, most who had never been birding before.  We got quite good media coverage and we formed a small group of people who go birding together in the weekends.

Birding in Peru shall grow much in the way I discussed in “the future of birding” above. We can already see how people enjoy to share photos on the newly created groups and

7. Peru’s national bird

Cock of the Rock IMG_8495 Gunnar EngblomUnofficially Cock of the Rock is the national bird of Peru, but it has never been established by congress or a presidential decree.  This void can be used to start debate in Peru  about the virtues of electing a new bird as national for the sake of conservation, of environmental education and simply as a tourist attraction.

The top seeded candidates in the first round are Marvelous Spatuletail, Condor, Cock of the Rock, Inca Tern and Junin Grebe.  Check out all 10 candidates on AvistarPeru (in Spanish).

By bashing up interest on Facebook, we hope that in the next stage we can present the idea to PromPeru (the state tourism agency) and Sernanp (the conservation agency) and the biggest newspaper in Peru and with their help take the contest with the 5 top candidates to the next level. In a similar program in Taiwan they got over 1 million votes between five candidates.  It would surely be a great publicity scoop for the birds of Peru when this happens. If you like to vote in the first round, check out the Facebook Question and vote.

8. Whalewatching in Lima

Peru is really megadiverse for Cetaceans. If you’re fascinated with whales and dolphins, and live off a coastline that harbors over a third of all cetacean species in the world , you’d be crazy not trying to go out there and see them. If you don’t live here, let me introduce you to 15 species you can see off Peru. Maybe, you’d like to come to Peru and see some of them. Check out the rest of this post if you like dolphins and whales.

9. 20 best pelagic birds of Lima, part 1

Ringed-Storm-Petrel-Oceanodroma-hornbyi Gunnar EngblomAbove is one of the most sought by the pelagic fanatics. The Ringed Storm-Petrel (aka as Hornby’s Storm-Petrel). We present the 10 best birds here, and hope that you can name the remaining ten for part 2, by adding your favorites to the list.

10. Kolibri Expeditions 2012

Finally a few sentances about Kolibri Expeditions programs in 2012. First of all until Dec 31, 2011, we are starting the VIP club.  For a contribution of $500 VIP club members get 10% off on all tours and several free daytrips in Lima, including pelagics, starting in 2012 for as long as they live. The $500 will be invested in infrastructure  for birders in Peru.  Hurry up, the offer ends on 31st of Decmeber.  Read more about it here.

Even if you don’t want to join the VIP club at this point, but still concider coming on a trip with us in 2012, do check out our tour Calendar. If you  order your trip with a deposit before Dec 31, you are entitled to our low 2011 prices. The calendar has many intersting trips such as Central Peru and Northern Peru with Marvelous Spatuletail coming up.  There are even trips to Argentina (Patagonia) and Chile with Juan Fernandez archipelago in this years program.

Finally, wishing everyone Merry Christmas – somewhat embarrising, but I wanted to offer you something really special – me singing, or whatever you shall call it.. so please don’t laugh.
This is for you! Merry Christmas!

Photo credits: Long-whiskered Owlet and Common Potoo Glenn Bartley, Marvelous Spatuletail by Roger Ahlman, Ted Parker photo by Haroldo Castro, Peruvian Birders by Barbara J. Fraser all other photos by Gunnar Engblom. All rights reserved.
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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
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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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

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Tony Pym reports from the Fiji Petrel Expedition.

With an attempt to put some content on my always too unfrequent blog, I have decided to share birding news that come my way. I have previously posted to posts on this fascinating expedition. The first was a summery of the planning and execution of the discovery of Fiji Petrel.  The second an interview with the expedition leaders Hadoram Shirihai and Tony Pym.

Here is a report from Tony Pym from the The Fiji Petrel Expedition published on the listserver Seabird-News on Sep 18 of significant sightings recorded between May 12-22, 2009 near Gau island.  Observers were Hadoram Shirihai, Tony Pym, Joerg Kretzschmar and Dick Watling.  The records clearly indicate why the observers consider this marine area a new and important hotspot for seabirds.

MURPHY’S PETREL: One photographed on 16 May. There are no known records from Fiji and the literature suggests this record is also the first for the Western Pacific. This is an extraordinary record of vagrancy for a species that breeds no closer than the western Tuamotu Archipelago (2,000 km. to the east of Fiji), with usual migration to the north and east of the breeding islands.

KERMADEC PETREL: Birds varied from very pale to all dark. We observed this species in 2005, 2008 and 2009 and believe it to be regular in Fiji waters, and that it may breed.

PHOENIX PETREL: One, on 21 May, is apparently the first confirmed record for Fiji waters.

MOTTLED PETREL: This long-distance migrant moves from breeding grounds in New Zealand to the North Pacific, but has seldom been recorded in Fiji waters. It was seen (and photographed) almost daily during the expedition in 2009.

WHITE-NECKED PETREL: One briefly inspected the chum on 18 July 2008. The bird might have been a Vanuatu Petrel P. occulta, although it was seen alongside several other species and considered too large. Both species can be expected in Fiji waters.

BLACK-WINGED PETREL: Two; one in heavy moult (14 May), the other fresh plumage (16 May). The species’ status is uncertain in Fiji waters, where it is little known, despite breeding as close as New Caledonia, Tonga and the Kermadec Islands.

GOULD’S PETREL: A few seen, almost daily during the expedition, amongst the many P. brevipes, with which it was considered conspecific in the past. All were P. l. caledonica. The paucity of records in Fiji waters may be attributable to a lack of knowledge in separating it from pale-phase P. brevipes. The possibility that P. leucoptera also breeds in Fiji cannot be excluded as apart from New Caledonia, Cabbage Tree Island (NSW, Australia), and possibly Vanuatu, the species has now been found breeding far to the east, in south-east (French) Polynesia (Bretagnolle et al. in prep.).

COLLARED PETREL: Numbers increased during the late afternoons, suggesting most were breeding birds returning to Gau. 10% were the dark-bellied morph.

TAHITI PETREL: The most frequent petrel. Most are believed to breed in northern Fiji e.g. on Taveuni.

PARKINSON’S (BLACK) PETREL: Our observation on 17 May, of this New Zealand endemic breeder, is the first for Fiji waters.

CHRISTMAS (KIRITIMATI) SHEARWATER: A bird seen en route to Gau, 12 May, is the second for Fiji waters.

WEDGE-TAILED SHEARWATER: Breeds on many islands in Fiji, but relatively few seen (c. 30), all were dark morph, and we are unaware of pale forms in the region.

BULLER’S SHEARWATER: Observed on two days during the 2009 expedition – only three previous records in Fiji waters.

SOOTY SHEARWATER: Few seen on most days during the expedition. Some showed quite dark underwings, had apparently short bills, and their feet projected beyond the tail in flight. We mistook some as Short-tailed Shearwaters, and these odd birds require future attention. Both shearwaters are regular in Fiji waters.

FLESH-FOOTED SHEARWATER: Surprisingly, our 21 May sighting is only the second in Fiji waters; the first was a bird captured off Gau, also this year (February 2009).

WILSON’S STORM PETREL: Observed on four days, always at the chum.

WHITE-FACED STORM PETREL: A single on 16 May had the pale, virtually whitish-grey, rump
usually associated with P. (m). albiclunis,  which breeds on the Kermadec Islands, New Zealand and possibly Norfolk Island, Australia.

WHITE-BELLIED STORM PETREL: We photographed the first for Fiji waters, in July 2008, off Taveuni Island.

BLACK-BELLIED STORM PETREL: One on 16 May at the chum, the second confirmed record in Fiji waters.

POLYNESIAN STORM PETREL: This attractive storm petrel was first recorded in Fiji from a bird taken on the nest in September 1876 on Kadavu Island. There were no further confirmed records until 19 July 2008 when we photographed a bird at chum, and then another was seen on 14 May 2009.

MATSUDAIRA’S STORM PETREL: The first record for Fiji waters of this Japanese breeder (and Indo-Pacific migrant) was on 13 May. The closest region from where the species is regular is the Bismarck Archipelago, Papua New Guinea.

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Fiji Petrel Interview.

Fiji Petrel. First photograph. The Tubenose project. Hadoram Shirihai.

Fiji Petrel. First photograph. The Tubenose project. Hadoram Shirihai.

I am pleased to announce a short interview with the main players of the recent discovery at sea of Fiji Petrel that I reported last week.  Both Had0ram Shirihai and Tony Pym have kindly answered my questions. I meant to send this earlier, but had to leave for Cuzco for a few days.
If you have additional questions to ask Hadoram and Tony, please put them in the comment field and I will forward them.

Hadoram Shirihai (47)

In November 2007  Hadoram Shirihai re-discovered and photographed Beck’s Petrel in the Bismark Archipelago.  Again, he is the main executor of a new major seabird discovery as the news and photos of  Fiji Petrel circulated around the world  yesterday. He has an impressive track record of excellent, very thorough and well researched books already published, such as being author or co-author of major birding literature such as Birds of Israel , Sylvia Warblers and The Macmillan Birder’s Guide to European and Middle Eastern Birds.
In the mid 90’s he started getting more focused on seabirds his extensive travels in the southern seas culminated with the definite reference and guide book for Antarctica and the seabirds in the vicinity with the publication of The complete guide to Antartic wildlife in 2001 with a revised and extended second edition 2008. His travels over the seven seas also resulted in an authoritative guide for marine mammals: Whales, Dolphins, and Other Marine Mammals of the World (Princeton Field Guides)

Hadoram has several on-going book project such as Photographic Handbook for Western Palearctic Birds with Lars Svensson, Photographic Handbook of Birds of the World with Hans Jörnvall for which Hadoram himself has to provide around 5000 species  and the definite work on seabirds that all seabird fanatics are waiting for The Tubenose project. It is this latest project that drives Hadoram to make these far-flung expeditions to search for and photograph seabirds rarely or never previously photographed.

The natural question for seabird “locos” like myself. When is the book coming out, Hadoram?

It probably will be ready for publication in 3 to 4 years, depending when John Cox will end his great plates, but in the meantime Vincent Bretagnolle (my co-author) and I are working on the text, more photo/chumming expeditions and on publication of c. 10 scientific papers… Good books takes time to make, you have to wait if you want a good one… Tony will be happy to answer your other questions.  I am on my way to Brazil…

Hadoram native of Jerusalem, Israel, travels for around 5-6 months per year for his book projects and nowadays calls Zurich, Switzerland his home is coming to Peru next year to continue his photographic work for the Photographic Handbook of the Birds of the World. Kolibri Expeditions is getting the privilege to make all the logistical set-ups.

Tony Pym

Tony Pym is senior guide for Ornitholidays and guide many of their pelagic cruises. He is well renowned among pelagic birders and shares a lot of his sightings and news on the list servers  specialized on pelagics. He also has an excellent web-page on Seabirds and Cetaceans. Since Hadoram is travelling Tony kindly answered my remaining questions.
After the aborted expedition in 2008, how sure were you that you were to try again?

After the problems in 2008, if anything this made us more determined to get back to the area. In fact, there were many more problems than solely mechanical problems with the boat but these are for a future chat, not publication! It was very frustrating for us after much planning to be leaving the South Pacific last year, seeing such good birds in the few days and believing the Fiji Petrel was there, somewhere waiting to be seen. After much discussion between the team we decided on a different timing, the dates being co-ordinated between us with particular reference to the possible breeding season. The paper outlines much more about this and the reasons for working given sea areas.

Was it hard to get paying members to the two expeditions in 2008 and 2009?
There are few amateur seabird enthusiasts who wish to be at sea continuously searching for petrels, and have the money also for the travel and real costs. We needed this money up-front also, so that the boat could be charted and other accommodation/logistics put into place in advance of our arrival. The cost was equally shared, with hopes of some refunds from both company and private support, including that from the main conservation societies (listed in the scientific paper).

How did you manage to keep quiet since May and why?
The team agreed an embargo; to not release any photos or information from seeing the first bird to actual publication of the paper. Everyone had to keep to this for maximum impact on a given date (that day was 11 September). Any release of a photo could take away from both the paper and the announcement.

Was there any particular reason why the announcement comes with the publication?
The BOC agreed that the paper was of sufficient importance for its next issue, as we wanted. From May we had to write the paper – 20 pages has been published – with a deadline for publication in the next bulletin, September. We agreed with the editor that the bulletin, with its scoop, had to be mailed and on subscribers’ doorsteps before we released the press announcement. This was agreed with BirdLife also, and the embargo date agreed was yesterday. On the same day, any postings to Newsgroups, other media could take place. This would give maximum take on the plight of the bird, in the world’s press, resulting in many thousands seeing the photos and notes on the same day. This method meant the likes of BBC, USA-Today, Sky News, AOL and newspapers like the Guardian, Daily Telegraph and other big players in new wires would all have the info at once. Also, we had here the opportunity to advertise the BOC, BirdLife, NatureFiji and others in one big hit.

Who were the members on board in 2008 and 2009?
The team in 2008 were Hadoram, myself, Joerg Kretzscmar, Geoff Jones, Patrick Blomquist, Dick Newell and Dick Watling plus others, mostly Fijians on the ground backing us. In 2009 there was Hadoram, myself, Joerg, Dick Watling and again many backing us on the boat and ashore.

The dark small cockilaria like petrel that got away in 2008. Was it IT? Did Patrick, Geoff and Dick Newell see that one well enough to stay at home this time?
Yes, the small dark petrel could have been the bird, but it was seen only by Hadoram, Jörg and myself. The others did not pick up the bird as it came in at distance, disappeared behind a wave and shot out the other way. So, Geoff, Patric and Dick Newell have not seen Fiji Petrel…unfortunately for them, after their efforts in 2008.

Last question: So what is next? Any other lost species you are going to search for? How do I sign up?
As for future expeditions we are planning at least three more at present, but you’ll have to wait for their announcements within the seabirding community. Suffice to say, all involve very rare seabirds….and the world is a big place!

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