ABACO’S RAREST VISITOR: MEET ALBERT ROSS… THE ALBATROSS


ABACO’S RAREST VISITOR: MEET ALBERT ROSS… THE ALBATROSS

I can find no record for the sighting of an albatross in the waters around Abaco. Nor for anywhere else in the Bahamas for that matter. It must have come as some surprise to the BMMRO team out at sea on their research vessel off Sandy Point to see a large and unusual seabird bobbing tranquilly on the water. A black-browed albatross Thalassarche melanophrys. Diane Claridge managed to get a great shot of it and I’m really pleased to be able to use it here.

Black-browed Albatross, Abaco © DC BMMROBlack-browed albatross off Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas. Photographed by Diane Claridge.

© Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation 2013

This bird was way out of the normal range for the species. They are birds of the southern oceans, breeding in colonies on such islands as the Falklands, South Georgia and Macquarie Island. As far as I can make out, they have no business to be north of the equator at all.

Black-browed Albatross Range Map BirdLife Int

SIGHTING A BLACK-BROWED ALBATROSS: A REPORT

During a three-hour survey for whales off Sandy Point, Abaco on Sunday, July 21st scientists from the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation had an exceptional sighting. Dr Diane Claridge, the group’s Executive Director recalls details of the sighting:

“We were drifting waiting for a beaked whale to resurface when our intern Tristan Albury pointed towards a white object floating in the distance and asked what it was. We decided that it was a piece of trash, unfortunately a common sighting, and continued to focus our search for the whale. A half hour later, we still had not re-sighted the whale and believed that it may have gone down on one of its one-hour long feeding dives. So with time to kill and the “trash” still in sight, we had another look with binoculars. We realised immediately that it was a very large bird and slowly motored towards it for a closer look. I began taking photographs of it because we already knew it was unusual and we wanted to be sure to identify the species. As we got closer, Roxy Corbett, a visiting scientist and avid birder exclaimed that it was an albatross! I couldn’t believe it. We were able to approach within 100 feet at which point it swam towards us providing an opportunity for us to document its body condition; it appeared healthy with no obvious signs of distress.

Later when back ashore, we compared our photographs with those available online and learned that it was a juvenile Black-browed albatross, an endangered bird with a 7-foot wing span known from subtropical to polar regions of the southern hemisphere! As far as I know this species has never been recorded previously in the tropical North Atlantic. I have seen albatross during whale surveys in Alaska but never dreamed that I’d ever see one in The Bahamas. Although we are thrilled by the rarity of this sighting, the outcome for a bird so far out of its normal range is not usually good. However, there are two Black-browed albatross that strayed into the North Atlantic previously that have taken up long-term residence in Scotland and the Faroe Islands so who knows where this one may end up. Sunday afternoon was indeed exceptional: in addition to this remarkable sighting, we also saw 4 different species of whales and dolphins, all within 5 miles of Sandy Point.”

These are huge strong birds, with a massive wingspan. I wondered what they might sound like – it’s like this… (Credit: Xeno-Canto & recordist Sofia Wasylyk)

For more information on the normal range and status of the Black-browed albatross, the BMMRO recommended links are:

Link to Birdlife International’s site:
http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=3959

Link to IUCN’s species red list:
http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/106003959/0

HERRING GULLS (Larus smithsonianus) CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF A PREFERRED KIND


Herring Gull Header

HERRING GULL Larus smithsonianus

The Herring Gull needs no introduction. So I won’t give it one. Instead, here are some close-ups of one that obligingly stayed still long enough, and at close enough range, to enable me to focus. The final two are possibly worth single- or double-clicking on to see the finer details. I prefer cooperative birds like this…

HERRING GULL IN FAMILIAR ‘BOAT POSE’Herring Gull 2Herring Gull 4Herring Gull 3Note the characteristic crossing of the black-and-white wing-tip feathers

HERRING GULL HEAD SHOTSHerring Gull 1Herring Gull 5All images ©RH; audio clip from the wonderful Xeno-canto archives

SEABIRDS, SHOREBIRDS & WADERS: 30 WAYS TO DISTINGUISH THEM


Magnificent Frigate male Wikipics
Magnificent Frigatebird

SEABIRDS, SHOREBIRDS & WADERS: 30 WAYS TO DISTINGUISH THEM 

I have recently been looking at hundreds of photos of birds, many with aquatic or semi-aquatic lives. These can be broadly categorised as seabirds, shorebirds or wading birds. But with some bird breeds, there can be doubt as to which category applies. There is the strict Linnaean ordering of course, but in practice there is a degree of informal category overlap and some variation in the various bird guides. This is especially so between shorebirds and the smaller, less exotic wading birds. Shorebirds may wade, and wading birds may be found on shores. Then I remembered a past blog post by the estimable BEACH CHAIR SCIENTIST that I thought deserved an outing here. I re-blogged the chart from BCS early last year. In the meantime site followers and site hits have surprisingly increased considerably, but I suspect only the dedicated make time to sift through any blog’s archives…  Even if you have no problem distinguishing birds in the 3 categories, there are avian characteristics within each list that are interesting observations in themselves. 

10 CHARACTERISTICS OF SEABIRDS 

Whitetailed Tropicbird WikiPicWhite-tailed Tropicbird

(Examples include albatross, auk, booby, frigatebird, fulmar, gannet, penguin, petrel, puffin, shearwater, and tropicbirds)

1. Seabirds are pelagic, spending most of their lives far out at sea.
2. Seabirds move toward to coastal areas to breed or raise young for a minimal amount of time.
3. Seabirds are light on their undersides and dark on top (an adaptation known as countershading).
4. Seabirds have more feathers than other types of birds for more insulation and waterproofing.
5. Seabirds have flexible webbed feet to help gain traction as they take off for flight from the sea.
6. Some seabirds have unusually sharp claws used to help grasp fish under the water.
7. Some larger seabirds (e.g. albatross) have long, slim wings allowing them to soar for long distances without getting tired.
8. Some smaller seabirds have short wings for maneuvering at the surface of the water.
9. Seabirds have specialized glands to be able to drink the saltwater and excrete salts.
10. Some seabirds (e.g. gannets) have a head shape that is usually tapered for more efficiency in plunge diving.

10 CHARACTERISTICS OF SHOREBIRDS 

Wilson' Plover male Wikipic

Wilson’s Plover

(Examples include avocets, black skimmer, oystercatchers, plover, sandpiper, and stilt)

1. Shorebirds have long legs, pointed beaks, and long pointed wings.
2. Most shorebirds are migratory (Impressively some shorebirds fly non-stop for 3-4 days, equivalent to a human running continuous 4-minute miles for 60 hours).
3. Shorebirds wade close to the shore and poke their bills into the ground in search of food.
4. Shorebirds are small to medium size wading birds.
5. Shorebirds tend to frequent wetlands and marshes and are biological indicators of these environmentally sensitive lands.
6. Shore birds are of the order Charadriiformes.
7. Shorebirds are very well camouflaged for their environment and their appearance may vary from place to place as plumage (feather colors) are gained or lost during breeding.
8. Shorebirds typically range in size from 0.06 to 4.4 pounds.
9. Oystercatchers have a unique triangular bill that is a cross between a knife and a chisel.
10. The black skimmer is the only native bird in North America with its lower mandible larger than the upper mandible, which helps the bird gather fish as it skims the ocean surface.

10 CHARACTERISTICS OF WADING BIRDS 

Great Egret Wikipic
Great Egret

(Examples include crane, egret, flamingo, herons, ibis, rail, spoonbill, and stork)

1. Wading birds are found in freshwater or saltwater on every continent except Antarctica.
2. Wading birds have long, skinny legs and toes which help them keep their balance in wet areas where water currents may be present or muddy ground is unstable. Also, longer legs make it easier for them to search for food (forage) in deeper waters.
3. Wading birds have long bills with pointed or rounded tips (depending on what is more efficient for the types of food the bird consumes).
4. Wading birds have long, flexible necks that can change shape drastically in seconds, an adaptation for proficient hunting.
5. Herons have sophisticated and beautiful plumes during the breeding season, while smaller waders such as rails are much more camouflaged.
6. Wading birds may stand motionless for long periods of time waiting for prey to come within reach.
7. When moving, their steps may be slow and deliberate to not scare prey, and freeze postures are common when these birds feel threatened.
8. Adult wading birds are quiet as an essential tool for hunting. Wading birds may be vocal while nestling or while in flocks together.
9. Many wading birds form communal roosts and breeding rookeries, even mixing flocks of different species of wading birds or waterfowl.
10. Wading birds fully extend their legs to the rear when flying. The neck may be extended or not while in flight, depending on the species.

These lists were put together in useful chart form. Please check with BCS (link above) if you want to ‘borrow’ itseabird shorebird wading bird chart ©beachchairscientistImage Credits: Table – ©Beach Chair Scientist; Pics – good old wiki