Ornithologi

A studio for bird study

Tag: seabirds

Fork-tailed Storm Petrel (Oceanodrama furcata) Foraging on Tidal Flats: Part 1

by Bryce W. Robinson

Video 1. Dan Ruthrauff photographs passing Fork-tailed Storm Petrel as the tide comes in. Bristol Bay coast, Alaska. September 2016.

Over my time on the Bristol Bay coast near the village of Egegik on the Alaska Peninsula, I was privy to one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had with birdlife. The experience is captured in video 1, which shows Dan Ruthrauff kneeling on tidal flats at low tide photographing passing Fork-tailed Storm Petrels at close range. I’d never heard of anything like this for any pelagic bird. It turned out to be a regular occurrence, but still appears quite novel so far as we understand Fork-tailed Storm Petrel foraging behaviors.

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Photo 1. Fork-tailed Storm Petrel arcing down amidst a dynamic soar in high winds. This photo was taken from the shoreline at high tide. Bristol Bay coast, Alaska. September 2016.

Typical experiences with Fork-tailed Storm Petrels are like the image above: A dynamic soaring Hydrobatid at relatively close range. It’s very exciting, but nothing like walking through tidal flats surrounded by the birds.

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Photo 2. Fork-tailed Storm Petrel at rest on the water. I was standing in ankle deep water when this photo was taken. Bristol Bay coast, Alaska. September 2016

Other more typical experiences can provide observations such as the above photo, where calm water and resting birds near a boat might provide great views. Photo 2 is a bird that I stood near in ankle deep water. This bird was taking a moment to rest from foraging and seemed non-plussed by me. I’ve never heard of anything like it.

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Photo 3. Fork-tailed Storm Petrel (Oceanodrama furcata) dabbing on water. I was lying on my belly when this photo was taken. Bristol Bay coast, Alaska. September 2016

The experiences continued for the entire two weeks I was on the Bristol Bay coast. After reading through the literature, the behavior seems undocumented and may warrant publication as a note. I’m excited to organize, avail myself of the literature, and share this experience with a crowd more knowledgeable and literate than myself. For me, experiences like these make field ornithology one of the best things about life.

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Birding Kachemak Bay, Alaska, by Boat

by Bryce W. Robinson

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Tufted Puffin (Fratercula cirrhata) with a bill full of fish to take back to its burrow to feed young. Kachemak Bay, Alaska.

I had the pleasure of taking a few days to visit Homer, Alaska and get in some much needed birding on the southcentral Alaskan coast. I was after Alaska state bird additions, as well as a few potential lifers. I needed to get on a boat so I scheduled a trip with Bay Excursions for a morning around the bay.

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Sooty Shearwater (Ardenna grisea). Kachemak Bay, Alaska.

I was after both Kittlitz’s Murrelet (Brachyramphus brevirostris) and Red-faced Cormorant (Phalocrocorax urile). Karl, who leads the trip and captains the boat, mentioned concern that it was too late for Kittlitz’s and that the cormorants were scarce in the bay this year. With the poor forecast, I still thought it equitable to make the trip and gain experience with other birds. Anytime on a boat, in good weather, is equitable.

Homer is great. There are plenty of camping spots right on the spit. I camped on the shore, woke up in the morning, and had a five minute walk to the boat ramp where I boarded and we set off. Joining me were the expected crew of older folks with cameras and an excitement for seeing wildlife. But they weren’t necessarily birders, so I knew that I was outnumbered and would have to accept that we wouldn’t be spending much time studying murrelet behavior, shearwater ID, or following any curiosities I’d have. Such is birding on a boat I suppose.

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Marbled Murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus). Paler individual on the left cause pause in hopes of it being a Kittlitz’s, but no luck. Kachemak Bay, Alaska.

Immediately out of the harbor we began to see murrelets. I checked every bird, and for a while Karl paused to give the folks on the boat good looks at the endearing birds. After a short time the group grew tired of the murrelets so we unfortunately cruised by too many groups that I wanted to spend a little more time with in hopes of a random Kittlitz’s popping up amongst the marbled.

I was able to get the boat stopped for some shearwaters. I caught a handful of birds cruising about 1 km west, and once the boat had stopped a few had circled us and I was able to ID them as Sooty Shearwater (Ardenna grisea). We spotted one set on the water that happened to be a Short-tailed Shearwater (Ardenna tenuirostris). With my limited experience observing procellariids on the water I felt satisfied with the short encounter.

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Juvenile Horned Puffin (Fratercula corniculata) alone on the water. Kachemak Bay, Alaska.

One of the neatest birds we found on the water was a juvenile Horned Puffin. It’s bill was extremely small, nothing like the ornate bill of a matured bird.

Some of the strangest birds to encounter from the boat were Song Sparrows on every island we passed. I also caught a Steller’s Jay in the air above a larger island with some conifers. Island living passerines, neat to see.

Overall I was happy with the few hours on the water. I do think that the trip deserves more time, as I could have likely spent another few hours on the bay watching alcids and looking for a Red-faced Cormorant. I also would have liked to venture a bit farther out of the bay to encounter more shearwaters, and whatever else we might have happened upon farther out to sea. In the end I missed my two hopefuls, but the time on the water was excellent. I’ll be back again when the time is right for the missed species.

 

Does Illness drive Procellariids Inland?

by Bryce W. Robinson

NOTES ON BEACH SIGHTINGS OF TWO MEMBERS OF PROCELLARIIDAE ON THE SOUTHERN SHORE OF THE SEWARD PENINSULA, ALASKA

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Photo 1. An unfinished watercolor sketch of a dark morph Pacific Northern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis rogersii) from my Nome 2016 sketch journal.

In late July my friend Luke DeCicco and I spent quite a bit of time studying gulls along the southern Seward Peninsula coast east of Nome, Alaska. The gulls at this time of year are in their first to second cycle transitive molt (first pre-basic molt), and represent an excellent challenge and education for those of us who care. But this post isn’t about gulls. This post details some anecdotal observations Luke and I made on procellarids we observed while on the coast studying gulls.

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Photo 2. Dark morph Pacific Northern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis rogersii) sitting on the mouth of the Nome River. Nome, Alaska.

While studying gulls at the Nome River mouth east of Nome, Luke noticed a small dark bird sitting onshore amongst a large flock of gulls. He immediately recognized the bird as a dark morph Pacific Northern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis rogersii). Soon after noticing the bird, the flock took to the air and mixed up. The fulmar flew upstream and landed 200 meters up river, drifting back downriver towards the coast.

I took photos as the bird drifted downriver. When the bird neared my location it started moving towards the shore. It soon reached the river bank and climbed onshore directly in front of me (Photo 3). I was shooting with my 300 mm f4.0 and 1.4X teleconverter, to give some understanding of how close I was to the bird. I still don’t understand the behavior, but I suppose the bird was quite ill and needed to be off water to feel secure.

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Photo 3. Dark morph Pacific Northern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis rogersii) climbing onto the river bank to rest on land. The bird came directly towards me, climbed onshore in front of me, and sat looking towards me.

The bird sat and seemed content and alert. Other than sitting on land only meters in front of me and surrounded by many other people as well, there didn’t appear to be anything aberrant about the birds behavior. I did notice the striking plumage of the dark fulmar, especially the difference between the brown toned retained feathers and the cobalt colored fresh feathers. The bird was in the midst of its pre-basic molt. After about 10 minutes the bird took off and flew out to the ocean and landed ~200 meters offshore. It seemed to fly fine but I still think the reason the bird was on the coast was due to illness.

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Photo 4. Resting dark morph Pacific Northern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis rogersii) on the river bank at the mouth of the Nome River, Nome, Alaska.

Later the same week Luke and I were frequenting the coast of Safety Sound in our attempts at finding and trapping juvenile Red Knots. While checking the coast for knots we came upon a Short-tailed Shearwater sleeping on the beach in the rain. The bird had drooped wings, a sullen posture, and was very wet. It was quite clear the bird was ill and likely wasn’t going to last long.

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Photo 5. An ill Short-tailed Shearwater (Ardenna tenuirostris) on the beach of Safety Sound on the Seward Peninsula, Alaska.

Over the next week Luke and I came upon 2 more dead Short-tailed Shearwater on the coast of Safety Sound. The high number of shearwaters and the lone fulmar left me thinking about ill seabirds and their possible inclination to seek land for comfort. I haven’t been able to find any literature on the matter, but I’ll keep looking.

 

 

Last year I discovered a Short-tailed Shearwater only 20 meters off shore of Safety Sound at approximately the same location as the bird photographed above (photo 5) and the two other dead shearwaters we discovered this season. I remember last year having thoughts on the health of the near shore shearwater. You can read my write up from last year here: https://ornithologi.com/2015/08/08/short-tailed-shearwater/

I haven’t spent much time on the coast, nor have I much experience studying the family procellariidae, so I’m unsure whether or not these birds seek shelter on the coast if they are ill. I have found seabirds dead on the coast, but in these cases the birds appeared to have been washed to shore after dying in the ocean.

Although a grim subject I couldn’t help but share my observations and thoughts. It’s quite interesting, and for someone who hasn’t spent much time at sea observing these birds it was quite exciting. I’m open for discussion on the matter and would love to hear of any similar experiences from those living on coastlines.

Happy International Guillemot Appreciation Day (IGAD)

by Bryce W. Robinson

BLGULast year my friend Frank, a great birder, asked me a simple question, “Did you celebrate International Guillemot Appreciation Day this year?” I told hime no, and that I had no idea what he was even talking about. He explained that July 27th, if I remember correctly, has been designated to recognize the Black Guillemot. Sounded great to me.

I researched the history a bit, and it seems there is some confusion of whether or not IGAD is July or June 27th. This year, I’ll be celebrating the existence of Guillemots on July 27th. I’ll get it sorted out next year and celebrate in line with what was originally designated as the day to recognize the small Alcids.

This year I illustrated the above Black Guillemot. I haven’t been illustrating much this summer on account of my focus on Gyrfalcon field work, but I made it a priority to put this image together in honor of the birds. I also plan to head to my favorite sea watch spot and watch for an hour or so. I should turn up a few Pigeon Guillemots, and who knows, perhaps a Black or two. The bird would be notable here in Western Alaska in summer, but with birding you never know!

Appreciate a Guillemot today. They sure are class act creatures!

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