Heritage Expeditions find new species

09-04-2010
Big news from our Western Pacific Odyssey voyage is that we have seen the strange New Zealand Storm Petrel-type bird at more or less exactly the same spot off New Caledonia again this morning and everyone got excellent views.  The position is about 20nm or so off Noumea.

Whilst the bird is superficially like an New Zealand Storm Petrel (eg white on the belly with streaks), I am now convinced that it is not this species.  At one stage this morning, the bird came extremely close to the ship and was also seen flying with a Wilson’s stormy around our chum slick.  It is definitely a significantly bigger bird than a Wilson’s which should not be the case if it was an New Zealand Storm Petrel.  This was the suspicion in 2008 (the year we first saw it) but we chose to be cautious then (eg in the Birding World article) and at the time wondered if we had a large New Zealand Storm Petrel and a small Wilson’s.  We are now sure that this is not the case.  Heritage Expedition guides Adam Walleyn and Chris Collis were, for example, asked at the time whether the bird could be a Polynesian Storm Petrel which gives an idea as to how large it was perceived to be.

To draw an analogy (which a lot of people may find somewhat gripping !!) this bird is as different from an New Zealand Storm Petrel as Beck’s Petrel is from a Tahiti !!!!

Other things to mention are that the bird seemed to have long and “pointy” wings and there is no foot projection in any of the photos which were taken of it, something which is invariably seen in a New Zealand Storm Petrel  The tail also seems long and the underwing pattern is different from a New Zealand Storm Petrel, ie less white.
The above comments are the consensus of the group rather and there are some really good and experienced seabirders on this voyage, some of whom have extensive experience of the Fregattas – something we believe this bird is not.

Below is the day-by-day report but the other things are that we have had what Heritage Expeditions believe will probably be the first confirmed dark phase Collared Petrel for Australian waters (north of Norfolk Island) and this was photographed.  We will submit this record to the Birds Australia Rarities Committee in due course.

On the first days of the voyage, one thing which was very obvious is that everything seemed to be further north than usual.  We saw both species of Giant Petrel, plus Northern Royal Albatross just north of the Hauraki Gulf which are all species we have not encountered before.  Gould’s petrel and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters also “kicked in” a couple of days late and we had Cook’s petrels for a couple of days longer than is typical.  We assume this is EL Nino related…….

So here are the daily highlights:
30 March – late pm out from Tauranga
White-capped Albatross 1
Grey-faced Petrel 7
Flesh-footed Shearwater 6
Buller’s Shearwater A
Fluttering Shearwater high A

31 March – Hauraki Gulf
Gibson’s Albatross A
Campbell Albatross 5
White-capped Albatross 2
Northern Royal Albatross 1
Grey-faced Petrel a low “A”
White-necked Petrel 3
Cook’s Petrel 2
Northern GP 3
Southern GP 2
Black-winged Petrel 1
Fairy Prion low “A”
Black Petrel high “A”
Flesh-footed Shearwater low “A”
New Zealand Storm Petrel 5 – we had the first individual on the first chum slick we laid within 3 minutes which was very satisfying and the fastest I have ever seen New Zealand Storm Petrel in eight trips into the Hauraki Gulf.  Our assessment of where to find it at this time of year must have been pretty spot on !!
White-faced Storm Petrel -2
Common Diving Petrel 4
Australasian Gannet B
Grey Ternlet A

1 April – Day 1 to Norfolk Island
Gibson’s Albatross 4
Campbell Albatross 1
Grey-faced Petrel “B”
Kermadec Petrel 3
White-necked Petrel low “A”
Black-winged Petrel “A”
Fairy Prion 1
Black Petrel 3
Red-tailed Tropicbird 1
Grey Ternlet 3
False Killer Whale a low “A”

2 April Day 2 to Norfolk Island
Tahiti Petrel 6
Grey-faced Petrel low “B”
Kermadec Petrel 6
White-necked Petrel “A”
Cook’s Petrel 5
Black-winged Petrel “A”
Black Petrel 4
Wedge-tailed Shearwater “A”
Little Shearwater 6
Red-tailed Tropicbird low “A”
Masked Booby low “A”
Long-tailed Skua 1
Sooty tern 1
Black Noddy 8
Grey Ternlet 5
White Tern low “A”
Short-finned Pilot Whale 3

3 April Ashore on Norfolk Island and then sailing north in late afternoon
Grey-faced Petrel 5
White-necked Petrel 1
Black-winged Petrel low “A”
Wedge-tailed Shearwater “A”
Little Shearwater 3
White-bellied SP 1 – seen relatively close to Norfolk Island and seemed to be flying purposefully in that direction not too long before dusk.  As far as I am aware, this species is not known to breed there.
Red-tailed Tropicbird “A”
Masked Booby “A”
Great Frigatebird 2
Sooty Tern 4
Black Noddy B
Brown Noddy 3
Grey Ternlet 6
White Tern low “B”
On the island, we saw the 3 endemics (ie the Parakeet, Gerygone and White-eye) plus a range of other species including Pacific Robin

4 April – Day 1 to New Caledonia
Tahiti Petrel A
Kermadec Petrel 3
White-necked Petrel 3
Gould’s Petrel A
Collared Petrel 1 dark phase  - this was seen a few miles north of the seamount we visit in the morning after leaving Norfolk Island at 26 21S   167 13E. 
Black-winged Petrel “A”
Wedge-tailed Shearwater A
Wilson’s SP – 1  Two “white-bellied” SPs were also seen around the chum slick we laid off the seamount but they disappeared very quickly and were not photographed.
Red-tailed Tropicbird 2
White-tailed Tropicbird 3
Masked Booby 4
Sooty Tern 5
Brown Noddy 2
White Tern 2
Sperm Whale 7
Cuvier’s Beaked Whale 1

Category: Storm Petrels
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