© Chris Collins, Heritage Expeditions
Pioneering Christchurch-based expedition cruise company Heritage Expeditions is ruffling feathers within the birding fraternity following its discovery of what is believed to be a new species of seabird.
Dubbed the 'Heritage Lava Petrel' and described as having "prominent white markings on both its upper and underwing, dark chocolate brown plumage and a massive bill" the suspected new species was recorded by Heritage Expeditions' expert birding guides Chris Collins, Lisle Gwynn and Sav Saville some 250 nautical miles south of the small island of Santa Ana in the Solomon Islands during popular birding voyage 'Western Pacific Odyssey'.
The sightings of four of the unique birds caused a stir among the guides and experienced seabirders alike who all agreed the birds' striking plumage, unusual flight and long slender wings, not dissimilar from a Tahiti Petrel, was "quite unlike anything in ornithological literature" after viewing photos and video footage captured on board expedition vessel Spirit of Enderby.
Heritage Expeditions General Manager David Bowen said the authentic expedition cruise company's exploration of the world's most remote and hard-to-reach shores and coastlines ensured guests were able to experience one-of-a-kind wildlife and cultural encounters.
"Most of our birders come with their species lists of what they hope to see and, every once in a while, a very lucky few get to add an entire new species to that list when they journey with Heritage Expeditions."
It's not the first time a new species has been discovered during a Heritage Expeditions voyage, the elusive New Caledonian Storm-Petrel was first spotted on the 'Western Pacific Odyssey' in 2008, while an unknown breeding site for the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper was discovered in 2016 during Russian Far East voyage 'Siberia's Forgotten Coast'.