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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Visitors from New Zealand

Pelagic Week #2 continues with one of the most striking shearwaters in our area.


This is a Buller's Shearwater (Puffinus bulleri) photographed offshore near Bodega Canyon on 26 October 2012.

Note the contrasting black and gray markings on the upper surface.  If you trace the black markings starting at one wing tip across the wing and back to the opposite wing tip, it creates a shape resembling the letter "M."

The undersides of the wings are gleaming white, with very narrow black edges.


The next four images were taken last year on 14 October 2011.  They illustrate several other important features of Buller's Shearwaters.

Look for the following: 

- gray bill with black tip
- dark cap and nape (back of neck) contrasting with the gray back
- white throat
- white crescent below the eye (Howell refers to this as a "white teardrop")
- long, wedge-shaped, black tail


Buller's Shearwaters are visitors from the southern hemisphere.  They breed on islands off New Zealand and spend their winter in the North Pacific.  They're most common off north-central California in September and October.

Sometimes large flocks (tens to hundreds of birds) are encountered.  Can you estimate how many birds are in the next photo?  [You can click on the photo to see a slightly larger version.]

( I counted ~122 individuals in the photo above.)

The next image shows Buller's Shearwaters resting on the water in a variety of positions.  Even from a distance the contrasting dark upperparts and bright white underparts stand out.


There's one bird in the photo above that's *not* a Buller's Shearwater.  Can you find it?  This is a little tricky in that some of the Buller's look different because they're in different positions.  But look for a bird that's a little larger, with a dusky gray face, smudgy underparts (not bright white), and a pink bill.

Answer: It's a Pink-footed Shearwater — just below and to the right of center, about three birds up from the bottom of the photo.


Almost every account of Buller's Shearwaters uses the words "graceful" and "bouyant."  A still photograph doesn't do them justice, but perhaps it will inspire you to head out to sea some day to see them in flight!


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