Ian’s Bird of the Week – Buller’s Shearwater ~ by Ian Montgomery
Newsletter – 09-07-10
I went on a pelagic boat trip from Monterey shortly after my arrival in California. Buller’s Shearwater was one of three species of Shearwater that we encountered in quite large numbers. The others were the Sooty and the Pink-footed. All three are on the Australian list, though the Pink-footed, which breeds off the coast of Chile, is extremely rare in Australia. Buller’s breeds on islands off New Zealand and both it and the Sooty (breeds in New Zealand, the Falklands and Tierra del Fuego) are regular visitors to both Australia and California in the their annual circuit around the Pacific. Having myself just endured a flight – with considerable artificial aid – across the Ocean, I couldn’t help but be very impressed.
I’ve chosen Buller’s as it is the most elegant and distinctive of the three with very white underparts (first photo), a well-defined black cap, and M-shaped dark markings on the otherwise grey upper surface of the wings (second photo). With a length of 46cm/18in and a wingspan of 100cm/40in it is intermediate in size between the smaller Sooty and the slightly larger Pink-footed. Incidentally, Buller’s Shearwater is the 600th Australian species to be included in the website.
We encountered all three mainly in flight, but also swimming on the surface in mixed flocks. The third photo shows two Buller’s and a Pink-footed. The Pink-footed also has a pale body, but the contrast is less marked and, in flight, the dorsal surface of the wings are relatively uniform in colour. The Sooty, is dark all over except for paler underwing patches.
Another common bird on the trip was the Black-footed Albatross, which nests on islands off Hawaii. The fourth photo shows one flying alongside a Buller’s Shearwater and it has about double the wingspan – around 2m/80in – and is comparable in size to the Australian Mollymawks such as the Shy Albatross.
Relatively calm seas with a 2m/6ft swell were ideal for the trip, but it was overcast and rather gloomy for photography. Photo of the day wasn’t a bird but a Pacific White-sided Dolphin, fifth photo, which obligingly soared out of the water when I was idly following it underwater in the viewfinder of the camera. Whales were very much in evidence with Hump-backed, Fin and Blue Whales and a few days later I photographed Grey Whales farther up the coast. Consequently, I’ve added a section on Cetaceans to the Other Wildlife part of the website.
Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Phone: +61-7 4751 3115
Preferred Email: email@example.com
Another great adventure for Ian and what a shot of that Dolphin! Perfect timing. Great bird shots also.
The Buller’s Shearwater is in the Procellariidae – Petrels, Shearwaters Family. At present there are 86 species in the family including the Petrels, Shearwaters, Fulmars, and Prions. They are part of the Procelliiformes Order which also includes the Albatrosses – Diomedeidae Family which has 21 species.
And he looked on the Kenites, and took up his parable, and said, Strong is thy dwellingplace, and thou puttest thy nest in a rock. (Numbers 24:21 KJV)
Most procellariids’ nests are in burrows or on the surface on open ground, with a smaller number nesting under the cover of vegetation (such as in a forest). All the fulmarine petrels bar the Snow Petrel nest in the open, the Snow Petrel instead nesting inside natural crevices. Of the rest of the procellariids the majority nest in burrows or crevices, with a few tropical species nesting in the open. There are several reasons for these differences. The fulmarine petrels are probably precluded from burrowing by their large size (the crevice-nesting Snow Petrel is the smallest fulmarine petrel) and the high latitudes they breed in, where frozen ground is difficult to burrow into. The smaller size of the other species, and their lack of agility on land, mean that even on islands free from mammal predators they are still vulnerable to skuas, gulls and other avian predators, something the aggressive oil-spitting fulmars are not. The chicks of all species are vulnerable to predation, but the chicks of fulmarine petrels can defend themselves in a similar fashion to their parents. In the higher latitudes there are thermal advantages to burrow nesting, as the temperature is more stable than on the surface, and there is no wind-chill to contend with.