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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Osaka, Japan to Vancouver Cruise, April 30th to May 19th,2007,
This was our second seabird-oriented voyage on a commercial cruise ship, the m/s Statendam (Holland-America Lines). Our first (from Capetown to Valparaiso via Antarctica on the Royal Princess) was very successful and we learned that these large vessels offer many opportunities for the serious sea-birder. Not the least of which is a completely stable platform from which one can comfortably use one’s scopes, covered decks in wet weather, and a vast array of possible routes. Downsides are of course that one cannot choose the exact course, there is no chasing or chumming, nor Zodiac rides. Rather, these represent what oceanographers call “ships of opportunity” – vessels which provide a platform for one’s work whilst their actual purpose differs. The various shipboard amenities are mere icing on the cake for the committed sea-birder!
Unlike our previous vessel, the Statendam lacked multiple covered decks at the rear of the ship. However this proved no obstacle, as we found that the Arctic birds were better observed from the bow, as relatively few followed in the ship’s wake, unlike in the southern oceans. (However this did prove a big mistake on one day, see below!) Again, the crew was most tolerant of the strange folks sitting on chairs at the bow day after day, although this time the ship lacked a naturalist and there was no posting of our daily sightings. Also, save one or two less serious than ourselves, there were no other birders aboard.
The cruise departed Osaka Japan on May 3, but we arranged to arrive two days early and do some land-birding. We arranged a local guide, hired a car (a very comfortable Toyota Sienna with GPS, albeit in Japanese!) which we picked up at the Kansai (Osaka) AP, and a hotel near possible birding sites over the internet.
Osaka: Koji Tagi email@example.com, Home: 072-626-5089, Mobile: 080-6144-9587
Tokyo: Chris Cook, firstname.lastname@example.org , mobile 090-1100-4286
Hakodate: Stuart Price email@example.com, mobile: 09015282856, home: 0138 450570. Blog:
Kodiak: Donna Hurley –home  486 5584 cell  539 5587 e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Hotel: HOTEL HANKYU EXPO PARK 1-5,Senri-Banpaku-Koen, Suita-City, Osaka Tel: (011 81)06-6878-5151, http://www.htl-expopark.jp/en/index.html
Osaka: ToCoo Car Travel rental, http://www2.tocoo.jp/english/, at Kansai AP, rents Mazda vehicles, we got a brand-new beautiful Mazda van with GPS (OK, not in English but you could use the maps) for a reasonable sum.
Kansai Airport Transport: Osaka Airport Limousine Bus, http://www.okkbus.co.jp/- A real bargain, only Y1300 from Kansai straight to Tenpozan Docks (taxis would be at least $50!) – leaves every hour in front of international terminal.
Dutch Harbor: North Port Rentals, 907 581 3880 – they left car at dock (with keys in it!) so we had it as soon as we arrived. Office at airport.
Japan: A Field Guide to the Birds of Japan, 1982, Wild Bird Society of Japan, Kodansha International, publishers.
A Birdwatcher’s Guide to Japan, 1987, Mark Brazil, Kodansha International, publishers.
Seabirds: Albatrosses, Petrels and Shearwaters of the World, 2007, Derek Onley and Paul Scofield, Helm Publishers, London.
April 30th BC and GM arrived Kansai, Osaka’s International Airport, in the late afternoon from USA, PC and TQ about an hour later from UK. By the time we had picked-up our rental van and driven to Hotel Hankyu Expo Park in Ibaraki [the suburbs of Osaka], it was late evening. We called Koji Tagi from the hotel and arranged for him to meet us there the next morning.
May 1st Koji met us early and we proceeded to his local patch, Ibaraki-benten which a partially wooded and open meadow area near a Buddhist temple complex. Fairly slow birding in heavy rain. We then visited the Ai River and adjacent rice paddies, with more rain -- this time with wind. In the afternoon it cleared up, and we had an enjoyable time birding the grounds of Osaka Castle. Birding highlights included good numbers of Japanese Grosbeaks, also Grey-headed Lapwing, Japanese Wagtail, Varied Tit, Brown, Pale and Dusky Thrushes and the first of many spectacular Narcissus and Blue and White Flycatchers.
May 2nd Another visit to Ibaraki-benten followed by a visit to Mino Quasi-National Park, which is a large forested park in hills about a 45-minute drive from Osaka. In the afternoon we visited Expo Park [along with many hundreds of school children!] and rounded out the day with a visit to the Ai River in a futile quest for Green Pheasant. Crowds of walkers everywhere (during Golden Week) probably did not help the birding! Birding Highlights included many Eastern Crowned Warblers which had apparently arrived during the night, Japanese Bush Warbler, and Japanese Skylark. We bid Koji good-by at the hotel with thanks for two productive days’ out.
May 3rd A.M. We drove ourselves to Nanko Yacho-en [a coastal bird reserve near Tenpozan Docks] for several hours during the morning. It was very lively with a large fall-out of warblers. We then drove to Tenpozan Passenger Terminal and BC and PC were dropped-off with the luggage and checked on-board the MS Statendam . AQ and GM returned the rental car back to Kansai Int. AP and took a limousine bus from the airport right back to the dock (a mere 1300 yen each) and then onto the cruise ship. Birding highlights included Siberian Blue Robin, an influx of c50 Eastern-crowned Warblers and c12 Pale-legged Leaf Warblers. Also good numbers of Grey-tailed Tattlers at the scrape.
The Statendam commenced its voyage to Tokyo in the evening, too late for any sea watching.
May 4th At sea all day travelling between Osaka and Tokyo. At noon the Statendam was in the Pacific about 60 miles off the south-central coast of Honshu. Birding highlights were large numbers of Streaked Shearwaters, also small numbers of both Tristram's and Swinhoe's Storm-Petrels and our first albatross [Laysan]. Also a recurring feature while at sea was the arrival of small numbers of land birds. Today these included three Forked-tailed Swifts, which circled the ship allowing great views. An elderly birding passenger reported a immature Short-tailed Albatross following for about fifteen minutes in the ship's wake, much to our dismay as we had been in the bow trying to sort out the all-black storm-petrels! Such is birding!
May 5th Woke early to view the ships passage through the Bay of Tokyo before docking at about 8.30 a.m. Unfortunately not that birdy, although we got a look at our first large numbers of Asiatic gulls.
We had arranged to meet Chris Cook a local ex-pat British birder who lives in Tokyo. Chris took us by train to Futagoyama a lovely wooded valley about 35 miles outside Tokyo. The site is locally famous for its breeding Japanese Paradise Flycatchers. Unfortunately we were about a week too early. We did have great views of Japanese Bush Warbler , which is an extremely common species but quite difficult to see, as well as the ever present Narcissus and Blue-and-white Flycatchers. Back to the docks by train and taxi, and departed Tokyo at 9.30 p.m.
May 6th Full day at sea on route to Hakodate. At noon the ship was heading north about 50 miles off the long northern peninsula of Honshu. Birding highlights included an estimated 10,000 Streaked Shearwaters, thousands of Short-tailed Shearwaters plus 25 Black-footed and 150 Laysan Albatrosses. Alas no Short-tailed. Other pelagic species included forty Swinhoe’s Storm-Petrels and about 1,000 Grey Phalaropes.
May 7th Again early morning sea-watching prior to docking at 7.30 a.m. at Hakodate. Best birds seen during this period was a fly-by White-billed Diver seen by BC, a party of Red-necked Phalaropes plus our first Red-faced and the only Temminck’s Cormorants of the trip. We also encountered our first alcids with both Ancient Murrelets and Rhinoceros Auklets. Sadly, however, we realized we had dipped on Japanese Murrelet.
Again we were very fortunate in having the help of Stuart Price (again, ex-pat Brit) who, along with his wife met us at Mt. Hakodate. Good birding by walking the trails here until about 2.30 p.m. The weather was lovely and the floral display of wildflowers and flowering cherries on the mountain was spectacular. We had a picnic at the top enjoying a great view of the city and harbor, and distant snowy mountains. This was followed by a short stop at a nearby fishing village. Best land birds were several Japanese Grey Thrushes, which was PC’s only new bird of the trip, our only Red-cheeked Starlings and an unexpected Asian Rosy Finch. The Statendam departed Hakodate dock at about 6.00 p.m. in the evening
May 8th We had a full day at sea heading north, passing Hokkaido and then proceeding 10-20 miles east of the southern Kuril Islands. This was much farther out than we were expecting [the trip brochure said “scenic cruising” of the Kuril Islands whereas we could barely see the islands way out on the horizon!]. However this did keep us over the deep Kuril trench. We struggled with fog much of the way, so although there were many birds in flight and on the water, identifications were difficult. Best pelagic species today were our peak count of Laysan Albatross  and Leach’s Storm-Petrel , our only Band–rumped Storm-Petrels of the trip and the first [of many] Northern Fulmars. Two Black-faced Buntings and a Brown Thrush came aboard during the day.
May 9th Another day at sea travelling roughly parallel to the Kuril Islands and between 10-20 miles to their east. Similar pelagic species to the previous day although we had our first Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels and Long-tailed Skuas of the trip today. Also several huge flocks of Crested Auklets plus large numbers of Tufted Puffins and the first Least Auklets and Brunnich’s Guillemots of the trip. A good selection of land birds came aboard or flew around the ship included Merlin, Yellow and Black-backed Wagtails, Red-rumped and Barn Swallows and a party of Snow Buntings.
May 10th This turned-out to be one of the most enjoyable days of the trip. The Statendam docked at Petropavlovsk at about 9.15 a.m. allowing us time to survey the inshore coastal species. After a considerable delay by the Russian immigration people, we finally departed the ship at 10.30 a.m. and boarded a small boat for a 2 1/2 hour cruise around Petro Bay. Good numbers and variety of sea-ducks were seen, the best being about 125 Steller’s Eiders. Also our only Spectacled Guillemot of the trip provided close fly-by views. Best of all were three Steller’s Sea Eagles including magnificent prolonged views of a single adult close-by its nest. We birded a bit on shore near town but it was still very early spring here (melting snow, bare trees) and we only saw common species such as BB Wagtails. In the town center stands a large statue of Lenin surrounded by red flags. Hmmmm…
May 11th A full day at sea and our last day in Asian waters was extremely productive. The ship left Petro the night before at about 9.30 p.m. and by noon today we were about 200 miles south of the Commodore Islands. Mottled Petrels were seen regularly throughout the day with an estimated 300 birds and two close Solander’s Petrels were seen by BC and GM. An unexpected surprise was a total of seven Ross’s Gulls heading north, in intense pink plumage. Other good birds today were three species of skua including 250 Long-tailed Skuas plus two Red-legged Kittiwakes. Both Asian and North Am. waders were represented with Wood and Baird’s Sandpipers. Finally impressive numbers of land birds on or around the ship including thirty Buff-bellied and two Red-throated Pipits and forty Lapland and ten Snow Buntings.
May 11th Another full day at sea and by dawn we were about 15 miles due north of Attu in the Bering Sea heading east towards Dutch Harbor. Another very good day for pelagic species with all sightings today [having crossed the date line] in North American waters. Similar species to yesterday but in generally lower numbers except for 150 Laysan Albatrosses, 1000+ Forked-tailed Storm-Petrels and eight Red-legged Kittiwakes. Mottled Petrels and Long-tailed Skuas were off by 50% or more from yesterday’s tally, however we still managed one party of three exquisite adult summer plumaged Ross’s Gulls. Up until yesterday, Slaty-Backed Gulls were a regular daily feature [including about fifteen yesterday]. However, as soon as we entered N American waters they completely melted away leaving BC and GM with one less U.S. tick.
May 12th Our third full day at sea in a row and by noon we were still in the Bering Sea about 100 miles north of Atka in the Aleutians. Good birds today were eight species of alcid including our first Parakeet Auklet and three Whiskered Auklets seen by GM. The best non-pelagic species today was a Temminck’s Stint which circled the ship several times making its distinctive bunting-like dry rattling call – new U.S. species for GM and BC.
May13th The Statendam docked at Dutch Harbor at 7.00 a.m. We had rented a car that was waiting for us in the harbor parking lot and we set out to explore Unalaska Island. It was very cold and snow threatened. Good birds today were our first Kittlitz’s Murrelets plus Bar-tailed Godwit and Pacific Golden Plover, an amazing 500 Harlequin Ducks, an unexpected summer plumaged Black-headed Gull, excellent views of Grey-crowned Rosy-Finches, and, on the mammal front, a party of Sea Otters. However, we dipped on the Aleutian race of Rock Sandpiper, one of our top targets, as they have apparently already departed for breeding grounds on the Pribilofs. We left in late afternoon, in heavy snow and wind – birding on our passage east of Attu was hampered by this as well as bitter cold which froze the salt spray on the decks. Late in the evening we passed into the calmer waters of the Gulf of Alaska.
May 14th A full day at sea as the Statendam headed east towards Kodiak Island through the Gulf of Alaska. At noon the ship was estimated 30 miles off the Alaskan Peninsula and about 300 miles from Kodiak. Generally low numbers of petrels, shearwaters and albatrosses but good numbers of alcids. These included our high counts of 1,000 Common Guillemots, 150 Tufted Puffins and forty Parakeet Auklets plus 500 Ancient Murrelets. Land birds on the ship were three Golden-crowned Sparrows.
May 15th The ship docked at Kodiak at about 7.30 a.m.. We had arranged to meet Donna Hurley, a local Kodiak birder. Donna met us at the dock with Shirley – another very keen local birder – as well as a very nice rental van. This turned out to be a highly successful day, with many good birds, plus great company. One of our first stops was a local park with good Sitka Spruce forest, the predominate tree on Kodiak. Almost immediately, we came across a flock of about 100+ White-winged (Two-barred) Crossbills feeding on a gravelly path, with a few Red [Common] Crossbills mixed in. Tony and Peter noted that the calls of the Red Crossbills did not sound like the ones from the UK. From there we visited a golf course, where Donna pointed out a singing male Pine Grosbeak for photo ops. However, for the Kodiak birders the highlight here was a singing male American Robin, a rather uncommon visitor to the island.
After this it only got better as we spent most of the day visiting a number of coastal bays. Some of the better birds here included our first Aleutian Terns and Sabine's Gull of the trip. Also four species of geese including both Aleutian and Dusky Canada Geese. Other good birds were eight Barrow’s Goldeneye and our first Marbled Murrelets of the trip. Finally, we ended the day with mind-blowing views of a brilliant male Varied Thrush at Ft. Abercrombie. We bid goodbye to Donna and Shirley as the ship left at about 7 pm.
May 16th A full day in the open ocean. The ship was heading for the Hubbard Glacier and at noon the Statendam was in the Gulf of Alaska about 100+ miles from the closest Alaskan coast. A slow day with generally low numbers and diversity of pelagic species. However, AQ recorded a Horned Puffin, which, amazingly, was the only one seen on the trip.
May 17th A very enjoyable day with many birds and some good mammals. At dawn the Statendam was at the entrance to Yakutat Bay which leads to the Hubbard Glacier. We cruised through the bay and later arrived at the glacier and cruised around for several hours during the morning before departed back through Yakutat Bay and heading south in the Pacific Ocean towards Sitka. The bay provided excellent birding and appears to be an important staging area for Pacific Loon. We estimated 700 birds all in beautiful breeding plumage. Other notable sightings today included trip-high numbers for Forked-tailed Storm-Petrels estimated at least 5000, Aleutian Terns  Kittlitz’s Murrelets . Also nine Cackling Geese of the race minima, and the only Rock Sandpipers of the trip. Mammals included great views of a Grizzly Bear, three Humpbacked Whales and several Northern Fur Seals.
May 18th We docked at Sitka at about 6.15 a.m. The day was clear and sunny and the spectacular Mt. Edgecumbe, a dormant volcanic cone, dominated a very beautiful vista. We had only a partial morning’s birding in the vicinity of this attractive small town. No unusual birds seen around Sitka, although several new trip birds including Wilson’s, Yellow and Oranged-crowned Warblers. Several Steller’s Sea-Lions were seen in the harbor. At 12.45 p.m. we commenced our cruise down to Vancouver. The afternoon was spent heading south just a mile or two out from the Alaskan shoreline. This was very spectacular for both sea birds and mammals. We had many Hump-backed Whales, which AQ estimated at up to 100! Some were doing their “bubble-net” routine, the activity attracting clouds of shearwaters. On the birding front, Short-tailed Shearwaters were in incredible numbers. This common species, which we had seen in the thousands on several prior days, totaled an estimated 100,000, a truly memorable sight. Other birds included both Grey and Red-necked Phalarope and a trip high total of at least 1000 Ancient Murrelets.
May19th Our final day at sea with about half the trip heading south in the Pacific Ocean an estimated 10 miles from shore. During the afternoon we headed to inshore waters and cruised through some of the many sounds that make up the Canadian intercoastal waters. Birding was slow although Sooty Shearwaters suddenly made an appearance with an estimated 5,000 seen. The best birds seen were twenty-five Cassin’s Auklets, about a dozen Marbled Murrelets, a trip high count of 100 Rhinoceros Auklets, and a party of fifteen Sabine’s Gulls.
May 20th Essentially no birding today, as the Statendam docked at about 7.00 a.m. Just a few Pigeon Guillemots in the harbor. We all were bused to the International AP to go our separate ways home. BC and GM managed to miss their connecting flight and had to spend an unexpected and miserable night in Toronto – but that, as they say, is another story.
Great Northern Diver/Common Loon
Just three birds seen, all in Alaskan waters.
White-billed Diver/Yellow-billed Loon
A single bird seen in flight by BC as we were entering the inshore waters prior to docking at Hakodate and a summer plumaged bird was in the bay as we approached Petropavlovsk on May 10th were our only records.
A spectacular concentration of about 700 summer plumaged birds were concentrated in the Yakutat Bay. Probably these birds were staging in this area until their breeding lakes in the Alaskan interior became ice-free. Aside from this remarkable record, this species was seen on five dates with a daily maximum of twenty birds.
A single summer plumaged bird seen in flight off Sitka, although some distant birds in flight on this day were also probably this species.
A single bird seen in Petropavlosk [Petro] Bay.
Slavonian /Horned Grebe
Recorded on two dates including twenty birds in Yakutat Bay.
Two birds seen on a pond at Ibaraki, Japan.
Recorded on only four dates. Peak counts were thirty-five birds on May 6th and twenty birds on May 17th, which other than a single on May 4th were all that were seen. Our records suggest a more southerly distribution than Laysan at this time of year.
A fairly common and widespread species, although distinctly more numerous in Asian waters. In all, recorded on eleven days with maximum counts of 400 and 300 on May 8th and 9th respectively, Both of these days were in Asian waters, the peak number in American waters was 150 on May 11th.
[Short-tailed Albatross] A single first year bird reported by an elderly bird watcher on our first day at sea (May 4th). He described it as fully dark in color with huge pink bill. The bird reportedly spent about fifteen minutes in the ship’s wake.
First recorded on May 8th, when we were off northern Hokkaido. The species was then recorded daily generally in the low hundreds. Maximum daily estimate was one thousand on May 9th. Birds on the western part of the trip were almost universally dark-plumaged, while birds on the last few days included a number of light-plumaged individuals.
We were all very pleased to see this very distinctive and easily identifiable Pterodroma. Interestingly, virtually all records were concentrated on two consecutive days of May 11th and 11th [same date for two days the result of crossing the date line] when we totaled 300 and 125 birds respectively. The ship’s track during this period was heading roughly a little north of east from Petropavlosk to south of the Commodore Islands and north of the western Aleutians, crossing portions of the North Pacific and Bering Sea. This portion of the cruise was the most productive for diversity of pelagic species. Four Mottled Petrels were also seen very early in the morning on May 12th.
Solander’s (Providence) Petrel
Two birds flew close-by the bow on May 11th when the ship was about 200 miles south-west of the Commodore Islands (in Asian waters). Initially they were not noticed as they approached from directly ahead, as this species is about the same size and (general) coloration as Short-tailed Shearwater, which was being seen in some numbers. However the rapid dashing flight and different “jizz” suddenly drew attention, and the birds were observed in the scope as they flew along the starboard bow, low over the water. Back coloration was more grey (almost a slaty cast) compared to the brownish shearwaters, long wings with wrists held cocked in flight and a distinctive pale flash under forewing, heavy headed look. Underside not well observed, paler than upperparts. (BC GM).
A very common species in Japanese waters with an estimated 800+ on May 4th and 10,000+ on May 6th.
Probably overlooked to some degree amongst the vast numbers of the following species. Recording on only four dates including an estimated 5,000 on May 19th.
Easily the most abundant and widespread pelagic species. Recorded virtually daily when we were at sea and often numbering in the thousands. The peak estimate was 100,000+ on May 18th.
About ten birds seen in the early morning of May 8th in Japanese waters off Hokkaido (PC BC GM).
This was the more numerous of the two all-black storm petrels that we saw. There was little problem with the first eight; seen on May 4th, with Tristram’s. Although fairly distant the direct size comparison and differences in flight were apparent. Appeared slightly larger than a Leach’s but noticeably smaller than the following species. Generally all-dark blackish-brown but with a noticeable pale carpel-bar. Tail forked but not obviously so. Recorded first on May 4th [eight birds] and on May 6th about 40 were seen, some at closer range, about 200 miles south of a small breeding site on Sangan-jima, off the E coast of Honshu. Swinhoe’s is not a common breeding bird in Japan however and a recent survey suggests there are about 1000 pairs, mainly on the Sea of Japan coast. There was some minor dispute regarding size with these birds, BC and GM feeling they were larger than Leach’s but noticeably smaller than Markham’s, which they had seen in numbers on a previous cruise, while PC and AQ thought they were similar in size to Leach’s. All thought the flight similar to Leach’s. A series of five reasonable photographs were taken of one bird which came particularly close and these show some interesting plumage features, some of which could be taken as diagnostic of Tristram’s. (See discussion at end of report)
Two birds seen by PC, GM and AQ on May 4th. The birds were fairly distant so little in the way of detailed plumage could be seen but similar in general plumage coloration to Swinhoe’s but noticeably larger with a different flight. There was much more predictable gliding and banking than with Swinhoe’s. The birds would glide flat close to the sea, and then bank a meter or so above it, rather like a slow moving shearwater but with few wing flaps and relatively short distances between banks. There was little in the way of abrupt changes of direction as with Swinhoe’s/Leach’s. On this date we were at sea all day travelling between Osaka and Tokyo and about 60 miles off the south-central coast of Honshu, close to the Izu Islands, where the species breeds.
Recorded on five days in generally low numbers and from both Asian and American waters. The maximum estimate was two hundred birds seen on May 8th.
This very attractive species was scarce in Asian waters [despite breeding colonies on the Kuril and Commander Islands] being recorded on only two dates with a maximum estimate of 400 birds. Common and widespread in American waters being seen on almost every day we were at sea. The daily maximum estimate was 5,000+ birds on May 17th.
Recorded on four dates around Honshu with a daily maximum of 100 birds.
Our only confirmed record was a total of about thirty birds seen in Hakodate harbor. Not easy to separate from the preceding, but a few closely-observed birds showed the characteristic green gloss to their backs.
Common in the harbor at Petropavlosk with an estimated two hundred birds. Also a few seen at sea on May 9th. Much scarcer in American waters with just a single bird seen at Dutch Harbor (and a number of distant “probables”.
Small numbers recorded on three dates in Asian waters with a maximum count of twelve birds at Hokkaido. More numerous in American waters being recorded on five dates with a daily maximum of fifty birds at Kodiak.
Suprisingly scarce, with just four birds seen over two dates.
Black-crowned Night Heron
Three birds seen in wetlands around Osaka and a single immature which spent several hours on the ship when we were about 60 miles off the south Honshu coast.
A total of eight birds seen in wetlands around Osaka.
Fifteen birds seen at a large wetland area outside of Osaka.
Recorded on four dates including fifty birds at a large wetland area outside of Osaka.
Great Blue Heron
One or two were seen from the ship when we were docked at Vancouver.
A single bird seen at Osaka was our only record.
A party of fifteen birds seen in flight at a considerable distance at Petropavlosk may have been Sandhill Cranes.
Common Canada Goose
Three birds presumed to be of the race Canadensis were seen in flight at Kodiak.
Dusky Canada Goose
Two birds of this large dark form were watched for some while at Kodiak. They were accompanying a small party of the following species.
Aleutian Canada Goose
A small party of seven birds of this very distinctive form (with white neck collar) were seen well on Kodiak.
Cackling Canada Goose
A party of nine birds of the form minima , seen resting on the sea several miles from the shore and south of Yakutat Bay, were likely northbound migrants. Also, a single tame bird of unknown origin on a fresh water pond at Sitka.
Two parties totaling forty and fifty birds were seen at Kodiak and Yakutat Bay respectively.
Black Brant/Brent Goose
Distant views obtained of a flock of about three hundred birds seen on Kodiak and a party of eight birds seen at Sitka.
A tame female on a fresh water pond at Sitka on May 15th.
In Asia, birds were seen on five dates with daily maximum of only six birds. Interestingly, birds were recorded at sea, many miles from shore on three dates. A single drake was also seen on Kodiak.
Recorded on two dates as follows: Kodiak [twenty birds] and Sitka [twenty-five birds].
Recorded on four dates in American waters with daily maximum of eight birds in Yakutat Bay. Six birds of the attractive race nimia “Aleutian Green-winged Teal” were seen at Dutch Harbor.
Recorded on two dates in wetlands around Osaka with a daily maximum of fifteen birds.
Six birds at Petropavlosk was our only record in Asian waters. Recorded on three dates in American waters with a daily maximum of twenty-five birds at Sitka.
This attractive duck was recorded on five dates in Asia waters with a daily maximum of twenty birds seen at sites around Osaka.
Recorded on four dates with the daily maximum of fifteen birds at Kodiak.
Recorded on three dates with the daily maximum of eight birds in the Yakutat Bay.
Four birds seen at Sitka at a freshwater pond.
A party of six birds at a wetland outside of Osaka was the sole record.
Recorded on five dates in coastal bays with peak counts of two hundred at Petropavlosk and one hundred at Kodiak.
Two birds on a fresh water pond at Sitka were our sole record.
Recorded on only two dates including about fifty birds at Kodiak.
About 125 birds including many stunning adult drakes were seen from a cruise in Petropavlosk Bay and were one of the trip highlights.
About seventy birds seen from the bay cruise at Petropavlosk. This was the only sighting in Asian waters. Recorded at most of the inshore areas visited in American waters including an amazing five hundred birds at Dutch Harbor.
Recorded on five dates with daily maximum of fifty birds at Petropavlosk and sixty in the Yakutat Bay.
Recorded in small numbers on five days with daily maximum of eight birds in Asian waters and twenty birds in American waters.
Recorded on two dates including 150 birds in the Yakutat Bay.
The Asian form [species? – Stejneger’s Scoter] was seen on two days with four birds in Petropavlosk Bay being the high count. Nominate White-winged Scoters were a fairly common in inshore waters at Dutch Harbor, a flock of thirty birds were watched feeding on large clams or mussels, which they amazingly swallowed whole. Other sightings included fifty birds in the Yakutat Bay and twenty at Kodiak.
We were very pleased to be shown a flock of three male and five female Barrow’s Goldeneye at Kodiak.
Our only sighting was of six birds at Kodiak.
Scarce in Asian waters with only two birds seen. More numerous in American waters being seen on four days with maximum of twenty-five birds at Dutch Harbor.
Goosander/ Common Merganser
Recorded on three dates in American waters with a maximum of ten birds at Kodiak.
A single bird briefly seen at Kodiak.
Recorded on three dates on Honshu with a daily maximum of fifteen birds.
An extremely abundant raptor being seen at all coastal sites visited in Alaska. The maximum number was at Dutch Harbor where we estimated at least 100 birds.
Steller’s Sea Eagle
This magnificent raptor was the top bird on BC’s list and lived up to all his expectations. The scenic cruise around Petropavlosk Bay produced an immature and two adults at their nest. One of the immense adults swooped low over the boat and then landed in a close-by tree providing great flight and perched views. Interestingly, the nest was on an exposed position right on the cliff top. Superb and easily the bird of the trip.
Two birds seen hunting over the beach just after leaving the Hubbard Glacier.
A single bird spent some while around the ship on May 9th when the Statendam was about fifty miles out to sea off of northern Honshu. A second individual also spent some while around the ship on May 11th when the ship was about 200 miles south of the Commodore Islands. These were both of the American subspecies.
Pacific Golden Plover
Single birds recorded on three dates with sightings at Dutch Harbor, Kodiak and one in flight over the Bering Sea about 100 miles north of the Aleutians.
A total of seven birds recorded at three coastal sites in Alaska.
Little Ringed Plover
A total of ten birds seen at two sites on Honshu.
Ten birds seen at a coastal reserve just outside Osaka.
Two adults and at least two chicks seen along the Ai River near Osaka.
Fairly common along the rocky coasts we visited in Alaska. In all recorded on four dates with the daily maximum of twenty birds at Kodiak.
Singles seen at Kodiak and Sitka.
Our only record was of two birds at Sitka.
A single bird flushed off the ship at dawn on May 11th when the ship was at least 200+ miles from land in the North Pacific (Asian waters).
Rather surprisingly our sole record was a single bird on Kodiak, foraging along the beach at Ft. Abercrombie.
Quite common at the coastal reserve [Osaka] we visited on May 3rd where we estimated at least fifteen birds.
On the morning of May 12th, a single small peep flew several times around the ship providing good flight views; it also landed briefly on the upper deck. At the time, the Statendam was in the Bering Sea about 15 miles north of Attu. The bird was calling continuously and was identified by its very distinctive flight call - a high, loud prolonged trill quite similar to the flight call of a longspur (although a bit more musical, not quite as dry), and quite unlike the call of other possible species. In fact, when we first heard it we looked around for the passerine which had made the call. Subsequent close passes as the bird flew by at eye level showed expected plumage coloration. Over the years, all observers have had multiple experiences with Temminck’s Stints, including on their breeding grounds in Finland and Siberia. PC in particularly observes this species almost annually on migration in Norfolk [England].
Twenty-five birds seen at Nanko Yacho-en.
Our sole record was of a single bird on Kodiak. Other “peeps” which were probably this species were seen distantly at Sitka.
A single bird seen in flight around the ship when the Statendam was in the N. Pacific about 200+ miles south-west of the Commodore Islands.
Our only sighting was four birds at Sitka.
A single bird at Nanko Yacho-en was the only record.
We had no luck finding this species at Dutch Harbor, but BC was rewarded by seeing a very close tight flyby flock of about forty birds while the ship was cruising near the Hubbard Glacier. They appeared to be on passage.
Three birds at Kodiak were our only sighting.
Twenty-five birds seen at Nanko Yacho-en and a single bird seen at sea while the ship was about 60 miles off the south coast of Honshu.
A single bird seen briefly in flight at Dutch Harbor.
Two birds heard displaying over marshes at Kodiak.
Recorded on two dates in Asian waters including a party of twenty birds in Hakodate Harbor. In American waters, recorded on four dates including about four hundred birds seen at sea several miles off the Alaskan coast south of Sitka.
Grey/ Red Phalarope
Migratory flocks totaling 1,000+ birds were flushed off the sea while about 50 miles off the northern peninsular of Honshu. A very impressive sight.
Recorded twice in Asian Waters with an impressive 250 on May 11th. On this date the ship [at noon] was about 200 miles south of the Commodore Islands and heading east towards towards the Aleutians. Birds were seen throughout the day mainly in small parties heading in a northerly direction and clearly on migration. In Alaskan waters recorded on five dates. The daily maximum was twenty-five birds on the day after the previously mentioned 250 and were no doubt part of the same northerly migration.
Recorded in all on eight days with the maximum count of twenty birds on May 17th.
Recorded on five days with the maximum daily count of ten birds on May 12th.
Fairly common in Japan with a daily maximum of 400 birds. Additionally, a single summer plumaged adult was seen extremely well (and photographed) from the Statendam as we were leaving Dutch Harbor.
Suprisingly, our only sighting was of three birds resting on the sea on May 17th.
A passage of these small exquisite gulls totaling ten birds over two days was one of the most unexpected and enjoyable surprises of the trip. The first birds were seen on May 11th in Asian waters with a party of six including two immatures heading ENE. These were followed later by a single adult [which passed the ship moving N but landed on the water and joined what PC believes were similar gulls]. All these sightings were in Asian waters with the ship at noon about 200 miles south of the Commodore Islands. A party of three adults was seen heading N on the following day in American waters, with the ship by noon about 100 miles north-west of Adak in the Bering Sea, heading east towards Dutch Harbor. All, including the immatures, were in summer plumage displaying a strong flush of pink on the underparts. – Superb
This attractive gull was recorded on four dates with the daily maximum of fifteen birds on May19th.
Recorded in small numbers in Asian waters (“Kamchatka Gull”) with the daily maximum of ten birds.
Vega Herring Gull
Recorded on four dates in Asian waters in small numbers including ten birds at sea on May 11th when we were in the north Pacific about 200 miles south of the Commodore Islands. Also, on the following day, in American waters ten were seen around the ship. At dawn on this date the Statendam was in the Bering Sea about 15 miles north of Attu.
American Herring Gull
First encountered on Kodiak and then recorded almost daily with a peak total of 100 birds at Sitka.
Quite common in Asian waters, particularly inshore with very large numbers seen at Petropavlosk and 100+ at Hokkaido. Also seen far out to sea including fifteen birds on our last day in Asian waters when we were hundreds of miles out in the Pacific. Unfortunately, none seen in American waters.
Recorded in small numbers on four dates in both Asian and American waters. The daily maximum was five birds at Dutch Harbor.
A widespread species and recorded almost daily. Only low numbers seen in Asian waters with a daily maximum of six birds at Hokkaido. Much commoner in American waters with the peak being hundreds seen at Dutch Harbor.
Just one record of five birds recorded in Japanese waters. After that we saw many hundreds with the peak numbers in the thousands at Petropavlosk where there were large breeding colonies and at sea off the Alaskan coast on May 17th.
Two birds seen at sea on May 11th was our only sightings in Asian waters. In American waters, this species was recorded on three dates with a daily maximum of eight birds seen while we were in the Bering Sea and north of the Aleutians. Birds were often in the company of Black-legged Kittiwakes.
Recorded on two dates with the maximum being about 200 birds seen as we entered Tokyo harbor.
Recorded on four dates with the daily maximum of 250 birds seen on May 17th.
One of our target birds was first seen on Kodiak with two birds mixed in with Arctic Terns at a breeding beach. Seen on two other dates with the maximum of thirty birds seen in the Yakutat Bay.
An estimated 150 birds seen around a wetland area just outside of Osaka.
While collectively we recorded fifteen species of alcid, our general impression was that several species had not returned yet in good numbers to their breeding sites. Probably had the cruise been a couple of weeks later we would have seen greater numbers of several species.
Recorded only once in Asian waters with twenty seen in Petro Harbor. In contrast, common in American waters being recorded virtually daily. The daily maximum was an estimated one thousand on May 14th.
Brunnich’s Guillemot/Thick-billed Murre
Less common than the previous species. In all recorded on seven dates with the daily maximum of fifty birds seen while entering Petropavlosk Bay. Not unexpected, this species had a more northerly distribution than the prior species and was not seen at all after May 14th.
Fairly common in inshore waters of Alaska. We recorded this species at Dutch Harbor, Kodiak, Yakutat Bay and also Vancouver usually in numbers ranging from 20 – 30 birds.
This was unexpectedly scarce, with a single bird flying close around our small scenic cruise boat in Petropavlosk Bay the only certain record.
Recorded on four dates in inshore waters. These included thirty birds each at Dutch Harbor and Yakutat Bay and twenty-five at Kodiak.
More numerous than expected being recorded twice in Asian waters and virtually every day at sea in American waters. Maximum numbers were 200 [Petropavlosk Bay], 500 on May 14th and an impressive 1,000 on May 18th when we were heading south from Sitka and just a couple of miles from the Alaskan shore.
A pair seen at Dutch Harbor plus an impressive eighty birds in Yakutat Bay (near the Hubbard Glacier). Many birds were still transitioning from winter to breeding plumage.
Surprisingly scarce, being recorded on just two days with a maximum of twenty-five birds seen on May 19th.
Just one record of four birds seen in Asian waters on May 9th. Recorded on four dates in American waters usually in small numbers but with forty birds seen on May 14th when we were heading eastwards across the Gulf of Alaska.
On our final day in Asian waters [May 11th] we saw about 200 small alcids. Most of these were too far away to be identified. However, for the close birds, 30+ were Leasts. Recorded on four dates in American waters with the maximum of fifty birds on May 13th. These birds were seen mainly as we entered and departed Dutch Harbor. Many very small dark auklets seen in flight whilst departing Dutch Harbor, in bitter cold and snow, were not identified and probably represent both this and the following species.
Another very tricky identification as many tiny darkish alcids seen at distance could not be positively identified. However two close birds were recorded in Asian waters on May 11th and six birds in American waters on May 12th, the latter almost run over by the ship before they dove!
This species typically was seen in flight often in large tight flocks. Most birds were seen on May 9th when we recorded a very impressive 5,000 birds. On this date we were travelling roughly parallel to the Kuril Islands and between 10-20 miles to their east. In American waters, a party of fifty birds was seen on May 12th when we were in the Bering Sea and up to 100 miles north of the Aleutians.
Another species that was seen in generally smaller numbers than expected. In Asian waters, recorded just once with ten birds seen as we entered Hokkaido Bay. In American waters recorded on five dates in generally low numbers with the exception of 100 birds seen on May 19th.
This highly entertaining and charismatic species was the most widely distributed of all the alcids . Usually seen singularly or in small parties. Quite often birds would have great difficulty flying away from the path of the ship and they would dive just as the ship was about to run them over! In Asian waters we recorded this species regularly once north of Japan. In all seen on four dates with a daily maximum of 150 birds. In American waters, seen virtually daily again a maximum of 150 birds.
Much to our great surprise only one individual seen by AQ on May 16th. Clearly our cruise was too early in the spring for seeing this species. (Note: subsequent correspondence with Debra Shearwater indicated that unprecedented numbers of this species were being recorded in California waters this spring, where they are normally a rare winter visitor, per Sibley).
Recorded at all our port calls except Dutch Harbor.
Oriental Turtle Dove
Recorded on two dates in Japan with thirty birds on May 1st being the high count.
A single bird at Dutch Harbor and one at Sitka were our only sightings.
Up to three birds seen along the Ai River just outside of Osaka.
Three birds seen on May 4th provided great views as they flew around the ship. On this day we were at sea all day travelling between Osaka and Tokyo and about 60 miles off the south-central coast of Honshu.
Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker
This small attractive woodpecker was quite numerous being recorded on all four days on land in Japan. The daily maximum was ten birds seen on May 3rd.
Japanese Green Woodpecker
Our only record was that of a bird calling (and seen briefly in flight) on May 3rd.
Two-three birds seen and heard singing in paddy fields adjacent to the Ai River.
Fairly common around Osaka and Tokyo. Also , seen on two dates at sea including a surprising twenty birds on May 4th. Some of these spent much of the day roosting on the ship’s railings.
Two birds on and around the ship on May 4th and a single bird the following day outside of Tokyo.
Asian House Martin
Recorded on three dates in Japan including a single bird around the ship when we were about 60 miles off the Honshu coast.
A single bird seen by PC on May 17th.
A number of unidentified hirundines seen at different sites in Alaska probably refer to this species. Also at least ten Tree Swallows were seen at Sitka.
Recorded on two days with a single bird at Dutch Harbor and several seen and/or heard at Sitka.
Ten birds in full summer plumage were watched feeding for some while at Dutch Harbor. A party of thirty [Kodiak] and six birds at Sitka were also seen.
About thirty birds were seen on and about the ship on May 11th when we were in the Pacific Ocean and at noon about 200 miles south of the Commodore Islands.
Two birds seen with the previous species including excellent views of a summer plumage female on board the ship.
Single Yellow Wagtails were seen on two occasions while at sea in Asian waters. The first was on May 4th when we were about sixty miles of the south-central coast of Honshu. The second bird considered to be of the race tshucheusis was seen on May 9th when the ship was about 15 miles off of the Kuril Islands.
A pair seen along the river at Mino Quasi-National Park and another pair at Futagoyama [outside of Tokyo].
Recorded on four dates including three birds along the Ai River [Osaka], two birds at Hokkaido and four at Petropavlosk, Also a party of four birds also arrived aboard the ship when we were travelling roughly parallel to the Kuril Islands and about 15 miles to their east.
A single bird seen at Hokkaido was our sole record.
This extremely attractive endemic was seen on all three of our days birding around Osaka. Most birds were seen around the Ai River where on May 2nd we saw four adults plus fledglings.
Very common at birding sites around Osaka and seen also in smaller numbers around Tokyo and Hokkaido.
A female seen at the Nanko Yacho-en [a coastal bird reserve near Tenpozan Docks] and a bird heard singing on Mt. Hakodate.
Two birds seen along the trails at Mt. Hakodate.
Blue Rock Thrush
Three birds seen on the rocks around the parking lot at Mt. Hakodate
Fairly common at both Kodiak and Sitka judging by the amount of birds singing but quite difficult to get decent views. Fortunately in the end we managed to get absolutely brilliant views of stunning male at Kodiak. For BC one of the best birds of the trip.
A single male seen and heard singing at Kodiak where this species is quite uncommon, and a few others heard at Sitka.
Fairly common at Kodiak and Sitka with about six birds seen and others heard at both sites.
Recorded on all three days around Osaka with a daily maximum of seven birds. Also a bird at Mt. Hakodate and single birds that came aboard the ship on May 4th when we were about 60 miles off the south-central coast of Honshu and on May 8th when we were at sea about 15 miles east of the southern Kuril Islands.
A single female seen on the grounds of Osaka Castle.
A single bird at Ibaraki-benten and three on the grounds of Osaka Castle on May 1st followed by a single bird at Mt. Hakodate on May 7th.
Grey [Japanese] Thrush
Four birds were seen along the trails at Mt. Hakodate and provided PC with his only lifer of the trip! Quite a striking thrush.
Fairly common at Sitka with a single seen and many heard singing. Unlike their behavior on passage, these little mites were staying in the topmost branches of thick spruce trees!
Common at Sitka with an estimated twelve birds seen in about 3 hours of birding.
Three birds seen at Sitka.
Another fairly common warbler at Sitka with eight birds seen.
Recorded on four dates around Osaka including an influx of migrants estimated at more than fifty birds at the coastal reserve of Nanko Yacho-en.
About twelve birds heard and seen at Nanko Yacho-en were associated with the same influx as the previous species.
We recorded this recent split [from Pale-legged Leaf Warbler] with three individuals at Mt. Hakodate.
A single migrant was seen at Nanko Yacho-en on May 3rd.
A very common but difficult to see Japanese endemic. We finally got excellent views of several singing birds. We were very surprised to find a number of individuals singing from the tops of tall trees. The song was very beautiful and rivaled the quality and richness of a Nightingale. In all we recorded this species almost daily in Japan with the peak number of twenty birds seen [and more often heard] at to Futagoyama, a lovely wooded valley about 35 miles outside Tokyo.
Regrettably only heard, with singing birds on three dates in Japan.
Three birds seen at the coastal wetland reserve of Nanko Yacho-en.
This very attractive flycatcher was surprisingly common being seen on all our land days in Japan. Our daily maximum was six birds seen on May 2nd.
This extremely beautiful flycatcher was almost abundant in woodlands around Osaka with a daily maximum of fifteen birds seen plus many others heard singing. Also two birds seen at Futagoyama. The male often puffs out his orange rump feathers while singing, somewhat like the Puffback Shrike of Africa!
Surprisingly our only sighting was of two birds on Kodiak.
Four birds seen along the trails at Mt. Hakodate.
This attractive Japanese endemic was fairly common and widespread being seen on all our land days in Japan. The daily maximum was six birds on May 2nd.
Another fairly common and widespread species being recorded daily while we were in Japan with a daily maximum of six birds. This form showed a slight but quite noticeable crest.
Probably the most widespread tit being recorded daily in Japan with a maximum of about twelve birds seen at Mt. Hokkaido. The Japanese form [p.m. minor] was quite distinct from the British form [p.m.newtoni] with an almost complete lack of yellow on the underparts, colder, greyer upperparts and a different call.
Another common and widespread Japanese tit. In all recorded on four dates with a daily maximum of twenty birds. The form at Hakodate is white-headed.
Two birds of the race S.e. asiatica were well seen at Mt Hakodate on May 7th. They were distinctly paler than the British and West European race with quite strikingly white underparts and an upward sloping tip to the lower mandible. The call was also quite dissimilar.
Common and widespread being recorded on all our land days in Japan with a daily maximum of fifteen birds.
A pair with three recently fledged juveniles were seen well along the Ai River [Osaka].
Common at Ibaraki-benten with about fifteen birds seen. The race in question is g. brandtii and these appear drabber and darker than the nominate form.
Fairly common at Kodiak with an estimated thirty birds seen.
Common around Osaka but not seen elsewhere in Japan.
A common urban crow and seen at all our land stops in Japan. Rather surprisingly not seen in Petropavlosk.
Very common at Dutch Harbor with an estimated 150 birds seen during our six hours birding there. Our only other sighting was ten birds seen on Kodiak.
This rather small, slim crow with its distinctive nasal call was common at both Kodiak and Sitka.
Our only record was of eight birds at Sitka.
Fairly common at all of our land stops in Japan, and with a daily maximum of thirty birds.
This rather attractive species was seen just once with two birds at a small coastal fishing village near Hakodate.
Asian Rosy Finch
Extremely close views obtained of a single female at Mt. Hakodate. This is an uncommon winter visitor to Japan and was very much an unexpected surprise.
Grey-crowned Rosy Finch
About ten birds of this handsome species were seen at Dutch Harbor. The birds were mainly around man-made structures around the dock [one bird singing on the roof of the building where BC returned the rental car] and at a feeder in the small town of Unalaska.
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Common and widespread in Japan and also Petropavlosk.
Fairly common and widespread in Japan being seen daily with a daily maximum of twelve birds.
This very large, handsome finch was only seen at Ibaraki-benten where it was quite common. We saw a noisy flock of up to twenty-five birds on both days we visited this site.
One of the best birds of the trip was a beautiful adult male watched singing from the top of a small sitka spruce at Kodiak. Others were heard singing throughout the day.
Red [Common] Crossbill
Up to ten birds seen mixed-in with a large flock of the following species at Kodiak.
White-winged ][Two-barred] Crossbill
A flock of at least 100 birds on Kodiak. Many of the birds were on the ground picking up grit and this allowed us to obtain excellent prolonged views.
Two birds on Kodiak was the sole record.
A common and widespread species in Japan. Recorded on five days with the maximum of eight birds at Mt. Hakodate. Also, two birds came on the ship when we were about 15 miles off of the Kuril Islands.
Siberian Meadow Bunting
Recorded on three dates in Japan with a maximum of six birds on May 2nd. These included several singing males on territory.
A single bird, probably an immature male, seen at Osaka Castle.
Recorded on four dates. Interestingly, except for a single bird at Dutch Harbor, all of our sightings were birds seen at sea flying either around or on the Statendam. decks. These included parties of forty birds on May 11th and thirty on May 12th. One small party stayed on board for several hours and gratefully accepted the crackers and bread-crumbs that we gave them!
Two parties of eight and ten birds flying around the ship on May 9th and 11th.
Recorded in small numbers from Dutch Harbor, Kodiak and Sitka.
Three birds came aboard the ship on May 14th and birds were also seen (and heard) at Kodiak and Sitka.
Five birds of the Pacific race “Sooty Sparrow” were seen on Kodiak and many more heard singing. Overall, much drabber and lacking the attractive rufous and grey tones of the eastern race taiga that BC and GM see regularly in Maryland.
Recorded at all three land stops in Alaska with the maximum of six birds at Sitka, This form is distinctly bulkier and darker than those seen in Maryland.
A single bird seen by GM at Sitka.
Pacific Spotted Dolphin – Seen on several days off Japan.
Pacific White-sided Dolphin – Several groups noted, including some escorting our ship into Hakodate Harbour.
Fin Whale – two or three large baleen whales seen along Aleutians were identified as this species
Humpback Whale – individuals seen at various sites, as well as large groups bubble-netting south of Sitka – very spectacular!
Gray Whale – a few seen off Sitka
Steller’s Sea Lion – scattered individuals at sea, in harbors and larger groups hauled out in Alaska waters – including Kodiak and Sitka.
Northern Fur Seal – several individuals seen at sea in both Asian and US waters, and near shore in Alaskan waters
Harbor Seal – several seen at Dutch Harbor and Sitka
Northern Sea Otter – a large group was seen lolling in the kelp beds off Dutch Harbor, also a few off Kodiak near ship’s docking site.
Mountain Goat – 5 individuals observed on hillside on Kodiak Island. Apparently introduced there.
Sitka Black-tailed Deer – a few observed on Kodiak
Grizzly Bear – a large individual was seen (great scope views) foraging along the shingle beach just seaward of the Hubbard Glacier, turning over logs and investigating the shoreline.
Red Fox – a rather scruffy specimen was seen near the fish factory at Dutch Harbor
Snowshoe Hare – quite a few observed on Kodiak
Japanese Chipmunk – charming little mammal seen on Mt. Hakodate
Taiwanese Squirrel – an introduced species seen at Futagoyama; looks like a very dark “red-type” squirrel
Red Squirrel – seen at Ft. Abercrombie, on Kodiak
Discussion: Dark-rumped Storm-Petrels: Both Tristram’s and Swinhoe’s Storm-petrels were observed, and as noted above, when seen together were separable on size and flight characteristics. Plumage differences however were not as obvious as reported in some literature. Quite confusing was the suggestion in some field guides that the diagonal pale bar on the upper wing coverts does not reach the forewing on Swinhoe’s. Examination of various photographs of captured birds and a flight photograph (North Carolina) show this to be incorrect, with Swinhoe’s and Tristram’s similar. Our photographs of Swinhoe’s show a slightly pale rump, a smoky grey mantle and dark head all of which might suggest Tristram’s if the latter had not been present for direct comparison.
The color of the mantle we observed is not inconsistent with a Swinhoe’s captured at Tyneside in 1993, from photographs of that birding the hand. AQ has been able to compare these photographs with photographs of Tristram’s taken on the 2007 W Pacific Odyssey by Chris Collins. Part of the rump on these is similar in color to the diagonal wing covert bar, which is not the case with our photographs of Swinhoe’s, but in most other respects the plumage is virtually identical. Both show inconspicuous white primary shafts protruding from under the primary coverts. They look longer and less conspicuous in the case of Tristram’s though. There are some differences in jizz. In all cases the forked tail is very obvious in Tristram’s and the tail is parallel throughout its length or slightly splayed at the tip. In our photographs of Swinhoe’s, (and also those on Brian Patterson’s website www.patteson.com) the forked tail is at best difficult to see and normally the tail is held closed and tapers towards the tip with the tip appearing rounded. In one or two cases it is not clear if it is a forked tail or dangling legs one is looking at. With Tristram’s the primaries are swept back with the tips in line with the secondaries. The wing tip is very pointed with the longest primary very definitely the tip. With ours the wings are held more forward, with the tips in front of the secondaries. Frequently the 2nd and 3rd primaries are longest, giving a slightly rounded wing tip. Such things could be affected by weather conditions however. Our experience is that there is more to be learnt regarding the plumage of Swinhoe’s Petrel, and its variations.
This website shows we are not alone in confusion: http://ca.geocities.com/kantorilode/Species/Dark-rumpedStorm-Petrels.html#Dark-rumped%20Storm-Petrels. The new ID book is probably inaccurate with respect to the pale upper wing coverts not reaching the forewing on this species and at the time that we were confused by this. There are internet photographs of birds in the hand which show the pale coverts reaching very close to the forewing so their illustrations may be inaccurate for this time of year at least. The photographs were taken early in the morning of 6th about 100-200 miles S of known Swinhoe’s colonies with breeding about to start. (some known sites are given on the website above).