Archive for the ‘Torishima’ Tag

West Pacific Odyssey part 6: Japanese waters and the Bonin and Izu Islands. 9th – 14th April 2019.   Leave a comment

Sorry to any readers who may have visited this blog recently to find a series of photos with no captions. After uploading the photos I though I clicked on ‘save’ I must have hit ‘publish’ instead.

 

This is the 6th and final episode of my account to the West Pacific Odyssey, an epic 31 journey on the ship Professor Khromov (aka Spirit of Enderby) between New Zealand and Japan and covers our time from when we entered Japanese waters on 9th April until when we flew home from Japan on the 14th.

 

On 9th April we entered Japanese waters. The composition of the species we had been seeing had already changed from being predominately boobies, tropicbirds and terns to predominately storm-petrels and shearwaters. With a number of Matsadaira’s Storm-petrels being seen in the wake it was decided to drag a bag of chum behind the ship which brought them in closer. This in turn brought bird photographers off the foredeck to the stern (including stalwart birders Mike and ‘green sock’ Geoff who had both travelled with me in 2016 on the Atlantic Odyssey).

 

Matsadaira’s Storm-petrels are a large storm-petrel with a wing span 8cm or more than a Leach’s. Their wholly brown underparts …

 

… and the white bases to their primaries give them a very different look. Around 1990 there was a spate of claims of this species in the UK although none were substantiated. Indeed it was shown that at least some of the records were Eurasian Nightjars, feeding offshore at dusk and performing a strange fluttering flight, something that totally baffled the observers at the time..

 

Wedge-tailed Shearwaters were relatively common. They have a wide range across the Indian and Pacific Oceans and breed in both hemispheres. Dark phase birds predominate in the southern hemisphere and light in north …

 

… whether this indicates incipient speciation is not clear but at the moment they are not acting like separate species.

 

If you want to see some photos of dark phase birds then follow this link to part 2 of my account of the West Pacific Odyssey.

 

Also in these waters to the south of Japan we saw our first Bonin Petrels, the only Pterodroma I was to see in the northern hemisphere part of this cruise.

 

As well as a diagnostic underwing pattern …

 

… this species shows a much greyer back than other similar Pterodromas.

 

And along with the shearwaters we started seeing our first Black-footed Albatrosses. This is a species that breeds mainly in the Hawaiian chain but ranges widely over the North Pacific.

 

Early on on the 10th we passed the island of Hahajima in the Ogasawara (or Bonin) Islands. A Humpback Whale greeted us as we arrived. It was such a pity we couldn’t go ashore as it was calm then …

 

… but we had to head north to Chichijima in order to clear customs and have a bio-security check. The officials from Japan had spent days travelling by ferry from Tokyo and perhaps unsurprisingly insisted on doing a though job. We had expected that we could go ashore to clear immigration and then have a look around but instead they came on board. Even so it took four hours before they departed and then there wasn’t enough time to go ashore …

 

… at least there were more Humpback Whales to watch.

 

Not landing was a bit frustrating as we had been at sea for six days now and although there was no specific wildlife to see ashore, quite a few people wanted to ‘stretch their legs’. However for the birders (which meant almost all of the clients) a treat was in store …

 

… as the day drew to a close we headed round to the east side of Chichijima. We were on the look out for a very rare and recently described species of small known as Bryan’s Shearwater …

 

… however nobody had told me that Bannerman’s Shearwater, another small shearwater and one we had seen at sea further south, also occurred there as well. So in fact the first four or five ‘Bryan’s’ that I saw were in fact Bannerman’s … Photo by Niall D Perrins see here

 

… however eventually at least one Bryan’s Shearwater, smaller and with more white around the eye than Bannerman’s, flew down the starboard side. This is a very little known species, critically endangered and only recently described. This photo is by Hiro Tanoi, the ace Japanese seawatcher who along with his wife Shoko, was onboard the Professor Khromov with us, but was taken on an earlier trip to Chichijima. See here for his website.

 

We were back off Hahajima at dawn but the weather was deteriorating. The Bonin Islands have two endemics, the Bonin Honeycreeper (actually a white-eye, albeit a very attractive one) and the soon to be split greenfinch. There was a a major blow when we were told at the last minute that customs had forbidden us to use our zodiacs in case we introduced foreign organisms into this pristine environment. So whilst the expedition organisers tried to get local boats to come and ferry us ashore we stood on deck and watched the antics of the local Humpback Whales.

 

Eventually the captain decided that as he couldn’t safely anchor any further inshore and the local boats might be bashed against the hull, so both for the ship’s safety and ours he would have to abandon the visit.

 

As you can see the weather (the tail end of a typhoon that has swept across the Tokyo area) deteriorated even further, so we had no option but sail north. Getting to Hahajima from Tokyo is a very difficult proposition so as we sailed away I knew that my only realistic chance of seeing those birds was sailing away with me.

 

However the day still had a goody in store for us. We started seeing the odd Tristam’s Petrel. Similar to Matsudaira’s but smaller, with a stronger pale bar along the greater coverts and lacking the white base to the primaries …

 

… this species was also high on my wanted list, as of course is any new species of seabird.

 

They didn’t come as close as Matsudaira’s had earlier, but as the day drew on they started appearing in staggering numbers, several flocks holding a thousand plus birds were seen and at times the surface of the sea looked like it was covered in a swarm of gnats.

 

On the morning of the 12th we approached the active volcano of Torishima.

 

Beautiful Black-footed Albatrosses sailed in front of the dramatic cliffs, but this wasn’t our main target.

 

… distant white specks on the slopes were revealed to be what we had longed to see, Short-tailed Albatross colonies at their main breeding colony.

 

We could also see the research station, once the base for those who almost drove this magnificent species to extinction by killing them for their feathers.          From Wikidedia: The IUCN classifies this species as vulnerable with an occurrence range of 34,800,000 km2 and a breeding range of 9 km2 . The Short-tailed Albatross came perilously close to extinction. They were hunted on an almost industrial scale for their feathers in the latter half of the 19th century, with some estimates claiming upward of 10 million birds hunted. By the 1930s the only population left was on Torishima, between 1927 and until 1933 hunting continued when the Japanese government declared the ban of hunting to save the species, by which time the albatrosses had stopped breeding on the island. At this point the species was assumed to be extinct and research became impossible with the outbreak of World War II. On 1949 an American researcher arriving on this island declared the species to be extinct, but an estimated 50 individuals, most likely juveniles, survived at sea (all albatross species take a long time to reach sexual maturity and will not return to their natal colony for many years). After the return of the birds they were carefully protected, and the first egg was laid by the returning birds in 1954. Varieties of albatross decoys were placed around on the island after it was discovered that like other albatross species, this species also were enticed to breed if placed in a group. Today, longline fisheries, and volcanic eruptions on Torishima are the largest threats; however, introduced predators, environmental contaminants, soil instability, and extreme weather are also threats. There are many measures underway to protect this species. Japan, Canada, and the United States list this bird as a protected species. Torishima is a National Wildlife Protection Area, and native plant species are being transplanted to assist in nesting. Also, most commercial longline fisheries use bycatch mitigation devices.

 

So the species survived thanks to the immature birds that remained at sea when all the adults had been slaughtered. Fortunately no feather collectors went back to check if there were any more left. As a size comparison here is an immature Short-tailed Albatross (left) with a Black-footed Albatross (right) and a Wedge-tailed Shearwater (lower centre).

 

 

The immatures (left) are great but the adult with its pink bill, white body and golden head and neck is a joy to see.

 

As the Wikipedia article says, there remains a threat from volcanic eruptions but now the population has reached around 2000 there would be a good population out at sea that could recolonise the island at a later date, certainly more than the estimated 50 that survived at sea after the end of the feather trade.

 

Of course landing by anyone other than researchers is banned and there is an exclusion zone around the island where fishing and the dumping of any material (including chum) is prohibited, so we steamed away from the island with a whole bunch of albatrosses and shearwaters in our wake …

 

… whilst Chris Collins …

 

… and Lisle Gwynn got on with the unpleasant job of chum preparation.

 

Soon of course the albatrosses keen sense of smell told them there was food available …

 

… and Black-footed Albatrosses glided in for a free feast (and the day brightened up as well).

 

Short-tailed Albatrosses joined the melee of Black-foots and shearwaters around the stern …

 

… giving truly wonderful views. I saw a few of this species on my cruise (also on the Prof Khromov) off the Kuril Islands on the ‘Russian Ring of Fire’ trip in 2016 but views were distant and nothing like as good as this.

 

As well as the brown immatures there were a number of sub-adults. An albatross of this size (only out competed by the Royal and Wandering groups) will take ten years to reach maturity.

 

I had to ask the question when preparing this post: just how many photos of this wonderful and enigmatic species that almost went extinct, is too many? But I though I’d squeeze in another couple. If you want to see my review of all the albatrosses in the world posted for ‘World Albatross Day’ then click here

 

By my standards the photos were good, but here is a truly great photo of a truly great bird (in every sense of the word) by fellow passenger Toy Janssen. Short-tailed is hardly the best name. Some have suggested calling it Steller’s Albatross after its discoverer Georg Wilhelm Steller the first European to set in North America by travelling eastwards across Siberia, but no other albatross sports a patronym. I think a great opportunity was lost when they failed to call it Golden-headed Albatross.

 

The following morning we anchored off Miyakejima in the Izu Islands. Then Helen dropped a bombshell. Although we had been ensured that we could use our zodiacs to get ashore but overnight the authorities had changed their mind and we would have to use local boats. We could see the busses hired to take us to the forest to see the endemic birds waiting by the quayside. Long dialogs ensued with the port, but the wind started to increase and the consensus was that the boatmen might be able to get us off but couldn’t guarantee getting us back on board again. I might add that Helen and the expedition staff did everything they could to try and get us ashore. The fault doesn’t lie with them.

 

Having had three shore excursion cancelled in last four days we were all pretty pissed off. It would mean that we would be ten days at sea without landing, but far more important was that we would miss the island endemics and specialities, Japanese Woodpigeon, Ijima’s Leaf Warbler, Owsten’s Tit and Izu Thrush. However when I got home I found that the Birdquest spring tour of Japan includes the Izu islands and I had plan to do that tour sometime soon (pandemics permitting of course). So unlike the Bonin Islands all is not lost. Later we took a short excursion around some nearby rock stacks with Mijakejima looming in the background.

 

The rough conditions didn’t stop boatmen landing fishermen on these rocks!

 

The day was sunny, the scenery magnificent and our target appeared right on cue …

 

A flock of Japanese Murrelets, the only auks I saw on this trip.

 

I had seen a couple of distant Japanese Murrelets from the bridge of Prof Kromov just to the east of Sakhalin on the ‘Russian Ring of Fire’ trip but the views this time were so much better.

 

We circumnavigated the rocks and headed back towards Mijakejima before heading north towards Yokohama …

 

On the way back we noticed that the outcrop that we had seen from the other side now seemed to have a teddy bear perched on the summit!

 

A few Streaked Shearwaters had been seen by some of the birders ever since we we left the Solomon Islands, but now we were in the core of their range and they we positively abundant. Not so the Short-tailed Shearwaters from Australia which normally arrive by this time in order to moult. They were conspicuous by the absence.

 

We were treated to hundreds of the speckled heads and white underparts of the Streaked Shearwaters (a species that has even been seen in the Western Palaearctic off Eilat) during our final afternoon.

 

Although this post is about a trip in 2019, it was 2020 before I posted it. This year we have heard of a Short-tailed Shearwater found moribund in Ireland, a White-chinned Petrel in Orkney, a Zino’s Petrel off Scilly, a Scopoli’s Shearwater in the North Sea, a Yelkoun Shearwater in Dorset (one that I did see) and multiple records of Brown Boobies. Something is happening to the world’s seabirds, undoubtedly caused by the warming of the oceans and the disrupting of currents. Maybe one day a Streaked Shearwater will reach Britain.

 

As evening approached we continued to sail north towards Tokyo and the volume of shipping traffic, which had been so light on on the cruise, dramatically increased.

 

On the morning of the 14th we entered Sagami Bay which leads to Tokyo Bay and the Port at Yokohama. We started seeing a whole bunch of new birds, such as Black Kites, Large-billed Crows and a whole host of gulls including Black-headed, Kamchatka (a race of Common), Vega, Slaty-backed, Glaucous-winged and this Black-tailed Gull.

 

It was quite hazy as we approached the port at Yokohama and Mount Fiji could only be seen faintly through the haze, so I’ve used this photo from Celebratory Cruises . Note that this shot must have been taken in winter as there is far more snow on the mountain then when we saw it in mid-April.

 

We were transferred to a bus that took us to the airport at Narita. There was some time to spare, so an hour or so was spent birding around the car park which produced views of a few good birds like Dusky Thrush. This photo is actually of a vagrant Dusky Thrush seen in Derbyshire in December 2016 taken by my friend Roger Howell when we twitched the bird.

 

We also saw Azure-winged Magpie (this photo taken by Janos Olay on my 2018 Mongolia trip.) I’d have loved to stay and spent some time birding in Japan but I’d been away for five weeks already, it was time to go home.

 

So for the last time I’ll post this map of our route. It had been an incredible journey of 5650 nautical miles (10,460 km) over 31 days (35 days away from home).

I landed on ten islands (plus photographed and admired many more from the ship) in six countries and entering the territorial waters of another two.

I saw 258 species of bird including those on New Zealand and Japan. That total included 42 species of ‘tubenose’ and 80+ seabird species (including all the gull, tern and cormorant species we encountered).

60 species were additions to my life list including 20 species of seabird (mainly ‘tubenoses’).

I saw 20 species of cetacean of which six where additions to my life list.

And I made many good friends.

On the negative side not being able to land on Rennell in the Solomons and Hahajima and Miyakijima south of Japan where serious blows but things went far smoother than say in 2020, when the ship having departed New Zealand had to sail to Vanuatu where the tour abruptly ended due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

It will remain one of the most rewarding trips I’ve ever undertaken.

 

But if I have to choose one photo to end the account of this amazing trip it would have to be a Short-tailed Albatross approaching head on.

World Albatross Day: The most magnificent seabirds in the world.   Leave a comment

Today I planned to complete the third instalment of the account of my West Pacific Odyssey. However looking through emails this morning I realised that it was ‘World Albatross Day’, a day to bring attention to the conservation of these magnificent birds. check this link for details

Now I don’t have many pictures that depict efforts to conserve these species but I do know that they face many threats from – for example:

  1. long-line fishing see here
  2. alien predators like mice and rats see this link
  3. mistaking plastic in the ocean for food another link to check out

However this post is on a happier note and celebrates the wonderful times I had watching these, the most magnificent of all seabirds.

When I started birding 43 years ago there were 13 species of albatross. Taxonomic change means that there are now 21. In fact there are a total of 24 forms/subspecies (there are three additional subspecies which haven’t been awarded species status, although this may change in the future).

I have seen all but one of these 24 forms and I have seen an individual that looked so much like the 24th as to be indistinguishable in the hand.

Many of the photos shown below were taken in 2004 before I got into digital bird photography. Pete Morris and Dick Newell offered a CD to the clients on the Sub-antarctic Islands of New Zealand trip in exchange for a donation to the ‘Save the Albatross’ fund. Hence many of the best photos in this collection are their’s. I also have used some photos that Dave Fisher gave me after the Atlantic Odyssey.

So here’s the story of how I got to see all (or almost all) of the most magnificent seabirds in the world.

 

 

In 1978 I went to a talk by RSPB warden Bobby Tulloch on the beautiful Shetland Islands. I was very taken by his slides of his homeland but what really got me was the fact that he showed photos of a Black-browed Albatross flying up and down the cliffs of Hermaness in the most northerly island of Unst. It looked stunning and impossible to miss, I knew Janet and I had to go and see it. So in 1979 we drove all the way up to Aberdeen took the car over to Lerwick and two more ferries to get to Unst. Needless to say we were unsuccessful. This photo is not Bobby Tulloch’s but © Richard Fairbank who has given me permission to use his scanned slide.

 

Well the albatross kept coming back year after year and after getting some great gen off my friend Paul Harvey (who was about to move to Shetland where he remains to this day) I found out that the bird spent most of its time on a nest waiting in vain for a mate. In 1982 once more we drove up to Shetland and on to Hermaness. The nest was only visible from a few angles and one of those involved getting perilously close to the edge. Photo from a scanned slide © Richard Fairbank

 

We have to fast forward to 1991 before I get another encounter with a Black-browed and that was on pelagic trip off Cape Town, SA on a trip led by Ian Sinclair and Iain Robertson. We saw three albatrosses on that trip, Black-browed, Shy and Yellow-nosed. Since then I’ve seen this species again off Cape Town, from two one-day pelagics out of NSW, Australia and from land in Western Australia, in the Cook’s Straight Argentina and on three major cruises, to Antarctica, Sub-antarctic Islands of New Zealand and the Atlantic Odyssey. In total I’ve seen about 8000 individuals. This photo was taken on the Subantarctic cruise with Heritage Expeditions and is © Pete Morris.

 

Whilst we are on the subject of Black-browed Albatross I’d better mention number 2, Campbell Albatross which breeds only on Campbell Island in New Zealand’s subantarctic islands. It is fractionally smaller than Black-browed but with a startling pale eye when seen close and thicker black margins to the underwing. Photo © Dick Newell

 

Being at sea where the albatrosses follow the ship and pass by at eye level is undoubtedly the way to get great views. Photo © Pete Morris

 

I’ll come back to Yellow-nosed and Shy Albatrosses later, so number 3 is the mightiest of them all – Snowy Albatross. In 1998 I went on a fantastic trip to the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica. During the first night we sailed out of the shelter of Drake’s Passage and into the South Atlantic and I started sliding around in my bunk. When it got light I managed to haul myself onto the deck and virtually the first bird I saw was a ‘Wanderer’ with a 3.5m wingspan. Just fantastic and seen just in time before I had to rush below and be sick!. The taxonomy of the ‘wandering albatross’ group is a bit complex and I’ll return to it later. Photo © Pete Morris.

 

The plumage succession in albatrosses is complex especially in the ‘wandering group’. Generally the older a bird gets the whiter it becomes – but only up to a point. Females don’t become as white as males and exulans, the true ‘wanderer’, better called Snowy Albatross to distinguish it from other members of the ‘wandering albatross complex’ is whiter than the other species. So this bird photographed at South Georgia is about as white as they come. Snowy only breeds south of the Antarctic convergence at South Georgia, four islands in the southern Indian Ocean and on Macquarie.

 

South Georgia is a fantastic place to see Snowy Albatrosses on the nest. I have seen about 230 of this avian giant on the the three southern ocean cruises that I’ve been on (Falklands-South Georgia-Antarctica, the Atlantic Odyssey and the sub-antarctic Islands of New Zealand) plus one off New South Wales, Australia. For more pictures of the Atlantic Odyssey including South Georgia see here

 

Albatross number 4 is Grey-headed. Breeding a little to the north of Snowy, off southern Chile and at Campbell Island to the south of New Zealand as well as the islands of the southern Indian Ocean. I have seen a little over 100 of this species on my three southern ocean cruises, but 40 or so were chicks on the nest in South Georgia. Only eight were seen in the NZ Sub-antarctic Islands where this photo was taken by © Pete Morris

 

9-11 species (depending on your taxonomy) of medium sized southern ocean albatross are known as ‘mollymawks’ Here are two, Black-browed on the right and number 5, Shy Albatross on the left (along with a White-chinned Petrel).

 

The ‘shy albatross’ group contains three or four species. ‘Tasmanian Shy’ or ‘nominate race Shy’ depending on your taxonomy breeds only around Tasmania but travels as far west as Cape Town which is the only place I’ve seen it, with about 250 seen on my two Cape Town pelagics . Note the back mark in the ‘armpit’ which is a characteristic of all the ‘shy albatross’ group. This bird has not got a yellow base to the upper mandible which means it might be a ‘White-capped’ from New Zealand and the bird in the first photo (with the Black-browed) is an immature so can’t be identified beyond Shy/White-capped. However I have seen undoubted nominate Shy in these waters.

 

The other race/species is White-capped Albatross which breeds in Aukland Island and Antipodies Island south of New Zealand. IOC lumps it in Shy; Howell and Zufelt’s ‘Oceanic Birds of the World’ and HBW’s Illustrated Checklist split it. Photo from NZ’s Subantarctic Islands © Pete Morris

 

The other two species in the ‘shy albatross group’ are number 6 Salvin’s Albatross which we saw breeding in great numbers, 10,000 or more, on and around Snares Islands south of New Zealand. I also saw one on a pelagic off Lima, Peru. Photo © Pete Morris.

 

…and number 7 Chatham Albatross which breeds only a single pyramid shaped rock south of the Chatham Islands where I saw a minimum of 5000. Photo © Dick Newell.

 

Another species pair that can be seen off South Africa is number 8 Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross which breeds in the Indian Ocean to the north of the Antarctic Convergence. It has a light-grey wash to the neck. I have seen 2 off Cape Town in 2011 and 2 from shore in Western Australia. In addition some 30 Yellow-nosed Albatross sp were seen on my 1991 Cape Town pelagic.

 

However this individual photographed on the same pelagic looks intermediate between the Indian pictured above and the Atlantic pictures below. It is possible to to separate them based on the exact shape of the yellow on the bill but I think you would need a photo of it coming straight for you to do that.

 

Number 9 is Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross which has a darker grey hood making the white crown stand out more clearly. When I did my first pelagic off Cape Town in 1991 I was unaware of the pending split, so I was pleased to catch up with undoubted Indian Yellow-nosed when I did another pelagic out of there in 2011. In 2016 we went on the Atlantic Odyssey and passed Gough and stopped at Tristan da Cunha where Atlantic Yellow-nosed breeds in good numbers with a minimum of 250 seen.

 

We landed on Nightingale Island and climbed to the top to see the endemic Wilkin’s Bunting on route we passed some Yellow-nosed Albatross chicks almost ready to fledge. At this age they lack the yellow on the bill and the grey wash to the neck. A lot were sitting on the path and we had to carefully pick our way around them.

 

We certainly got close up views. Photo © Dave Fisher

 

Moving back to the Pacific we come across a couple of albatrosses with yellow on the upper and lower mandibles as well as the gape, that are usually treated as races of the same species (even by the very splitty ‘Oceanic Birds of the World’) number 10 is Buller’s Albatross of the southern form that breeds on the Snares and Solander Islands where we saw about 15. Photo © Dick Newell

 

… and the Northern or Pacific Buller’s which breeds mainly on the Chatham Islands east of New Zealand, about 75 were seen. Photo © Pete Morris.

 

Another group of albatrosses is the ‘sooty albatross’ group. Variously called Light-mantled and Sooty or alternatively Light-mantled Sooty and Dark-mantled Sooty. Photo © Pete Morris

 

Light-mantled Albatross number 11 breeds across the islands of the sub-antarctic and ranges further south into Antarctic waters. I have seen around 200 spread over the three southern ocean cruises that I have taken. Photo © Pete Morris

 

It (along with Sooty) is the smallest and most graceful of the albatrosses. The synchronised display flight of a pair along the cliff edges is a beauty to behold. Photo © Dave Fisher.

 

Younger birds have a paler neck and mantle with the wing feathers lightly edged. Photo © Dave Fisher.

 

The discovery of number 12 was a real surprise. We were at the Antipodes Islands on the Sub-antarctic Island cruise (exactly the opposite side of the world to London, hence the name). Leader Pete Morris was off on zodiac cruise with some clients and I was waiting my turn. I found this all dark ‘mantled’ albatross gliding around the cliffs, I was so chuffed to have found a vagrant and couldn’t wait to tell Pete, but when he got back I found that he’d seen it and photographed it from the zodiac. A somewhat enlarged version of © Pete Morris’s photo.

 

The reason I was so excited about it is that Sooty Albatross breeds on Gough Island in the south Atlantic and so was thousands of miles off course. On the Atlantic Odyssey we saw around 50 at sea from a bit north of South Georgia to the Tristan group. Photo taken near Gough Island by © Dave Fisher

 

We now turn our attention to the four species of ‘north’ Pacific Albatrosses. Number 13 is Black-footed Albatross which breeds in the Hawaiian Island chain. I first came across the species on a couple of pelagics out of Monterrey California where 13 were seen. I have since seen one off the Kuril Islands, Far-eastern Russia and 150 to the south of Japan.

 

Seen close up the feathering around the bill and under the eye is quite distinct.

 

I first saw number 14 Laysan Albatross breeding on Oahu, Hawaii where some 10 adults were displaying, but as the name suggests it also breeds all along the Hawaiian Chain. I’ve also seen it off the Russian Far East where it was common with c400 seen but …

 

… the most bizarre sighting, indeed the most bizarre sighting of any albatross was on Nusa Island, Papua New Guinea. We had caught a small boat from New Ireland to New Hanover to see the New Hanover Manikin, on the return the boatman asked if we wanted to see the albatross. After a bit of questioning from his incredulous clients he detoured to Nusa Island where we treated to the sight of a Laysan albatross wandering around the village and feeding out of a plastic bowl.

 

Apparently it was picked up becalmed at sea and brought to the village to be fed. It was shepherded into a hut at night to keep it safe from dogs. The villagers hoped to release it once the winds increased. It was later discovered to be ringed 12 years previously as a pullus on French Frigate Shoals in the Hawaiian chain.

 

Returning to the West Pacific Odyssey, during the latter part of the cruise we sailed close to Torishima Island south of Japan (more photos of this albatross and of Torishima will appear when I post the last episode of my West Pacific Odyssey) …

 

… here we had the most wonderful views of number 15 Short-tailed Albatross. This species was believed extinct as by 1930 every single one of them on their only breeding island had been killed for their feathers. Fortunately a few immatures must have survived at sea and 25 or so years later a tiny number were found to be breeding back on Torishima. Now they are carefully protected and numbers are increasing. This wasn’t the first time I’d seen this species, we encountered around a dozen off the Kurils three years earlier but this time we saw at least 700. It is such a wonderful story how this bird came back from the dead.

 

Of all the vernacular names given to albatrosses ‘Short-tailed’ must be the worst. It would be far better to name it after Georg Stellar (of jay, eider and sea-cow fame) who first collected it or perhaps call it Golden-headed Albatross for obvious reasons. On appearance alone it has to be one of the best of them all.

 

Last of the Pacific albatrosses and the last albatross that I got to see (and the last new one that I will ever see) is number 16 – Waved Albatross.

 

This magnificent bird nests almost entirely on the Galapagos, a place I have yet to visit, so my only experience is of this one bird that made a close pass of our boat whilst on a pelagic out of Lima, Peru.

 

Now we return to the ‘great albatrosses’, the ‘royal’ and ‘wandering’ groups. the ‘royal group’ consists of two species. This is an adult Northern Royal (number 17) and with its all dark wings with a dark leading edge and black cutting edge to the bill is possibly the easiest of all the ‘great albatrosses to identify. Photo © Pete Morris.

©

Some older Northern Royals get a bit of white speckling in the wing. This species breeds mainly on the Chatham Islands with a few on the NZ mainland near Dunedin but wanders all over the southern oceans. I’ve seen about 10 in South Georgia area, 250 in New Zealand/Chatham Island waters and one just to the north of NZ on the WPO. Photo© Pete Morris

 

Southern Royal (number 18) which breeds primarily on Campbell Island, whitens with age from the mantle outwards … Photo © Pete Morris.

 

… and along the wing, especially on the already white leading edge. This is a fully adult bird. ‘Great albatrosses’can take over 10 years to become fully mature. Photo © Pete Morris.

 

Southern Royal Albatross on the nest Campbell Island. Photo © Pete Morris

 

Southern Royal Albatrosses OTJ on Campbell Island Photo © Pete Morris.

 

A Royal Albatrosses’ view of Campbell Island. Photo © Pete Morris.

 

There are a couple of other species to add in the ‘wandering’ group: number 19 Tristan Albatross, a slightly smaller and darker version of Snowy that breeds in  Tristan da Cunha and Gough Island  that we saw well on the Atlantic Odyssey. This species is endangered as the young are being eaten by mice! We had about 100 sightings on the Atlantic Odyssey between South Georgia and Tristan da Cunha but a) it’s hard to know how many when the same bird can follow the ship for hours and b) it was hard to tell when the last Snowy Albatross that breeds in South Georgia was seen and when the first Tristan’s was encountered.

 

And another in the ‘wandering group’  number 20 Antipodean Albatross which breed mainly in the Antipodes Islands south of New Zealand. I have seen about 80 on the Subantarctic Islands of New Zealand cruise, 40 on pelagics out Kaikora, NZ and a very small number off New South Wales. Photo © Pete Morris.

 

.. and Gibson’s Albatross which is usually treated as a subspecies of Antipodean. It usually retains some gingery tones into adulthood and keeps a dark tip to the tail. It breeds mainly on Aukland Island. About 85 were seen on the Subantarctic cruise, 8 off NSW and one north of New Zealand on the West Pacific Odyssey. Photo © Pete Morris.

 

I said there were 21 species of albatross and I had only seen 20. Well here’s the 21st! Amsterdam Albatross, seen only by the lucky few who get to visit Amsterdam Island in southern Indian Ocean, the most remote of islands. With a population of less than 130 birds and 25 breeding pairs (just 5 pairs when first discovered) the chances of encountering it at sea are low to say the least. And visiting the island isn’t easy either unless you’re a researcher and French. Photo © Vincent Legrendre via Wikipedia.

 

However on a pelagic out of Sydney in 1999 we encountered a most unusual bird. It’s presences was already known and it was obvious the pelagic organisers were targeting it. The bird on the left is a typical juvenile Antipodean but the bird on the right has the dark cutting edge to the bill, green gonys and paler face of an Amsterdam. Photo taken from a scanned slide

 

With a bit of manoeuvring and careful placement of chum the bird was caught and brought on board. It looked like an Amsterdam but French researchers later said the entire population of Amsterdams are ringed and it wasn’t. I don’t recall if a blood specimen was taken but apparently it was logged as an unusual juvenile Antipodean. So I might not have seen the rarest of world’s albatrosses but I’ve seen a bird that looks just like one! Photo taken from a scanned slide.

 

If you go searching for albatrosses in the southern ocean you’ll be bound to encounter some rough seas …

 

.. but you’ll also get views of albatrosses on a daily basis and see wonderful places like Campbell Island. Photo © Pete Morris.

 

Celebrated in literature, poetry and Monty Python sketches, few birds inspire like the albatross does. Photo © Pete Morris

 

This post has taken far longer and has involved many more photos then I originally imaged (the initial idea was to post just 24 images) but it has allowed to go back and look at how much joy these, the most majestic of all birds have given me and this is my contribution to ‘World Albatross Day.