Monday, December 12, 2011

Home Stretch!

With only 5 days left until Dutch Harbor, I'm getting anxious to make landfall. That being said, there are still a couple birds I could still see that I haven't yet. Both Parakeet Auklet and Short-tailed Albatross have eluded me this trip, and with a couple more storms heading our way, it doesn't look good for hitting those stations by St. Paul.

Today, despite being in open water and relatively close to land, birds were few and far between. A coast guard plane decided to make a pass over the boat, not sure why they were out here...

Just when the day looked like a bust, I spied this shearwater riding alongside the boat.

Both Short-tailed and Sooty Shearwaters are found in Alaska, but "shouldn't" be around in winter. That being said, I saw quite a few dark shearwaters in the Gulf of Alaska during the start of the cruise, but could only identify a couple to Sooty. Looking at the Sibley Guide shows Sooty Shearwater only occuring in the Gulf, while Short-tailed can be found in all the waters of Alaska. This bird was photographed west of Nunivak. Just looking at range, Short-tailed should be the best option.

I saw thousands of Short-tailed Shearwaters in the Beaufort Sea earlier this year. In all honesty, the majority of these were identified based on range. It has been shown over and over again that this species duo (Sooty/Short-tailed) serves as an identification pitfall in the field. My experience with Short-tailed in the Beaufort was that most were too far away to see head/bill proportions, and the amount of white under the wing varied greatly from individual to individual, and especially on lighting conditions.

At times, I feel like this species pair shouldn't be identified at sea except at very close range while observing "textbook" individuals in the best of conditions.

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