Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Tuesday May 29, 2018 - Tahiti Petrel - by Brian Patteson

We could hear the ocean from the dock this morning, but were pleased to see the seas were a bit nicer than yesterday afternoon. Crossing the bar was a piece of cake and just as we got clear of it, a Sooty Shearwater few by right under the bow. A few miles farther out, a Pomarine Jaeger flew in and followed us for about half an hour as we headed into the swells at a slow cruise. About 20 miles out we found a few shearwaters feeding over some Little Tunny, which were driving bait to the surface. We had excellent looks at both Cory’s and Audubon’s Shearwaters right off the bat. We also scored our first Great Shearwater of the season a bit farther out. Jogging out past the shelf break, it became clear that conditions had changed from the past couple of days. The wide band of blended greenish water was gone and we found bright blue Gulf Stream water pushing 80 degrees just 27 miles out. We slowed down and started chumming and gradually drew in a few tubenoses. We had super looks at Black-capped Petrels and eventually chummed up a Band-rumped Storm-Petrel that stuck close to the boat for a long drift (photo Peter Flood).
Rain squalls kept us pinned inside 30 miles, but that’s still deep water and we had some good birding when the wind picked up and the squalls started to overtake us. I decided to go ahead and jog through the rain, which was coming up on a broad front from the south. Soon after getting clear of it, we began seeing a few Leach’s Storm-Petrels (photo by Ed Corey).
Around 1140 Peter Flood alerted us to a different petrel flying up the slick toward the boat from astern. He thought it might be a light morph Trindade Petrel, but as it came in close, we realized it was not. It was a bit too large and the underwings were dark. Our next thought was Atlantic Petrel, but it didn’t really look right for that. The bird in question was sailing around with straight wings and that did not look right for a Pterodroma. Several of us snapped some pics before the bird glided away. Looking at my camera, I started to think “Tahiti Petrel?” Kate Sutherland came to the wheelhouse with the same thought. It was a species we had not seen before in life, but we had a search image from pics and video. But it was in the WRONG OCEAN, so it was not on our radar initially. As far as I know, this is the first occurrence in the Western North Atlantic and perhaps the Atlantic period. After looking over the pics, everything seemed to be in order for Tahiti Petrel (photo by Peter Flood).
We’ve seen some out of range birds from the boat over the years, but I have to say this one is the least expected of them all! I wish it had stuck around a little longer, but it was awesome to be able to see it here. I sure was not expecting to see any lifer seabirds 30 miles from the house at this point in my life. Working back to the shelf break, we picked up a Sooty Tern and a Long-tailed Jaeger (photo by Peter Flood).
We also had a quick flyby Manx Shearwater before we started steaming back to shore. Thanks to our crew today for a job well done: Kate Sutherland, Peter Flood and Ed Corey worked together like a well-oiled machine. We also had a great group of participants. Thanks to all!

Species List for May 29, 2018
Tahiti Petrel  1
Black-capped Petrel  39-40
Cory's Shearwater  29
Great Shearwater  1
Sooty Shearwater  1
Manx Shearwater  1 (seen by Brian & Ed on the way in)
Audubon's Shearwater  9
Wilson's Storm-Petrel  135-140
Leach's Storm-Petrel  12
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  6
Laughing Gull  1
Sooty Tern  1
Common Tern  1
Sandwich Tern  1
Pomarine Jaeger  4
Long-tailed Jaeger  2
Offshore Bottlenose Dolphin  2

A few more photos of the Tahiti Petrel, top two by Peter Flood, bottom by Kate Sutherland
We had really nice views of our Black-capped Petrels today as well (Peter Flood)
The Wilson's were coming in quite close in the slick!  (Peter Flood)
We had one Common Tern visit us offshore today (Ed Corey)
We also had four Pomarine Jaegers today!  (Peter Flood)


  1. Brian-was thinking about this incredible sighting. I think the simplest explanation must be that this bird has flown from the Central Pacific over the Panamanian Isthmus and then headed north . Phalaropes do it both ways all the time so it seems by far the likeliest explanation for Tahiti Petrel in the North Atlantic. Congratulations-Kirk Z

    1. Hey Kirk!!! Great minds and all that...Brian was thinking the same thing - shortest route. Pretty amazing!

  2. Look at that beak! Congratulations. Also it could have come around Cape Horn S. Africa- see this note: https://marineornithology.org/~marineor/PDF/32_2/32_2_183-184.pdf

  3. Congratulations, our commonest Summer petrel off Southport Australia and my favourite seabird.I agree with Kirk, this bird is most likely of the nominate race and has passed over the Panama from the Pacific Ocean and into the warm waters of the Gulf. This species will not tolerate water temps below 23 degrees C, so highly unlikely it passed around either of the Capes.

    1. That is very interesting...I had not thought about the water temps. When I looked at the bird, this is the one thing I thought of...but how could it be possible? Thank God for photos, I do not think anyone would have ever believed it. But then again, seabirds do end up in some interesting places... Thank you for the comment!