Wreck of a Pelagic

Posted on 06 January by Carl Vernon in Birds

Wreck of a Pelagic

On the 26th December 2014, near Half-Way Rocks, between the Qinira and the Nahoon rivers, Doug Barbour found a pelagic bird washed up on the beach.   He photographed it and then buried it.    On looking at the picture, I was unable to identify it, and needed to measure the specimen. So we went back,  but were unable to find the bird.     What follows are my deductions from the plates and text in Roberts "Birds of southern Africa" (Maclean 1985).

The wreck was clearly not an albatross or gannet especially as Doug said it had a wingspan of about 40 cm.  There are six species of small pelagic birds which have plain white under-parts :  two petrels :  Antarctic and Pintado Petrel; and four shearwaters : Audebon's,  Cory's,   Little  and  Manx Shearwater.    

    species                                                     wing  cm        bill colour      legs and feet colour                                   Antarctic Petrel  Thalassoica antarctica           92-104         brown           pale blue or pink                                  Pintado Petrel     Daption capense                  89-91          black             black mottled white                       Audebon's Shearwater  Puffinus lherminieri     69               white             pink                                                Cory's Shearwater   Calonectris diomrdea       112              pale yellow    pink                                                      Little Shearwater  Puffinus assimilis                  58-67         dull blue-grey blue with pink webs                           Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus                  76-89         blackish         pink with black marks  

Only one of them has a black head and feet, with the black feet mottled with white : the Pintado Petrel.   These features are shown in the photograph of the underside of a live bird, taken from the internet.  This identification of the wreck has still to be confirmed by the ornithologist at the East London Musem, Dr. Phil Whittington.

The only other record known to me of a wreck of the Pintado Petrel on the East London coast is of a bird here at Bonza Bay on the 5th July 1988.    The Pintado Petrel breeds on the islands of Antarctica and is visitor to South African waters.   It is common offshore in winter and rarer in the summer.   Off the East London coast the late Graham Winch, a ski-boat fisherrman in the 1970s and 80s reported that "on a normal July-August day should see three or four.   In September 1978, at least 30 birds were seen 20 km offshore" and in 1978 he once  "saw 10 to 12 accompanying a pod of five killer whales".  


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