Latest Updates

The latest new seabirds in the Quest

Do to the many complications of life like career, family and of course pelagic birding it has become difficult to keep up with full trip reports. I will use this page for briefer updates which will be supplemented with full trip reports as time sees fit.

Thanks for following my Pelagic Odyssey.

Feb4/16 - Chatham Islands Revisited- just returned home from a successful revisitation to the Chatham Islands. My primary goal was to see and photograph the elusive mega-rare Chatham Island Petrel which was successfully accomplished on Jan.12/16 at11:35AM at 39.39.5 S 179.58.95 E which is a bit over 100 nautical miles east of Hawke's Bay, North Island, New Zealand. This is the first ever documentation of this species to the west of the Chatham Islands and so close to the New Zealand mainland. It was a fantastic way of starting this expedition which was a long time in the making. We managed several more at sea sightings of Chatham Island Petrel and a single at sea sighting of Magenta Petrel. An incredibly memorable night at the Sweetwater Taiko Camp, two separate sightings of Southern Right Whale Dolphins and a gruelling but successful shore leave to find Chatham Island Snipe were but a few of the many highlights. Bob Flood was superlative as the expedition leader and a full expedition report is in the making. More to come.

First Image Chatham Island Petrel ,102nm E of Hawke's Bay, North Island, NZ

Late Dec/15 - Well I have been very tardy in updating the website. I was really exhausted after returning from Japan in the spring and then things became extremely busy at home and work and then suddenly its fall and I am off to Bermuda and the Mexico. I haven't been neglecting my quest to see all the world's seabirds and have a return venture to the Chatham's on the Claymore II starting on Jan 11th and then Hawaii by yacht in April. With any luck I will have seen all the worlds pterodromas by spring 2016. 2017 will be a big year for me as I have a three month sabbatical and among other things will be heading down to the Balleny Islands and the Ross Sea. If this goes well I could potentially have see all the worlds petrels by spring 2017. Have many other expeditions in the advanced planning stages including a return trip to the Bank's Islands, the Solomon's and Bismarck Sea, and a Humboldt cruise from Arica to the Galapagos. Will briefly summarize this years activities.

Dec/15 Mexican Pelagic - A long anticipated cruise on the Searcher starting in San Diego. The first port of call was Guadalupe Island to look for Ainley's Storm-petrel. We had mixed luck with this little known species. In the evening of Nov 29th of the breeding islet we had many Ainley's Storm-petrels around the boat. Several landed on the boat at which time we were able to examine them closely, taking measurements and confirming the presence of a brood patch. Here is some great video of one of the birds from Bob Flood.

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Ainley's Storm-petrel, Guadalupe Island, Mexico

We spent a couple days around Guadalupe Island mostly studying storm-petrels. I think we learned a lot about the
Ainley's, Townsend's, Chapman's,Leach's Storm-petrel complex and realize a lot more work needs to be done. I am sure more will be published on this soon. Other storm-petrels included Black and Leasts. No Wedged-rumps were seen.

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Molting Townsend's Storm-petrel, off Rocas Alijos, Mexico

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Molting Leach's Storm-petrel (nominate subspecies), off Rocas Alijos, Mexico

We stopped at the Rocas Alijos on the way to Socorro Island. The waves crashing against the rocks was quite a sight. Laysan Albatross were riding the waves, Red-billed Tropicbirds frolicked in the stiff breeze and Brown, Masked and Red-footed Boobies all vied for attention.

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Rocas Alijos, Mexico

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Brown Booby subsp. brewsterii, off Soccorro Island

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Masked Booby, immature, off Soccorro Island, Mexico

The next stop was Soccorro Island the breeding location of the critically endangered Townsend's Shearwater. How many of these birds remain is not precisely known but the recently noted absence of these birds from their former range, local observations and multiple severe threats (most notably cat predation) on the breeding grounds all combine to suggest a very critical situation. The areas where Steve Howell had observed hundreds of birds twenty plus years ago contained a mere scattering of Townsend's ( twenty birds at most) during our observation period (under much better conditions than Steve was afforded in the 80s).

Complete circumnavigation of the island revealed no other groups of Townsend's Shearwaters. We felt confident that this visit was timed during the prospecting period and should be a good time to assess the the status of the species. The fact it was an El Nino year certainly could have had some unknown effect. Unfortunately the small numbers of birds present, sea conditions and the non-confiding nature of these shearwaters made photographic opportunities few and distant.

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Townsend's Shearwaters off Socorro Island, Mexico

It is certainly hard to draw any conclusions from one brief visit. Hopefully the visit has stimulated interest in Townsend's Shearwaters as well as the complicated and poorly understood Leach's Storm-petrel complex of the north-eastern Pacific. Thanks is due to John Brodie-Goode for taking a chance on running thiss venture, Chris Collins and Steve Howell for their leadership and insights and Bob Flood for freely sharing his knowledge with all who have a keen interest in seabirds.
I would encourage all with an interest in seabirds to sign up for next years run which will greatly benefit from insights acquired on this initial voyage.

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Laysan Albatross, off Guadalupe Island, Mexico

Nov/15 Bermuda Part 2

10 days and 5 pelagic trips off Bermuda resulted in some great Cahow experiences. The highlight of the pelagic trips was an awe inspiring encounter with a light-morph Trinidad Petrel that made multiple very close passes to the boat providing Bermuda with its first ever record for this species
. It made one visit with 2 Cahows and all three of the birds were performing aerial gymnastics at point blank range- truly a spectacular experience.

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Trindade Petrel - first Bermudan Record- off Bermuda, Nov. 13th/15

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The Mythical Chow-off Bermuda

Our visit to Nonsuch Island was brilliant and we were able to observe 8
Cahows in the hand. Thanks to Jeremy Maderios for his support in this and of course all his incredible efforts in saving this incredible species from extinction.

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Cahows presented by Jeremy Maderios, translocation colony, Nonsuch island, Bermuda

A huge thanks to Bob Flood who masterminded the entire visit and who's efforts have made a significant contribution towards public awareness and sustainability of the Cahow. Thanks Bob.

May/15 - Japan- Izu, Ogasawara & Iwo Islands

Now more than 6 months after this expedition I can fully appreciate what a truly fantastic seabird experience this was. We spent 25 days exploring the Izu, Ogasawara and Iwo Islands on a 60 foot yacht and are among the very very few people ever to explore the waters off the incredible seabird sanctuary of Minami-jima. The journey came with some disappointments primarily missing one of the key target species- Bryan's Shearwater. I had the singular experience of getting shingles about 1000km south of Tokyo which presented some challenges. The presence of two typhoons which we had to navigate during the last 10 days resulted in limiting our time on the return visit to the Ogasawara Islands which played a role in the Bryan's Shearwater miss.

The amazing companionship and good spirits of Mike Danzebaker, John and Jemi Holmes, Colin Rogers and Glenn McKinlay made the trip ultimately an unforgettably great experience.

I took 1000's of photos during the trip and still haven't edited all of them. Key highlights were observing over 200 juvenile
Short-tailed Albatross at Torashima, 100's of Bonin Petrels coming into Minami-jima in the evening, a pair of Japanese Murrelets with a small chick off Sanbodake Rocks, many excellent views of both juv. and adult Bannerman's Shearwaters and the great meals of Wahoo enjoyed on the deck of the Sauvage as the sun set over Minami-jima

At some point I will post a lot more pics in a photoessay but for now here are a few.

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Short-tailed Albatross, Torashima, Japan

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Bonin Petrel, Iwo Islands, Japan

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Bannerman's Shearwater, Iwo Islands, Japan

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Streaked Shearwater, Izu Islands, Japan

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Matsudaira Storm-petrel, Iwo Islands, Japan

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Brown Booby, Ogasawara Islands, Japan

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Long-tailed Jaeger, Ogasawara Islands, Japan

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Bonin White-eye, Hahajima, Ogasawara Islands, Japan

Stay tuned for more pictures from Japan soon.

April 18/15 Leaving today for 25 day expedition off the south of Japan be back May 23rd. KZ

Jan1/15 -
Fall 2014 Update

This fall was very busy with two amazing pelagic adventures and then a family trip to Peru for Christmas. A quick calculation on Google Earth revealed well over 66,000km travelled since my departure for Santiago, Chile the last week of Oct.

The first expedition was out to Juan Fernandez Islands on the
Sauvage a 60 foot motor sailer chartered with Bob Flood, Mike Danzebaker, John Ryan, John Shemilt and Angus Wilson. It was an amazing trip going well over 1800 km out to the Juan Fernandez Islands and subsequent exploration up the Humboldt Current to Coquimbo. We saw and photographed all the target seabird species and new seabird species for me included Humboldt Penguin, Peruvian Diving Petrel, Peruvian Booby, De Filippi's Petrel, Juan Fernandez Petrel and Stejneger's Petrel.

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White-bellied Storm-Petrel off Isla Robinson Crusoe, Chile

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Stejneger's Petrel off Isla Selkirk, Chile

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Juan Fernandez Petrel off Isla Selkirk, Chile

First Image De Filippi's Petrel, off Isla Robinson Crusoe, Chile

First Image Peruvian Diving Petrel, offshore 25km south of Coquimbo, Chile

We saw an amazing variety of seabirds along with a few surprises and of course the fantastic Juan Fernandez Firecrown. The great success of the trip was in part related to the excellent leadership and planning from Bob Flood and great advice and guidance from Hadoram Shirihai who preceded us to this spectacular location. A full report is in the works.

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Juan Fernandez Firecrown, Isla Robinson Crusoe, Chile

A bit over a week after returning from Chile I departed again for Reunion Island in the South Indian Ocean. The logistics for this venture were extremely challenging. Bob Flood had spent countless hours in arrangements and again we benefitted greatly from Hadoram Shirihai's assistance with the logistics. The bottom line is we were successful in finding and photographing
Mascarene Petrel a species that has been definitively photographed at sea previous by only Hadoram Shirihai on his 2012 expedition.

Seeing this species off Reunion was definitely a dream come true and is only rivalled by my close up encounters with Magenta Petrel off the Chathams and Amsterdam Albatross off Amsterdam Island. I still find it hard to believe I have actually seen this near mythical creature.

First Image Mascarene Petrel, off Reunion Island, South Indian Ocean

This is a real milestone along my quest to see all the world's seabirds. I have now seen all four described
Pseudobulweria sp. -three of which are among the world's rarest birds. This has been accomplished previously by a very small number of individuals (H. Shirihai, T. Pym, M. San Roman) who have paved the way for others such as myself to see these spectacularly rare species at sea. The kicker is there is probably an undescribed 5th species lurking off the Bismarck archipelago.

We saw lots of other great seabirds as well including great studies of Barau's Petrel.

First Image First Image Barau's Petrel, off Reunion Island, South Indian Ocean

The Reunion Island venture was a great success thanks to all those that dared to take part which included Bob Flood, Elaine Cooke, Emily Collins, Mike Danzebaker, Doug Koch and John Shemilt.

Now it is time to get back to work and plan for the next venture which is a 25 day exploration of the Izu, Ogasawara and Volcano Islands south of Japan next spring.

Happy New Years

May 2/14-
Fiji, Vanuatu & Tutamo Islands

Great trip with good views of one Fiji Petrel and more distant views of a second bird. Lots of very good looks at Vanuatu Petrel off Vanua Lava. Very interesting studies of Collared and Magnifiecent Petrel seeing the entire spectrum of variation. A few Polynesian Storm-petrels and the usual tropical Pacific seabirds along with a great variety of flying fish and a Dugong to boot. Trip report should be up in a couple weeks.

Sept/13 -
French Polynesia & Pitcairn Islands

Two week trip to French Polynesia and the Pitcairn Island Group on the Braveheart with notables such as Josep de Hoyo, Bob Flood, Steve Howell, Mike Danzebaker and David Fisher to name a few. Started off Gambier Islands with
Christmas Island Shearwater and very distinct Tropical Shearwaters along with a brilliantly spot-lighted Polynesian Storm-petrel. On Day 2 south of Gambier had the bird of the trip Titan Storm-petrel spotted and ID'd by Steve Howell. Diagnostic photos were obtained primarily from those wise enough to be on the top deck. This distinctive a huge "subspecies"(about as likely to be a distinct species as any "subsp." I can think of) of White-bellied Storm-petrel which breeds on Rapa is virtually unknown at sea . We had numerous Murphy's Petrels and Soft-plumaged Petrels along the way to Pitcairn.

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Christmas Island Shearwater
"of the southern type", Gambier Islands, French Polynesia

First Image Tropical Shearwater, distinctive double collar, broad wing margins and dark vent, Gambier Islands, French Polynesia

South of Pitcairn was rough but great birding. Our first
Henderson Petrels mixed with Kermadec, Soft-plumaged, Cook's, White-headed and Parkinson's petrels. Strong south winds likely provided the Southern Ocean birds but not a single Albatross. Along the way to Henderson Island we chummed off Minerva Reef and had about 20 Polynesian Storm-Petrels- devilishly hard to photograph in the rough seas.

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White-headed Petrel
, south of Pitcairn Island

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Henderson Petrel, south of Pitcairn Island

First Image Polynesian Storm-petrel, Minerva Reef

Henderson Island was epic (despite the rats)- Henderson and Murphy's Petrels with chicks and of course Henderson Crake. Bristle-thighed Curlews made there first of many appearances.

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Henderson Petrel,
from the beach, Henderson Island

First Image Henderson Petrel with chick, "upstairs" on Henderson Island

First Image Henderson Crake, thrilling (this ain't no White-eye) endemic to Henderson island

The next stop Oeno. Chumming offshore in the AM turned up our first
Phoenix Petrel expertly identified by Bob Flood on its approach. Oeno is a seabird mecca with nesting Murphy's Petrels all over. Also a variety of the usual seabirds - Red-billed Tropicbird, Red-footed and Masked Boobies, Greater and Lesser Frigatebirds, along with Sooty Terns. Steve Howell was lucky enough to find a Grey-backed Tern in a Sooty tern colony. Many of us staked it out the next day with no success. Although not an official seabird I was disappointed to miss this species again. Kermadec Petrels of all varieties were abudant.

First Image Oeno Atoll, French Polynesia-spent 3 hours at this spot photographing pterodromas including multiple passovers of Phoenix Petrel

First Image Murphy's Petrel , cavorting over Oeno Island, Pitcairn Islands

First Image Kermadec Petrel , intermediate morph, Oeno Island, Pitcairn Islands

First Image Herald Petrel , light morph, Oeno Island, Pitcairn Islands

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Phoenix Petrel
, Oeno Island, Pitcairn Islands

From Oeno we headed back to French Polynesia to explore the Tuamotu Islands. Exciting places and birds which I will cover in depth in the full trip report to follow. Here is a couple of teasers until then.

First Image Tuamotu Sandpiper, critically endagered but seems to be doing well on the remaining strongholds, Tenararo, French Polynesia

First Image Polynesian Ground-dove, very worrisome declines, none seen on Morane, extensive effort to find on Tenararo - estimated less than 100 individuals remain (maybe significantly less)

French Polynesia -Sept/13

New seabirds in order of discovery

Christmas Island Shearwater
Murphy's Petrel
Titan Storm-petrel
Henderson Petrel
Phoenix Petrel

Running Total= 176/219- 80.4%

The Bermuda Cahow Expedition

Three people need to be thanked effusively for this wonderful opportunity. First David Wingate for saving the Cahow from extinction, second- Jeremy Maderios for ensuring the Cahows survival into the 21st century, and last but not least to Robert Flood for masterminding this incredible expedition. Bob has spent the last three falls exploring the past and present situation of this remarkable seabird and in the process has forged a close relationship with both Wingate and Maderios. Bobs initial foray to Bermuda to obtain material and knowledge for his recent masterwork - The Multimedia Guide to North Atlantic Seabirds: Pterodromas has evolved into a passionate interest in the well- being and fate of this enigmatic seabird. Bob is the authority on this species across the pond and is quickly becoming a champion for the Cahow and I believe this bodes very well for the species future.

First Image Cahow - only in Bermuda, well maybe the Azores and Nova Scotia...

First Image The Cahow Crew- L to R, Rob Tizzard, Alain Guillemont, David Wingate, Andrew Cleave, Paul Sterry, Andrew Dobson, Captain, Robert Flood, Alan Hanington and Mick Taylor

First Image "By gad the Cahow"- assisting with banding research on Nonsuch Island

Bermuda - Nov/13

New seabirds in order of discovery


Running Total =177/219- 80.8%

2013 Year of the Pterodroma

Seabirds are obviously my favourite group of birds. Petrels are my favourite seabirds and Pterodromas are my favourite petrels. I am not sure I have a favourite Pterodroma, usually it is the one I am in the process of tracking down.
Not long ago I had some big gaps in my list of this genus and I was determined to rectify that in 2013.

First Image Latest addition to my Pterodroma List - Cahow, Nov/13, Bermuda

Overall I was quite successful. I managed 23 species of petrels this year including 16 species of Pterodroma, 12 of these were new species for me. This was accomplished by extensive work (if you can call it that) off New Zealand, New Caledonia, the Solomon Islands, New Ireland, French Polynesia, the Pitcairn Islands and of course Bermuda.
As 2014 approaches I have now seen 26 (25 of which I have photographed) of the world's 33 species of Pterodroma.

I started 2014 pelagic birding in early March off the North Cape of New Zealand with Brent Stephenson and Sav Saville and as could be predicted my first pteredroma of the year was
Cook's Petrel.

First Image Cook's Petrel, off the North Cape of New Zealand

Cook's Petrel can be found over a large area of the Pacific Ocean but conversely it breeds on only two islands in New Zealand. In very interesting work by
Matt Rayner and his group it has been demonstrated that the two populations forage in entirely different areas and remarkably winter on oppisite sides of the equator. The main population on Little Barrier Island in the Hauraki Gulf winter in the North Pacific off California and out into the deep Pacific.
The Codfish Island population winter off the northern part of the west coast of South America taking advantage of the rich Humbolt Current. Apparently there is very little gene flow between colonies and some early morphological differences.

Five days off the North Cape brought some other great petrels including loads of
Parkinson's Petrels (finishing off the Procellaria petrels for me) and a several more pterodromas- Black-winged , White-necked, Grey-faced and Kermadec Petrel.

First Image Parkinson's Petrel, Mercury Islands , NZ

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Black-winged Petrel,
off the North Cape, NZ

First Image White-necked Petrel, off the North Cape, NZ

Brent and Sav run this trip through
Wrybill Tours every March and it is great fun and a fabulous opportunity to see a wide variety of great seabirds (see my trip report). If your in New Zealand birding make sure you get in touch with either Brent or Sav as they are the definitive source of information about birding in New Zealand.

First Image Kermadec Petrel, off the North Cape, NZ

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Grey-faced Petrel,
off the North Cape, NZ

Next stop on the 2013 pterodroma tour were the Mercury Islands. Alan Howatson and myself spent a couple days with Ian Clow on the Sapphire out of Whitinaga in search of
Pycroft's Petrel. We weren't disappointed.

First Image Pycroft's Petrel, off the Mercury Islands, NZ

Chris Collins, Alan Howatson and myself departed New Zealand for Noumea for a week on a catamaran looking for the "New Caledonian" Storm-petrel. This is another story which I will hopefully be able to post in the next month or two. It was a great trip and I saw several new petrels including my first
Pseudobulweria - Tahiti Petrel. How this group could ever have been lumped into the Pterodromas is beyond me. These tropical seabirds have very long broad wings and are extremely distinct in jizz. Tahiti Petrel is the only species in the genus that isn't excruciatingly rare, on the verge of extinction or recently resurrected from extinction (by Hadoram Shirihai).

First Image Tahiti Petrel, south of New Caledonia

We managed 5 species of pteredroma on the excursion including
Black-winged, White-necked, Gould's, Providence and a single Herald Petrel quite rare in this neck of the woods.

First Image Providence Petrel, south of New Caledonia

First Image Gould's Petrel, south of New Caledonia

Subsequent to the New Caledonia expedition we returned to New Zealand and hpoed on board the "Spirit of Enderby" for the 2013 foreshortened version of the Western Pacific Odyssey.
Westland Petrels of Kaikoura were new for the year. This trip produce my first Magnificent Petrel a bird of debatable taxonomy, discovered and described as a subspecies of Collared Petrel by Hadoram Shirihai in 2010.

First Image Magnificent Petrel, north of New Caledonia- ( yeah I know it's a bad picture, hope to do better in Vanuatu this spring)

The WPO produced lots of other petrels the highlight being the ultra rare
Pseudobulweria- Beck's Petrel off New Ireland. Pterodromas included Cook's, Grey-faced, White-necked, Black-winged, Kermadec, Herald, Providence, Gould's, Collared and Magnificent Petrels.

No place in the world allows one to study Pteredromas as well or closely as the Pitcairn Islands. Our tour here and nearby French Polynesia in September was a dream come true and was even better than I had expected. As many as 18 species of Pteredroma could be found in this area of the Pacific and up to 6 breed. Murphy's Petrel was ubiquitous and we saw them at sea, on the nest, chicks, juveniles, courting- you name it we experienced it.

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Murphy's Petrel
, Oeno Island, Pitcairn Islands

First Image Murphy's Petrel chick, Oeno Island, Pitcairn Islands

We spent a fantastic day at a seamount south of Pitcairn. There had been a strong south blow and it was rough but the sea birds were great.
Soft-plumaged and White-headed Petrels from the southern ocean mixed with Henderson, Kermadec, Cook's and Parkinson's Petrels. This are has tremendous potential and I would love to return for further exploration.

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Soft-plumaged Petrel, enjoying the "Southern Ocean" - like conditions, south of Pitcairn Island

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Soft-plumaged Petrel,
south of Pitcairn Island

First Image White-headed Petrel, south of Pitcairn

The four "tropical" and closely related Pteredroma were all seen well.
Kermadec Petrels of all morphs were very common and seen everywhere we went. Henderson Petrel was well seen south of Pitcairn and was obviously common around Henderson Island becoming dramatically scarcer away from the island. Herald Petrels were most common around Oeno with small numbers being seen all through the area. Phoenix Petrel was the rarest with most of the sighting being in proximity to Oeno.

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Kermadec Petrel, Intermediate Morph,
note the short tail, sturdy bill and small white blotch on the head all typical of this taxa, Oeno Island, Pitcairn Islands

First Image Henderson Petrel, Henderson Island, Pitcairn Islands

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Herald Petrel,
Oeno Island, Pitcairn Islands

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Phoenix Petrel,
Oeno Island, Pitcairn Islands

And finally in November the pièce de résistance -
The Cahow

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a sweet finish to 2013

I have plans in place for the 7 remaining Pterodroma species with
Vanuatu, Juan Fernandez, Stejneger's and De Fillipi's being on the hit list for 2014, Bonin Petrel in 2015 and Chatham Island Petrel and finally Hawaiian Petrel in 2016. At this time if all goes as planned I will have but two remaining petrels to see - Antarctic Petrel and the Greater Snow Petrel. The later of somewhat controversial taxonomic status can be found primarily in the Balleny Islands and this destination combined with a trip to the Ross Sea should complete my list of Southern Ocean seabirds which also currently lacks the Emperor Penguin. I haven't made definitive arrangements for this expedition as yet but have some leads and ideas which I hope come to fruition around 2017-18. If anyone has a serious interest in an adventure to the wildest place on earth contact me by E-mail - - and I can keep you in the loop.

Happy New Years, Dec 31/13

Kirk Zufelt
Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada
World Pelagic Birding Headquarters