A Journey to the Remotest Corners of the Seven Seas

Well I tried to make do with ten but it was impossible. There are just to many excruciatingly rare and obscure seabirds to limit a list to ten. Almost every species in the Pseudobulweria genus is close to mythical in its rarity with Beck’s and Fiji Petrels only having been rediscovered and photographed at sea within the last few years. The following 20 birds are ranked considering rarity, desirability (in a birding sense) along with difficulty in actually laying eyes on the species and in some cases ensuring correct identification. I primarily used the taxonomy from Onley & Scofield, Albatrosses, Petrels and Shearwaters of the World for this list and realize that the exact classification in some cases may be controversial.


1. Amsterdam Island Albatross - Diomedia amsterdamensis - Seen of Amsterdam Island, Nov/12
This bird has it all-very rare with only 15 pairs breeding annually (up to 40 pairs in 2012) on
Amsterdam Island, only found on one of the remotest islands in the entire world and a large “wandering type” albatross to boot. The last seabirding expedition to this area was in 2002 and they were lucky enough to see this species while leaving St.Paul’s Island. I plan to be on the 2012 “Remote Islands of the Indian Ocean” expedition with Wild Wings which targets this and many other rare endemic species.

First Image
First Image Amsterdam Island Albatross, off Amsterdam Island, Nov.16/12

2. Fiji Petrel -
Pseudobulweria macgillivrayi - Seen off Gau, April/14
Originally know from one immature specimen found by John MacGillivray on Gau Island, Fiji in 1855. It was rediscovered in 1983 and in 1984 an adult was captured and photographed. In 2009 Hadoram Shirihai led an expedition which for the first time successfully located and
photographed this species at sea 25 miles south of Gau Island.

First Image First Image Fiji Petrel, off Gau, Fiji

3. Mascarene Petrel -
Pseudobulweria mascarene - Seen off Reunion Island, December/14
Critically endangered species only known to breed on Reunion Island off the east coast of Africa. Occasional sightings reported southwest of Reunion Island but several confusion species occur in this same area. There may be no picture of this bird at sea in existence. The only photos I could find of this species were
in the hand shots from Reunion Island. Listed as critically endangered in the 2010 IUCN Red List. BirdLife International review of this obscure species.

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

4. Bryan’s Shearwater - Puffinus bryani

Recently described by Pyle, Welch & Fleischer 2011. A new species of shearwater (Puffinus) recorded from Midway Atoll, northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Condor:Vol.113, No.3, Aug 2011 abstract. Subsequent specimens suggest this species is still extant and breeding in the Bonin Islands. These specimens were all preyed upon by rats and speculation that the species may be on the verge of extinction is driving further research and conservation efforts. Hard to know exactly were to put this species - given the lack of data.

5. Chatham Island Petrel- Pterodroma axillaris Seen of New Zealand Jan/16

Until recently considered Critically Endangered and was restricted to Rangatira Island in the Chathams. At one point may have been down to 200-400 birds. Aggressive conservation measures increased the population to around 1000 birds in 2004. Transplanting chicks to new sites protected from predators and from burrow competition from Broad-billed Prions seems to be enjoying some early success. Very rarely seen at sea but some success has been had by recent expeditions to the area. Force et al documented the occurrence of this species 820 nautical miles off Peru in the only photographed record of this species away from it’s breeding range. A nice review of recent sightings is reviewed in their paper from Marine Ornithology Seen 120k off Hawkes Bay, NZ, January/16.

First Image Chatham Island Petrel, 5k S of Rangatira , Chatham Islands

6. Magenta Petrel - Pterodroma magentae Seen, off Chatham Island, Nov/11

Also known as the Chatham Island Taiko it was considered extinct until rediscovered by David Crocket in 1978. The species continued to decline into the 90’s and at one point only four breeding burrows were known. In 2006 there were 25 breeding pairs. It was recently noted that 95% of non breeding birds were male suggesting that critically low numbers may be interfering with the birds finding mates. This is described in a recent
BirdLife International post with one of the only known photos of Magenta Petrel at sea by Steve Howell. Recently expeditions to the area have sporadically produced sightings of this rare seabird.

7. Townsend’s Shearwater - Puffinus auricularis Seen, off Baja Sur, Aug/12

My candidate for the next seabird to face extinction. Dramatic recent declines, a single remaining breeding site, multiple threats to its survival and the lack of an aggressive recovery plan all combine to make medium term survival
of this species most unlikely. The lack of any sort of champion for this species or even a general understanding of the birding/conservation community that this bird is so imperilled apparently makes it a low priority. A 2002 paper suggesting it may be extinct in 100-150 years is clearly ludicrously optimistic since the population has plummeted from estimated 1000 breeding pairs in 2002 to less than 100 in 2008. Several of us have been working towards a expedition to Socorro Island (maybe Dec 2015) to see the last few remaining Townsend’s Shearwaters - if interested please e-mail me-

8. Vanuatu Petrel -
Pterodroma occulta, Seen off Vanua Lava, April/14
Originally described from six specimens taken by Rollo Beck at sea in the Bismark Archipelago near the island of Mera Lava in 1927. Incredibly a specimen of this species was found along a roadside in New South Wales in 1983 inciting renewed interest in this obscure seabird. In 2009 a very small breeding colony was found in the mountains of Vaua Lava. In February of 2010 an
expedition lead by Peter Harrison observed twenty-one Vanuatu Petrels were seen over a three day period including a resting flock of eleven birds. This was the first confirmed sightings at sea in 83 years and the first ever photographs.

First Image First Image
Vanuatua Petrels showing distinct underwing pattern , off Vanua Lava

9. Beck’s Petrel - Pseudobulweria becki , Seen off New Ireland- April/13
Originally known from only two specimens taken by Rollo Beck in the 1920s-the first along the Bismark Archipelago east of New Ireland- the second in the Solomon Islands. Hadoran Shirihai visited this area in search of this mythical species in 2003. On this expedition he observed what he described as “possible” Beck’s Petrels. He returned to the area in July-August of 2007 and managed to photograph 30 Beck’s Petrels including some freshly fledged juveniles.

10. Emperor Penguin - Aptenodytes forsterii , Seen Ross Sea, Feb/17

Breeds during the Antarctic winter in about 30 colonies mostly on fast ice on the southern (coldest) part of the continent. Adults stay close to permanent ice for most of their lives. Juveniles equipped with satellite transmitters, however, migrated as far north as the polar front and may occasionally be seen by lucky . Vagrants have turned up on the South Shetland Islands, Tierra del Fuego, the Falklands, South Sandwich Islands, Kerguelen Island, Heard Island, and New Zealand. Standing over a meter tall a most impressive and unique species. Although not particularly endangered opportunities to access the breeding colonies are extremely limited and expensive.

11. MacGillivray’s Prion - Pachyptila macgillivrayi, Seen off St. Paul Island, Nov/12

Endemic to La Roche Quille off St. Paul Island in the Southern Indian Ocean and may have started recolonizing the main island. Previously considered a subspecies of either Broad-billed or Salvin’s Prion. Onley and Scoffield considered it best treated as a full species based on bill size and colour. Maybe inseparable from Salvin’s at sea. Range at sea unknown with no verified records away from breeding grounds. The only opportunity to see this species in the foreseeable future will be on
Wild Wings- “Remote Islands of the Indian Ocean Tour” in 2012.
12.Greater Snow Petrel - Pagadroma confusa, Seen off Balleny Islands, Feb/17

Somewhat controversial but considered a full species by Onley & Scofield who state “differences in size, weight and behaviour that are greater than between many other forms of petrel regarded as a single species”. Greater is considered considerably stockier with a barrel chest and stouter bill along with longer wings. Colonies of pure Greater Snow Petrels are only known from Balleny Island in the Eastern Antarctic which as of yet doesn’t have regular bus service. Heritage Expeditions runs some amazing journeys to East Antarctica so this is likely your best chance at this bird.

13.Whiskered Auklet - Aethia pygmaea Seen, Little Tanaga Strait, Aleutians May/2009

Breeds on Alaska's Aleutian Islands, where it is thought to nest on no more than 10 islands, and Asia's Commander Is. south to Kurile Is. Only a small percentage of the population breeds outside the Aleutians. It is also observed in the Sea of Okhotsk and is a rare straggler in winter along the east coast of Japan. Very localized even in the mid Aleutians were thousands can be seen in select spots such as Little Tanaga Strait just east of Adak. Zugunruhe Bird Tours runs great trips to see this species and the many other alcids and seabirds that are unique to this spectacular region.


Whiskered Auklet, Little Tanaga Strait, Aleutian Islands

14. Short-tailed Albatross -
Phoebastria albatrus, Seen off the Aleutians May/2010

Once abundant it is estimated that feather hunters clubbed to death five to ten million birds by the early 1900s. In the late 1930s the last breeding birds disappeared from Torishima and they were declared extinct in 1949. Miraculously a few immature birds survived at sea and they eventually returned to Torishima with the first egg being laid by returning birds in 1954. With very careful management they have slowly increased to around 2000 birds. The majority of birds nest on Torishima, and almost all of the rest on Minami-kojima in the Senkaku Islands. This year a couple nested on Midway and had a chick. During non-breeding season they range across the North Pacific, with the males and juveniles gathering in the Bering Sea, and the females feeding off the coast of Japan and eastern Russia. They can also be found rarely but in increasing numbers along the west coast of North America were most of the sightings are of juvenile birds.

Adult Short-tailed Albatross, Amchitka Pass between North Pacific Ocean & Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands, Alaska

Immature Short-tailed Albatross, Seguam Pass between North Pacific Ocean & Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands, Alaska

Juvenile Short-tailed Albatross Seguam Pass between North Pacific Ocean & Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands, Alaska

All the above birds seen on Zugunruhe Bird Tour from Adak to Attu and back to Dutch Harbor, May/2010

15. Cahow -
Pterodroma cahow , Seen of Bermuda, Nov/13

Thought extinct for many years when miraculously a small remnant breeding colony was discovered in 1951 on a small islet off Bermuda. David Wingate with the help of the Bermuda department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Parks has been instrumental in the preservation and slow recovery of this species whoes population in 1996 was estimated at a mere 200 birds. Rarely seen in Bermudian waters it was felt they mostly forage off North Carolina north to Cape Cod and occasionally north to Canadian waters. However recent telemetry data has shown they forage widely over the North Atlantic and beyond. A quote from one of the Conservation Officers in the project -“We have found, from those nine birds, that the minimum distance in 12 months is 36,000 miles; that is, taking the fixed recorded points in a straight line.The champion went 81,000 miles the equivalent of four times around the equator. It is an unbelievable distance. They can go anywhere they want. We’ve had a couple go fairly close to the Canary Islands.” Full article present here. To see a Bermuda Petrel a May pelagic off North Carolina with Brian Patteson’s Seabirding is probably your best bet but it is a red letter day when one is seen and many birders have made many a trip off North Carolina seeing a Cahow including yours truely. Check on Brian Patteson’s website for some great photos of Bermuda Petrel.

First Image
a sweet finish to 2013

16.Polynesian Storm-petrel -
Nesofregatta fulginosa , Seen North of New Caledonia, April/13

Breeds in small scattered colonies throughout the tropical south pacific this impressive species seems to be fading fast due to predation by introduced mammals. Recent surveys in New Caledonia suggests it is extinct there. Only unconfirmed sightings in Fijian waters in the last three decades. The current known population may be as low as c.1,000-1,600 mature individuals. Heart of the range probably the Polynesian Line Islands were they breed year round. A large. polymorphic and impressive storm petrel a trip by boat to French Polynesia is the best bet to see this beauty.

First Image Polynesian Storm-petrel, Minerva Reef

17. Henderson Petrel - Pterodroma artrata, Seen off Pitcairn Islands, Sept/13

Recently separated out from dark morph Herald petrels which may or may not really exist at least in the Pacific. Breeds only on Henderson Island were it is plummeting in numbers secondary to the usual introduced rodent menace. A British group the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is organizing a rat eradication campaign for Henderson Island starting in July of this year-great news. Hadoram Shirihai photographed possible “Henderson’s Petrels” on a Pacific journey with NOAA research cruise in 2003. A short photo essay of the trip- Petrel Cocktail- can be seen on the Angus Wilson’s website Ocean Wanderers an essential site for pelagic enthusiasts. The breeding location on Henderson Island is remote in the extreme. Alvaro Jaramillo advised me this sp. breeds in small numbers on Easter Island as well. Look here for Alvaro's Adventures.

First Image Henderson Petrel, south of Pitcairn

18. Heinroth’s Shearwater -
Puffinus heinroth, Seen off Bouganville, April/13

Puffinus shearwater breeding in the Solomon and Bismark Islands of Micronesia. Recently seen fairly regularly in small numbers on the western Pacific Odyssey

19. Antarctic Petrel -
Thallassoica antarctica, Seen off Balleny islands, Feb/17

One of the “Big Three” rarely see outside the Ross Sea area.

20. Ainley’s Storm-petrel- Oceanodroma cheimomnestes, Seen of Guadalupe Island, Dec/15

Recently described species by Steve Howell et al. In the Leach’s Storm-petrel complex and a winter breeder on Guadalupe Island, Mexico. Never described or photographed at sea. Hopefully an opportunity to seek out this species will arise in the next few years. Probably deserves a higher ranking given the complete obscurity of this species which has never been documented other than at its breeding sight.

Runners Up -
Craveri’s Murrelet, Long-billed Murrelet, Newell’s Shearwater, Zino’s Petrel, Magnificent Petrel, Trindade Petrel, Northern Rockhopper Penguin, Swinhoe’s Storm-petrel