The recent NSW FOC Annual Bird Report
1999. (Australian Birds Volume 32
No.4) has incorrectly reported the first Australian records of Amsterdam
Albatross for Australia. To date
there have been NO CONFIRMED records of this species from Australia. Although, there is an unconfirmed
report of a specimen obtained at sea off Tasmania, but dates, locations and
identification details are sketchy or non-existent. (Does anyone have any
The report states that one Amsterdam
Albatross was sighted off Wollongong on the 26th September 1999 and
an additional 12 birds were sighted off Sydney on the 9th October
1999, which is quite wrong.
The Wollongong pelagic on the 26th September did report a
bird that at the time was thought MAY
have represented Amsterdam Albatross but this was not confirmed.
This conclusion was based on the overall dark plumage characteristics
typical of that species and importantly the presence of a dark cutting edge to
the bill. The sighting of another
similar individual (NOT TWELVE) on the 9th October 1999 from Sydney
also depicting a dark cutting edge to the bill began to raise severe doubts as
to the identity.
Over the subsequent months a few
enthusiasts began to search through archives of photographs looking for other
birds with dark cutting edges and found a number of birds of different
races/species in a variety of plumages with dark cutting edges to the bill.
This again raised severe doubts about the identity of the Wollongong and Sydney
birds and indeed the validity of published identification criteria used to
separate amsterdamensis from
other races of exulans (or
species if you wish). During
January 2000 I happened to be close to the breeding grounds of Diomedia exulans antipodensis in NZ (the
seabird capital of the world) and noted at least three individuals (among
hundreds in the area) with features like the Wollongong and Sydney birds - that
is, with dark cutting edges to the bill.
This fact therefore strongly suggests that the birds in question were in
fact antipodensis. Since then I
understand other observers/scientists have visited the Antipodes and reported
birds with dark cutting edges.
Due to the extreme complexity of aging and
sexing of each form very little has been published in the way of identification
standards and much research is still to be done. When you look closely at the larger albatrosses one begins
to realise that no two individuals are identical. Recent authorities as we all
know have split the albatross group causing considerable identification
problems for most birders. Some
plumages are fairly straight-forward but there is a lot of overlap not only
with plumage characteristics but measurements too, so I have been informed. I
won' t go into all of that here, my recommendation would be to photograph every
bird seen. Identifying an
Amsterdam Albatross at sea or even in the hand may prove to be very
difficult. Is anyone bold enough
to state how to separate amsterdamensis from antipodensis? I am sure a lot of people would be interested.
I also note that the latin name published
for Amsterdam Albatross Diomedea exulans
amsterdamensis is also incorrect in this bird report. Amsterdam Albatross has never been
documented as a race of exulans. It should be Diomedea amsterdamensis.
On another note it disturbs me to find my
name against such sightings! It
would appear as though this is because I was the organizer for that particular
pelagic or perhaps the person that published the trip report for
birding-aus. In some cases my name
has appeared against sightings of birds I haven' t even seen. I find this somewhat offensive,
particularly when it involves publication in a newsletter or annual
report. Has anyone else
experienced such problems or am I being unreasonable to suggest that the method
of documenting observer's names in newsletters and reports be reviewed?