Amsterdam Albatross Status in Australia

To: "birding-aus" <>
Subject: Amsterdam Albatross Status in Australia
From: "Tony Palliser" <>
Date: Tue, 4 Jun 2002 16:19:12 +1000


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 information?)


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?


Good birding



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