excellent bird report, but not local

To: Cog line <>
Subject: excellent bird report, but not local
From: Ian Fraser <>
Date: Thu, 05 Jul 2012 10:22:04 +1000

I post this report because I like to think that at least some of us are interested in such first-hand accounts of bird behaviour (especially of species with close relatives in Australia), and because I actually think it's an excellent model of how amateurs like us can make and report valuable observations.

The author, Chris Carter, is a colleague who is currently working in Arica, at the edge of the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. He would not describe himself as a birder (I doubt that he has a field guide with him), but in the light of what follows that only invites contemplation of what it actually means to be a birder.

It does seem to me too that we could take lessons in fish management from the Chileans (the human ones, that is).

If this is of no interest, my apologies for taking your time - just delete.

best wishes

Ian Fraser

For the third day in a row the birds have been getting into the sardines.  I think the sardine season is well under way but the boats have not been working for the last couple of days – they are fairly strict as to when and where the boats can fish and stop them without notice if they think the catches are too high.

Anyway, I thought you would be interested in the strategies used by the birds.  They tend to group in bunches of several hundred scattered across several kilometres (from the 16th floor we have a pretty broad view) just sitting on the water.  A few birds then seem to scout around until the find a school of fish and then they start diving.  This signals the groups to take to the wing and join in.  They are too far out to see exactly what species the groups are – probably Peruvian boobies but as soon as the feeding starts, the pelicans [Peruvian Pelicans, IF] join in along with a few kelp gulls.  The other gulls (not sure which species, totally ash grey [Grey Gulls Larus modestus, IF]) are shore feeders and don’t bother with what’s happening off-shore.  Yesterday the feeding birds spread over an area more than a kilometre long.  Flocks come in from everywhere and we watched for about 20 minutes and more were still coming in.  There would have been  thousands of birds in total over a narrow spread.  There were several ‘centres’ where the feeding was taking place with the birds gaining altitude before spiralling down to dive into the water – hundreds at a time coming down like they were in a vortex.  I don’t know how long it went on for as we had to leave before they had finished.  It’s a wonder there are any sardines left!  Particularly as there was a pod of dolphins joining in yesterday.

The other observations we have made relate to the pelicans ‘surfing’ the waves.  The beach here is quite shallow and the waves (1-2m) form 100-150m off-shore in a very regular pattern.  The pelicans fly along parallel to the coast in a line about where the waves form and as the swell rises, they will position themselves in front of the wave and ‘surf’ the air current as it is uplifted.  Their wing tips look as if they were only a few centimetres from the wave face.  They stay with the wave until it starts to break and then roll off, head back out and catch the next wave as it comes in, moving along the coast all the while until they get to where they are headed – into the sheltered waters of the port where they roost.  Sometimes individual birds will do it, other times it will be a line of 20 or more.  Quite beautiful to watch. 


Ian Fraser, m("","calochilus51");">
Environment Tours; Vertego Environmental Consultancy
PO Box 4148, Weston Creek, ACT 2611
ph: 61 2 6287 4813  
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