Advice on identifying Albatrosses from shore

To: David Adams <>, Birding-Aus <>
Subject: Advice on identifying Albatrosses from shore
From: Nikolas Haass <>
Date: Thu, 26 Jun 2008 04:48:41 -0700 (PDT)
I guess the best thing is to spend a lot of time sea-watching to gain 
experience and it is always good to learn from experienced "sea-birders". So I 
am pretty sure that there are many people out there to give you better advice, 
but this may be a start:

I like following two guides for ID'ing Albatrosses:
Onley,D. & P. Scofield (2007): Albatrosses, Petrels & Shearwaters of the World. 
Pizzey, G. & F. Knight (2007, 8th ed.): The Field Guide to the Birds of 
Australia. Sydney.

It is relatively easy to tell a Diomedea from a Thalassarche and from Gannets 
and Giant Petrels (Giant Petrels, you need to see very close to ID on 
species level).
Christidis, L.  & W. Boles (2008) (Systematic and Taxonomy of Australian Birds) 
list the traditional albatross taxonomy. However, Onley & Scofield (2007) and 
Pizzey & Knight (2007) adopted a more "progressive" taxonomy, in which several 
of the "old species" were split into two or more "new species" which makes the 
ID more difficult.

Diomedea: it is very difficult to tell the different birds within the 
"Wandering" group, but you also need close looks to tell "Wanderers" apart from 
Thalassarche: Again, the "splits" make it more difficult and in some cases 
almost impossible (e.g. cauta and steadi). For the "old species" and some of 
the "new species", underwing pattern is the key, at closer views you can use 
bill colour.


Nikolas Haass

Sydney, NSW

----- Original Message ----
From: David Adams <>
To: Birding-Aus <>
Sent: Thursday, June 26, 2008 5:59:19 PM
Subject: [Birding-Aus] Advice on identifying Albatrosses from shore

I'm writing in to ask for some advice on learning more about
identifying Albatross from shore. I really never go on pelagics (too
disorganized) so I haven't made a lot of progress. For years I've been
staring off of headlands at large seabirds with binoculars wondering
"are those Albatross or are they immature Gannets?" I bought a scope
last year with a 20-60x zoom and have it mounted on a swivel head so
that I can track birds in flight. I went out to Blue Point (Bermagui,
Far South Coast NSW) this morning and end up staring at distant birds
wondering "are those Albatross or are they immature Gannets?" ;-)
Actually, with the scope I can tell that some of them aren't
Gannets...but I have little idea how to go about sorting out which
species they may be.

I've had a look at the SOSSA (Southern Ocean Seabird Study
Association) site which is a good start but am looking for more advice
or references. (The month-by-month guide at SOSSA is very helpful, by
the way.) I have lots of bird field guides but none devoted
specifically to seabirds. Is there something I should be getting?
Andrew Isles sent along a note just today that there's a new book out
on the subject of albatrosses but it doesn't sound like a field guide.

I regularly see reports on this list from people confidently
identifying various sorts of Albatross they've spotted from shore so
there must be a way to do it. Are there headlands where the birds come
in close enough for clear identification or are there a series of
distinguishing marks that let you sort out the species by process of
elimination or some other means? Size is basically useless as a field
characteristic for distant birds over water and some of the other
field marks would require a close view (color of the bill, color of
the tip of the bill, color behind the eye, etc.) so I'm a bit stumped.

Suggestions much appreciated! I suspect others may have the same
question I do so please post back answers to the list, if possible.

David Adams

Wallaga Lake 2546 NSW

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