Probable Tropical/Audubon's Shearwater on North Keeling

Subject: Probable Tropical/Audubon's Shearwater on North Keeling
From: "Mike Carter" <>
Date: Fri, 27 Nov 2009 20:46:19 +1100
Yesterday I received from Ismail MacCrae 6 images of a black-and-white shearwater photographed in mid-November on the ground at night on North Keeling Island. Ismail requested I identify the bird. Unfortunately, the images are mainly similar shots of the head and breast with nothing showing the underparts.
In part, my response was as follows.
Thanks Ismail, this is an exciting find. The bird is clearly one of the small black-and-white Shearwaters, Puffinus sp. The taxonomy of this group is unsettled and controversial so it is difficult to be absolutely sure about its identity but I fancy that it is what these days would be called a Tropical Shearwater Puffinus bailloni. Being old fashioned I'd prefer to call it an Audubon's Shearwater P. lherminhieri and unless you have very modern books this is what your available literature would call it. There are no records of either from Cocos-Keeling or anywhere in the eastern Indian Ocean as far as I'm aware. This is particularly exciting because it may not be just a casual vagrant. This species breeds on Chagos and the Maldives, the same areas which also have Saunders's Terns now known to be regular at Cocos. Being on the ground at night could mean that it is nesting or at least prospecting for a nest site. If you find it again, try to determine 1) leg colour, said to be blue but birds I've seen were pink, 2) whether undertail coverts are black or white and 3) extent of white on sides of rump as viewed from above. A birding group led by Peter Barrand is on Cocos now or will be shortly. You should tell them and please ask them to advise me of their sightings Richard Baxter and his group will be there next week and will be going to North Keeling. You should try to show him the bird if it is at the entrance to a burrow. They are solitary nesters but may nest on the edge of a Wedge-tailed Shearwater colony. Unlike Wedge-taileds burrows, their burrows are too narrow to put ones hand in and usually very long so don't attempt to extract a bird. When I visited, Wedge-taileds were nesting but I think I heard they no longer do so.

Mike Carter
30 Canadian Bay Road
Mount Eliza  VIC 3930
Tel (03) 9787 7136

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