'ARABIAN' Shearwaters in Bonapartes Gulf - CONGRATULATIONS

To: Simon Mustoe <>
Subject: 'ARABIAN' Shearwaters in Bonapartes Gulf - CONGRATULATIONS
From: Ian May <>
Date: Mon, 25 Oct 2010 19:10:23 +1100
Congratulations Simon.  What a great discovery and I hope it is new taxa.

You might find the following anecdote of use on your next trip

From 1993 to 1999 Pat and I were Kimberley commercial fishers (Beche de mer and Spanish Mackerel) where we lived at sea for most of the year. About every 6 weeks we would sail to Darwin to unload our catch and refuel.

Returning from Darwin our route to the Kimberley would take us via Charles Point and Fish Reef and then up to 100Nm off shore across the Boneaparte Gulf on what we knew as Route 222 (222Nm) on a bearing of approx 250 mag. from Fish Reef to Cape Londonderry. Interestingly this course runs approximately 30 Nm south of Flat Top Bank where you have found the “Arabian Shearwaters”

Anyway, particularly during the dry season, the Boneapart Gulf (known by local sailors as the Blownapart Gulf) is barren regarding pelagic birdlife although occasionally we did see some interesting stuff. But usually in about the third week of October the Gulf comes alive with birds as tuna schools move in. Almost overnight Shearwater flocks often comprising many hundreds of birds appear. They seem to be attracted to the fish schools when they regularly irrupt into a surface feeding frenzy.

The species composition of the shearwater flocks were usually mixed comprising Streaked (about 25%) and making up the bulk of numbers, what I had always thought until your find, to be Hutton's Shearwater. Numerous terns, mainly Lesser Crested, Bridled and Roseate are often picking around the margins and occasionally I would see all dark medium sized petrels, probably Bulwer’s and large dark storm petrels probably Matsudaira’s as well

When we first observed this in 1993, I was excited about Streaked Shearwaters because at the time they were thought to be rare in Australian waters. This was before digital cameras, the internet, modern pelagic field guides and of course birding-aus and I never questioned the Hutton’s ID as they were common and seen through the wet season although most conspicuos prior to the monsoon when the sea is usually calm.

Another fantastic sight at this time of year coincides with the first full moon of November. The deep sea coral and much of the benthic biota spawns. It produces a dense cover of what looks like an oily curry powder across the sea This phenomenon is often misreported as oil spill. The fish, the birds, the sea snakes and the crustaceans, everything goes mad. If you get an oily calm night, turn on the deck lights and chase the radar targets. You will see a spectacle that almost defies description.

The shearwater flocks are conspicuous and sometimes large. We would locate flocks from up to 5 Nm using conventional 4 Kw marine radar. In November many flocks would be encountered on a single voyage seen anywhere from about 30nm WSW of fish reef to a point near Leseur Island about 10 km south east of Cape Londonderry, anywhere the blue water occurs,

However from November, the calm seas are often interrupted by violent tropical revolving storms with 50 knot squalls and plenty of lightening. An exciting experience at night these storms are are short lived and don't stir up sea conditions too much. They are definitely a spectacular sight but when the monsoon hits, that’s a very different story with prevailing gale force NWwinds with each surge sometimes lasting sometimes for weeks.

In December 1998 a violent Cat 5 cyclone (Cyclone Thelma) crossed the
Boneaparte gulf and we crossed only 1 week after. The cyclone had stirred the bottom with a force that can hardly be imagined and the water had turned to pale milk colour. There were hundreds of dead shearwaters of both species scattered across the sea. The depth across much of the boneaparte is about 40 fathoms but where the track crosses the WA/NT border it shallows for some distance. There is probably deep sea coral here because after the cyclone, dense mats of kelp floated to the surface and many dead shearwaters were tangled amongst it.

It is a very exciting place to be at this time of year and I wish I was there. Congratulations on a great discovery.


Ian May
St Helens, Tasmania.

Simon Mustoe wrote:


Thanks hugely!
Just to reiterate, I've put information about these birds up here:
 This also includes a link to more images at

A reminder to Aussie birders - I have until the end of this week to confirm whether the trip to see these birds will go out on the 6th November. This may be the only chance this year to see them. Call me on 0405 220830.



Simon Mustoe Tel: +61 (0) 405220830 | Skype simonmustoe | Email

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To: ; ; 

Date: Mon, 25 Oct 2010 13:37:27 +1100
CC: ; ; 

Subject: [Birding-Aus] 'ARABIAN' Shearwaters in Bonapartes Gulf - CONGRATULATIONS Kimberley Birdwatching's annual trip to Ashmore Reef returned to Broome on Saturday so the earliest most of us arrived home was yesterday evening with the opportunity to view the photos of Arabian Shearwaters posted last week. Like the Peregrine Bird Tour group we also had an exceptionally successful trip and I will post a report later this week.

Having now seen the photographs we're gob-smacked. Those Shearwaters they saw are something special! They are not Hutton's Shearwaters - we had excellent views and obtained many photographs of 575 Hutton's in a variety of plumages just three days ago. None resembled those birds. So congratulations to Simon Mustoe, Chris Doughty and the others in that group on their discovery. What a find!

To us they do look basically like Arabian Shearwaters and are undoubtedly new to Australia. Moreover, they could be new to science as a separate taxon. With so many birds together who knows, there could be a population breeding somewhere in northern Australia or Indonesia. There are 3,000 islands in the Kimberley alone let alone the NT. That Audubon's, Tropical, Little Shearwater group is notorious for having small populations scattered over a wide area and there is no general consensus regarding their taxonomic relationships. Indeed, even modern texts suggest new breeding sites await discovery. So well done!

Mike Carter, Rohan Clarke & George Swann

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