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Petrels Photographed in Pelagic and Coastal Habitat and Shearwaters in their Breeding Colonies

Petrels and shearwaters belong to the Procellariidae family, Procellariiformes order of seabirds that comprise over eighty petrel species and nearly thirty shearwater species. They are related to albatrosses and fulmars having similar distinctive tubular nostrils on the tops of their bills to excrete excess salt from the salt-water they drink.

These long-lived ocean-going birds visit coastal waters to feed and nest. Most species nest in burrows, an exception is the northern giant petrel that nests above ground. They have long narrow wings with feet towards the back of their bodies, great for swimming but clumsy on land, the northern giant petrel is an exception as it can walk well.

Petrels

I photographed four species of petrel in the seas off Kaikoura in New Zealand's South Island. The Westland petrel (Procellaria westlandica) is an uncommon endemic and white-chinned petrel (Procellaria aequinoctialis) is an uncommon native, both are ICUN red listed as Vulnerable. Cape petrels (Daption capense) are common natives, as is the northern giant petrel (Macronectes halli).

Featured Petrels, Procellariiformes order

Procellariidae (Petrel and Shearwater) family

Westland Petrel (Procellaria westlandica) [VU]

White-chinned Petrel (Procellaria aequinoctialis) [VU]

Cape Petrel (Daption capense)

Northern Giant Petrel (Macronectes halli)

Manx Shearwater

In the mid-nineties, I photographed Manx shearwater (Puffinus puffinus), at night, in their breeding colony on Skomer Island, Wales, UK. During the day, shearwaters are either at sea or in their burrows below ground. The colony on Skomer Island has an estimated 120,000 breeding pairs and nearby Skokholm another 45,000, estimated world population is 350,000 to 390,000 breeding so about half of which breed on these two small islands off the Pembrokeshire coast.

One main predator of these clumsy birds is the great black-backed gull, and judging by the number of dead birds and carcasses on the island, they are easy prey. To avoid predation, the birds, leave or return to their burrows at night. Staying at night on Skomer is a marvellous experience, this is when the birds become active, very noisy and seen above ground. There is little ambient light on Skomer making photography and walking around the island challenging. Apart from the dead bird images, all others were flash exposures. The birds waddle and drag themselves to a high point, launch themselves into the air, and fly off into the darkness. The gallery shows birds at their burrow entrances, on the ground or perched on rocks ready to fly.

Birds arrive on Skomer in March each year. I visited the island in June and July when all the nesting seabirds are at their most active feeding chicks. In late August, the adults abandon their chicks leaving them to fend for themselves. After about a week the chicks leave the island, navigate on their own to overwinter off southern Brazil and Argentina in the southern hemisphere.

The short-tailed shearwater image is digital media; the Manx shearwaters are digitally scanned positive or negative film.

Short-tailed Shearwater

On 25th September 2013 I visited Griffiths Island’s short-tailed shearwater colony, near Port Fairy in Victoria, hoping to see ‘rafts’ of birds out at sea, waiting to come ashore after their long migration. Unfortunately, they were probably in their burrows apart from several dead birds near the footpaths.

The short-tailed shearwater (Ardenna tenuirostris formerly Puffinus tenuirostris) or mutton-bird is the most abundant Australian seabird with more than twenty million birds breed in over two hundred colonies. During my visit to Australia, I was visited Griffiths Island colony near Port Fairy in Victoria on the 25th September for a few hours. The birds arrive from the Pacific migration, where they overwinter around the Aleutian Islands and Kamchatka peninsula, between the 19th and 25th September each year the 22nd being the usual arrival date. My visit was during the day and I hoped to see them rafting off shore, but no luck. There were at least six dead birds near the footpath around the island so at least some had arrived. All the birds seemed to be whole so predators were not eating them.

Featured Shearwaters, Procellariiformes order

Procellariidae (Petrel and Shearwater) family

Short-tailed Shearwater (Ardenna tenuirostris formerly Puffinus tenuirostris)

Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus)

Abbreviations

IUCN: International Union for Conservation of Nature

[VU] Vulnerable

Northern Giant Petrel (Macronectes halli), flying, Kaikoura Pelagic, New Zealand, 2015 Cape Petrel (Daption capense), in flight, Kaikoura Pelagic, New Zealand, 2015 Westland Petrel (Procellaria westlandica), flying, Kaikoura Pelagic, New Zealand, 2015 Northern Giant Petrel (Macronectes halli), on water, Kaikoura Pelagic, New Zealand, 2015 White-chinned Petrel (Procellaria aequinoctialis), on water, Kaikoura Pelagic, New Zealand, 2015 Cape Petrel (Daption capense), on water, Kaikoura Pelagic, New Zealand, 2015 Westland Petrel (Procellaria westlandica), on water, Kaikoura Pelagic, New Zealand, 2015 Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus), at burrow entrance at night, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, 1994 Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus), perched on rock ready to fly, Skomer Island breeding colony at night, Pembrokeshire, Wales, 1995 Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus), perched on rock ready to fly, Skomer Island breeding colony at night, Pembrokeshire, Wales, 1994 Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus), at burrow entrance at night, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, 1994 Carcass of Dead Short-tailed Shearwater (Ardenna tenuirostris), Griffiths Island, Victoria, Australia Dead Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus), breeding colony at Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, 1994 Dead Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus), breeding colony at Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, 1994 Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus), at burrow entrance at night, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales, 1994