Sunday, June 13, 2010

Waved Albatross in Lake Gatún, a report by Nicole Michel

I'm a PhD student currently conducting my research on mechanisms of understory insectivorous bird declines on Barro Colorado Island. While I was driving a boat to the far side of the island on June 2, I observed a Waved Albatross (Phoebastria irrorata) sitting on one of the buoys marking the edge of the Canal. I didn't have a camera with me so I was unable to get any photos, but I was able to pull my boat right up next to the buoy and observe the bird for several minutes, and have no doubts about the identification.


I was driving a small motorboat around to the far side of Barro Colorado Island from the field station on the morning of June 2nd. On my way back to the field station, driving along the main Canal side (Buena Vista Reach, on the NE side), I spotted a large seabird sitting on top of one of the large red channel-marking buoys close to the entrance to Laboratory Cove (specifically, the second tall red buoy out from Laboratory Cove). I pulled my boat right up to the base of the buoy, killed the engine, and observed the bird from a distance of maybe 10m for several minutes. It was immediately clear that this was a large seabird of the tubenose group, given the large size, build, and tube nose. Its head and upper breast were pure white, and it had a very long and narrow (bill longer than the length of the head) bright-yellow bill with a distinct hooked tip. The wings were brown, and there was brown mottling around the flanks, shoulders, and lower breast, where the white faded into brown. It stood approximately 2' tall (taller than any of the signaling equipment on top of the buoy); the wings were not extended. I ruled out the other 2 albatross species listed for Panama by bill (narrow and yellow, not pink or black), size, and plumage. I similarly ruled out Pterodroma petrels, shearwaters, and boobies by body size, bill size and coloration, and plumage.

This sighting occurred about 10 am on June 2nd. Unfortunately I did not have a camera with me, and when I returned to the area I was unable to relocate it. I have observed numerous Black-footed and Laysan Albatrosses on pelagic trips taken out of Bodega Bay and Monterey Bay with Deborah Shearwater, Rick Stallcup, Peter Pyle, and others in Northern California. I have also taken pelagic trips out of New England and have birded coastal areas throughout the US (including Hawaii and Alaska), the Caribbean, and Costa Rica over the last ~15 years of active birding, so I'm quite familiar with identification of seabirds including Procellariids.

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