The following story and photos were submitted by MIBC member Gord Curry. Thanks so much for sharing these amazing stories and sightings with us Gord!
I was alerted to the presence of Short-tailed shearwaters by a post from local whale researcher, Jared Towers, so I was off in my boat to find them. This was August 15 and I had just cruised past Sointula into Cormorant Channel, and to my surprise, there were 5 of the birds resting on the ocean amongst rhinoceros auklets and common murres. First I used the binoculars so I could confirm what the birds were, and then the camera to prove that these were not sooty shearwaters.
Apparently, separating short-tailed and sooty shearwaters is very difficult, and left to the domain of seasoned and highly experienced seabird observers to reliably tell them apart. I knew this before going out and had studied the subtle differences, knowing I was going to be asked to prove my identification. Digital photography is a wonderful tool for this task, but you still need good pictures of the key characteristics.
I spent several hours in Cormorant Channel and wandered into Blackfish Sound but all the shearwaters I detected were in Cormorant Channel. I took over 500 pictures to get good angles on the shape of the head, slope of the forehead, the light-coloured area below the bill, relatively short thin bill, the white under the wing and whether the feet in flight extended beyond the tail. All these traits are to separate them from sooty shearwaters, that often arrive in this area in September, in large numbers.
Short-tailed shearwaters breed in southeast Australia, with the Sooty’s also using New Zealand and the Southern tip of South America. The Short-tailed shearwaters spend our summer feeding in the North Pacific and Arctic waters. Such amazing wanderers!
I submitted my descriptions and photos to a local reviewer and got a positive identification. Finding one or two of these birds would be common except for the difficulty identifying them, but counting 340, and the first observation of them categorized as a “lifer”, for me, made for one rewarding trip out in the boat.