Monday, November 14, 2005

ENV: New Zealand Petrel

It has been less than three years since the rediscovery of the New Zealand Petrel. The bird, not seen for over 110 years, and thought to be extinct, was a surprise not unlike the recent reports of Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

Now comes this report off the listservs:

Subject: [pelagics] New Zealand Storm-petrel IN THE HAND!

Below sent to interested parties - typed in haste from an Internet cafe!

New Zealand Storm-petrel Oceanites maorianus - IN THE HAND!

Many have been following the story of the rediscovery of this bird in New Zealand after more than a century. Here, a recent exciting development.

I had arrived in New Zealand on 4th November 2005 after three weeks' birding in Northern Australia.

On the early morning of 5th November, Karen Baird of Pterodroma Tours informed me that a storm-petrel had landed on a fishing boat the previous night in the Hauraki Gulf and by the description there was a good chance it was a New Zealand Storm-petrel. The bird was alive
and had been kept overnight in a box.

I had pre-arranged a personal charter of the "Assassin", operating out from Sandspit, for the 5th and we drew up plans to go out to the fishing boat early morning. Aboard "Assassin" was Karen Baird, Richard Griffiths (from the NZ DoC), myself plus three others. The skipper was Brett Rathe.

The small fishing boat "Ocean Ranger" had anchored overnight in Waimaomao Bay (Trawler Bay), Little Barrier Island. It had been a starry night and the boat had only the fore and aft lights on. The skipper, Geordie Murman, and his mate had just sat down to their evening meal at 2145 hrs when a storm-petrel flew into the cabin to land on the pocket of Geordie's shirt. He is knowledgable about seabirds and worked on the Taiko project in the Chatham Islands, indeed was the first to find a Magenta Petrel's burrow. He knew immediately that this storm-petrel was the bird that everyone had been talking about over the last few years.

We powered out to the "Ocean Ranger" and went aboard. Richard opened the box as we waited eagerly. It was immediately confirmed that the bird was a New Zealand Storm-petrel. Richard, with Karen assisting, went through the measurements of the bird, ringed it, and many photographs were taken, including details of the bill, undertail coverts, feet, webs and so on (these relevant to genera and species placing), a feather louse was found and taken, and feather samples for DNA analysis. The bird did not have a brood patch. It was then released and flew off strongly.

This bird is the first in the hand since the collections of the three specimens in the late 1800's - therefore the first live captive bird for some 120 years.

Further details will be posted on Karen's website, including results from the DNA analysis once known. Hopefully, this data will help settle some controversy, particularly in New Zealand, over the species' standing.

It was interesting that the bird was very close inshore to Little Barrier Island and this may well be a (the?) breeding location. It had been suspected that the breeding site could be the Mokohinau Islands - these can be seen from Little Barrier.

Some of my in-hand photographs will be posted when I return home late December.

Karen's website is:

Regards, Tony Pym

Read a more detailed account of the rediscovery here.


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