The first observations of Fiji Petrel at sea

We are pleased to announce that this year’s ‘Fiji Petrel Pelagic Expedition 2009’ was successful in finding the species off Gau Island, Fiji (this being the only site where a few birds have grounded in the past; the vast majority dead or moribund after hitting village roofs).

Our sightings constitute the first unequivocal records of Fiji Petrel at sea; eight were seen over an eleven-day period. The full results, with superb photographs of this near-mythical species, have been under embargo until now, awaiting publication of our paper in the Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club (The first observations of Fiji Petrel Pseudobulweria macgillivrayi at sea: off Gau Island, Fiji, in May 2009 Bull. Brit. Orn. Cl. 129: 129-148 check).

Summary.—The first unambiguous observations of Fiji Petrel Pseudobulweria macgillivrayi at sea are documented with photographs. The species’ behaviour, jizz and flight are described, together with comments on confusion species, especially Bulwer’s Bulweria bulwerii and Jouanin’s Petrels B. fallax, and Christmas (Kiritimati) Shearwater Puffinus nativitatis. Preparations for the expedition, why a given sea area was chosen, the ‘recipe’ and use of ‘chum’ as an attractant, and the methods used for counting petrels are explained. The four preserved specimens of Fiji Petrel were studied in detail and records of grounded birds, from the only known location, Gau Island, Fiji, were reviewed and their ages re-examined. The accruing data permit us to speculate on this petrel’s breeding season, which is highly relevant to the future conservation of this Critically Endangered species.

For those wishing to read more and to order a copy of the September bulletin, please go to the website of The British Ornithologists’ Club: www.boc-online.org (under Publications).

BirdLife International has issued a press release on this significant development today. This includes some chosen photographs of Fiji Petrel taken at sea. Please see:

www.birdlife.org/news/news/2009/09/fiji_petrel_discovery.html

Additionally two photographs have been uploaded today to:

www.seabirding.co.uk/FijiPetrelPhoto.htm

It is our intention to place the full paper, with all photographs, on the websites www.seabirding.co.uk and www.naturefiji.org when appropriate.

The expedition was organised by NatureFiji-MareqetiViti in partnership with the National Trust of Fiji as a component of its larger Fiji Petrel Project.

Best regards

Hadoram Shirihai, Tony Pym, Jörg Kretzschmar & Dick Watling