Another birding first for Heritage Expeditions: Bryan’s Shearwater
During the recently completed Pacific Pelagic Odyssey (‘PPO’) from New Britain to Japan, passengers on the Spirit of Enderby were privileged to be amongst the first birders to see the recently described Bryan’s Shearwater Puffinus bryani.
This species was described in 2011 based on a lone bird which had been collected in 1963 on Midway Island in the Hawaiian chain. Originally identified as a Little Shearwater, the specimen lay forgotten in a museum drawer for almost fifty years until US researchers realised it was something different and wrote a paper for the American journal Condor.
When this was published, the breeding grounds of this enigmatic bird were unknown, although it was subsequently realised that several corpses which had been found in the Bonin (Ogasawara) Islands, almost 1,000 kilometres south of Tokyo, were this species. As a result, Japanese researchers began a systematic search of the islands in this archipelago and in February 2015 discovered a small colony of just ten pairs on the uninhabited island of Higashi-jima.
Classified as critically endangered by Birdlife International, with an estimated world population of less than 250 individuals, it was a real long shot looking for this species on the PPO, as nothing is known about its at sea range. Nevertheless, Expedition Leader Matt Vance and Bird Guide Chris Collins decided to give it a go, so on the late afternoon of 3 May 2015, the Spirit of Enderby was in international waters offshore from Higashi-jima when passenger Steve James spotted a Bryan’s Shearwater flying past the bow.
Fortunately, almost the entire group got onto the bird as it flew westwards towards the island with this being one of only a handful of sightings of this special bird and almost certainly the first time it has been seen on a birding tour.
Pyle, P., Welch, A.J. and Fleischer, R.C. 2011. A new species of shearwater (Puffinus) recorded from Midway Atoll, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The Condor 113(3): 518-527
BirdLife International (2015) Species factsheet: Puffinus bryani. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org