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July 18, 2018

Return of Bird of the Week: Cape Petrel

There are whole families of smaller birds, ranging from crow-sized to sparrow-sized, that spend their whole lives on the ocean, coming ashore only to breed. Petrels, Prions, Storm-petrels, Diving-petrels; they are all adapted to live on the ocean, with no need for fresh water. One of those smaller marine birds is the Cape Petrel, in Spanish the Pintado or Painted Petrel. It is probably the most common bird species on the Southern Ocean, and the easiest to see because it is an enthusiastic ship-follower. Their wings are a little under three feet long but the birds are only fifteen inches…

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Return of Bird of the Week: Striated Caracara

Striated Caracara, New Island, Falkland Islands

In the Falkland Islands, the ecological role of ravens, crows and vultures is occupied by a falcon, the Striated Caracara. This is one of the larger members of the falcon family, with a wingspan of about four feet. And you can see those talons aren’t anything you’d want to mess with. In the Falkland Islands, where WC saw this species, they are called Johnny Rook, a nod to the Rook, a species of Eurasian Crow, that occupies a similar ecological niche. Intelligent, fearless and curious, WC’s problem photographing this bird was that the bird kept walking towards him, too close…

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Return of Bird of the Week: Wandering Albatross

Wandering Albatross, Southern Ocean

Measured by wingspan, it’s the largest bird in the world. An adult male can be 12 feet, wing tip to wing tip. This female was small, probably 10 to 10.5 feet as she flew across the path of our boat. Unlike some other species, Wandering Albatrosses don’t seem to follow ships. Perhaps they learned a lesson from that mariner the Samuel Coelridge wrote about. Watching this big girl fly by she seemed Cessna-sized. She was within binocular view for maybe 10 minutes; she never once flapped her wings. Wandering Albatross breed every other year, and don’t nest until they are…

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Return of Bird of the Week: Light-mantled Sooty Albatross

Light-mantled Sooty Albatross

A smaller member of the albatross family, the Light-manted Sooty Albatross (sometimes called the Light-mantled Albatross) is another circumpolar species. The species is “small” only in relation to other albatrosses. With a wingspan of six to seven feet and a weight of as much as eight pounds, the bird is larger than ¬†Golden Eagle and much, much more aerobatic. There are only about 58,000 birds remaining, and the species is in decline. Another victim of long-line fishing, their situation is worsened by their very slow reproductive rates.¬†On average, birds only begin breeding when they are 8 to 15 years old,after…

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Return of Bird of the Week: Black-browed Albatross

Black-browed Albatross, West Island, Falkland Islands

So we go from a few weeks of birds that cannot fly, to birds that can only barely land, the albatrosses. The Black-browed is a medium-sized member of the albatross family, with a wing span of seven to eight feet. This bird lives in the air, landing on the ocean only when the wind dies, something that doesn’t happen often in the Southern Ocean. It comes to land only to breed. It is a magnificent flier and an enthusiastic ship-follower. WC watched the birds from the stern of his ship as they pirouetted across the sky, flying fractions of an…

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Return of Bird of the Week: Humboldt Penguin

Humboldt Penguin, Pucasana Island, Peru

Most folks think of penguins as Antarctic birds. And, for the most part, they are. But like most things involving birds, there are exceptions to every rule. For penguins, one exception is the Humboldt Penguin, which ranges within a few degrees south of the equator. All of the Humboldt Penguins WC has seen and photographed have been from a small boat bouncing in the waves and chop off the coast of South America. So the photos aren’t all that wonderful. As you might guess from its appearance, it’s a cousin to the Magellanic Penguin that was featured last week. The…

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Return of Bird of the Week: Magellanic Penguin

Magellanic Penguin, Near Stanley, Falkland Islands

This is late going up. Sorry. WC will stay with penguins just a little bit longer because flightless birds are cool, too. The Magellanic Penguin is unusual in several ways. First, it is the only species of bird in the range that has a breeding colony protected by land mines. You can’t make this stuff up. The Magellanic Penguins’ range includes the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic. In the Argentine-Britain War in 1982, the Argentines placed land mines on several beaches. One of those beaches was the site of a large Magellanic Penguin colony, empty of penguins at the…

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Return of Bird of the Week: Chinstrap Penguin

Chinstrap Penguin, Deception Island, South Shetland Islands, Southern Ocean

The thing is, it really does look like a chinstrap, holding that black “helmet” on to their heads. That thin line of black feathers gives the species its name, although they are also called Stonecrackers for the harshness of their calls. This is circumpolar species, with an estimated world population of about 8 million birds. They are dietary generalists, feeding on krill, squid, shrimp and small fish, which gives them an advantage over some of their more specialist cousins. When WC was at this small colony on Deception Island in early December, courtship was just getting started and the birds…

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Return of Bird of the Week: Macaroni Penguin

Macaroni Penguin

Macaroni Penguins, despite their silly name, are another amazing mountaineering species of penguin. These photos are all from a bouncing Zodiac rubber raft; we couldn’t make a landing where the Macaroni Penguins routinely did. Note the different bill structure. The Macaroni’s bill is adapted for a different genus of krill, its primary prey, resulting the bulbous shape. The feathers in the crown appear to be a sexual display thing. This is the landing for the Macaroni colony. Note the areas of bare rock, where the algae and barnacles are worn off by the passage of thousands of Macaroni feet. This…

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Return of Bird of the Week: Rockhopper Penguin

Rockhopper Penguin

One of the striking things about penguins is the steep-sided hillsides some species favor and climb to get to their rookeries. As you watch a flightless penguin waddle along, mountain-climbing isn’t the kind of skill you expect. And among the best climbers is the Rockhopper Penguin. Rockhoppers are a sub-antarctic species. These photos are from a rookery at West Point Island in the Falkland Islands. The rookery is located on a steep, rocky headland, shared with Black-browed Albatrosses and King Shags (Cormorants). It’s about 800 feet above the South Atlantic. The Rockhoppers climb that steep, slippery, rocky slope multiple times…

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