Updated: Feb 27, 2020
Bird Notes: As you read this we are halfway through our trip to New Zealand to see pelagic birds such as albatrosses, petrels, skuas, shearwaters and penguinos too. This issue is peppered with images taken on our trip. We return on 18 December - in the meantime our colleagues Sandra Critelli and Jeff Ward cover our weekend (Sat-Sun) walks meeting at the Boathouse at 9:30am. By about 10 December, we'll post some owl walks at night for the Christmas-New Year time period - so stay tuned.
Greetings from New Zealand! We came here to see Albatrosses and as of 4 December have photographed five species, all of which we include in this Newsletter. These five are: Southern Royal Albatross, Northern Royal Albatross, (Gibson's) Wandering Albatross, Campbell Albatross and Salvin's Albatross. On some pelagic trips we have had several flying right above our small boat, and it is almost possible to touch them (see photos below). Of course we have seen other seabirds from Petrels to Shearwaters to Penguins (three species) - perhaps in the next Newsletter issue we will feature those...for now, we confess to eating Sooty Shearwater (aka Muttonbird or TiTi), which is quite nice:
Muttonbird (Sooty Shearwater) for dinner on Stewart Island. This bird is one of the most common seabirds in the world. All the meat of the breast/legs is dark, and the taste is like a fishy duck with smooth texture (not tough or dry).
In this week's Historical Notes we present two articles about Albatrosses: (a) an 1890 piece about the Albatrosses of the area near New Zealand: how their feet were used for tobacco pouches; their flesh is quite edible (eaten by Maori people and British sailors); but their feathers were the most valuable and useful part: light and warm; and (b) is perhaps our all-time favorite birding story by Robert Fisher from 1960, about the GREAT ALBATROSS Day, a pelagic birding trip in New York waters on which a Yellow-nosed Albatross was seen and photographed.
Lots of White-capped Albatrosses (Stewart Island, NZ) on 29 November 2019
These birds like to hang around fishing boats waiting for the "bycatch" to be tossed over
Good! The Bird Walks for Early-Mid December 2019
All Walks @ $10/person - all in Central Park
1. Saturday, 7 Dec. at 9:30am (Only!) Boathouse Cafe; 74th st/East Drive (Central Park)
2. Sunday, 8 December at 9:30am (Only!) Boathouse Cafe; 74th st/East Drive
3. Saturday, 14 Dec. at 9:30am (Only!) Boathouse Cafe; 74th st/East Drive (Central Park)
4. Sunday, 15 December at 9:30am (Only!) Boathouse Cafe; 74th st/East Drive
Any questions send them our way: firstname.lastname@example.org or call: 718-828-8262 (home)
[Gibson's] Wandering Albatross on 22 Nov 2019 at Kaikoura Bay (South Island, New Zealand)
The fine print: Our walks on weekends meet at 9:30am at the Boathouse Restaurant (approx. 74th street and the East Drive) through early January 2020. Please note: the Boathouse is not one of the buildings that surround the nearby Model Boat Pond - people make this mistake all the time!
Starting Saturday, 23 November and through at least Sunday 15 December, we have weekend walks only in Central Park at 9:30am (only). Our friends Sandra Critelli and Jeff Ward (two fine birders) will be leading these weekend walks. After 16 December, we may add several other walks for the holidays through 2 January 2020. Keep checking this web site (schedule page) for updates.
Our home phone is 718-828-8262...and Deborah's cell is: 347-703-5554. Email is above (email@example.com). If you are lost and trying to get to the bird walk, call Deborah's cell phone...but remember on weekends there will be 2-3 other people calling who are also lost - please be patient. If in doubt about whether a walk will take place or not the morning of the walk: check the main landing page of this web site as well as the "Schedule" page - if the walk is cancelled, information will be posted there by 6am the day of the walk, and usually by 11pm the night before. If still confused and as a last resort, call us at home - if no one answers it means we left for the bird walk. We end all our Central Park walks (except Fridays) at the Boathouse at about noon; you can get a cup of coffee and a muffin there (around $6 total). Walks last about 3 hrs (less if hot or rainy), and you can leave at anytime - we won't be offended. If you need directions/help to your next destination, just ask someone on the walk - we are a helpful group.
Southern Royal Albatross on 29 November 2019 at Stewart Island (most southern New Zealand)
Here is what we saw last week (brief highlights)
Friday, 15 November (9am at Conservatory Garden/105th st and 5th Ave): my goodness: a Summer Tanager (female) as well as an Orange-crowned Warbler...plus Hairy Woodpecker.
Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Friday, 15 Nov: https://tinyurl.com/ryb43zm
Saturday, 16 November (New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx at 9:00am) - the first Rusty Blackbird (a female) of the year for us as well as Eastern Bluebird (2).
Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Saturday, 16 November: https://tinyurl.com/vymxf2f
Northern Royal Albatross on 22 November 2019 at Kaikoura Bay (South Island, New Zealand)
Sunday, 17 November (Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe at 74th st and the East Drive at 7:30am/9:30am) - the first big owl of the season, a Great Horned Owl, was found at the north end of the park (but not found by us)...meanwhile in the lower park, we had Winter Wren and Hooded Mergansers.
Deborah Allen's List of Birds for Sunday, 17 November: https://tinyurl.com/usgwdr4
Saturday, 23 November (Boathouse Restaurant at 9:30am)
Sandra Critelli led today's walk and here is her summary:
Oggi e’ stata una bellissima e fredda giornata invernale. Eravamo in 22 a fare birdwatching, tra cui alcuni stranieri. C’era un giovane birdwatcher di soli 6 anni che era molto bravo, simpatico e di piacevole compagnia. C’era anche Jeff Ward che e’ stato un ottima aggiunta per avere due occhi in più per avvistare uccelli presenti ieri al parco.
Questa e’ la lista di ciò’ che abbiamo avvistato:
2 White- breasted Nuthatch (feeders)
3 Fox-sparrrow (swampy pin oacks); 1 che cantava posato su un ramo.
alcuni House Finches in parti diverse del Ramble and Goldfinches su sweet gum tree nel Ramble.
1 Brown Creeper
10-15 Dark-eye Junco
White -Troated Sparrow ovunque!
2 Song Sparrow
3-4 Red Bellied Woodpecker
3 Red-Tailed Hawk, 1 che volava, 1 posata in cima a un palazzo, 1 su un albero.
Cooper Hawk, Oven
Kestrel a Turtle pond
2 maschi - 3 femmine Hooded Merganser a Turtle pond.
2 Red Winged Blackbird a Oack Bridge
1 giovane Bald Eagle che volava in zona Oack Bridge
1 Turkey Vulture In cielo
2 Eastern Towee (maschi)
Piu I soliti Cardinals, Blue Jays, 3 Morning Dove, House Sparrow.
Salvin's Albatross on 22 November 2019 at Kaikoura Bay (South Island, New Zealand)
Sunday, 24 November (Boathouse Restaurant at 9:30am)
Sandra Critelli led today's walk and here is her summary:
Oggi il tempo era orribile con pioggia continua senza interruzioni. Ma sorprendentemente ho trovato 5 birders alle 9.30 am alla Boathouse pronti per fare un po` di birdwatching. Nonostante il tempo siamo riusciti ad avere alcuni avvistamenti di uccelli interessanti.
Abbiamo cominciato a feeder dove abbiamo trovato tantissimi White Throated Sparrow e 1 Downy Woodpecker. Per poi continuare nel Ramble, vicino a Oven abbiamo trovato 3 Song Sparrow e una bellissima Cooper`s Hawk si e` posata in cima a un albero sopra le nostre teste, tutta bagnata per la pioggia intensa.
Nelle vicinanze abbiamo avvistato un Eastern Towee ( femmina ). Camminando nel ramble abbiamo avvistato Cooper`s Hawk altre 2 volte, probabilmente lo stesso esemplare. A Tupolo Meadow abbiamo trovato un American Woodcock molto cooperativo, che camminava avanti e indietro davanti alla zona recintata per cui ciao ci ha permesso di vederlo molto bene e da vicino. Nella stessa zona abbiamo trovato 9-10 Dark Eye Juncos. Inoltre cerano I soliti Norther Cardinal, Blue Jays, Morning Dove... A Turtle Pond abbiamo avvistato Hooded Merganser ( 3 maschi e 3 femmine ) e usando il loro canto con speaker, siamo riusciti a vederli bene da vicino.
Sunday, 1 December (Boathouse Restaurant at 9:30am):
Jeff Ward led today's walk in the rain and snow. He found the first Rusty Blackbird for the season in the park.
White-capped Albatross near Stewart Island, New Zealand on 29 November 2019
THE ALBATROSS AT HOME .
THE poet Coleridge declared he had good authority in old George Shelvocke's voyages for all the natural details of his masterpiece “The Ancient Mariner,'' and that only the supernatural features were fanciful. Fancy us to think, however, that he indulged a poet’s license, or else that his authority misled him, when he placed his immortal albatross amid the frozen terrors of the Antarctic pole.
The ice was here, the ice was there,
The ice was all around:
It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,
Like noises in a swound
At length did cross an Albatross,
Thorough the fog it came;
As if it had been a Christian soul,
We hailed it in God's name.
Coleridge's albatross, in fact, had several peculiar habits which ordinary albatrosses, according to my observation, at least, do not possess. For instance:
In mist or cloud, on mast or shroud,
It perched for vespers nine;
Whiles all the night, through fog smoke white,
Glimmered the white moonshine.
There are two palpable blunders in this stanza. The albatross cannot possibly perch mast or shroud or anything else. It is not a perching bird but is so awkward and ungainly on its great, flat, webbed feet that it can scarcely maintain its footing on a ship's deck.
The integument of the feet is so tender, too, that it is very quickly injured by contact with the planking, and when an albatross is caught with hook and line, it is necessary to lay down a table cloth or some other soft material for the bird to stand on if the feet are to be preserved, as they often are, for making tobacco pouches.
Secondly the albatross has no nocturnal habits, but when night fades it quits the ship which it has followed all day and vanishes into the mystery of darkness and distance that shrouds the face of the deep in southern latitudes.
White-capped Albatross near Stewart Island
(southern New Zealand) on Friday, 29 November 2019
Sailors have a belief, which they fondly cherish, as they do many other improbable or impossible theories, that the albatross sleeps upon the wing. That, however, is a mere delusion. I have spent many a moonlight night on deck in the South Sea, and have always been a very close observer of the birds; but I never saw any albatrosses about much after sundown. Where they do sleep cannot readily be explained, for they are often seen in great numbers around a ship toward sundown, at an immense distance from any land and where the water is too rough for them to rest upon it.
Strange as it may seem, albatrosses are easily drowned. I have many times seen them brought on board after a long pull in a rough sea, actually at the point of death from drowning, and they are then easily killed without ruffling their plumage, by a slight pressure from the knee on their breast.
Sometimes they have strength enough left to vomit a huge volume of salt water and oil, which, running all over the clean deck, leaves it stained and greasy for a long time; and then they may recover their breath and give their captors a severe struggle: but if not, they are quickly disposed of and they sometimes die right out, of their own accord. So, they cannot stand the spray, if they alight on the water in a rough sea, but they either keep on the lee of the waves or else take to flight again as speedily as possible, and remain on the wing for hours and hours together. I think their ordinary habit must be to seek for some island or rock every night; for they fly at such a marvelous pace that the fact of their being several degrees away from any land a little before sun down need not prevent their reaching an asylum at an early hour in the evening. A bird which can calmly soar round and round a steamer running fifteen knots an hour, with scarcely a perceptible movement of its wings, would not be much put out by having to fly home to bed two or three hundred miles.
White-capped Albatross near Stewart Island (southern New Zealand) on Friday 29 November 2019
In calm weather and warm latitudes albatrosses certainly sleep on the water, not from necessity but from choice. I have often been up at sunrise, within sight of land, and seen vast flocks of sea birds fast asleep on the motionless surface of the ocean, with their heads tucked under their wings, and among them were numbers of albatrosses, distinguishable by their great size and snowy plumage.
If, therefore, Coleridge was wrong about the albatross perching and about its being a regular attendant at vespers, he may also have been wrong about its frequenting the frozen regions. I was once as far south as 62 degrees quite among the ice for weeks together in the summer time, but we lost the albatrosses before we saw any ice, and though we were always on the lookout for natural objects of interest, we saw them no more until we were again in clear water.
And a good south wind sprung up behind:
The albatross did follow,
And every day, for food or play,
Came to the mariner's hollo!
The home of the albatross, in short, is not at the antarctic, but considerably to the north. of it. All the albatrosses in existence probably come from a very small area comprised in two or three isolated groups of islands or rocks, the chief of which are the Antipodes Islands, the Crozets and Tristan D'Acunha. A British ship, called the Strathmore, was wrecked some years ago at the Crozets, and a large number of her passengers and crew lived for many months on those desolate islands. They ate albatross flesh and albatross eggs; they dressed in albatross skins, and they slept on albatross feathers. Whether they would have eventually learned to fly and swim like albatrosses was not proven, but when they were rescued they looked very much like albatrosses, and as for the smell-well!
But the place to see albatrosses in the greatest numbers and under the most favorable conditions, is at the Antipodes Islands. This remote group, which is one of many uninhabited scraps of land far out in the ocean that are included in the political boundaries of New Zealand is called Antipodes because it is almost exactly antipodal to London. It is as nearly as may be 180° east or west of London, and it is as far south of the equator as London is north of the equator. When it is noon in London it is midnight at the Antipodes Islands, and vice versa. The longest day in London is the shortest day at the Antipodes Islands, and when it is midwinter there it is midsummer in London. To complete the coincidence. the area of the Antipodes Islands is pretty much the same as that of London. The population, moreover, is as dense in one place as in the other, though of a very different character. If there are five millions of human beings in the modern Babylon, there must surely be five millions of seals, penguins and albatrosses in the Antipodes Islands.
White-capped Albatrosses near Stewart Island (southern New Zealand) on Friday 29 November 2019
The New Zealand Government have a humane and sensible practice of maintaining depots of provisions, blankets matches and other necessaries, on all the outlying islands of the colony where there is a possibility; of shipwreck occurring and castaways needing supplies; and once or twice a year they send a steam yacht, or lighthouse tender, the Stella to visit these lovely spots for the purpose of rescuing any poor wretches which may be sojourning there and of inspecting or renewing the depots. Many lives have been saved by this means, and even where there is no such sensational romance of the sea, a trip in the Stella is one of the most agreeable and interesting that could be imagined. Starting from Bluff Harbor, the southernmost part of the Middle Island, the Antipodes are nearly eleven degrees to the eastward, about five days steady steaming, with a short stop at one or two intervening islets. The first appearance of the Antipodes is very pleasing and very deceptive. The land rises boldly from the ocean to a height of 400 or 500ft. and gives the impression of being covered with bright green turf, while in parts there seem to be chalk cliffs or snow drifts.
As the yacht approaches the islands, however, and cautiously feels her way among the reefs that lie off the only landing place, they are seen to consist entirely of rocks very rugged at the top, but cut into terraces and smoothed on the surface lower down by the wash of the ocean during no one knows how many ages. The islands are undoubtedly volcanic in their origin and have evidently been uplifted from the sea by a succession of earthquakes or other causes in comparatively recent times. Thus the terraces which were formerly awash are now high above the surf, though in stormy weather "the spray still dashes over them. The green appearance is given not by turf, but by long, dark marme grasses and thick mats of seaweed, while the white patches on the cliffs are caused by the droppings of innumerable sea fowl during many centuries. The higher rocks, which tower precipitously above the terraces, are honeycombed with caves and holes made in the first instance no doubt by the bubbling and cracking of the liquid lava and excoria when the islands were upheaved by some tremendous eruption from the bottom of the sea, but since hollowed out and rounded and smoothed by the countless myriads of birds which crowd them like the inmates of an east side tenement house.
Salvin's Albatross near Stewart Island (southern New Zealand) on Friday 29 November 2019
The moment you step ashore on the Antipodes and climb up on the terraces, you discover that there is not a dry spot below the rocky cliffs, but that the whole area is slippery and sloppy, with clear pools at every step, and water dripping or flowing in all directions. It rains there more than half the year, and when it is not raining the moisture from the surf keeps the place in a constant state of sop. This just suits the creatures that congregate there. The seals think it a perfect paradise. Hundreds of them are to be seen flopping awkwardly about on the rocks, or lying in heaps on the terraces, basking in the sun, while among them, and perfectly indifferent to their presence, are thousands of albatrosses and penguins of all sizes and ages, occupying every available standing place, or sitting on their eggs among the sea weeds, or gravely paddling in the shallow pools. The rocks above are simply alive with seagulls, petrels and cormorants: but the albatrosses and penguins alone appear to share the terraces or sloping hillsides with the seals.
The wandering albatross, Diomedea exulans, so called by Linnaeus in fanciful allusion to the lost sailors of Diomedes, is the largest of all sea fowl and, indeed, one of the largest birds in the world. It often measures 4 feet from beak to tail, and specimens have been obtained measuring 17 feet across the wings. I have myself seen many measuring 14 feet across, but a more usual measurement is about 12 feet. Any one who has only seen the albatross soaring in the air with its vast pinions outstretched like the sails of a windmill, or resting gracefully on the surface of the sea, is disappointed by the first sight of the bird on land. It looks curiously short and stumpy, rather suggestive of a very fat goose, and its enormous beak, with a great sharp hook on the end of the upper mandible, seems out of all proportion to the rest of the bird. It recalls ludicrously the figure of the dodo, the extinct, gigantic bird of Mauritius. The stupendous wings, in fact, are so closely folded against the body that while they give the albatross a bulky appearance, they altogether belie its real character as a bird of unequaled power of flight.
Salvin's Albatross at Kaikoura Bay (South Island [East Coast] New Zealand) on Friday, 22 November 2019
The birds and beasts at the Antipodes Islands are so unaccustomed to human beings that they display not the slightest fear nor any other emotion. The albatrosses will even allow themselves to be lifted off the nest with no more decided demonstration than spreading out their great webbed feet or opening their huge gaping beak and reaching round for a bite. If they do get hold of your arm they give you an ugly nip, for the sharp point of the hook at the end of the upper mandible goes through a thick oilskin and coat-sleeve easily. But the birds are by no means vicious and offer little resistance to being bound round the wings and body with rope yarns and carried on board the steamer, where they are placed on wet sails under a netting on the fore deck.
I had often read that the albatross lays only one egg and hatches that out before it lays another, but after seeing it at home I find it hard to believe. The number of eggs on the Antipodes Islands is marvelous, and certainly the birds sit not on one, or two, or three, hut on dozens. That is to say, they batch their eggs in common as many other birds are known to do, and I should say there are many more eggs than birds. They are a bluish white, rather rough on the surface and about as large as a swan's egg.
The young albatrosses are most comical little creatures covered with dusky down, which has a curled or frizzled appearance, not unlike a little negro's wool, only much softer; and their great googly eyes and huge, wide open beaks, always craving for food, give them a singular look of juvenile voracity and alertness. Numberless attempts have been made to take them half-fledged and rear them in captivity, but they invariably die. Penguins, on the other hand, are easily reared and domesticated, and make very pretty and amusing pets.
[Gibson's] Wandering Albatross at Kaikoura Bay (South Island [East Coast] New Zealand) on Friday, 22 November 2019
The flesh of the albatross, like that of all other sea fowl within my experience, not excepting even the fetid cormorant, is perfectly eatable and wholesome and not at all unpalatable, if only the precaution id observed of skinning the bird the moment it is killed, before the rank oil which lies at the roots of the feathers can permeate the body. It is brown in color and very glutinous, like the knuckle end of a leg of mutton, and it has a peculiar flavor like that of a larded chicken, that is to say it has a dash of bacon. The eggs are very rich and strong, not very pleasant to eat till you get used to them, but unsurpassed for cookery or omelettes. The long, slender wing bones make excellent pipe stems, for which they are commonly used in the colonies, and even in England. They "color" dark brown or black. and polish just as well as the meerschaum bowl itself.
The most valuable part of the albatross, however, is its plumage. The neck, breast and belly are snow white, shading delicately into gray and dark brown at the sides and back, and the feathers are so curled and elastic that the skin with the plumage on it, is an inch or an inch and a half thick. No finer material can be got for muffs, cuffs, collarettes, capes or the trimming or lining of cloaks and robes. It is very light, yet exceedingly warm, while for appearance its dovelike smoothness and purity cannot be excelled. It has the advantage too, of being very durable, the natural oil of the bird preserving the skin and feathers for many years, while the characteristic musky odor is easily overcome by camphor. It is a wonder that some enterprising furrier or modiste does not set the fashion of wearing albatross plumage and send to Antipodes or the Crozets for a season's supply. There would be money in it, not only by its novelty but by its usefulness. At the same time, I hope it will not be done, because if once the skin of the albatross acquired a commercial value and the ruthless hand of fashion were laid on its smooth white neck, the poor bird would soon be driven from its secluded haunts and might even be in danger of extermination.
May the day be far distant when the trader shall invade the home of the albatross or the pot-hunter disturb its ancient, solitary reign.
8 May 1890
[Gibson's] Wandering Albatross at Kaikoura Bay (South Island [East Coast] New Zealand) on Friday, 22 November 2019
The Great Albatross Day 
There have been many "best birding days" in my 54-year birding career, but THE GREAT ALBATROSS DAY, which I published in BIRDING magazine in April, 1992, is an account of one of them. Those of you who did not read it then may enjoy it now. Bob Fisher (P.S.: BIRDING required me to use a fictional name for the organizer of the trip. Those of you remember my good friend, P.A. Buckley, from his younger days may recognize Paul in the story). The final drama of The Great Albatross Day would never have occurred had young Linnaean Society members not collected phalaropes on a prior Linnaean field trip. Linnaean seniors censured and admonished them for breaking Society rules. Therefore, when I.D. Surely organized a two-boat Linnaean Society pelagic trip on May 29, 1960, one vessel was secretly armed. The seniors were all on the other. I rode with the Young Turks. The two boats left Freeport (Long Island) harbour in single file with everyone standing, like ceremonial barges going to a celebration. Spirits were high. Our hopes would be rewarded beyond expectation. But all would be tested first. Soon the hotshots were snapping out authoritative identifications. "Clapper Rail in the salt marsh! Peregrine overhead! Two Willets on the right! Roseate Tern over the inlet! Purple Sandpipers on the jetty!" Skills were being honed. Later, their edge would be so sharp mere specks on the horizon were named at a glance. (Closer birds usually took longer.) The air was electric with competitive tension. Time went quickly. We soon passed the inlet. Alas, the bay was kinder and gentler than the ocean. Incoming swells lifted the boat. The bow slammed into them, causing spray to fly, wetting hands, faces and binoculars. The decks became slippery. We plunged into dense fog. Visibility approached zero. The electric atmosphere shorted out. A small, crowded boat on a rough, foggy sea is a hostile environment. Soon people were huddled inside the cabin, feeling motion, smelling fumes, observing each other. An unfortunate group psychology resulted. Once the first passenger felt seasick, nausea became epidemic. Our jaunty ceremonial barge became a wallowing hospital ship on which every patient nursed himself. Some remedies were extreme. Exhibiting a pallor seen only in morgues, one voyager assumed a fetal position, arms around knees, head upon chest, and went into complete catatonic withdrawal.
Campbell Albatross by Deborah Allen on 29 November 2019 near Stewart Island, New Zealand
Other shipmates were active. They rushed to the rail, some calculating wind direction, others not, most achieving their objectives, others failing. Noticing activity, the mate wandered aft with a bored look on his face and languidly performed a routine chore. He hosed down the deck. Simple rules serve me well at sea. When others rush for the stern, I head for the bow. While they breathe fumes, I inhale as much fresh air as possible. If they watch each other, I look continuously out to sea. No matter that the cold spray drenches me. I tell myself, "Thanks. I needed that." At all costs, I avoid sharing thoughts and feelings with shipmates. If ever one needs to march to the beat of a different drummer, it is now! What can only be described as an elemental struggle for survival lasted an hour and a half. The fog thickened. Despair deepened. Then, just w