top of page

ALBATROSS! via Cape Town South Africa

Bird Notes: As you read this we are halfway through our trip to South Africa to view pelagic birds such as albatrosses, petrels, skuas, shearwaters and penguinos too. We are stationed along the Atlantic Ocean (specifically at False Bay in Glencairn, a distant suburb of Cape Town). This issue is peppered with images taken by Deborah Allen on this very trip. We return on 7 December. Meantime our colleague Sandra Critelli covers our weekend (Sat-Sun) walks meeting at the Boathouse (9:30am). We've added a Thanksgiving Day bird walk - see the Schedule page of our web site for details..

18 November 2021

Greetings from South Africa! We came here to see Albatrosses and other seabirds - and we have been pretty successful so far since 4 November. The lead photo above is a rare (for South Africa) young Southern Royal Albatross, more common in New Zealand. As of today we have seen five albatross species here in the South Atlantic: Black-browed; the Shy; Indian Yellow-nosed; Atlantic Yellow-nosed and Southern Royal. There is a chance we will see more, but the weather has turned quite windy in late spring (steady 25mph) putting the rest of our pelagic trips in doubt.

We miss home and our friends, those with and without feathers. We've been enjoying bird photos from NYC-LI posted on the amazing and wonderful Manhattan Bird Alert (Twitter) run by David Barrett whom we've watched editing bird videos while walking with us on our bird walks in Central Park. Click on that link and you might be amazed at what birds are seen throughout NYC.

Muttonbird (Sooty Shearwater) for dinner on Stewart Island. This bird is one of the most common seabirds in the world.

Northern Giant Petrel a predator/scavenger of the low southern and high northern oceans, inducing terror in most other petrels and pelagic birds. This species (along with the Southern Giant Petrel) is the hyena of the seabird world - and the size of a small albatross.

In this week's Historical Notes we present an article about an albatross in NYC area waters on 29 May 1960. It is perhaps our all-time favorite birding story, written by Robert Fisher, about the sighting of an Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross. It is amazing that the finding of such a magnificent bird could lead to controversy...and an almost fight among members of a natural history club right here in Manhattan. Why? You'll have to read the article! Nice to know that SOB (sweet old bob) is not the first controversial "bad apple" in the history of NYC Birding. Rather disputes, controversy, in-fighting - these are long-standing traditions here - and no matter how good one tries to be...Anyway, glad to fulfill my role as an "evil" Giant Petrel, and just as happy that Deborah Allen will always be an elegant Royal Albatross in the eyes of most - but not everyone. Just wait until the first Snowy Owl shows up in the NYC area - the same old story goes on and on.

Lots of White-capped Albatrosses (Stewart Island, NZ) on 29 November 2019

Cape Point South Africa on 6 November 2021. The more well-known Cape of Good Hope is on the far left side of this photo, though not as an imposing a promontory. From here and to the west (left side of photo) we enter the Atlantic Ocean from False Bay (on the right) and find the cold current, the Southern Atlantic Gyre. Prevailing winds (Nov-Dec) blowing from east to west cause upwellings bringing nutrients towards the surface - and the plankton-fish community is what the pelagic birds seek.

Good! Bird Walks for mid-November to Early December

All Walks @ $10/person - all in Central Park

Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found here

1. Saturday, 20 November at 9:30am (Only!) Boathouse Cafe; 74th st/East Drive $10

2. Sunday, 21 December at 9:30am (Only!) Boathouse Cafe; 74th st/East Drive $10

3. THURSDAY, 25 November (Thanksgiving Day) at 9:30am Boathouse Cafe; $10

4. Saturday, 27 November at 9:30am (Only!) Boathouse Cafe; 74th st/East Drive $10

5. Sunday, 28 December at 9:30am (Only!) Boathouse Cafe; 74th st/East Drive $10

6. Saturday, 4 December at 9:30am (Only!) Boathouse Cafe; 74th st/East Drive $10

7. Sunday, 5 December at 9:30am (Only!) Boathouse Cafe; 74th st/East Drive $10

Any questions send them our way: or call: 718-828-8262 (home)

[Gibson's] Wandering Albatross on 22 November 2019 at Kaikoura Bay (South Island, New Zealand)

Pintado Petrel on 13 November 2021 in South Africa by Deborah Allen

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!

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.

Carolina Wren by Deborah Allen on 10 November at Shakespeare Garden (Central Park)

Swift Tern: also called Greater Crested Tern, a near shore pelagic species

Deborah Allen on 16 November 2021;

Here is what we saw last week (brief highlights)

Sandra Critelli has been leading all the walks while we are away (thank You Sandra!). Rather than put out complete lists of what was seen on each walk, I will simply summarize what she reported...if you really need a complete list/write-up contact her directly:

"Sandra Critelli" <>

What we can say with authority is that is is now late autumn, so if you come with reasonable expectations to the bird walk, you will see lots of birds and be happy with them. Almost all of our warblers have departed, as well as vireos, orioles, flycatchers...but sparrows, kinglets, ducks and predators (Cooper's Hawks eg) are now here in the best diversity of the entire year. Sandra and company have found Cedar Waxwings, Ruby-crowned (and Golden-crowned) Kinglets and of course many White-throated Sparrows. With that, she has also found at least one bird staying rather late: Black-and-white Warbler. And on each walk, expect to see about 30 species a few of which (Mallard Duck and European Starling) we do our best not to see too many of...

White-capped Albatross near Stewart Island, New Zealand on 29 November 2019

White-chinned Petrel on 6 November 2021 in South Africa by Deborah Allen


The Great Albatross Day [1960]

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

Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross on 13 November 2021 in South Africa by Deborah Allen

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 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.

Shy Albatross (adult) on 13 November 2021 in South Africa by Deborah Allen

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 when all seemed lost, Providence sent a small messenger. It appeared twenty feet to port, beating its wings with nighthawk-like strokes, apparently on the same course as ours. It was a Leach's Storm Petrel. Only one prior Long Island pelagic trip recorded Leach's Storm Petrel. Other local records were of dead birds found below lighthouses or blown ashore by hurricanes. The bird was so close we could see the narrow dark line bisecting its white rump patch, ordinarily a useless field mark. Instantly, apparent disaster turned to triumph. As our spirits lifted, so did the fog. The sun came out. The boat slowed down. Wind and spray abated. Swells diminished. Pitching and rolling eased. John Bull's Birds Around New York City (Harper & Row, 1964) records that we saw four Leach's Storm Petrels. But they were only a beginning. The excursion soon resembled a Pacific, not Atlantic pelagic trip. We saw Sooty, Greater [photo below] and Cory's Shearwaters, Red and Red-necked Phalaropes, Parasitic and Pomarine Jaegers. When our boat radioed the Leach's Storm Petrels, the other responded a Long-tailed Jaeger had just flown over.

Greater Shearwater on 6 November 2021 in South Africa by Deborah Allen Surely had divided his forces, sending the senior boat closer to shore, while ours headed out. Past the twelve mile limit, our would-be Audubobs bagged a supposed Arctic Tern (later declared a Common). We stopped and chummed with frozen chunks of ground Menhaden. The chum drew gulls, which attracted so many Wilson's Storm Petrels we became too engrossed for further collecting. Eventually, everything calmed down so much some of us ate lunch. Others, perhaps having examined the chum too closely, refrained. Then the other boat radioed it had an albatross. Without a backward glance at the petrels, our vessel became a P.T. boat. It roared landward, motor vibrating, wake spreading out astern. Anxiety mounted. We had ten miles to go. Was there any chance that the albatross would stay? The captain reported every few minutes. It was staying. After nearly an hour, we reached the other boat. It lay still, surrounded by perhaps a hundred resting gulls. In their midst was what appeared to be an enormous Greater Black-backed Gull, New York's first Yellow-nosed Albatross! Suddenly, there was Surely in the bow, shotgun in hand, jaw set with determination. "This bird must be collected," he muttered. Then he turned and looked back over his shoulder at the rest of us, as though ready to lead Pickett's charge against the breastworks of Gettysburg. "This bird must be collected!" he proclaimed aloud.

Black-browed Albatross (juvenile) on 6 November 2021 in South Africa by Deborah Allen

Below: Black-browed Albatross (adult) on 6 November 2021 in South Africa by D.Allen

As we charged the albatross, cries of "Don't shoot" arose from the other boat. Conservatives from our boat joined in, suggesting cameras instead. Next, pleas turned to threats. Someone even promised Surely the punishment of Coleridge's Ancient Mariner. He was adamant. "This bird must be collected," he said again. Before Surely's irresistible force could meet the immovable object of the entire over-thirty Linnaean Society membership, the albatross himself took charge. He flew and, gliding on stiff seven-foot wings, imperiously defined a graceful arc just beyond shotgun range, landing behind the senior boat. Choosing a winner, the gulls followed and settled around the albatross like his Praetorian Guard. With enough good sense to know he'd been out generaled, Surely put away his gun. He is now a Senior Biologist for a respected organization. He still has his collector's permit, but I doubt he uses it to verify first state records. It was Surely's brother, a non-birder, who captured the moment. As the albatross passed close by our stern, he held a camera to one eyepiece of an 8 x 40 binocular, tripped the shutter and obtained a perfect color photograph. Robert Cushman Murphy, who had been on the senior boat, later reviewed the picture and pronounced it irrefutably a Yellow-nosed Albatross. The record stands today. I cannot end without a moral. When the ocean gets rough and the fog closes in, when breakfast has gone over the side and all else appears lost too, remember there is a Providence that occasionally favors birders in extremis on the sea. Consider what happened on May 29, 1960, and peer into the fog with hope." (C) Copyright, 1992. Robert G. Fisher All rights reserved.

Addendum. On 5 December 2019 Peter Post PhD of NYC (a long-time NYC birder), sent me this email:

From: Peter Post

To: Robert DeCandido <>

Subject: LI Albatross

Date: 5 December 2019

Bob: I just read the article by Robert G. Fisher on the LI albatross. I was on that trip and have some photos of the bird. There are a number of mistakes in that article. For example, Robert Cushman Murphy was NOT on that trip. When he heard of our success he came on a latter trip where he got seasick. Peter


Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD

Follow our Bird Sightings on Twitter: @DAllenNYC and/or @BirdingBobNYC

Southern Royal Albatross on 29 November 2019 near Stewart Island, New Zealand

Black-browed Albatross (juvenile) on 6 November 2021 in South Africa by Deborah Allen

#Albatross #SOUTHAFRICA #YellownosedAlbatross #SHYALBATROSS #BlackBrowedAlbatross #GreaterShearwater

Shy Albatross (adult) on 13 November 2021 in South Africa by Deborah Allen

[Below] White-chinned Petrel on 6 November 2021 in South Africa by Deborah Allen

[Below] Caspian Tern on 15 November 2021 in South Africa by Deborah Allen

[Below] African Penguins on 5 November 2021 in Simonstown, South Africa by D. Allen

[Below] Lesser Famingos on 13 November 2021 in South Africa by Deborah Allen

[Below] Greater Famingo on 4 November 2021 in South Africa by Deborah Allen

bottom of page