May 8, 2009

The Fiji Petrel Expedition 2008

The Fiji Petrel Expedition 2008
Most birders will know the story behind the enigmatic and near-mythical Fiji Petrel. Unrecorded from the type specimen taken in 1855 until 1984 when Dick Watling had the extraordinary experience, when spotlighting, of a bird crash-landing into his head! Breeding is suspected on the small island of Gau but detailed searching there has not found any birds. Some 10 though, mainly juveniles, have since crashed onto roofs and grounded in a local village there. One of these last year, 2007, having died, is now preserved as a study skin (the 1855 skin is at the BMNH and this second in Fiji). The biology of the species is completely unknown.
Left and right - the Fiji Petrel of 1984
Left, right and below -
Fiji Petrel, the bird of 2007
The voyage had three main goals:
1. To learn the at-sea identification of the Fiji Petrel, observe behaviour if possible, and hopefully get an understanding of the likely numbers in the area.
2. To try to obtain photos of Fiji Petrel at sea, for use in both scientific and conservation/education publications to protect native Fijian birds.
3. To survey other species of petrels in this area, on which limited information is currently available.
The proposed expedition dates, at sea, were 17th-26th July
The seabird team aboard consisted of Hadoram Shirihai (Israel), Dick Watling (Fiji), Tony Pym (England),
Patric Blomquist (Sweden), Jörg Kretzschmar (Germany), Geoff Jones (Australia) and Dick Newell (England)