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Petrel, Soft-plumaged

Identify and index birds in Southern Africa
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Johan van Rensburg
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Petrel, Soft-plumaged

Unread post by Johan van Rensburg » Mon Jul 31, 2017 2:30 pm

We got to the Safe Zone behind the breaker line without much hang time or major bumps. It was a quite remarkable feat considering the choppy nature of the surf at the launching site off the sand bar isolating the estuary at Saint Lucia from the ocean. Our skipper closed throttles and allowed us to get out of the restricting life jackets. We just got underway again to our deep-water destination when I spotted a soft-plumaged petrel! We were 500m from shore and here we had a bird reputed to forage only over deep water beyond the continental shelf; a bird that are rarely seen close to land! :shock:

On the way to our chumming waypoint we must have seen another ten birds. Once the chumming started in +1000m deep water off the continental shelf I estimated that we attracted a further 30-odd SWPs, continuously swooping around our vessel and investigating the chum slick. It was just a matter of time before I got some good shots of this fast flier. Lifer #727 digitised! :dance: :dance: :dance:


I think this petrel has one of the oddest of bird names. "Soft-plumaged" - not exactly a useful field character! I initially thought that the soft grey colour of the bird was the reference, until I saw a few darker, well marked examples. Back home I did some surfing of a different nature…

In 1838 English ornithologist John Gould travelled to Australia to research his next project, the birds of Australia, an eight-year period that accounted for 328 newly discovered birds, all of which he named himself. Amongst these are 10 tubenoses described in 1844, one of which he described and named Procellaria mollis - mollis meaning soft in Latin (as in to mollify). He wrote that he was impressed by “the peculiar character of the under plumage, which is much more dense and soft than that of most other members of the group”. So many birds, so few words… And there we are yoked with “soft-plumaged”! :hmz:

In the early years of ornithology specimen collections played a major part. Usually the ornithologist would hunt birds with guns, or catch them in all kinds of traps. Apparently Gould’s specimen collectors caught the petrels using baited hooks! After taking the hook the birds would fly high, so that the process of capturing them was like hauling in a kite. :big_eyes:
728 Latest lifers: Hartlaub's babbler, Coppery-tailed coucal, Red-billed spurfowl, White-browed coucal, Scharlow's turaco, Copper sunbird, Long-toed lapwing, Eastern bronze-naped pigeon, Malagasy pond heron, Soft-plumaged petrel, Orange-winged pytilia.

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Karin Mitton
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Re: Petrel, Soft-plumaged

Unread post by Karin Mitton » Mon Jul 31, 2017 2:58 pm

Fascinating info Johan, thanks for sharing! I understand it is important to get specimens of newly discovered species, but the way they caught these birds is just to macabre to contemplate!

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Re: Petrel, Soft-plumaged

Unread post by hilda » Sat Aug 05, 2017 1:45 pm

Brilliant picture of this gorgeous Petrel Johan. Very interesting information, thank you for sharing! :clap: :clap:
"It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light". Aristotle Onassis.

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