Thursday, January 9, 2014

Cory's Shearwater

One of the bonuses of whale watching trips in the Azores is the sightings of other marine life such as seabirds that are often difficult to see from land. One such species is the Cory's Shearwater, named after the American millionaire, ornithologist, sportsman and bird-collector Charles Barney Cory. These large seabirds are part of the procllariidae family or tubenoses that includes petrels and albatrosses.
On my trip to Sao Miguel island in the Azores last May, these magnificent birds were a regular sighting on any pelagic trip. In calm conditions they were often seen sitting on the surface of the sea until the proximity of our boat forced them to struggle into the air on laboured wings accompanied by the pattering of webbed feet across the water's surface. But once in the air and especially on breezy days they showed themselves to be the masters of the air currents, soaring and banking over the waves with their wings tips barely touching the sea, like speed skaters who stretch out their hands and skim the ice with their fingertips as they glide around a bend.
The vast majority of the world population of Cory's Shearwaters breed in the Azores, so it's a great place to see them, but the boat's skipper is more interested in cetaceans, so any photographs have to be snatched at speed as we pursue our main quarry.
One species that was completely new to me and was a pure delight was a Portuguese Man o' War. The skipper even stopped the boat for this! It floated like a semi-inflated child's balloon, opaque with a hint of purple. Although it looks like a jellyfish it is actually a colonial organism composed of specialised individuals known as zooids. It is named after an 18th century armed sailing ship, supposedly resembling the Portuguese version at full sail and it is know to have a powerful sting.

On the first few trips we also saw a good number of Fin Whales. These amazing cetaceans were migrating north, and showed very well on occasions, although even though they are the second largest animal on the planet you don't get to see a lot of the animal on the surface. I have included a number of photos of the backs and fins as they are used by scientists to identify individuals, so hopefully the images will be of use to people studying the animals' migrations. I will post another article soon with more images of Fin Whales from the same trip last May.

You might also like:

Azores Bullfinch

Sperm Whale

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