Swinhoe's Storm Petrel Oceanodrama
All digiscoping photography courtesy of James. P. Smith ©
Eilat - 19th April 2003
This remarkable story began on the
evening of 18th April when Barak Granit, Rami Mizrahi, Nir Sapir
and Arnon Tsari
saw a small, unidentified shearwater during a southern storm
from Eilat's north beach. They thought that the bird was most likely
a Little or Audubon's
Shearwater, and Barak and Rami had brief views of the
same bird the following morning.
As a result they decided to hire
a fisherman to take five birders out
for a 'Red Sea Pelagic' in an attempt to track down the mystery shearwater.It
was a fortunate and historical decision.
After about an hour at sea, Nir and
I noticed a dark winged bird on the water, holding its wings in
a curious 'butterfly'
posture. As we approached, the mild manner of all board turned
to near hysteria as we realized that the bird was actually a Storm
Petrel!! All the Storm Petrel group are
vagrants to Eilat, so what ever the outcome of the identification
it very quickly became clear that this was an extraordinary observation.
I began to take some images, which wasn't easy against the rocking motion
of the boat.However, the bird it was clearly in distress and couldn't
fly, its plumage appeared matted and waterlogged and its future at sea
look short, as several parties of gulls were circling close by! At that
point, we decided to rescue the bird from the water.
The bird was taken into professional care, by which
time we'd identified it as a Swinhoe's Storm Petrel.
This was just the third record for Israel and the first to be seen
alive in the field. The two previous records of dead or dying birds
also came from Eilat in January 1958 and September 2000.
Storm Petrel breeds in the NW Pacific off Japan, South and
West Korea and migrates to the SW Pacific and Northern Indian ocean.
Its nothing short of amazing that it should
reach the head of the Gulf of Aqaba in Eilat.
A highly memorable day for all concerned, and special thanks to Barak
and Rami for their initiative in organizing a boat trip so quickly.
All the images were taken on the 19th of April 2003, including what
is possibly the first 'field' photograph of a vagrant storm petrel to
be taken in Israel.
Good birding to all,
James Smith and The Birdingisrael Team
on a thumbnail below to begin the slide show