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Swinhoe's Storm Petrel Oceanodrama monorhis
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.

Swinhoe's Storm Petrel Oceanodrama monorhis

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.

Swinhoe's Storm Petrel Oceanodrama monorhis
Click the picture to expand

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.

Remarkably, Swinhoe's Storm Petrel breeds in the NW Pacific off Japan, South and West Korea and migrates to the SW Pacific and Northern Indian ocean.

Swinhoe's Storm Petrel Oceanodrama monorhis
Click the picture to expand

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

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