Mystery Prion

EDIT – it’s an aberrant Fairy. Shots taken from a couple of others on board and these have been described as the bird having a “floppy pouch”, which isn’t a euphemism, but apparently has to do with an extensive feeding season.


A prion, taken on the 14/7/13 Port Stephen's Pelagic

A prion, taken on the 14/7/13 Port Stephen’s Pelagic

So here we have a prion that was different from the many, many Fairy Prion’s we had yesterday. These 6 photos are 100% crops of a distant bird that has a darker head, and generally darker all round, has a more extensive collar, and unless I’m mistaken the bill looks bigger than a Fairy’s bill. There was a bird that was seen by several of those on board the MV Argonaut that thought was either a Broad-billed or a Salvin’s. Looking at these photos last night on the camera in my dodgy motel room, I thought Broad-billed, but now that I’ve got them on the computer, I’m thinking possibly a Salvin’s/Antarctic.

Reasons for it not being Broad-billed Prion: the bill – on this bird – is not broad. There was another one that I thought I got shots of that had a larger bill, but I don’t seem to have photographed that one, or I did get photos but they were out of focus (as you do when pelagic birding), so have been consigned to the recycle bin of history.

Reasons for it being Salvin’s/Antarctic: darker bird with a reasonably lengthy/chunky bill. The collar in shots 3290, 3292 and 3293 reach further than what I was seeing with the Fairy’s. That said, the collar on this bird is no where near as well defined as the Antarctic/Fairy comparison top right, page 200 of Shirihai (2008), but it’s much more pronounced than the Fairy in the same image…

Reasons for it not being a Fairy: At the time when I saw it, it looked like a different species. I can’t make a judgement on size as it was a fair way away and solo, but it seemed like it had a different jizz, was darker, and … well – I just thought it was a different species from all of the Fairy Prions I’ve seen, on both pelagic trips and from sea-watching.

I don’t know – it is also entirely possible that this is just a dark Fairy Prion. Shots taken immediately after and before this show lighter birds that look like Fairy Prions, because that’s what they are. This bird is much darker than those. Conditions were glorious out there – flat ocean, no wind to speak of, and clear light. What is shown here is just a crop of the original.

Anyway – if you have an opinion on this bird, post below or shoot me an email –

There’ll be a full report coming up – I’ve got an essay due in 3 weeks, so what better time than now to update the website, process 1500 photos, and write a super long blog post about my trip to the Hunter?!