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By Dylan Vasapolli

 

I hope the various photographers I gleaned the photos from will forgive me for using them. You can see more of the great photos they all take, along with some of the great articles they write, by following the links in the description of each photo.

I’m sure many of you may know this already, but I for one have been largely ignorant about one of the relatively newly split species, Scopoli’s Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea), within the southern Africa subregion.

This species is closely related to Cory’s Shearwater (Calonectris borealis), with which it was considered conspecific for many years, and which many of us have seen on summer pelagic trips off either Cape Town or Durban. It has only recently gained full species status (within the last 5 years) after previously being considered a subspecies of Cory’s. The IOC (see worldbirdnames.org) recognize this as a separate species, so it is definitely a ‘tickable’ species, and with it being seemingly regular along the west coast of Africa, and into Namibia, it should be a species we should watch out for within South African waters (probably only along the western coast however).

The only downside with having gained this ‘new species’ is that it is rather tricky to separate from Cory’s, and I’ll look at the main features for separating them below. After reading multiple papers, books, and articles and going through many photos, most individuals belonging to either Cory’s/Scopoli’s can be ‘comfortably’ separated, but only provided a good and close-up look is had, and preferably photos taken – for review later. While photos are not essential, of course, our brains can misconstrue small details, and we may actually think we see something that is not truly there, and essentially believe the ‘lies our brains are feeding us’. Of course, there is more to it than this as well – lighting conditions can vary plumage, and then there is individual variation in the species as well.

All right, diving back into separating them then…

Firstly, and what is the key means of separating Scopoli’s from Cory’s, is by observing the underwing feathers and pattern. Looking at it simply, Cory’s has a broader dark tip to the underwing, while Scopoli’s has a smaller dark tip, with more white on the primaries. Going into a bit more detail, the primary feathers (p6 – p9) on Cory’s are solidly dark or have variable (but always small) amounts of white on the primaries (from the primary coverts to the wingtip), but no white is visible on p10 at all (from the primary coverts to the wingtip), while Scopoli’s, however, shows distinct and long white tongues/inner webs on the primaries, including p10, eventually leading into dark wingtips and giving the impression of a much whiter underwing.

Here is an image showing the underwing primaries, and which feathers to concentrate and focus on.

DSC_2205_edited-1

 

Here are photos of typical Cory’s Shearwaters (C. borealis) – note the extensive dark tip to the wing with little or no white on primaries 6-9, and none on p10 (which is the key feature):

 

Corys Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea borealis) - martin lofgren

Cory’s Shearwater

© Martin Lofgren – Wild Bird Gallery.com

Atlantic Ocean off Madeira

May 2011

http://www.wildbirdgallery.com/images/birds/calonectris_diomedea/borealis.htm

 

Cory´s-Shearwater_KBJ6487

Cory’s Shearwater

© Klaus Bjerre Nature Photography

Atlantic Ocean off Madeira

June 2012

http://kbphoto.dk/

 

corysshearwater - trevor hardaker

Cory’s Shearwater

© Trevor Hardaker

Off Cape Peninsula, South Africa with Zest for Birds

April 2013

http://hardaker.co.za/

 

DSC_2205_edited-2

Cory’s Shearwater

© Dylan Vasapolli,

Off Cape Peninsula, South Africa

December 2014

 

Here are photos showing Scopoli’s Shearwater (C. diomedea) – note the much whiter underwings, with the long white webs/tongues present on the primaries:

 

Scopoli’s Shearwater © Angus Hogg, from the surfbirds galleries.

Scopoli’s Shearwater

© Angus Hogg

Surfbirds.com (http://www.surfbirds.com/community-blogs/blog/2016/07/01/maltas-first-marine-special-protection-areas-announced/)

 

scopolis - dick newell - senegal - 2003

Scopoli’s Shearwater

© Dick Newell

Dakar, Senegal

November 2003

 

Berta maggiore mediterranea; Scopoli's Shearwater; Calonectris d

Scopoli’s Shearwater

© Daniele Occhiato – pbase.com

Viareggio, Italy

May 2014

http://www.pbase.com/dophoto/image/155840210

 

scopolis-7 - martin garner

Scopoli’s Shearwater

© Martin Garner – Birding Frontiers.com

N of Lanzarote, Canary Islands

June 2012

http://birdingfrontiers.com/2012/09/06/scopolis-shearwater/

 

scopolis-5 - martin garner

Scopoli’s Shearwater

© Martin Garner – Birding Frontiers.com

N of Lanzarote, Canary Islands

June 2012

http://birdingfrontiers.com/2012/09/06/scopolis-shearwater/

 

Scopolis Shearwater

Scopoli’s Shearwater

© Steve Howell – Seabirding

Hatteras, USA

May 2013

http://seabirding.blogspot.co.za/2013_05_01_archive.html

 

Secondly, and by no means a key feature (rather a backup feature acting in favour of Scopoli’s) is that of the structure of the bird. Scopoli’s is a smaller bird, weighing less than Cory’s, with slimmer wings, head and bill. This is an unreliable feature when used on its own, as there is marked sexual dimorphism in both Scopoli’s and Cory’s. For example, a male Scopoli’s may have similar proportions to a small female Cory’s, which can be very misleading. But this feature serves as a good backup feature for the first point above.

Lastly, we have that of differences in flight patterns. With Scopoli’s being a smaller bird, weighing less than Cory’s and having slimmer wings, the flight pattern of Scopoli’s is quicker on average, and the bird appears quite light in the air. Cory’s, however, is more bulky than Scopoli’s and shows a rather heavy, somewhat labored flight. This is also not a key feature, as weather conditions certainly can affect the manner in which the bird flies, as can the activity of the bird at the time. This feature mainly applies to birds in ‘natural flight’ (such as birds returning to colonies in the evening) as opposed to birds feeding and following fishing boats (such as stern trawlers and long liners), as we regularly see them. Scopoli’s does also seem to show more flaps (5-7) between glides, while Cory’s usually has very few flaps (2-3) between glides. This, again, applies to birds seen flying ‘naturally’ (not foraging), and while some Scopoli’s do show much shorter flap-sequences (such as around 3), observations watching these particular birds for a while will invariably reveal flap sequences between 5-7, as is typical of Scopoli’s, and very atypical for Cory’s. Again, this is not a key feature for separating them, and, combined with the fact that the majority of the time in our waters (on our pelagics) we find these birds feeding, it is probably less applicable to birds we encounter – but it certainly will help in favor of/against Scopoli’s if birds are noted.

It has also been suggested that the upperwing pattern is of use, but many sources seem to disagree with this, as lighting influences this too much, as does birds in moult of any kind along with individual variation, and as a result I have left it out.

As a summary, the underwing pattern is key in separating Scopoli’s from Cory’s, with the build of the bird and the flight style acting only as backup features. At the same time, there is some variability on all of these features, and as these are rather subtle differences, good and relatively prolonged looks need to be had to accurately identify the species. It must be noted, though, that not all individuals seen as either Cory’s/Scopoli’s can be confidently identified to exact species level due to both individual variability and quality of the sighting.

I hope this helps to improve your current knowledge on separating these two similar species, and please feel free to get in touch with questions, and view the sources below for more information.xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

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This is just a quick note to all again that we have a few places open on our upcoming pelagics in 2017 off Simonstown, South Africa which you can see below (where we plan on looking for the newly-split Scopoli’s Shearwater during our summer pelagics). You can see more information on these pelagics by clicking the following link here.

29/30 April — 4 places remaining

27/28 May

10/11 June

15/16 July

19/20 August

16/17 September

14/15 October

18/19 November

 

Please do send us an email at info@birdingecotours.com if you’re interested in joining any of the above dates.X

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I just want to acknowledge the following sources used in the text (see links where applicable and follow them to read the super-interesting articles yourselves):

  1. British Birds. Volume 103. Scopoli’s Shearwater off Scilly: new to Britain. Fisher, E. A & Flood, R. L. December 2010. Pages 712 – 717. https://www.britishbirds.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/V103_N12_P712%E2%80%93717_A.pdf
  2. Birdguides. Focus on Identifying Scopoli’s Shearwater outside the Mediterranean. Garner, M. October 2005. http://www.birdguides.com/webzine/article.asp?a=595
  3. Petrels, Albatrosses & Storm-Petrels of North America – A Photographic Guide. Howell, S. N. G. 2012. Princeton University Press
  4. Rare Birds in Spain. Underwing pattern in Scopoli’s Shearwaters Calonecris diomedea diomedea off NE Spain in summer 2004. Gutiérrez, R. October 2004. http://www.rarebirdspain.net/arbsi027.htm

Tours by destination



Destinations

Argentina

Buff-fronted Owl - Alan van Norman

Argentina is blessed with some amazing scenery and birds to go with it. The northwest has some fantastic birding, with high Andes Puna down to cloud forest, where several endemic and regional specialties can be found, like Moreno’s Ground Dove, Rufous-throated Dipper, James’s, Chilean, and Andean Flamingos, and Red-faced Guan, to name a few. The northeast holds the mighty Iguazu falls, whose surrounding lush forests hold species seen nowhere else in Argentina. To the south of here the huge wetlands of the Ibera Marsh area are great for water species, including the mighty Jabiru.  Farther to the east the dry Chaco region with its odd tyrants adds to the avian splendor of the northeast, making this one of the most avian bio-diverse spots in the country. The chilly south is home to one of the most endangered grebes, the Hooded Grebe, as well as several austral specialties of the Patagonian steppe. In the center the Cordoba region is home to several endemics. Any of these places will allow you to find some of the country’s 1000+ species.

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Bolivia

Red-fronted Macaw - Ken Logan

Bolivia’s variable altitudes, ranging from 90 to 6,542 meters above sea level, allow for vast biologic diversity. The territory of Bolivia comprises 4 types of biomes, 32 ecological regions, and 199 ecosystems. Within this geographic area there are several natural parks and reserves. The country has more than 2,900 species, including 398 mammals, over 1,400 birds (being the sixth most diverse country), 204 amphibians, and 277 reptiles. In addition, there are more than 3,000 types of butterflies.

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Brazil

Hyacinth Macaw - Charly Sax

The Amazon  basin is a marvel of the world and the imagination, an ecosystem of unrivalled size and diversity, and a place of near mythical status among travellers. The Amazon River has more water than the next eight largest rivers combined, and is twice the area of India, and the basin spans eight countries. It’s a life spring of the planet, the source of so much of the air, water and weather we all depend on. However, unreasonable travel expectations – like seeing jaguars and semi-clothed Indians around every bend – can be a recipe for disappointment. For all its size, the joys of the Amazon are mostly subtle: the ghostly roar of howler monkeys, the remarkable variety of plant life, the kindliness of riverside communities, and the quiet but awesome power of the river itself.

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Colombia

Brown-banded Antpitta - Christopher Calonje

Colombia, with its diverse landscapes, is home to more bird species than any other country in the world.  The Andes make their northern terminus here, splitting into three fingers. In between lie valleys full of endemic birds, 74 at last count, and the famous Santa Marta region to the north hold 17 of these. With almost 2000 species be prepared to be in awe of the spectacular avifauna as we explore Colombia’s lush cloud forests, wetlands, and high mountain plains.

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Costa Rica

Snowcap

Sitting astride the ridge of mountains that divide central America in half gives this jungle paradise an amazing array of fantastic neotropical birds. With Caribbean slope and lowlands, highlands, and Pacific slope and lowlands we’ll have the opportunity to bird it all. From extinct and active volcanos over 4000 meters to moist, tropical jungle on the Osa Peninsula we’ll look out for such stunners as the Resplendent Quetzal and other trogons, flocks of tanagers, cotingas, toucans, hummingbirds, and many endemic and range-restricted species, along with some interesting mammals like three- and two-toed sloths, several species of primates, colorful butterflies, and lovely scenery. This itinerary gives us the best opportunity to search out the regional and Costa Rican endemics without missing spots or rushing past rewarding sites.

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Cuba

Cuban Tody - William Price

The tour starts in Cuba’s famous Zapata Swamp, one of the richest single sites throughout the West Indies, and continues across much of the western two-thirds of this island, which is widely regarded as the last bastion of communism in the world but is now gradually becoming slightly more liberalized. We will have good chances of finding all of Cuba’s endemics with the exception of the near-mythical Zapata Rail, whose voice is still not definitely known, and the extremely rare Cuban Kite, which is restricted to the extreme east of the island and requires a trip of near-expedition proportions for any chance of seeing it.

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Ecuador

Ocellated Tapaculo - Charly Sax

Ecuador lies both on the equator and over the spine of the Andes, affording it some spectacular birding. The western slope holds some staggering birding, especially hummingbirds — from the amazingly long-billed Sword-billed Hummingbird to the visual candy of Velvet-purple Coronet. Antpittas, owls, tanagers, and the many Choco specialties make the western slope so appealing. Crossing over the Andes from the capitol Quito affords the chance to visit Papallacta pass for species like Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe as well as giving access to the eastern slope and its many treasures. The Andes have split once-joined species, and here you can pick up the eastern counterparts leading all the way down to the lush forests of the Ecuadorian Amazon. This gives Ecuador an impressive list of over 1600 species in a country the size of the state of Nevada.

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Guatemala

Horned Guan

Guatemala is blessed with some amazing habitats for birds, from the steaming volcanoes of the highlands of southern Guatemala to the hot jungles of the Mayan empire. Birding in Guatemala is an unforgettable experience.

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Guyana

Guianan Cock-of-the-rock - Christopher Calonje

Guyana, South America’s “Biggest Little Secret”, is an unspoiled, untouched, pristine nature destination. With its natural beauty, biological diversity, and land of some of the world’s largest, rarest, and most spectacular creatures, a trip to Guyana will be an unforgettable experience for everyone. Guyana’s natural beauty is unsurpassable, with 75% of the country covered with rainforest.

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Honduras

Bushy-crested Jay

Honduras, still mostly off the beaten track, is a hidden birding gem in Central America. Many people do not realize that this small country is the regional leader in terms of the percentage of land set aside as national parks and preserves, surpassing even Costa Rica in this regard. Sitting astride the Northern Central America endemic region, this increasingly popular country also boasts an impressive diversity of regional endemics within its many ecosystems.

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Jamaica

Jamaican Mango - Alan van Norman

Despite its location almost smack in the center of the Caribbean Sea, the island of Jamaica does’t blend in easily with the rest of the Caribbean archipelago. To be sure, it boasts the same addictive sun rays, sugary sands, and pampered resort life as most of the other islands, but it is also set apart historically and culturally. Today’s visitors will appreciate their trip to Jamaica all the more if they embrace the island’s unique character and the inherent “African-ness” of its population. Aside from its people, Jamaica has much to offer the curious, thirsty, or weary traveler. The Blue Mountains boast the world’s best coffee, try a cup in the century-old factory at Mavis Bank. There are world-class reefs for diving, including those at Runaway Bay and Ocho Rios, and great stretches of palm-fringed sand at Treasure Beach or Frenchman’s Cove near Port Antonio. There are offbeat bush-medicine hiking tours, congenial fishing villages, pristine waterfalls, cosmopolitan cities, wetlands harboring endangered crocodiles and manatees, and unforgettable sunsets.

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Panama

Rufous-vented Ground Cuckoo by Dylan Vasapolli

Few places in the world offer such a variety of natural habitats in such a small surface area like Panama. Within its mere 29,159 square miles, Panama has habitats that range from dry “deserts”, where cacti and other succulents are common, to lush tropical rainforests and mountain cloud forests, where moss-covered, epiphyte-laden trees abound. Additionally, its location at the Crossroads of the Americas allows Panama bird species from North, Central, and South America. The Darien is Panama’s bordering region with South America, and it shares an abundant and diverse wildlife reminiscent to that of the Amazon Basin. All in all, in its tiny surface area, smaller than the state of South Carolina, Panama contains more than 977 different species of birds, making it a birdwatcher’s dream come true!

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Peru

Hoatzin - Ken Logan

Peru has the second-highest species list on earth and a huge list of 125+ endemic species; ever more are being discovered as the forests are studied now more readily than in the past. There is a huge amount of habitat to discover, and the remnants of the Inca Empire add to the majesty of any trip here. Because of its large size several trips or one long one are recommended to cover the major regions and give all of the fantastic EBAs (Endemic Birding Areas) due birding.

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Trinidad & Tobago

Oilbird

Trinidad and Tobago are a remarkable set of islands, with such close proximity to the mainland of South America the islands enjoy both mainland and Caribbean species. With the Northern Range of mountains, savannas, beaches, and tropical swamps there is a great variety of birds here to enjoy. Tobago also has some nice seabird colonies, making for a well-rounded species list, including several sought-after regional endemics. Combined with its lovely beaches, friendly people, and a wonderful mix of carib/creole/Indian cuisine, this is a great destination to do some fantastic birding.

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We can run any of our tours privately any time and we can also arrange custom itineraries - send us your wish-list and we'll put the itinerary together! See more here.



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