Many will remember, a few years back, the at-sea claimed record of a
Beck's Petrel from the Coral Sea off Queensland. Although lauded in
the press the Birds Australia Records Committee subsequently did not
accept this record. Since then, birds resembling Beck's Petrels were
seen by those on the Western Pacific Odyssey cruise in 2007.
Hadoram Shirihai has now published the indisputable rediscovery of
Beck's Petrel. The formal announcement has awaited the publication of
his important paper, published yesterday in the Bulletin of the
British Ornithologists Club. Hadoram's fieldwork in 2003 and 2007 was
in the Northern Solomon and Bismarck Seas off Papua New Guinea.
Beck's Petrel has been considered 'maybe extinct' (Bretagnolle et al.
1998), 'exceedingly rare' (Brooke 2004), and is treated by BirdLife
International (2004) as Critically Endangered. Hadoram has found a
substantial population (up to 30 seen in a day and 16 at any one time,
and often with Tahiti Petrels for direct comparison, side by side). A
suspected breeding locality for Beck's Petrel has been found, based on
the birds' behaviour and indicated by recently fledged juveniles. A
freshly dead, and recently fledged, juvenile was salvaged at sea
(which is now lodged at NHM, Tring) which becomes the third specimen
only, and the first since Rollo Beck's of 1928 and 1929.
The paper gives full co-ordinates for all sightings and notable is the
hotspot of southernmost New Ireland from where post-breeding moulting
adults and juveniles were seen. This Pseudobulweria is fundamentally
identical to Tahiti Petrel P. rostrata, except in size. Full
measurements of the new specimen are given and the fieldwork confirmed
becki as being up to 20% smaller than Tahiti Petrel with a visibly
shorter wingspan and narrower wing. The jizz and flight is described
in the paper to help with future field identification and,
importantly, there are good photos of a juvenile in flight and an
immature/adult (on moult limits).
The taxon appears to warrant specific status but has in the past also
been considered a race of Tahiti Petrel. Vincent Bretagnolle et al are
now underway with molecular studies of both becki and rostrata.
This refinding of Beck's Petrel is exceptional news and
congratulations go to Hadoram Shirihai for his effort and energy in
rediscovering this 'lost' petrel.