There are a handful of bird species that are included on the New Zealand list based on a single specimen found storm-wrecked somewhere on New Zealand’s long coastline. Curator Vertebrates Colin Miskelly describes the discovery of the latest addition to this list.
A lucky find
Susan Anderson has lived at Muriwai, on Auckland’s wild west coast, for the past 35 years. On 27 May 2022, while walking along Maukatia Bay (just south of Muriwai), Susan found the corpse of an unusual bird. She recognised it as a petrel from the shape of its beak, but it was much smaller than any species she knew.
Susan took a few photographs of the bird, but could not figure out what it was from her bird books at home (this is one of the challenges when you find a new bird for the country!). Susan sent the images to birder Oscar Thomas, who she has known for many years. Oscar quickly recognised the bird as being something special, and suggested that Susan return to Maukatia Bay to retrieve it.
But what was it?
When the images were shared with seabird experts, several suggested that the bird was probably a Matsudaira’s storm petrel. The specimen was delivered to Auckland Museum, where curator Matt Rayner provided measurements that Oscar and Susan included in an Unusual Bird Report for the bird, which they submitted to the Birds New Zealand Records Appraisal Committee.
There are several all-dark storm petrels that breed in the North Pacific. Matsudaira’s storm petrel is one of the larger of these species (though still a small bird), and has diagnostic white bases to the shafts on the largest wing feathers. Based on the images and measurements provided, the Records Appraisal Committee unanimously agreed that Matsudaira’s storm petrel should be added to the New Zealand list.
A long way from home
Matsudaira’s storm petrels breed on islands south of Japan and migrate to the tropical Indian Ocean between breeding seasons. They are regularly reported off the northwest Australian coast. The New Zealand record is about 5,000 km southeast of the usual range.
There are at least 15 seabird species that were added to the New Zealand list on the basis of storm-wrecked specimens. Most of these have since been found several times as beach-wrecks (e.g. Manx shearwater), or have subsequently been found alive in New Zealand (e.g. bridled tern, white-tailed tropicbird, Adelie penguin, Leach’s storm petrel, Antarctic petrel, providence petrel, Juan Fernandez petrel, Stejneger’s petrel, and Christmas Island shearwater). In addition to Matsudaira’s storm petrel, species that remain on the New Zealand list on the basis of a single beach-cast specimen are Bulwer’s petrel, Cory’s shearwater, streaked shearwater, and Newell’s shearwater.
Congratulations to Susan for her addition to this exclusive list, and for alerting others to her exciting discovery.
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