Magic moment – Great-winged Petrel at La Jolla Cove

[All photographs copyright, Gary Nunn 2012] – Sometimes there are just magic moments birding. Today I was thinking it was all so ho-hum when along came this beautiful sooty-brown tubenosed seabird making agile sweeping arcs in flight over the kelp beds of La Jolla Cove. I took one look at this bird making switchbacks in front of me and new immediately it had to be photographed!! Close examination of the photographs reveals this is a Great-winged Petrel Pterodroma macroptera. It can be distinguished from the closely similar Providence Petrel P. solandri (also known as Solander’s Petrel) by the fully dark underwing including completely dark underside to the primaries and underwing primary coverts. Other distinguishing features include the saber like wing shape, bulky “fat” medium length wedge-shaped tail, and the overall dark brown concolorous plumage except for the pale peppering around the bill base. The strong black bill is also noticeable. This bird flew in agile, graceful high arcs interspersed with slower wingtip touching the water style flights. It circled several times among other birds collected over the near shore kelp bed before disappearing to the south. Based on time stamps from my 118 images it was in view for less than two minutes! All photographs below are shown without adjustments to original color or contrast.

Great-winged Petrel – La Jolla Cove, 18 Dec 2012

Great-winged Petrel – La Jolla Cove, 18 Dec 2012

Great-winged Petrel – La Jolla Cove, 18 Dec 2012

Great-winged Petrel – La Jolla Cove, 18 Dec 2012

Great-winged Petrel – La Jolla Cove, 18 Dec 2012

Great-winged Petrel – La Jolla Cove, 18 Dec 2012

Great-winged Petrel – La Jolla Cove, 18 Dec 2012

Great-winged Petrel – La Jolla Cove, 18 Dec 2012

Great-winged Petrel – La Jolla Cove, 18 Dec 2012

Great-winged Petrel – La Jolla Cove, 18 Dec 2012

Great-winged Petrel – La Jolla Cove, 18 Dec 2012

Great-winged Petrel – La Jolla Cove, 18 Dec 2012

Great-winged Petrel – La Jolla Cove, 18 Dec 2012

There are currently five accepted records of Great-winged Petrel in California with another one under consideration, the nearest to San Diego coming from Monterey County in 1998. Great-winged Petrel was seen as recently as September 2011, pending acceptance by the California Bird Records Committee, from a Half Moon Bay, San Mateo County pelagic run by Debi Shearwater. This bird would seem to be somewhat later than previous California records which occurred during July through October. The pale peppering around the bill base, in particular the chin, may indicate this is a form of Great-winged Petrel known as “Grey-faced” Petrel P. m. gouldi although juveniles of the nominate macroptera are noted as having pale feathering of the face also. Certainly the gouldi form has been positively identified in California previously and this bird could well be that form also. It seems most likely this is an adult bird because juveniles are only leaving their nests in the Southern Hemisphere in early December.

In the ABA area Great-winged Petrel has only been recorded from California and is currently categorized as a Code-5: Accidental which means there are five or less records in the ABA area. This record would constitute the 6th or 7th record dependent on the acceptance of the September 2011 record. It is the first Great-winged Petrel to be seen from shore anywhere in the ABA area.

Nature Blog Network

20 thoughts on “Magic moment – Great-winged Petrel at La Jolla Cove

    • Thanks Noah! Yeah I am not sure if anyone would accept such a record without photographic documentation. I think I took close to a hundred photographs before it took off south. Unbelievable!

  1. Holy crap that is an amazing bird to see from land, Gary Nunn! WHEW! First Great-winged Petrel seen from land, no doubt!! Congratulations on the great find!

    • Hey thanks Rob! I believe it is the first Great-winged Petrel seen from land in the ABA area for sure!! No doubt somewhere in New Zealand you could make that wish and see one from land…

  2. Actually there were sightings of Great-winged Petrel in the Monterey Bay in Santa Cruz county in Sept. 2010 on a Monterey Seabirds outing and it was seen again the following year on one of Debi Shearwater’s trips. Pretty awesome to have seen one from land. Rivals Kimball Garret’s sighting of the Hawaiian Petrel from a seawatch in LA county years back. Good job on the photodocumentation.

    • Hey thanks Roger! I did review the other California records, certainly a large Pterodroma to keep your eye out for, and from land too now!!

    • I am always saying luck is involved but I guess you have to be mentally ready for what might cross your path! Yeah this was very unexpected. My biggest fear was how to get photographs of a super dark bird over a dull ocean, thankfully they looked OK!

    • Thanks James! Appreciate the positive feedback. I just love Pterodroma so you can imagine my delight at seeing one from shore! Keep one hand on the camera at all times is my rule now!

  3. Hello, Gary,
    “Great” images! Just to clarify: Shearwater Journeys’s 26 August 2011 Monterey Bay pelagic trip observed and photographs a Great-winged Petrel. One was also observed on our 17 September 2011 pelagic trip departing from Half Moon Bay, presumably the same individual. It was not photographed, but spotted by ace Aussie birder, Phil Hansbro. These are the most recent records for North America. Of course, the very first record of this species for North America and the Northern Hemisphere was on one on of our Bodega Bay trips, long ago. For images of the 26 August 2011 bird please see: http://shearwaterjourneys.blogspot.com/2011/08/great-winged-petrel-additional-images.html
    All the best,
    Debi Shearwater

    • Thanks Debi! Love the Great-winged Petrel images from your Monterey Bay trip. Wish mine were as close, but you, for sure, know how lucky I got down here! That’s right you found the first ABA record, I’m just glad to join the club of Great-wingers! I wonder how many of these birds are stuck around the West Coast of North America? Adults should be abandoning fledgling chicks right now in the Southern Hemisphere.

  4. Hi Gary,

    I’m the birder you met from Minnesota. Thank you for being kind and answering my questions. It helped make my experience that much better.

    I don’t know if it is needed or would help, but if you need any further documentation/description of what I saw of the Great Winged Petrel from me, please feel free to ask.

    Matt Mecklenburg
    Moorhead, MN

    • Hi Matt! Thanks for dropping a note in here, it was a real pleasure meeting you down at La Jolla Cove. The photographs turned out very detailed which was better than I hoped for since the lighting was so dull. Have a safe trip home to Minnesota and stay in touch if you are in San Diego again!

    • Hey thanks Char! Yeah it was a wicked moment in birding good fortune for me. I had not even thought about a Great-winged Petrel in La Jolla. It shows you just need to be prepared for any seabird species when watching the ocean!

  5. Pingback: #ABArare – Great-winged Petrel – California « ABA Blog

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