Monday, August 4, 2014

New birds from the Gulf of Fonseca

Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel

The last two species to be added to the Honduras bird list were California Gull, which I saw back in February of this year with Roselvy, Mayron and Oliver, and Kelp Gull, which I saw with Roselvy, also in February of this year. It's always exciting to find new birds for a country, and yesterday, the same team of observers (Oliver, Mayron, Roselvy and me) added two more for Honduras: Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel and Black Storm-Petrel! All four new species this year have come from Gulf of Fonseca in southern Honduras, an area that remains underbirded, and may have more undiscovered treasures.

Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel
Our idea was to repeat the trip to the Farallones we did two years ago. Unfortunately, our boatsman rather carelessly got us into Salvadoran waters, and the testy relationship between El Salvador and Honduras being what it is, angry Salvadoran marines intercepted us, and almost had us arrested for entering Salvadoran waters without the necessary paperwork. We actually had bothered to get all necessary paperwork, but for leaving Honduras and entering Nicaragua (Los Farallones belong to Nicaragua). We hadn't planned on visiting El Salvador or El Salvador waters.

The poor pumped-up marine officer, suffering from unnaturally high levels of testosterone, started giving us all kinds of crap about not being able to do research without a permit. We tried to explain to him that not all birding is research, and that we were just tourists. He then claimed we needed a tourism permit (which does not exist, as we respectfully pointed out to him), and he said that our names did not appear on the paperwork we had processed with the Honduran customs people. (Later on, we discovered that all our names were there.) He also ordered a giant bag we had on board containing life vests to be emptied, and, seeing there were only life vests in there, he himself started to deflate a little. He handed us back our documents, and ordered us to get the hell out of his waters.

Which of course we did. Back in Honduran waters, we hoped to continue our trip to the Farallones, but our boatsman was now so afraid that he refused to do that. We ended up birding an area 6 km east of (Salvadoran) Meanguera and 3-5 km south of (Honduran) Amapala.

This proved productive, because that's where we observed the afore-mentioned pelagics. Both Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel and Black Storm-Petrel occur widely along the Pacific coast of Central America, and thus were expected to occur in Honduras also. We observed an estimated six Black-Storm-Petrels (at least four seen at the same time) but as the birds were criss-crossing those waters casually, there may have been more, perhaps even ten or more. We only saw one Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel twice, although it's possible there really were two or more.

Black Storm-Petrel
Oliver and Mayron got better (and more) shots of the Black Storm-Petrels than I did; my camera died on me in the middle of intense heat and heavy usage. It's been back from the dead before, but this time it seems a replacement is in order.

Bridled Tern
Bridled Terns (from the colony on the Farallones) and Black Terns were also there.

I apologize to the readers of this blog for the rather long hiatus between this and the previous post. I'll try to post a bit more regularly from now on.


Jan Axel & Gloriela said...

Congratulations. The waters off Central America are poorly known... ornithologically talking

Tom Jenner said...

Interesting sightings. I have only ever seen these species on pelagics a long way off the coast of El Salvador and Guatemala (more than 20 km), near the continental shelf. It is very interesting to see them so close in to the coast. It does make me wonder if any are breeding on islands in the Gulf of Fonseca. I very much doubt that anyone has tried netting seabirds at night using tape recording. The breeding colonies of many seabirds are poorly known, because most only come in at night. Many new discoveries are being made every year. This might be something worth investigating.

Tom Jenner