Some of you may remember the interesting Albatross that we saw on our pelagic trip on 6 November… well, this has been coming on a little while now.

While the 4 guides (myself, Cliff Dorse, John Graham and Peter Ryan) that were on the 2 boats on Sunday, 6 November, have spent a lot of time doing our own research and had lengthy discussions about this, we also engaged with a number of other experts around the world as well. The first response that we received was from Nikolas Haas, one of the top seabird experts in Australia, and Nikolas was adamant that our bird was not a Wandering Albatross and had to be a Tristan Albatross. This was good news, but we needed more support of this theory.

We also contacted the authors of the 3 main seabird ID guides of the world, Peter Harrison (author of Seabirds: The New Identification Guide), Hadoram Shirahai (author of A complete guide to Antarctic Wildlife) and Kirk Zufelt (co-author of Oceanic Birds of the world), for their independent assessments. Kirk was the first one to respond and he stated that Wandering Albatross could be definitively excluded and that our bird was an adult male Tristan Albatross. Hadoram was next to answer and said that he opened the photos first before even reading my email and had decided that it was an adult male Tristan Albatross then before even reading what I was asking about. So far, so good… I also got a reply from Peter Harrison’s PA to say that he was in Antarctica and wouldn’t be able to respond until he got back… so, it was back to the waiting game.

Well, this morning, I opened my inbox to find an email from Peter Harrison in there… And to use his exact words: “I am 100 percent confident that your albatross is a male Tristan Albatross”.

All respondents commented that, although some of the age groups and plumages are impossible to separate from Wandering Albatross, we were lucky to find an adult male bird showing all black upperwings, including the base of the forewing, with just a small white patch on the elbow in conjunction with the piano key pattern on the tail. This particular combination of plumage features is now known to definitively not occur in Wandering Albatross and a Wanderer with that amount of black on the wings will still have a broad, black tail and be very grubby on the mantle with heavy vermiculations. Other features supporting the Tristan Albatross ID are the size and structure of the bird, especially the smaller bill, as well as the more triangular shape of the white cape on the back.

Based on the amount of black in the tail and the slight vermiculations that our bird showed on the mantle, it has been suggested that it is a bird somewhere between 12 and 15 years old.

So, there you have it… although we already mentioned this possibility on the actual trip to all of our passengers, it needed the further research and we now feel totally satisfied that the bird we saw on our trip was an adult male Tristan Albatross and are happy that everyone can now go ahead and tick it… including some of the guides…😃

Photo Credit: Trevor Hardaker

Article Author: Trevor Hardaker of Zest For Birds