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Thread: Sooty Shearwater, Off Ghallis, Malta

  1. #1
    Senior Member Graham Etherington's Avatar
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    Nov 2007
    Norwich, UK

    Default Sooty Shearwater, Off Ghallis, Malta

    In the current Surfbirds European Stop Press..

    ...there is a bird labelled "Sooty Shearwater, Malta, Off Ghallis 18 July 2009
    Record digiscoped pic of this great and very rare bird to Maltese shores. There are 4 or 5 other records of shot birds and prob not in Maltese territorial waters."

    The birds can also be seen at:

    A referring email on WestPalBirds states:
    "A Sooty Shearwater was observed yesterday 18th July for the first time ever by two Maltese birders. The bird was seen for about 8 minutes heading NW off Ghallis, quite close to shore and with lots of Cory's Shearwaters for comparison. There are 5 other records of shot birds from around Malta, with at least 2 of them taken (shot) outside Maltese territorial waters."

    I was hoping to sound out the opinion of others about this bird.
    My initial reaction was that it is too pale and long-winged for a Sooty, and the shape of the wing (bent at the carpel) also looks wrong for Sooty too.

  2. #2
    Senior Member AndyB's Avatar
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    Feb 2005


    Hi Graham, from this photo, I would agree with you regarding shape of those wings. If it was with lots of Cory's for comparison then presumably Cory's was safely ruled out but there are other large, all dark shearwaters to consider.

  3. #3
    Senior Member forktail's Avatar
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    Dec 2007


    Hi guys

    Sooty can certainly show wings angled back at the carpels

    distant seabirds can be hard enough even when you have time to watch birds pass, there does seem to be a suggestion of a pale bill... the underwing would be much more useful.
    OBC John Peel Awesomeness
    The little things they make me so happy, all I want to do is live by the sea...

  4. #4
    Member Alcedo atthis's Avatar
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    Apr 2008


    From a first glance on this photo I got a strange feel of Gannet at an odd angle, but after a longer look i do not know...
    I am not going to question the observers ID from this one photo (I mean they had the advantage to see this in the field)
    but can somebody more experienced enlighten me if and why Gannet could be excluded from this photo?

  5. #5
    Senior Member
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    Aug 2008


    Not enough tail for a Gannet, but I can see why you ask.

    Doesn't look right for Sooty Shear either, but hard to pin down why.

  6. #6
    Senior Member michael23's Avatar
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    Jun 2008
    derbyshire uk


    I too have looked, and keep looking at the photo, like has been said it looks different, i have uploaded some of my own record shots of sooty shearwater, with a few different poses, they maybe helpful but then again they may not.
    Just thought I would sahre them anyway.

  7. #7
    Junior Member
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    May 2009


    It doesn't look right for a Sooty, does it? Yes, they do show that wing posture [a lot] - the curved arm pressing the carpal joint forward is pretty characteristic, with the swept falcon-like hand - but the shape of this bird says "Cory's". Also the head's a bit pale, and the bill even more so. Every Sooty I've ever seen [not a huge number, I admit] has been uniformly dark, with the silvery underwing the only contrast.
    My first thought was some kind of melanistic Cory's, but having looked at a few books.. What about dark morph Wedge-tailed? Shape's good, size is right, plumage with the slightly browner head, and bill colour also is good. Of course this is the Med not the Indian Ocean....
    "It was here 5 minutes ago..."

  8. #8
    Junior Member
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    Dec 2007


    Hi all...

    For what it's worth, my immediate reaction to the photo was.... "Why isn't it a Cory's?" Cory's isn't a bird I'm hugely familiar with, I've only seen a handful of birds, but I can't see why it isn't one. OK, it looks very dark and there is no suggestion of the white upper t/c horseshoe that most show, but the weather conditions seem to be quite strong sunlight, lighting the subject bird from the left, therefore it's upperparts are in shadow and appear artificially darker than expected. The paler head, apparently pale bill, the attitude at which the wings are being held and the general proportions of the bird (it looks to be too large to be a Sooty) all add up, for me, to Cory's. If these guys saw and photographed what they felt was a Sooty Shearwater, which generally appear a lot different to the bird discussed here (I've seen lots of these over the years), then has the wrong photo been uploaded in error perhaps?

    Last edited by 600cat; July 21st, 2009 at 06:37 PM.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Nov 2008


    The photo does not seem to be a Sooty. As well as the stuff mentioned already, the head & neck is too large for Sooty. Nothing excludes Cory's, even the colour (it looks dark, but not unusually so in sea conditions). Not to say there was no Sooty there, but this is not a picture of it.

  10. #10
    Senior Member Sherpa's Avatar
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    Jan 2008


    Everything about that photograph says Cory's Shearwater to me.

    None of the million or so Sooties I've seen looked anything like that.

    Look at the way the carpal is pushed forwards. Classic Cory's pose. And the small matter of colour. The wings might look a bit dark due to strong Mediterranean light, but you can see the Cory's plumage tones quite clearly.

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