Arizona Field Ornithologist

Sooty Shearwater (Puffinus griseus), Mittry Lake, Yuma County

This apparent Sooty Shearwater was discovered and photographed by Bobby Wilcox on 05 August 2013.

The only previous record is of this species is a bird found dead along the highway near Wellton on 06 June 1971 (Monson and Phillips, 1981). 

Bobby describes his discovery:

"The photos (they are actually screen grabs from a video) I'm submitting were taken from approximately 150-200m through my Alpen 788 spotting scope at 60x using and iPhone 4 and Novagrade universal scope adapter.

Bird was dark brown overall with very little patchy light spots on the scapular area and slightly lighter brown chest/throat area. The head had a very clean, uniform brown appearance which held up in different light conditions and from different distances. The wingtips seemed more blackish than the more uniform brown of the rest of the body. As it got closer (maybe 200m) i started paying attention to the bill more and began to really get the impression of a tubenose bill and felt pretty confident that I was seeing tubelike structures at the base of the upper mandible (this was before i looked at tubenoses in Sibley so my judgement was not yet clouded - up until this point at a greater distance I was thinking it was a juvenile gull of some sort). Bill is also relatively long. It was windy and choppy on the water but I got some good looks and really started to feel like this was not a juvenile gull. Then it raised its wings (unfortunately my phone had died by this time so i have no wing shots) and the wings were brown overall but the underwing coverts showed a very clear silvery/white patch that covered a significant part of the wing and contrasted distinctly with the brown portion of the wing and the rest of the birds overall color. When it flew i was unable to get a good idea of feet color or slenderness of the wings but the white underwing and dark, uniform brown upperwing was obvious. Eye color was dark. Also, both times I saw it flying it was gliding low over the surface of the water with intermittent wingbeats. While the pictures leave a little bit to be desired as far as clarity I think you can get a pretty good impression of the bird coloration and shape and if you zoom in a little you can pretty clearly see its tubenose bill features."

The only remotely likely dark plumaged tubenoses with thin, dark bills are Sooty and Short-tailed Shearwaters.  By geography, abundance and season, Sooty is far more likely in Arizona in summer than Short-tailed, but stranger things have happened.  Short-tailed is very similar to Sooty but differs by having a shorter, thinner bill, a more rounded head, steeper forehead, often a pale throat and less white in the underwings, especially the primary coverts.  In this bird the flat headed profile and description of the underwing are consistent with Sooty.  The other features are hard to judge, but the chin also appears dark. 

05 August 2013, photo by Bobby Wilcox

All photos are copyrighted© by photographer

Submitted on 10 August 2013