IRBC - Announcements

Review of Albatross Records, 1998.


The Committee announced some years ago that it would review all pre-1980 records of Black-browed Albatross Diomedea melanophris and unidentified albatross Diomedea sp. (Irish Birds 3:612). Several factors prompted the need for a review. There were quite a number of records of albatross, both identified and unidentified, in the 1960s and early 1970s, especially off Cape Clear in Co. Cork. Despite the fact that the level of seawatching there has been maintained since then and has increased dramatically elsewhere on all Irish coasts, the number of records has declined. In addition, the standard of seabird identification has increased considerably since the 1960s due to the use of better quality optical equipment, especially telescopes (which are now de rigeur on a seawatch). It is clear that some of the claimed albatrosses in this period were identified on the basis of what would now be considered unacceptably tenuous evidence. Some were observed at very long range when an impression of large size was really the only significant feature noted. Several were seen very briefly and/or in extremely poor weather conditions, frequently without the aid of a telescope, circumstances in which even the most diligent observers would be severely tested. In some cases, it has to be said, the identification seems almost to have been assumed and insufficient consideration appears to have been given to even the most obvious of pitfalls, such as Gannet Morus bassanus in its various immature guises.


This review of all albatross records up to 1980 has been completed and the results are presented below.


Black-browed Albatross Diomedea melanophris

The following records remain acceptable as Black-browed Albatross:

1963 Cork Adult, Cape Clear Island, 24th September (Cape Clear Bird Observatory Report (CCBOR) 9:64-65, Irish Bird Report (IBR) 11:8). This was previously recorded as a sub-adult (Sharrock 1973).
1964 Kerry Adult, Brandon Bay, 15th August (IBR 12:7).
1976 Cork Two adults, Old Head Of Kinsale, 10th September (IBR 24:71).


The following records are no longer considered to be adequately documented as Black-browed Albatross:

1967 Cork Immature, Cape Clear Island, 1st June (CCBOR 9:65, IBR 15:16); one, Cape Clear Island, 5th June (IBR 15:16); adult, Cape Clear Island, 2nd September: previously accepted as adult Black-browed Albatross, now accepted as unidentified albatross - see below (IBR 15:16); adult, Cape Clear Island, 1st October (IBR 15:16).
1968 Cork Adult, Mizen Head, 13th August (IBR 16:15).


Unidentified albatross Diomedea sp.

The following records remain acceptable as an unidentified albatross:

1967 Cork One, Cape Clear Island, 2nd September - previously accepted as adult Black-browed Albatross (CCBOR 9:65-66, IBR 15:16).


The following records are no longer considered to be adequately documented as unidentified albatross:

1963 Donegal Immature, Malin Head, 26th September (IBR 11:8).
1967 Cork Adult, Cape Clear Island, 11th September (IBR 15:16).
1968 Cork One, Cape Clear Island, 13th July (IBR 16:14); two adults, Castletownshend, 26th August (IBR 16:15); one, Cape Clear Island, 3rd September (IBR 16:15).
1973 Cork One , Cape Clear Island, 17th May (IBR 21:7).


The relatively high proportion of unacceptable records strongly alters the pattern of albatross occurrences in Ireland. The most striking effect is the more even temporal distribution of records since 1963, when the first Black-browed Albatross was recorded. There are now eight accepted records of this species, involving a total of nine individuals, and three of single unidentified albatrosses; all birds aged with certainty were adults. The autumn bias to the records is strengthened: apart from one Black-browed Albatross in May, all were seen between 8th July and 8th October, with the bulk between mid-August and mid-September.


Reference:

Sharrock J.T.R.S. (ed.) 1973. The Natural History of Cape Clear Island. Poyser, Berkhamsted.


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