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Thread: 'Pale' Skua off Port Stephens

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2012
    Newcastle, NSW

    'Pale' Skua off Port Stephens

    Hi again,

    This time I've attached some shots of a skua that came up our slick just after reaching the shelf (so, the images were taken around 10:30am for lighting info). The bird is quite pale generally but especially so in the lores and with a pale nuchal collar. It is an interesting bird as the structure does seem to fit more a Brown than a South Polar, but those underwing coverts are very dark and the white flashes quite bold showing good contrast.

    Again, any comments welcomed...these birds are difficult (and thanks to Nikolas, Jeff and Lindsay's comments thus far, which I will share if we get some interest in this bird). Unfortunately I can't seem to find a dorsal shot from anyone who was on board...yet!

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  2. #2
    Hi Guys,

    Sorry but this looks like your standard Brown Skua to me.


    PP :-)

  3. #3
    Hi Mick,

    As far as I understand it is very late for a South Polar Skua here!

    The pale blaze, the pale nuchal collar and the dark underwing coverts make your bird indeed very interesting.
    The overall colour though appears a bit warm for a South Polar Skua, but that could be a light-related issue - at what time were the pictures taken?
    I don't necessarily agree with you regarding the jizz (bill shape). Also the head appears a bit heavy (the head shape is certainly not a good field mark anyway). Had a quick look in Klaus Malling Olsen's and Hans Larsson's book (Malling Olsen, K., & H. Larsson (1997): Skuas and Jaegers. A Guide to the Skuas and Jaegers of the World. London). There is one picture of two SPSs next to each other (Fig. 42, p. 100) - one has the classic jizz of a SPS (presumably the female), the other has the jizz of a Brown Skua (presumably the male). Difficult!
    Did you get any pictures of the upperparts?

    Unrelated to species ID: The secondaries look a bit 'uncombed' - is there some moult going on?

    Interestingly, some of the 6 Brown Skuas we had off Wollongong on Saturday, 23rd June 2012, also showed neat paler underparts (so that I first thought of juvs) but they showed heavily spotted upperparts and some wear. So were they adults with freshly moulted body plumage, Lindsay? (I haven't checked any literature yet).

    And yes, I have seen good numbers of South Polar Skuas off New Jersey, Delaware and California. All dark (or at least at the dark end of the intermediate morph). Interestingly, I had also two birds likely this species while sea-watching from Cap Vert, Senegal (see Haass & Engelhardt (2001): Calonectris Shearwaters off West Africa. Birding World 14: 514). All three South Polar Skuas I have seen off NSW (October 2009 off Wollongong, accepted; April 2011 off Sydney, accepted; April 2012 off Sydney, pending) were on the pale side of the intermediate morph.

    Also attached a picture of one off California - I believe the picture was taken by Debi Shearwater; there may be more on her website.

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    Last edited by nhaass; 30-06-2012 at 11:45 AM.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2012
    Newcastle, NSW
    The images were taken at about 10:30am.
    Upon having received comments and looking at other images I'm happy to accept that it's more than likely a 'Bad Brown' (our nickname for Brown Skuas), but I won't accept that it's a 'standard' bird! ;-)
    Part of a tough group of birds in my opinion...good to get feedback, ta everyone.

  5. #5

    A similar skua - Woodman Point WA

    Hi all

    I hope Mick won't mind me hijacking this thread, but I was very interested in Mick's bird as I saw a similar skua with a pale belly and extensive black underwing coverts at Woodman Point, Perth on 3rd May this year.

    Unfortunately it flew overhead in poor light and I was only able to photograph it from underneath. However several things strike me as a good fit for South Polar Skua:
    - it was noted as a relatively small skua in the field and looks fairly small-bodied in these pics
    - it is extensively pale and fairly 'cool-toned' on the belly, contrasting with black underwing
    - it has a very short tail and notably long/narrow/pointed wing profile. From looking available pictures on the web where species ID is clear (not easy!) and measuring body proportions, the body shape of this bird seems a very good fit for South Polar yet almost incompatible with lonnbergi - though there may be sex(?) differences as obviously both species are variable.
    - the underwing coverts are particularly long closest to the body, in the 'armpit' area. HANZAB illustrates this difference without describing it in-text, but available images seem to back up this potential difference. Can anyone comment on this feature?

    The bill is on the small side for a skua but difficult to assess in these shots from below. It does have a few pale spots in the neck, which may argue for Brown. I'm not sure if any features of the moult are useful - South Polar are supposed to have a more rapid moult including larger blocks of feathers.

    Any thoughts would be welcomed - I am interested in whether these 'darker intermediate-type' skuas can be ID'ed to species on features like body shape with any useful degree of probability, as we must surely see them in Australia without ID'ing them.


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