Sooty Shearwater: June 6th 2002, at Sea
Nial Moores

Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus

Two, June 6th 2002, 4-5 km south of Busan City.

Two Sooty Shearwaters were seen flying together from the Korea-Japan hydrofoil on June 6th 2002, about 4-5 km south of the Busan coast. Views lasted 30 seconds or more, through Leica 8x32 binoculars, when the birds approached to within 30 m of the vessel, in good light. Identification from other dark shearwaters was based on: (1) the all dark, medium-sized bill (ruling out Flesh-footed Shearwater Puffinus carneipes); (2) medium-large size, with heavy body, full tail and powerful flight action, which immediately suggested Sooty Shearwater; (3) the presence of striking whitish underwing panels across the underwing coverts (meaning much of the underwing flashed whitish in bright light); and (4) the lack of a white chin, typical of most Short-tailed Shearwaters Puffinus tenuirostris on such close views.

Nial Moores is very experienced with all three species, having seen Sooty Shearwater in the UK, Japan (several thousands), and California (hundreds of thousands); the superficially similar Flesh-footed especially in Japan (thousands); and Slender-billed Shearwater (tens of thousands in southern Australia, thousands in Japan, hundreds in California and several the previous month [May 2002]) in South Korea).

Although the Sooty Shearwater has apparently not been recorded before in Korea, neither its occurrence nor the date can be considered surprising. Harrison (1983) indicates that the species breeds in the austral summer and disperses north into the Pacific from May onwards, while Brazil (1991) states that it is a "rarity" in the Japanese part of the East Sea, but that it could occur much more commonly "as indicated by a flock of about 1 500 off Rebun and Rishiri Islands in early June 1965". Such birds have been suspected of passing west of Hokkaido and presumably reaching the Pacific past north Hokkaido or even Sakhalin Island. Such a route would require birds passing through the South Sea, with onshore winds bringing the birds close to the Korean shore. According to MacKinnon and Phillipps (2000) it has also been recorded off the Chinese coast and off Taiwan.