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  • Writer's pictureLaura Beasley

Indian yellow-nosed albatross: a first for Gough Island!

Gough Island already has a number of stunning seabirds, but last weeks visit from an Indian yellow-nosed albatross Thalassarche carteri was a first for Gough Island!

Indian yellow-nosed albatross
This is the first recorded Indian yellow-nosed albatross on Gough Island (C.Jones)

On the way back to base, after checking on the monitoring colonies of Tristan albatrosses and Gough buntings at Gonydale, Field Assistant Michelle’s experience came into play as she saw subtle differences between one individual, and the Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross, or ‘mollies’, that are endemic to the Tristan da Cunha islands.

Michelle Risi
Michelle and the team took photos to verify their observation (C.Jones)

Taking photos of the unique individual, they later confirmed with Peter Ryan, Director of the Fitzpatrick Institute of Ornithology in Cape Town, that this was in fact an Indian yellow-nosed albatross! After checking against Tristan da Cunha Conservation Departments records, we can confirm that this the first record of the Indian yellow-nosed albatross on Gough Island!

The Atlantic and Indian are the two sub-species of yellow-nosed albatross, and both sub-species are classified as Endangered. The Atlantic yellow-nosed breeds on the Tristan da Cunha Islands (marked in orange on the map below), whilst the Indian yellow-nosed albatross breeds on Prince Edward Island (which is South African territory, marked in blue on the map) and the French Southern Ocean Islands (Crozet, Kerguelen, Amsterdam and St Pauls islands - marked in green).

Although it’s unclear how the individual came to Gough, or why, unexpected visits from vagrant seabirds like this one are very exciting to see!

Indian yellow nosed albatross
The Indian yellow-nosed albatross (C.Jones)

And Michelle is building an impressive record for spotting vagrant birds. Whilst working Gough Island back in 2015, she spotted the second ever recorded salvin’s albatross on Gough. Whilst on Marion Island in 2018, Michelle recorded the first ever Chilean skua for the Indian Ocean!

Identifying the Atlantic and the Indian yellow nosed-albatross

Distinguishing between such similar birds is difficult to do with certainty. Below is a photo of the Indian yellow-nosed albatross next to an Atlantic yellow-nosed and a guide to identifying the two sub-species – can you tell which is which?

Atlantic yellow nosed, indian yellow-nosed albatross
The two sub-species of yellow-nosed albatross (C.Jones)

Image from ‘Multimedia Identification Guide to North Atlantic Seabirds’.

Permission for this image was kindly given by Robert Flood from the Fitzpatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town.

The image guide above shows the Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross on the top row, and Indian yellow-nosed albatross below. The first cycle shows the two sub-species as juveniles, third cycle shows the two as older, immature individuals, and the fifth cycle shows the two sub-species as adults.

A general rule is that the Indian yellow-nosed have a lighter head and a narrower yellow stripe on their bill than the Atlantic.


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The Gough Island Restoration Programme is being carried out by the RSPB in partnership with Tristan da Cunha , BirdLife South Africa and the Department of Environmental Affairs in South Africa and Island Conservation . The programme is part-funded by the RSPB, the UK Government, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and other generous individuals and organisations.

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