Sunday, November 15, 2015

Embarrasing Armchair Tick - Flesh-footed Shearwater

Flesh-footed Shearwater Puffinus carneipes
  On April 26, 2014, I visited Mara-do, off Jeju's southwestern tip.  On the return trip I noted "At least a dozen Streaked Shearwaters."  Several days ago, while finally sorting through my 'To Edit' folder and deleting thousands of old photos to free up disk space (rainy day), I noted...something else.  Buried amidst the hundreds of blurry shots of Streaked Shearwaters were just two frames showing a dark-looking shearwater.  I rubbed my eyes and zoomed in.  My jaw dropped.  I stared at the grainy image for a good minute.  Very dark all over.  Hint of a dark-tipped pinkish bill.  Blunt tail.  Could it...yes.  Flesh-footed Shearwater!  My birding buddies quickly confirmed my giddy suspicions, and I checked it off my list, while sitting comfortably in my proverbial armchair.  This was apparently the first April record for the species in Korea.
  While getting a long-awaited and rare bird like this would normally have me doing elated backflips, I mostly felt embarrassed in this case.  After all, it had taken me a year and a half to ID the bird, which I failed to do in the field.  On a more fundamental level, I needed to look at a picture to ID a bird - a cardinal birding shortcoming I judiciously strive to avoid these days.
  In my defense, the skies on that April 26th were gloomy, the seas were rough, and I was using a pair of crappy beat-up Bushnells at the time.  The lenses weren't in sync anymore, and the seaspray from the choppy seas (I was the only one foolish enough to be up on deck) was beading up on/fogging up the lenses - it was like looking through a straw with Vaseline on my eyes (very unlike the divine Swaros I currently use - like angels licking my eyeballs).  So I decided to just snap away at the distant weaving shearwaters I was seeing, and hope something juicy was mixed in with the Streaked.  Good idea under the less-than-ideal circumstances, right?
  It would have been a decent idea had I gone home and carefully sorted through every one of the hundreds of grainy images and shouted 'Eureka!  Flesh-footed!'.  But I didn't.  I was weary from the pre-dawn start, rough boat trip, and subsequent ninety-minute motorcycle ride, so when I got home I quickly flicked through most of the awful images of distant Streaked Shearwaters, then rolled over and took a nap, vowing to have a more thorough sort through later.   I didn't do that.  Instead, I went birding hard the following day, a Sunday, then tackled an exhausting work week the day after that.  It was my last month in Korea before heading back to Canada and then Europe, so I was busy cleaning, packing, and shipping boxes home.  Meanwhile, and for the next eighteen months, the 'April 26 Mara' folder sat unloved in my ever-growing 'To Edit' folder, with a Flesh-footed Shearwater waiting to be discovered within.
  On that note, I'm off to have a cheeky rummage through my 'To Edit' folder.

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