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Catching Petrels by Flashlight

Louis B. Bishop
Publication Information
6 (November-December)
From Field and Study

Catching Petrels by Flashlight..-On September 6, 1929, I drove with Mr. C. Irvin Clay eight miles north of Crescent City, California, to catch a glimpse of some rocky islets where a few years before he had collected sea birds. We stopped on a grassy plot near the seashore; but the fog had come in and we could see nothing, not even the ocean a few feet below us. The night was quite calm, and presently we became conscious of some light specks passing back and forth above us irregularly, like swallows feeding in the day time. Although we had little hope of being able to discover what they were, we suspected they were petrels. Clay turned his powerful flashlight toward the sky in an attempt to focus on one of these light spots. Suddenly it left its orbit and plunged to the ground at our feet. We found it was one of the small white-rumped petrels, probably Oceanodroma leztcorti beali, the form recorded as frequenting this part of the California coast.

Soon we caught another which had followed down the beam of light and struck the ground near us. After a short trip back to Crescent City to refill the exhausted flashlight, we returned to our petrels and found they were still coursing. We collected two more and stayed on until lo:30 p.m. when most of the birds disappeared. Later I noticed that birds always escaped when the light struck them from behind but when the light hit them full in the face they fell as if shot, hitting my body with considerable force and staying on the ground until picked up. These birds were evidently feeding on night-flying insects, and in striking the ground they vomited the amber colored fluid so characteristic of petrels. Their flight was slow and fluttering.

One of the birds taken (now in Chicago Mus. Nat. Hist.) had white spots on the back of the head, ear-coverts, and chin and a broad white bar across the lower abdomen. As I could find no petrel of this description, I decided it was merely albinistic.--Lours B. BISHOP, Pasadena, California, May 2, 1949. 

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