Bird seen in January 2019 on Gough Island

First land sighting of Indian yellow-nosed albatross

Report from RSPB staff on Gough Island in January 2019

Michelle Risi has reported the first confirmed sighting on Gough Island of an Indian yellow-nosed albatross on Gough Island during field work on  17th January 2019. Previously the birds have only been spotted around Tristan da Cunha at sea. 

Close-up of the Indian yellow-nosed albatross: Photo Chris Jones

There are two sub-species of yellow-nosed albatross, defined by their region of breeding and by very subtle physical characteristics which make distinguising between the two very hard.

Well-known on the Tristan da Cunha Islands is the endemic Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross or Molly, Thalassarche chlororhychus.

The Indian yellow-nosed albatross Thalassarche carteri breeds on the Southern Indian Ocean Islands of Prince Edward, Crozet, Kerguelen, Amsterdam and St Paul. Definitely not in the country of India!  

Michelle Risi by the Indian yellow-nosed albatross: Photo Chris Jones

Those, like the Editor, who received these stunning photos on 18th January will need a detailed list of distinguishing features to identify the Indian yellow-nosed albatross from the ubiqutous Mollies that are seen flying and on the ground from August-April on Tristan, Nightingale, Inaccessible and Gough Islands and at sea.

How to differentiate the Indian
from Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross:

  • Much-reduced blackish triangular patch in front of and around eye

  • Paler grey face and ear-coverts

  • White cap extending to hindcrown
    (Ayln = mid-crown)

  • Yellow line atop bill tapering to point
    (Ayny = broadening and rounded at base)

  • Breeds in dense colonies on vegetated cliffs (Ayna breeds in diffuse colonies on more level ground)

But it is likely that only trained ornithologists will spot the difference, and even then will want verification.

In this case the sighting was verified by Peter Ryan, Director of the Fitzpatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town.

Left: Photo by Michelle Risis
of the vagrant Indian yellow-nosed albatross.

Definitive yellow-nosed albatross identification guide

Robert Flood from the Fitzpatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town has kindly sent and given us permission to reproduce from the multi-media guide
a page comparing Atlantic and Indian yellow-nosed albatross which is shown below.

Definitive yellow-nosed albatross identification guide

Abbreviations explained: AYAL Atlantic Yellow-nosed, IYAL Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross;
cycle refers to the annual moult cycle and is useful to age birds,
so 1C is the first moult cycle and the bird is a juvenile,
3C is an older immature, and adult plumage is attained by the 5C.

Can you spot the difference?

Below is a stunning photo by Delia Davies of three Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross
or Mollies on the slopes of Nightingale Islands' High Peak in December 2015.
Middle or Alex Island can be seen offshore.

Problematic for photo identification are the varied light conditions and the age of albatross being compared.
It is likely that all these photos show young, non-breeding adults which have similar state plumage.

Your turn -

Now that we've shown the differences:

below is another of Christopher Jones' photos showing
the Indian yellow-nosed albatross alongside a local Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross

We trust you can spot which is which?