Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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[Mystery bird] Atlantic Puffin, Fratercula arctica, photographed at the Machias Seal Island, Maine. [I will identify this bird for you in 48 hours]

Image: Paul Sweet, 26 May 2008 [larger view].

Please name at least one field mark that supports your identification.

Review all mystery birds to date.


  1. #1 Bob O'H
    March 16, 2010

    Looks like it’s smokin’ a pipe.

  2. #2 John Callender
    March 16, 2010

    I’m not sure, actually. I think I have an idea what it is, but there’s one field mark visible in the photo that I can’t make work in the Sibley illustrations. I’m going to assume that’s a (rare) failing of Sibley, or maybe the effect of the photo catching a particularly short-lived plumage arrangement.

    The bird I’m thinking of has a scientific name that makes me think of two Inuit brothers trudging through the snow, when one teases the other about something, causing the teased one to give his brother a forceful shove.

  3. #3 John Callender
    March 16, 2010

    Oh, and if today’s selection means it’s psweet’s birthday, happy birthday! You share the birthday with my wife.

  4. #4 Dom
    March 16, 2010

    That is too easy – the way it holds its little legs is a dead giveaway! Do not look at the link if you do not want to know yet;

  5. #5 SimonG
    March 16, 2010

    My immediate reaction was “puffin”, and I see no reason to change that. The rather ungainly look to it, the black back and white underside, the orange/pink feet.

    From the location it ought to be an Atlantic Puffin. There was a Tufted Puffin seen in England last year, which if it wasn’t an escapee from a collection suggests that there’s an outside chance of the Pacific species getting East, which might mean a Horned Puffin is an outside possibility. (Tufted has the wrong colouring.) But I wouldn’t put my money on that.

  6. #6 David Hilmy
    March 16, 2010

    LOL John, I guess if you were “arctic brothers” and one of you was “Atanarjuat the Fast Runner”, then “Amaqjuaq the Strong One” would indeed be huffing and puffing to catch up!

  7. #7 psweet
    March 16, 2010

    Sorry, John, all this means is that I sent Grrl a number of photos recently. It’s quite a while until my birthday.

  8. #8 Adrian
    March 16, 2010

    Funnily, This bird’s common name is the binomial of an unrelated species, also from the North Atlantic.

  9. #9 Heather
    March 16, 2010

    Aww, you made me homesick, Grrl. Us expats get sentimental over the smallest things. That BBC photo that Dom linked to was quite fabulous – thanks!

  10. #10 psweet
    March 16, 2010

    By the way, John, I think that the plumage feature you were wondering about is probably one Sibley missed. I can’t find another shot from that day that shows this angle, but I seem to remember seeing those white patches on other individuals. (I assume that’s what you were wondering about?)

  11. #11 psweet
    March 16, 2010

    David — what species were you talking about? I checked for Puffinus atlanticus, and can’t find it. Is this a recent split, or are we talking about a whole different group?

  12. #12 Bob O'H
    March 16, 2010

    One of the things I love about this photo is that I spotted it straight away, but the flying field mark.

    It also reminds me of the tale in Birdscapes (a book you all must read: it’s a one-man ramble through the birding world) of a magpie being discovered in the Scilly Isles. The birders who saw it had to report it to the relevant committee, but several of them couldn’t give a good enough description for their reports to be accepted.

    So, my field makes are black on top, white underneath, and a stubby shape. And it just looks like a ****ing puffin.

  13. #13 Adrian
    March 16, 2010

    Paul, did you mean me and not David? I was referring to Puffinus puffinus, Manx Shearwater.

  14. #14 David Hilmy
    March 16, 2010

    umm Paul, I think you might have missed my not-too subtle clues in comment #6 in response to John’s hint at #2!

    and funnily enough, the shearwater was originally called the puffin, and as I understand it, was named (this is where Wikipedia gets it wrong… again!) after the Cornish technique for curing young shearwaters for transportation from the Isles of Scilly and thence overland throughout mainland England…

  15. #15 David Hilmy
    March 16, 2010

    and speaking of puffins on the Isles of Scilly

  16. #16 psweet
    March 16, 2010

    Yes, Adrian, I meant your comment. I really need to slow down when I’m reading these. And thanks — I hadn’t thought of doubling the name.

  17. #17 eric
    March 16, 2010

    I’ve seen these Atlantic Puffins (Fratercula arctica) at Machias Seal Island. They’re hysterical, the way they flap themselves down for a stumbling landing along the rocky shore of the island. Totally foolish looking, but beautifully clean-white and gray and orange. You can also get divebombed by Arctic Terns on this island, if you try walking across their breeding grounds. Sticks are provided for waving them away from your head. Well worth the trip!

  18. #18 Keith Marshall
    March 17, 2010

    I go with Puffin (Fratercula arctica) too. Can any bird wit such a dumpy shape and red webbed feet so splayed be anything else?

  19. #19 psweet
    March 17, 2010

    Actually, Keith, if not for the date, it could be: Black Guillemot in winter plumage would be mostly black and white, with red feet, and a similar shape.

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