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Obituary: William Lancelot Noyes Tickell, pioneer albatross researcher, 1930-2014

When I attended the British Birdwatching Fair in August 2000 at Rutland Water in the UK on behalf of BirdLife International's then "Save the Albatross Campaign" I was first in-line to have my copy of Lance Tickell's just-published book on albatrosses signed by him.  I still consult his book when researching news stories for ACAP Latest News on this web site, and I especially enjoy the final chapter entitled "The Mariner Syndrome" that eruditely reviews poetry about albatrosses since Coleridge's classic "Rime".  Sadly, this was to be our last meeting.

William Lancelot Noyes “Lance” Tickell was born in Coventry, United Kingdom on 21 October 1930, and passed away on 10 June this year.  The following text is largely taken from his biographical sketch, published in The Dictionary of Falklands Biography (Tatham 2008).

“After national service in the army, he attended Coventry Technical College and went on to the University College of North Wales at Bangor graduating in botany and zoology. In 1954 Lance joined the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (FIDS) as a meteorological assistant and was posted to Signy Island in the South Orkneys. ‘Metmen’ worked shifts which left plenty of time for field studies of the petrels that nested around the base hut. Always a keen climber, Lance made the first ascent of Mount Nivea (4,154 feet), the highest peak in the South Orkneys.

“On return to the United Kingdom wrote a report on the Dove (now Antarctic) Prion Pachyptila desolata at the Edward Grey Institute of Field Ornithology, Oxford under the supervision of Dr David Lack and was awarded an MSc (Wales).

“Encouraged by Nigel Bonner, but with minimal funds, Tickell and Peter Cordall (ex–FIDS) put together the South Georgia Biological Expedition 1958-1959, and sailed in the Christian Salvesen whaling tanker Southern Opal.  They went to Bird Island with Nigel Bonner, helped erect the small garden shed and assisted in tagging 1,700 fur seal pups.  They remained on the island for 15 weeks, setting up field studies of albatrosses and surveying the island.

 Lance Tickell on Bird Island with mollymawk chicks in the 1960s, photographs by Ron Pinder

“Funded by the United States Antarctic Research Program (USARP) of the US National Science Foundation (NSF), Tickell returned to Bird Island in 1960-61 with Harold Dollman (ex–FIDS), again helping Bonner tag fur seal pups, then working on albatrosses.  The following season, while Tickell remained at Johns Hopkins University in the United States, Dollman led the third albatross expedition, accompanied by Charles F le Feuvre (ex–FIDS). Together they banded 12,690 albatrosses, giant petrels and skuas and set out more study plots.

“Albatross research at Bird Island was concluded with an 18 month study of Wandering, Black–browed and Grey–headed albatrosses (1962–64) again funded by NSF (USARP) and supported by British Antarctic Survey (FIDS had been renamed BAS). Three new huts were built and Tickell with Ronald Pinder and entomologist Harry B Clagg wintered in the largest.

“While putting together that last expedition in London in 1962,  Tickell had married Willow Anne Phelps. When he came home in 1964 they went back to Baltimore and Johns Hopkins University where he wrote a dissertation on the great albatrosses for an ScD.  Other papers followed, culminating in 2000 when Albatrosses was published by Christopher Helm.

“In 1966 Tickell joined the (Scottish) Nature Conservancy as warden naturalist for Shetland and Orkney until 1969 when he went to East Africa as lecturer in zoology at Makerere University, Kampala. Other appointments followed in the University of Nairobi, Kenya, Chancellor College in the University of Malawi and the National University of Lesotho. Eventually he and his family returned home where he became a television producer in the BBC Natural History Unit at Bristol.”

Lance Tickell’s publications on albatrosses span an impressive 51 years from 1960 to 2011.  His first and last scientific papers were on the now ACAP-listed Wandering Albatross Diomedea exulans, as shown below.  His early research was ground breaking as he discovered that the species was a biennial breeder.  His last publication, in the Royal Naval Birdwatching Society’s annual journal Sea Swallow, gave a new explanation for the still-enigmatic pink staining that appears on the heads of adult Wanderers (click here).

A pink-stained Wandering Albatross, photograph by Martin Abreu

Lance was honoured in 2012 by having a mountain peak named after him on Bird Island (click here).  Tickell Peak is the second highest peak on the island at 290 m and, along with his albatross book, is a lasting memorial to a pioneer albatross researcher.

With grateful thanks to Bob Burton, John Croxall and Ron Pinder for information and photographs.

Selected Literature:

Sladen, W.J.L. & Tickell, W.L.N. 1958.  Antarctic bird banding by the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey, 1945-57.  Bird-Banding 29: 1-26.

Tatham, D. 2008.  The Dictionary of Falklands Biography (including South Georgia) from Discovery up to 1981.  Hereford, U.K.: Editor's Edition.  576 pp.

Tickell, W.L.N. 1960.  Chick feeding in the Wandering Albatross Diomedea exulans Linnæus.  Nature 185: 116-117.

Tickell, W.L.N. 1960.  A new method of colour marking petrels and albatrosses.  The Ring 22: 201-203.

Tickell, W.L.N. 1962.  The Dove Prion, Pachyptila desolata Gmelin.  Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey Scientific Reports No. 33.  55 pp. + 8 plates.

Tickell, W.L.N. 1964.  Feeding preferences of the albatrosses Diomedea melanophris and D. chrysostoma at South Georgia.  In: Carrick R. (Ed.).  Antarctic Biology.  Paris: Hermann.  pp. 383-387.

Tickell, W.L.N. 1966.  Movements of Black-browed and Grey-headed Albatrosses in the South Atlantic.  Emu 66: 357-367.

Tickell, W.L.N. 1968.  The biology of the great albatrosses, Diomedea exulans and Diomedea epomophoraAntarctic Bird Studies 12: 1-56.  Washington: American Geophysical Union.

Tickell, W.L.N. 1968.  Feeding preferences of the albatrosses Diomedea melanophris and D. chrysostoma at South Georgia.  In: Carrick, R., Holdgate, M. & Prevost, J. (Eds).  Biologie Antarctique.  Paris: Hermann.  pp. 383-387

Tickell, .L.N. 1969.  Plumage changes in young albatrosses.  Ibis 111: 102-105.

Tickell, W.L.N. 1970.  Biennial breeding inalbatrosses. In: Holdgate, M.W. (Ed.).  Antarctic Ecology Vol. 1.  London: Academic Press.  pp. 549-557.

Tickell, W.L.N. 1975.  Observations on the status of the Steller's Albatross (Diomedea albatrus).  International Council for Bird Preservation Bulletin 41: 125-131.

Tickell, W.L.N. 1976.  The distribution of Black-browed and Grey-headed Albatrosses.  Emu 76: 64-68.

Tickell, W. L. N. 1984. Behaviour of Blackbrowed and Greyheaded Albatrosses at Bird Island, South George.  Ostrich 55: 64-85.

Tickell, W.L.N. 1995.  Atlas of southern hemisphere albatrosses.  Australasian Seabird Group Newsletter 29: 2-24.

Tickell, W.L.N., 1996.  Galapagos Albatrosses at sea.  Sea Swallow 45: 83-85.

Tickell, W.L.N. 2000.  Albatrosses.  Mountfield: Pica Press.  448 pp.

Tickell, W.L.N. 2011.  Plumage contamination on Wandering Albatrosses -an aerodynamic model.  Sea Swallow 60: 67-69.

Tickell, W.L.N. & Gibson, J.D. 1968.  Movements of Wandering Albatrosses, Diomedea exulans.  Emu 68: 6-20.

Tickell, W.L.N. & Pinder, R. 1967.  Breeding frequency in the albatrosses Diomedea melanophris and D. chrysostoma.  Nature 213: 315-316.

Tickell, W.L.N. & Pinder, R. 1968.  Two-egg clutches in albatrosses.  Ibis 108: 126-129.

Tickell, W.L.N. & Pinder, R. 1975.  Breeding biology of the Black-browed Albatross Diomedea melanophris and Grey-headed Albatross D. chrysostoma at Bird Island, South Georgia.  Ibis 117: 433-451.

Tickell, W.L.N. & Scotland, C.D. 1961.  Recoveries of ringed giant petrels Macronectes giganteus.  Ibis 103a: 260-266.

Tickell, W.L.N., & Woods, R.W. 1972.  Ornithological observations at sea in the South Atlantic Ocean, 1954-64.  British Antarctic Survey Bulletin 31: 63-84.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 17 July 2014

Short-tailed Shearwaters are declining in Australia’s Bass Strait

Nicole Schumann (School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, Burwood, Australia) and colleagues have published in the Australian journal Emu on numbers of burrowing seabirds in the Bass Strait of Australia, including of Short-tailed Shearwaters Puffinus tenuirostris.

The paper’s abstract follows:

”The present study provides the first complete estimate of the abundance and distribution of burrowing seabirds in northern-central Bass Strait, a key region for breeding seabirds in south-eastern Australia.  The estimated total number of breeding burrows in the region in 2008–11 were 755 300 ± 32 400 (s.e.) burrows of Short-tailed Shearwaters (Ardenna tenuirostris), 26 700 ± 3500 of Little Penguins (Eudyptula minor), 19 100 ± 2200 of Common Diving-Petrels (Pelecanoides urinatrix) and 4200 ± 2700 of Fairy Prions (Pachyptila turtur).  These represent substantial proportions of the total estimated Australian breeding populations of these species: 6% of the total population of Short-tailed Shearwaters, 14% of Little Penguins, 0.4% of Fairy Prions and 13% of Common Diving-Petrels.  Based on the number of active burrows, the number of breeding Short-tailed Shearwaters in the region is estimated to have decreased 35% between 1978–80 and 2008–11, equivalent to a decrease of 1.4% per annum between 1980 and 2011.  The regional population of Little Penguins, however, appears to have increased substantially over the same period.  Identification of population trends of the other species is limited by a lack of previous data.  The importance of this area for burrowing seabirds and the substantial decline in numbers of Short-tailed Shearwaters warrants more frequent monitoring of the abundance of seabirds in the region to allow a robust comparison of changes in populations over time as well as the identification of possible causative factors.”

Short-tailed Shearwater, photograph by Kirk Zufelt



Schumann, N., Dann, P. & Arnould, J.P.Y. 2014.  The significance of northern-central Bass Strait in south-eastern Australia as habitat for burrowing seabirds.  Emu

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 16 July 2014

210Polonium and 210lead in Black-browed Albatrosses and White-chinned Petrels (and other South Atlantic seabirds)

José Marcus Godoy (Instituto de Radioproteção e Dosimetria, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) and colleagues have published in the Journal of Environmental Radioactivity on 210polonium and 210lead in South Atlantic seabirds, including the ACAP-listed Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophris and White-chinned Petrel Procellaria aequinoctialis.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“In this study, we report the 210Po and 210Pb concentrations of bone, muscle and liver samples that were obtained from twelve different marine bird species stranded on beaches in the central–north region of Rio de Janeiro State.  Both radionuclides were highly concentrated in the liver samples; however, the lowest mean 210Po/210Pb activity ratio (1.3) was observed in bones compared with liver and muscle (16.8 and 13.8, respectively).  Among the species that were studied, Fregata magnificens, with a diet based exclusively on fish, had the lowest 210Pb and 210Po concentrations and the lowest 210Po/210Pb activity ratio.  The 210Po concentrations in Puffinus spp. liver samples followed a log-normal distribution, with a geometric mean of 300 Bq kg-1wet weight.  Only two references pertaining to 210Po in marine birds were found in a Web of Science search of the literature, and each study reported a different concentration value.  The values determined in this experiment are consistent with those in one of the previous studies, which also included one of the species studied in this work.  No values for 210Pb in marine birds have been published previously.”

Black-browed Albatross, photograph by John Larsen


Godoy, J.M.,  Siciliano, S., de Carvalho, Z.L., Tavares, D.C., de Moura, J.F. & Godoy, M.L.D.P.  2014.  210Polonium and 210lead content of marine birds from southeastern Brazil. Journal of Environmental Radioactivity 135: 108-112.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 15 July 2014

Giant petrels going south in winter: top predators within the pack ice off the Antarctic Peninsula

Jarrod Santora (Center for Stock Assessment Research, University of California at Santa Cruz, California, USA) writes in the journal Polar Biology on top predators, including ACAP-listed giant petrels Macronectes spp., within winter pack ice off the Antarctic Peninsula.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Global warming is predicted to reduce the amount of sea ice concentration in polar environments, thus presenting profound changes for populations of seabirds and marine mammals dependent on sea ice.  Using data from a shipboard survey during August 2012, I test the hypothesis that relative abundance of seabird and marine mammals reflects environmental variability associated with the dynamic pack ice zone.  Using environmental data and observations of sea ice concentration, I quantified an environmental gradient that describes the spatial organization of the dynamic pack ice zone.  The relationship of top predators to this environmental gradient revealed three important aspects: (1) an open water and pack ice community is present with some top predator species exhibiting higher abundance associated with moderate sea ice concentration (40–60 %) as opposed to the pack ice edge (10 %), (2) Antarctic fur seals (Arctocephalus gazella) were the most abundant pinniped and they were observed resting on ice floes and foraging within leads and polynyas, and (3) for the most abundant species, spatial regression models indicate that latitude and sea ice concentration (a principal north/south gradient) are the most important environmental determinants.  Winter ocean conditions may strongly influence population dynamics of top predators; therefore, information regarding their habitat use during winter is needed for understanding ecosystem dynamics."

A Southern Giant Petrel in Antarctica, photograph by Michael Dunn

Click here to read of a related paper by the same author.


Santora, J.A. 2014.  Environmental determinants of top predator distribution within the dynamic winter pack ice zone of the northern Antarctic Peninsula.  Polar Biology DOI .

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 14 July 2014

Pollutants and stable isotopes in South Atlantic albatrosses and petrels

Fernanda Colabuono (Universidade de São Paulo, Instituto Oceanográfico, Laboratório de Química Orgânica Marinha, São Paulo, Brazil) and colleagues have published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin on carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes and organochlorine contaminants in five species of South Atlantic albatrosses and petrels.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes in albatrosses and petrels collected off southern Brazil were compared with concentrations of organochlorine contaminants (OCs).  δ13C and δ15N values, as well as OCs concentrations, exhibited a high degree of variability among individuals and overlap among species.  δ13C values reflected latitudinal differences among species, with lower values found in Wandering and Tristan Albatrosses and higher values found in Black-browed and Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatrosses and White-chinned Petrels.  Some relationships were found between OCs and stable isotopes, but in general a partial ‘uncoupling’ was observed between OCs concentrations and stable isotopes ratios (especially forδ15N).  δ13C andδ15N values in Procellariiformes tissues during the non-breeding season appear to be a better indicator of foraging habitats than of trophic relationships, which may partially explain the high degree of variability between concentrations of OCs and stable isotopes ratios in birds with a diversified diet and wide foraging range.”

Tristan Albatross off South America, photograph by Martin Abreu


Colabuono, F.I, Barquete, V., Taniguchi, S., Ryan, P.G. & Montone, R.C. 2014.  Stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen in the study of organochlorine contaminants in albatrosses and petrels.  Marine Pollution Bulletin 83: 241-247.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 13 July 2014