More razorbills in Florida than ever


Trey Mitchell’s beautiful shot of a Razorbill bobbing about in nearly tropical waters

From 10,000 Birds blog:

The Razorbill Invasion of Florida

By Carlos • December 27, 2012

Razorbills (Alca torda) have invaded the coastal waters of Florida on an unprecedented scale this December of 2012. To put this invasion into perspective, there were only 14 documented records of Razorbill for the entire state before December 2012. This invasion has produced several documented sightings of flocks with well over a hundred individuals! The first sighting was of an individual seen and photographed right off the pier at Boynton Inlet on December 9, 2012. Many state listers immediately chased it even though the bird was very mobile and did not offer good looks for most who tried.

On December 11, 2012, an observer saw one at Government Cut in Miami-Dade right off the pier which was quickly followed by a sighting of three birds off Singer Island in Palm Beach, two birds filmed off Fort Lauderdale, and another bird photographed off Crandon Beach in Key Biscayne — already an unprecedented number of records. However, the true scope of the irruption was not apparent until people started chartering fishing boats to explore the waters just offshore where they were greeted by flocks of hundreds of Razorbills!

Listservs across the state suddenly lit up with posts about where and how many of these alcids were being seen, with records streaming in from such unlikely places as Dry Tortugas National Park, Key West, Fort de Soto, and as far west as Pensacola — there had been only one previous record of this species in the Gulf of Mexico before 2012.

Razorbills primarily feed on capelin, sandlance, herring, and other small fish in the productive waters of the cold North Atlantic, with large numbers wintering in the Gulf of Maine and the Bay of Fundy in the extreme northeastern United States and maritime provinces of Canada.

There is a reason why birds (and mammals and large, predatory sharks) like alcids, albatrosses, penguins, and other seabirds are restricted to the poles or areas of cold water upwellings — tropical waters lack the ability to hold onto as much oxygen as colder water. Also, tropical waters lack the dynamics for significant upwellings of cold, nutrient rich water to reach the surface and feed the extreme density of plankton that feed the vast schools of fish these birds rely upon. Why have these birds decided to fly so far south of their normal wintering range, and is it somehow connected to the fact that nearly all birds that have been documented are first year birds?

Sea surface temperatures off of New England and Nova Scotia have been unseasonably warm for the past few Decembers

Looking at the maps … by NOAA that measure sea surface temperature deviation from the average, one can see that temperatures have been unusually high in early December off the coast of New England for the past four years. Why would Razorbills be irrupting now if the above average sea surface temperature anomaly has been a near permanent fixture for the past four years or more?

The only unusual event that occurred this year that seems to match up nicely with the Florida invasion is Hurricane Sandy, an incredibly large and nearly unprecedented storm that hit the mid-Atlantic and New England in late October. Hurricane Sandy was an unusual beast not only for its unique landfall location and approach, but also its incredible size. As the storm was pulled northward across Cuba and the Bahamas, it began to temporarily weaken, lose convection, and suffer from dry air intrusion before it began interacting with an incoming trough. Due to the angle of the trough and the positioning of a high pressure system over Greenland, the storm began to curve northwestward and become re-energized due to baroclinic forcing — a process which also caused the windfield to expand and make Sandy the largest hurricane in diameter in the history of the Atlantic.

To put this bit of trivia into perspective, there were simultaneous tropical storm warnings for both New York City and Bermuda — a distance of about 770 miles! Her enormous windfield also resulted in a record amount of surge water being moved. The impacts of such enormous hurricanes and their accompanying surge on marine ecosystems are not well studied or understood but it may be related to the unprecedented invasion of Razorbills in Florida.

One theory is that Razorbills, which had a very good nesting season this year, irrupted in large numbers due to the fact that there was a collapse in food availability in their normal wintering range with a simultaneous bumper crop of first winter birds, causing most of the first year birds to migrate south in search of better feeding opportunities. Although birds have been seen around the entire coast of the state, there are no reports west of Pensacola yet and may never happen due to the turbidity caused by the Mississippi River. Perhaps more due to being underbirded, there have been no reports of Razorbills from Cuba or the Bahamas (both would be first national records). This irruption will likely be discussed and studied for years to come. For the time being, Florida birders are being treated to a (hopefully) once in a life time event.

Hurricane Sandy and unusual birds


This video says about itself:

A visit to the tropical island of Saba to study the rare and beautiful Red-Billed Tropicbird.

From Reuters:

Besides destruction, Sandy brought lots of unusual birds

By Sinead Carew

NEW YORK | Fri Nov 2, 2012 8:25pm EDT

While superstorm Sandy sent most people running for shelter wherever they could find it, bird enthusiasts rushed outdoors as soon as possible to scan the skies for birds that usually don’t visit these parts.

A powerful storm can take birds far from home or thousands of miles off their migratory course if they are swept up in the center of a storm and carried along until they reach the first spot where it is safe to land.

To greet them, there are often groups of intrepid bird watchers, or birders, eager to spot an extremely rare out-of-town visitor like the Leach’s Storm-Petrel.

Birders were quick to say on Friday that they were very upset by the devastation caused by Sandy, which killed scores of people, ruined homes and left many without power. But they also view dangerous storms as an opportunity.

Because the storm that ravaged the U.S. Northeast this week combined a hurricane from the south and winter winds from the north, it brought in a more peculiar group of birds than usual when it made landfall in New Jersey on Monday night.

“This was a storm that mixed species groups you don’t ever usually see together,” said Andrew Farnsworth, a New York-based researcher for Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology.

One birder discovered a Red-billed Tropicbird in New Jersey – more typically seen in the Caribbean – and brought it to a wild-life rehabilitator, according to Farnsworth, who studies reports on the online forum ebird.org.

Near Ithaca in Upstate New York, one ebird.org visitor reported seeing an arctic bird, the Ross’s Gull, while another reported a sighting of the same bird near Lake Ontario, Canada.

“The same storm that brought this arctic bird also brought this Caribbean bird,” said Farnsworth, 39.

On Tuesday, as soon as they decided it was safe to go outside, several Manhattan birders headed to the banks of the Hudson River. They were delighted to catch sight of Jaegers, which are typically only found out at sea.

“It’s just exciting to be on the Hudson and see these birds that you’d normally only see out on a fishing boat,” said Dale Dancis, a retired teacher who declined to disclose her age.

Starr Saphir, 73, who leads bird tours in Central Park and appeared in a HBO birding documentary, “The Central Park Effect,” said she saw Forster’s Tern on Tuesday. “They had already migrated south so they got blown back,” she said.

Peter Post, 73, a retired social services worker who has been a birder for 62 years, said he spotted an American Oyster Catcher on the Hudson, far from its coastal habitat.

Post was disappointed he missed the Leach’s Storm-Petrel Farnsworth spotted on Tuesday. “It would’ve been nice,” he said.

Joseph DiCostanzo, 60, an ornithologist who works at the American Museum of Natural History, was lucky enough to see a Red Phalarope, usually an ocean bird, near the river through the window of his Manhattan home before he was able to go outside.

“My wife and I did try to go out. The problem was that they were closing all the parks,” DiCostanzo said.

(Reporting By Sinead Carew; editing by Todd Eastham)

While Hurricane Sandy has ravaged cities and communities across the east coast of the United States, its effect has been equally devastating on wild birds: here.

Hurricane Sandy and the Storm’s Effects on Bird Migration: here.

Where do the birds go for protection during severe weather such as blizzards, hurricanes, and tornadoes? Here.

After Sandy, Staten Island Helps Its Own, but More Relief Still Needed: here.

VIDEO: In Staten Island, hordes of volunteers armed with shovels came out to help those who lost their homes: here.

How Natural Disasters Help Birds: here.