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My Life’s Birds: #396

June 2, 2010
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September 2, 2006 – Jordan Lake, NC – It’s funny that I’ve been writing so much on pelagic birding lately, only to have this particularly cool birding experience come up so soon.  I mentioned just last week that while some birds are exceedingly common on a global scale, there’s a logistical difficulty in getting out where you can find them.  The only habitat for which this is obviously true is the vast ocean where a full 75% of the earth surface is practically inaccessible at any given time save the odd boat ride which even on a good day is a mere superficial survey of the vastness of the entire ocean.  Even so, your best bet for exploring the pelagic environment is getting out there, it’s very rare that the pelagic comes to you.

Pelagic birds occasionally get driven inland following hurricanes, which is something that has happened on a few occasions even in the Piedmont of North Carolina, which is at least 200 miles from any oceanfront.  Birders in the area still talk about Hurricane Fran in 1994, one of the most destructive storms to ever hit the east coast that not only did millions of dollars worth of damage in the area but scattered Shearwaters and Petrels across several locals lakes to the delight of birders not dealing with the fallout to their personal property, the hurricane giveth and the hurricane taketh away.  So the potential was always there during every hurricane season for something exciting.

When Tropical Storm Ernesto made landfall near Wilmington in 2006, no one really expected much from it.  Fran was a monster of a storm, coming ashore as a Category 3.  By comparison, Ernesto was hardly anything worth writing home about, with only a moderate storm surge and relatively light property damage in eastern Carolina.   No one was hurt as it cruised into the triangle and dropped an afternoon of torrential rain on us with little in the way of damaging wind.  But hurricanes are hurricanes, and I still had a free morning and a thought to head down to Jordan Lake on the off chance a Royal Tern or a Laughing Gull got sent our way.  Imagine my surprise, then, when a quick scan of the glass smooth lake turned up a Storm-Petrel, then two, than three.  I had hardly the pelagic birder I am today, but I didn’t have much trouble calling them Wilson’s Storm-Petrels.  Here.  200 miles from shore.

This was essentially the first big find of my second birding career, and because most of my birding was done in tandem with my dad back then, it was kind of the very first self-found rarity I could lay claim to all by myself (it even got me mentioned in passing in North American Birds (.pdf)).  So I rushed home, spread the word on the listserve and, sadly took off on a first anniversary trip to Asheville with my wife (see Danielle, I still made time for you), closely monitoring the fallout the whole weekend.  Thankfully, folks get there by that very afternoon and refound the Storm-Petrels, even adding to my original count of three.  It was eventually established that up to 11 Wilson’s Storm-Petrels were pushed up to Jordan Lake, and they stuck around for at least two days, long enough for many people to see them and even get some pretty good photos.

As someone subsequently said in the state listserve, “Storm-Petrels in a scope without getting seasick.  A nice morning indeed”.  I couldn’t agree more.

WISTPE by Anita363 via flickr (CC BY-NC-2.0)

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