i don't see any evidence of birds being "blown off course". Starving, yes,
and this seems likely due to shortage or lack of food, perhaps related to
changing climate. But wrecks of great shearwaters of roughly similar
magnitude have been occurring episodically for years, perhaps moreso in
Massachusetts than on long island
On Sat, Jul 15, 2017 at 12:12 PM, Ardith Bondi <ard...@earthlink.net> wrote:
> A Mystery of Seabirds, Blown Off Course and Starving
> LIDO BEACH, N.Y. — Joe Okoniewski has seen this before, just not on this
> scale. Each year Mr.
> Okoniewski, a wildlife pathologist with the New York State Department of
> Conservation, performs
> necropsies on small numbers of seabird specimens that wash up dead along
> the coastal parts of the state.
> The birds are usually lone adults or juveniles that strayed too close to
> This summer Mr. Okoniewski has already examined more than 20 dead birds,
> while twice that many are
> awaiting necropsies. All are the same species of agile seabird called
> great shearwaters, and all washed up
> emaciated on Long Island beaches last month in a mass mortality event that
> scientists say is extraordinary
> for the region.
> Now Mr. Okoniewski and others are hoping the unusually large number of
> carcasses can provide clues
> into the mysterious lives of these birds, which are considered good
> indicators of the health of the world’s
> “The birds are extremely thin and anemic,” Mr. Okoniewski said. “The big
> mystery is: Why are they thin?
> On the surface it looks like you know what happened: They starved. But
> when you ask why, it becomes
> much more of a mystery.”
> Continue reading the main story
> The vast expanses of the ocean remain some of the most vital and
> hard-to-study environments on the
> planet. As scientists work to comprehend the scope of climate change, they
> often look to seabirds to tell
> stories from the world’s most inaccessible waters. Pelagic birds, which
> refers to seabirds that spend the
> majority of their lives at sea and rarely venture to the shore, traverse
> various regions and climates, are
> affected by extreme weather patterns and feed on prey exposed to carbon
> emissions — all while staying
> relatively observable above the water’s surface.
> One of the seabirds found in Atlantic City, N.J. Hundreds of carcasses
> were found over the course of two weeks, from Montauk, N.Y., to as far south
> as Cape May, N.J. Credit Scott McConnell
> Greater shearwaters, which are long-winged birds the size of small sea
> gulls, nest on some of the world’s
> most remote islands in the south Atlantic, more than 1,500 miles from
> land, before migrating to the
> waters off New England and Newfoundland.
> “These birds really illustrate the connectivity of ecosystems around the
> world,” said Shai Mitra, a biologist
> at the College of Staten Island.
> Their sometimes-perilous journey takes them past Long Island each June,
> but only after they have fueled
> up at feeding grounds in the Caribbean. Living off fat reserves, they
> glide up the Gulf Stream, rarely
> venturing in sight of land.
> “They are sort of an enigma for us to understand them because they are so
> rarely seen,” said Paul Sweet,
> an ornithologist at the American Museum of Natural History who is
> preparing specimens of the birds and
> freezing them so that they are available for study in the future.
> Which is why it caused a stir within scientific circles in late June when
> an offshore weather system pushed
> an entire flock not just within sight of land, but also over the shores of
> Nickerson Beach in Nassau County.
> Birders flocked to Nickerson to get glimpses of hundreds of shearwaters
> unsuccessfully fighting wind and
> fog, like flapping flotsam.
> “Many of the birds were over land. Many were flying right on the
> shoreline,” said Isaac Grant, a birder
> from Staten Island. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Eventually, I
> stopped looking and started rescuing
> Hundreds of carcasses were found over the course of two weeks, from
> Montauk west to Brooklyn and as
> far south as Cape May, N.J.
> Steve Walter, a photographer from Brooklyn, arrived at Nickerson Beach to
> find straggling shearwaters
> battling the surf. He picked one up to protect it from the waves,
> “babysitting” it before rehabilitators
> “I never imagined myself holding a shearwater in my hands,” Mr. Walter
> Nearly all of the dozens of birds recovered by rescuers eventually died,
> and the bodies were sent to the
> state Department of Conservation, the Museum of Natural History or Cornell
> University’s Lab of
> Most of the victims were young birds, Mr. Okoniewski said. Though bits of
> plastic were found in some of
> their stomachs, starvation, not plastic ingestion, remains the overarching
> cause of death, he concluded.
> In years past, shearwaters have been found beached in large numbers in
> other parts of the United States.
> The winds that forced the birds over land in and around New York City last
> month were relatively benign,
> further deepening the mystery.
> Why couldn’t the birds fight them? What threw them off course in the first
> place? How long had it been
> since they had eaten?
> “For a phenomenon of this magnitude, you have to make quite a large
> front,” Mr. Sweet said. “Why they
> were in that area of sea that had no food? I don’t know if we will ever
> know that.”
> The beachings could say more about the health of the birds’ feeding
> grounds in the Caribbean than about
> the quality of the waters closer to New York, said Michael Schrimpf, a
> doctoral candidate at Stony Brook
> University who is specializing in seabird ecology.
> “When we have these large numbers washing ashore at one time, how much
> different from normal is
> that?” Mr. Schrimpf asked. “That’s hard to know if we don’t have a
> baseline of what normal is.”
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