THE BIRDLINE, by ARMAS HILL
Petrel, a Whimbrel, 60 Hudsonian Godwits, Texas Heat
Armas Hill has presented the "Birdline", originally from
Philadelphia, on the phone and internet for over 3 decades, and on the radio
in Delaware for about 10 years.
List & Photo Gallery of North American Birds, in 6 Parts
Birdline for September 16, 2011:
The WHITE-CHINNED PETREL is
normally a seabird of the Southern Hemisphere, occurring in both the
Atlantic and the Pacific.
On September 9, 2011, one was seen, and photographed, offshore from
southern California, near the Channel Islands, 14 miles south of
Point Conception, as a multiple-day Labor Day week pelagic trip was on its
way back to shore. It was the 4th North American record.
Back in April 1986, a WHITE-CHINNED PETREL, in poor condition, was found
near Galveston, Texas. It was correctly identified, but there was some question as to how
the bird got there. 2 decades later, the record was accepted at last in
A couple years after that, in 2009, on October 18, there was the second
North American record, that time in the Pacific, offshore from San Mateo,
Subsequently, in the Atlantic, on 2 dates, a week apart, off North
Carolina, such a bird was reported, but images could not
definitively show the species, just the genus, PROCELLARIA.
In August 2010, a WHITE-CHINNED PETREL was seen and photographed
during a whale-watching trip offshore from Bar Harbor, Maine.
So, history had it that during that short time-span of just a
few years, there were records of that seabird of the Southern
Hemisphere, in North America from the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic,
and the Pacific.
And, now, in 2011, the Pacific again.
The WHIMBREL migrates, this time of year, from Canada where
it nests in North America, to South America where it lives during the
winter in the Northern Hemisphere.
Some WHIMBRELS, this year, are being tracked, as they do their long
migration, with satellite transmitters that they carry as backpacks.
According to the William & Mary Center for Conservation Biology (CCB),
one such WHIMBREL, with such a transmitter, left the upper Hudson Bay (in
Canada) on Saturday, August 20.
That bird flew out over the open ocean and encountered the outer bands of
Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene on Tuesday, August 23. The bird flew
through the dangerous northeast quadrant of the storm during the day on
Wednesday, August 24. It made it through the storm, and continued its
journey over the open ocean to the islands in the Caribbean.
Last week, that WHIMBREL was shot on the West Indian island of
Guadeloupe, where it had landed to feed in a mangrove marsh.
There are still other WHIMBRELS, with such transmitting devices, that
continue to live, but that one publicized bird, that flew
through the big storm, did not.
That same bird, by the way, flew around a storm last year (Tropical
Storm Colin in 2010), when a second bird flew into that storm and did
To give an idea what flying through a hurricane or tropical storm is like
for a SHOREBIRD:
Early in August, this year, another WHIMBREL survived passage through Tropical
Storm Gert, where the storm was strong. It was a rare tropical storm off
Nova Scotia, Canada.
The bird encountered headwinds for 27 hours, averaging, during that time,
a flying speed of only 9 miles per hour.
Once through the storm, her flight speed increased to over 90 miles per
hour, and she was pushed by significant tail winds, making it back to
shore at Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
Since then, that bird has rested and fed further south along the
Atlantic Coast, in the lower Delmarva Peninsula.
This past week, on the Delmarva Peninsula, on September 10, as many as 60
HUDSONIAN GODWITS and other shorebirds were observed on a flooded field
near Dover, Delaware. That's a lot of HUDSONIAN GODWITS at one place in
eastern North America, especially south of Cape Cod. It is from there that
many fly out over the open ocean on their way south.
CHIMNEY SWIFTS have been flying south, with some seen going to
roosts in impressive numbers in the evening, in, yes, large chimneys. At
one such place, this past week, there were maybe 10,000 CHIMNEY
SWIFTS going to roost at such a site at a high school in
Last time, here on the Birdline, it was said that the recent
trend of the COMMON NIGHTHAWK population in the Northeast US has been negative,
and dramatically so.
That is true, even though there were a number of reports of nighthawks
in migration in the evening on that day when the Birdline was
issued (Sep 9), and just a few days afterward.
On September 9, a couple hundred were above a restaurant in Baltimore, Maryland, and others were noted elsewhere in Maryland, over Kinder
Ford Park, the Jones Falls Valley, Elkton, and over Phoenix (the one in
Also on September 9, in Pennsylvania: over Hershey, State College, and
The next day, numbers of NIGHTHAWKS were observed over Dunellon,
New Jersey, and on September 13, over Devon, west of Philadelphia,
From Texas, we have received this news, following fires, some big and some
small, in central Texas, some of which are not yet fully contained:
More than 95 per cent of Texas is in the most severe drought, and all the
vegetation is as dry as desert sand.
At our place (near Austin), we have measured only about 8 inches (20
centimeters) of rain in the past 11 months.
All our plants are suffering, and some of the trees are dying.
Central Texas in particular is in the worst drought condition in recorded
The effects on wildlife, including birds, are becoming apparent.
Extreme drought means that plants don't grow as they normally would, and
many have either produced greatly reduced seed or none at all this year.
So seed-eating birds are much more in view at (and much more in need of)
With soil so dry, insects and anthropods that would normally be
thriving, are not there, so the insectivores are suffering.
Without prey food sources, predators suffer.
More wild animals (raccoons, opossums, skunks, even foxes) are coming
in close to suburban areas. We have a pair of foxes that are visiting
our yard for the peanuts we put out for jays and squirrels.
From another person we know well near Austin, Texas, this:
It has been just awful here. All of the animals are thirsty. There are
only a few grasshoppers and bugs. The bats (for which the Austin area
is famous) have to start out two hours earlier to go further to find food.
There are fewer butterflies, and the bird migration is "off",
with some birds showing up in "strange places"".
Southbound shorebirds are hard up to find water.
Breeding birds had few second nests, and sometimes the first ones did
The Caracaras seem to be doing OK, but Roadrunners are hungry.
I was driving where a Wild Turkey was by a big highway trying to get
grasshoppers that had been hit by cars.
That's just some of the news from dry, hot Texas. The long-term weather
forecast there apparently is not good, but let's hope that some rain
The Birdline is an affiliate of Focus On Nature Tours.
The White-chinned Petrel (a species referred to above) should be one of
the common pelagic species during our offshore boat-trip from Valparaiso
that's part of the upcoming FONT birding and nature tour in Chile,
November 11-20, 2011.
In addition to the White-chinned Petrel, pelagic species that have been
seen during our Valparaiso trips, over the years, have included:
Northern Royal Albatross, Southern Royal Albatross, Black-browed
Albatross, Buller's Albatross, Salvin's Albatross, Shy Albatross,
Gray-headed Albatross, Southern Giant Petrel, Northern Giant Petrel,
Southern Fulmar, Cape Petrel, Juan Fernandez Petrel, De Filippi's Petrel,
Westland Petrel, Pink-footed Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater, Peruvian
Diving-Petrel, Humboldt Penguin, in addition to cormorants, boobies, skuas,
jaegers, and gulls and terns of various sorts.
Info about FONT tours, in Chile and elsewhere, is elsewhere in the website: www.focusonnature.com
In a FONT E-News Bulletin, a few days, there will be info about upcoming
tours in Amazonian Brazil (by the Rio Roosevelt), the West Coast
USA (Washington State & California), Guatemala, and
Yes, we'll be going back to Japan again in February 2012, to Hokkaido, to
see, among other birds, Red-crowned Cranes, Steller's Sea Eagles, and
Blakiston's Fish Owl, one of the largest & rarest owls in the world.
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