“Storm-tossed” rare birds in SF bay area – 12/28/2005

  • November 23, 2013 at 12:13 am #1104

    Rare birds mystify scientists
    By Lisa M. Krieger
    Mercury News
    Pacific storms have blown thousands of rare sea birds into the Bay
    Area, many of them weak, emaciated and seeking refuge in rain
    puddles of suburban yards and parking lots.

    The small birds, called red phalaropes, ordinarily live many miles
    off the Pacific coast and are rarely seen on land.

    Since the afternoon of Christmas Day, they’ve been sighted in Los
    Gatos, Palo Alto, San Francisco, even Campbell’s percolation ponds
    at Budd Road and San Tomas Expressway. Most abundant on the coast, a
    flock of 1,200 was reported near Half Moon Bay.

    “This is really unusual,” said Alvaro Jaramillo, a biologist with
    the San Francisco Bird Observatory in Alviso. There are more here
    than anybody can remember, and we don’t know why.”

    Robbie Fischer of Pacifica saw one fly down her suburban street as
    she stepped out onto her front porch to get laundry.

    “It was at eye level, eight feet off the ground, more than a mile
    inland from the ocean,” said Fischer, who is a member of the
    Western Field Ornithologists. “We’re used to seeing sparrows and
    chickadees, yard birds like that.”

    Normally they are wary of humans. And they only come on land in the
    Arctic, where they briefly breed and raise their young.
    Last week, many red phalaropes in a weakened condition made landfall
    in coastal Oregon.

    On Christmas Day, news of the first sightings along the Sonoma
    County coast — from Jenner to Point Arena — was spread by bird
    enthusiasts who regularly alert each other when they sight rare
    birds. Word quickly spread about the red phalaropes by computer and
    cell phone.

    By Monday, they had arrived in the Bay Area. In Palo Alto, Ron Wolf
    saw three paddling down a flood channel by the town recycling center
    near Bixby Park. Others have been sighted in Lexington Reservoir.
    They’ve been seen in ponds near San Jose’s Almaden Expressway and by
    a restroom at Mountain View’s Shoreline Park.

    There were at least 18 near the concrete bridge at San Francisco’s
    urban Lake Merced; four were seen in the Presidio.
    Many are weary, allowing people to approach closely. Some have been
    killed by cats and gulls. Along Highway 1, hundreds were reportedly
    struck by cars.

    One was rescued from traffic in a busy parking lot on San Pablo
    Avenue in the East Bay town of Albany.
    Seven weak birds are resting in incubators at the Peninsula Humane
    Society in San Mateo. The International Bird Rescue and Recovery
    Center in Cordelia got three, all of which quickly died.

    “They were emaciated, with anemia and low protein levels,”
    suggesting long-term starvation, said Marie Travers of the Peninsula
    Humane Society.

    Their arrival is mystifying local biologists and animal lovers.
    Weather may be to blame. The birds float and eat by skimming sea
    life from the surface of the water. Smaller than a robin, they are
    easily tossed and turned by turbulent ocean waves and can’t eat
    under those conditions.

    “There are storms across the entire Pacific, from China to the west
    coast of California. It’s a steady stream of storms, with no break
    in between them,” said Steve Anderson, a forecaster with the
    National Weather Service in Monterey.

    Off the coast, waves are 15 to 25 feet high, with winds racing from
    30 to 50 mph. Rain is heavy, said Anderson.

    It is also possible that the ocean has been less productive this
    year, so food has been scarce, Jaramillo said.

    If birds are healthy, people and their pets should keep a safe
    distance so they are not frightened, advise bird experts. Weak or
    injured birds can be taken to the Peninsula Humane Society in San
    Mateo for emergency care.

    This week’s weather forecast — seven days of intermittent storms —
    does not bode well for weak birds and it could be a while before
    they can head back to the ocean.

    But the Bay Area’s rich estuaries could offer badly needed food and

    “We don’t know why they’re here. They may have gotten off course,
    or pushed in, due to the storms,” Jaramillo said.

    “Or maybe they came here because they had no other choice,” he
    said. “We don’t understand.’

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