Curiosities in Maine

23 06 2014
Ralph Eldridge, lighthouse keeper at Machias Seal Island, took this photo of the rarity.

Ralph Eldridge, lighthouse keeper at Machias Seal Island, took this photo of the rarity.

This is not unusual since Maine is full of curiosities generally, but this time, both are bird related. The first is the story of a Tufted Puffin turning up on Machias Seal Island last week. “Yes, yes,” say the uninitiated, “a puffin in Maine. This is <yawn> big news.” But those puffins we have up on the rocks off the coast are Atlantic Puffins. This Tufted variety is a Pacific bird, and the last time one was spotted anywhere on the Atlantic side of North America was in the 1830s. There was a sighting in Sweden in the late 1990s, and another in Britain in 2009. Given the long lifespans of these birds, there has been speculation that that was the same individual.

The bird seen in Maine this month has been hanging around with its Atlantic cousins. How it got here is a mystery, but we do know that to make the journey from the Pacific over to Maine would require that the bird remain near open water to feed. It could not have traveled across the continental land mass. That leaves the possibilities that it flew along the coast of South America, rounded Cape Horn and then came all the way up to Maine, or that it potentially crossed via  a Northwest Passage through the Arctic. If this is the case, scientists speculate that we may see more Pacific interlopers as those paths remain ice free more of the year due to unremitting climate change. The cascade of consequences from our activities continues to surprise.

The second curiosity is a dead bird found by Doug Hitchcox on Ogunquit Beach earlier this month. Here’s the message he posted to the Maine birds list regarding the find:


“Hey everyone:

After summarizing our spring rarities in my last email, I thought the best
birds were past us, I was wrong. (By the way, I did forget that Kristen
Lindquist had a White-eyed Vireo on Monhegan Island, Lincoln Co. on 17 May.)
While surveying for plovers along Ogunquit Beach on Tuesday (6/10), I found
a dead pterodroma petrel that I believe is a Herald (Trindade) Petrel.

I know I’ll never hear the end of it, but I do not have the specimen. After
finding this bird, I took a few photos and saved the lat/long of where the
bird was (43.255417, -70.59175) so I could finish my survey. Later in the
day, Robby Lambert and I returned to recover the bird but could not find it.
I can’t thank Robby enough for the help as we looked all over the beach with
flashlights, finally giving up a little before midnight. I, and others, have
been back in the days since, searching to no avail. The lesson here: if you
find a dead rare bird on the beach, just carry it around with you for the
rest of the day.

I look forward to hearing from some pros, or someone with more pterodroma
experience than I, but here are a few of my thoughts on the identification,
starting with a photo:”

Photo by D. Hitchcox

Photo by D. Hitchcox

What do you think, Seanetters? I know it’s not something we’re accustomed to seeing, but we do have a unique skill set for identifying dead birds, no?




6 responses

23 06 2014
Edward Soldaat

Certainly a Pterodroma. Considering the location one of the Atlantic species. The location is very much to the North for this group, but in recent years dark phase Trinidade Petrel P. arminjoiniana have been sighted along the US coast up to the Carolinas. So my guess would be Trinidade Petrel. Other Pterodromas that may wash ashore in Atlantic USA are all black and white. Too bad that this specimen got lost.

25 06 2014

It is a shame he didn’t snag it!

25 06 2014
Wouter van Gestel

I agree with Herald Petrel. Great find, and indeed most unfortunate that it was not collected.


25 06 2014

I know. What a bummer!

25 07 2014
Edward Soldaat

Would like to comment on the conclusion that this is a Herald Petrel. Herald is very similar in appearance, but has a Pacific distribution. Herald and Trinidade were often considered two forms of the same species but presently both taxons are separated by most authors: the Pacific Herald Petrel P. heraldica and the Atlantic Trinidade P. arminjoiniana. There is some debate on the separation of Herald and Henderson Petrel P. atrata in the Pacific, both dark and very similar to dark phase Trinidade. But given the fact that this bird is an Atlantic find I think it is not Herald, but Trinidade.

29 07 2014

Thank you Edward–very helpful to have this clarification. I know next to nothing about these birds, they not being at all common on the beaches around here, and I certainly have not followed the taxonomy. Much obliged!

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