Irene’s Second Guest at VINS

In addition to the northern gannet mentioned in an earlier blog, VINS received a Wilson’s storm petrel the day after Tropical Storm Irene blew through Vermont. The Wilson’s storm petrel was dead on arrival, but is the only one of its species ever recorded in Vermont. Like the gannet, petrels are pelagic and this particular bird was probably blown inland by the storm and died due to a collision of some sort.

Like many pelagic birds, such as albatrosses, storm petrels have tube-shaped noses to excrete excess salt. In the wild, Wilson’s storm petrels tap-dance on the surface of the ocean to dabble for algae. They are named “petrels” because of this attribute, after Jesus’ disciple St. Peter who walked on water.

Although Tropical Storm Irene caused untold destruction for much of Vermont, it gave VINS the chance to study two seldom-seen species of birds. Although neither the gannet nor the petrel survived to return to the sea, we got the chance to contribute to Vermont birding records.

Unfortunately, hurricanes are not the only thing to disrupt the lives of pelagic birds. As we saw, northern gannets are susceptible to protozoa in human waste, and many other species are vulnerable to oil spills, fishing with drift nets, motor boats, trash gyres full of non-biodegradable plastics, and bioaccumulation of pesticides. Seeing these two pelagic species reminded us of our need to protect our natural resources, especially the ocean!

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