Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Razorbills

The title says it all. This post will be full of shots of Razorbills. It might just be long-ish. Why? Here's the story...

2012 will go down as the biggest 'invasion' of Razorbills into southern waters ever recorded. Sightings of the birds were being reported as far south as Georgis at the beginning of December, according to eBird. In the next couple of weeks all eyes turned to the beaches and just offshore and Razorbills were being found up and down the Florida Atlantic coast, along the Keys, and eventually even into the Gulf of Mexico. Previously, records indicate they typically don't Winter past the mid-Atlantic waters off Virginia and occasionally down to the Carolinas.

I knew I was to be on the Gulf Coast a couple times so I was hoping I might get to see a Razorbill for myself. We found none during our Pinellas Christmas Bird Count. We did find a Black Scoter, though, which is another rare visitor. By Christmas, reports were still coming out of Anna Maria Island so the next day I was out of bed and on the road to be on the City Pier at sunrise.

Sunrise

I turned to the West and scanned the water from the City Pier to the Rod and Reel Pier. Within moments I could see black and white birds which could only be one thing. I headed down to the beach between the piers to get a closer look. I got some distant shots and figured that might be the closest I would see them.

Razorbill

How was I to know that these birds would occasionally come close to shore while feeding? How close? Many times during my stay I had Razorbills driving small fish towards the beach and popping up out of the water about 10 feet away!

Razorbill

All I had to do was wait for the birds to swim close, follow the leaping bait fish, and try to focus in the correct place.

Razorbill

The only other drawback I had was waiting for the clouds to move out and not move back in too quickly, as forecast. In the meantime, I took every close shot I could get. I might never have this opportunity again.

Razorbill

If the birds did move out farther from shore they would often travel in small flocks, bobbing and diving as they swam.

Razorbill

During the next couple of hours, the birds just headed in both directions. I counted over 3 dozen birds out here today.

Razorbill

I was following the feeding of one particular bird at one point. This guy would get very close to the beach and seem to push off of the bottom to catch fish which amused me. The best shot I could get of the action was this shot but at least it shows one of the small fish it was after.

Razorbill

Soon they would leave for a brief time and then swim back close a little farther down the beach.

Razorbill

Most of the birds I was finding were juveniles. I did manage to get a shot of an adult, told by the white line on the bill, by going back on the City Pier.

Razorbill

Another interesting behavior was while the birds are in between dives they sometimes would take a peek below the surface.

Razorbill

Most of the time, they would simply motor along in groups or alone

Razorbill

Later research found that these birds have bright yellow linings of their mouth. I only got one shot where you can see some of the yellow.

Razorbill

Razorbills are a type of auk belonging to the group of birds known as Alcidae. This group includes, Guillemot, Puffin, Murre, and Auklets. They are mainly found in the Northern Atlantic where they breed on rocky cliffs.

Razorbill

To have them here in the waters of Florida is remarkable, especially in these kinds of numbers. Very few sightings have ever been recorded in the past.

Razorbill

That group of Razorbills above made their way toward the other pier. As they did, a family came out of their house along the shore and waded out to do a little swimming. I was quite surprised that the birds really didn't seem to care and swam really close to them.

Razorbill

These sea birds have been recorded at depths of 40 meters. There are plenty of deep waters around these area so I am even more surprised to see them chasing fish into a foot of water at the shoreline. Not that I am complaining.

Razorbill

When the birds would dive closely in more clear water, you can follow them as they fly under water. I like this shot that looks like a bat.

Razorbill

Around 10:30, three hours after I arrived, the birds began to head out a bit farther towards the channel of Tampa Bay. One by one they took off and headed away from the beach.

Razorbill

A truly amazing experience. I was surprised I only met one other birder out here. Seems most other die-hards found their Razorbills earlier in the month. Glad they were still around a while longer.

Razorbill

That being said, I also hope they can make it all the way back home. They are very far from 'home' and the reason why remains unclear. Recent storms could have interruped food supplies but eBird reports still show a large number of birds in the affected areas. Climate change? Perhaps. Some suggest that there was a very successful breeding year and these birds had to leave home just to get food. We may never know but I had to make sure I was a small part of it.

2 comments:

Brandon Caswell said...

Incredible photos!!!!!!!!!!!!

J. Andrew Boyle said...

Thanks, Brandon.