As Hurricane Sandy blew through New York and New Jersey it picked up many sea birds and blew them inland. Some rode the storm’s high winds, others were trapped in the eye of the hurricane and flew all night inside its calm center, waiting for daylight so they could see where to land.
By midday Tuesday, October 30 there were near blizzard conditions and 45 mph winds over Pennsylvania’s southern mountains as the eye of the storm hovered over Bedford County before turning north. At this point many water birds dumped out of the storm onto Shawnee Lake where Mike Lanzone reported at least 10 unusual species including a black-legged kittiwake, American oystercatchers, a leach’s storm-petrel, and pomarine and parasitic jaegers.
Many storm birds flew home immediately but five days later these two juvenile black skimmers showed up in Pittsburgh. As soon as Mark Vass reported them on the Ohio River at McKees Rocks, Pittsburgh area birders flocked to see them including Jeff McDonald who took these pictures.
Black skimmers (Rynchops niger) are quite common on the shores of Long Island and New Jersey at this time of year where they eat small fish from the ocean’s surface. They capture them by skimming the water with their long lower mandibles. You can see this odd beak as a bird casts a pellet below.
And here you can see one skimming.
But there might not be enough food for skimmers in the Ohio River in November. In North America skimmers are strictly coastal birds because the sea serves up small fish every day, but in Pittsburgh the river fish drop into deep water in winter, unreachable by skimmers.
Now, a week later, there is only one black skimmer at the marina.
(photos by Jeff McDonald)