Birds Popping Up In Strange
Places In This Year's
Audobon Count
By Trudy Tynan
Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) - People may be staying closer to home this holiday season, but the National Audubon Society's annual Christmas Bird Count shows birds are doing some real traveling.
Birds are being spotted in places hundreds and even thousands of miles from their traditional habitats. Scientists really don't know why.
''It's shaping up to be very interesting,'' said Geoff LeBaron, the national coordinator for the annual Christmas-time tally.
West Coast birds are flying over the East Coast. Arctic birds are being spotted in Texas. The prize for the most out-of-place bird even though it showed up before the local Christmas count goes to a long-billed murrelet, which was seen this week paddling around Cayuga Lake near Ithaca, N.Y., instead of the Sea of Okhotsk off northern Japan.
Normally, the little black and white seabird gets no closer to the U.S. than the Kamchatka Peninsula. It has been reported less than 40 times in North American waters, most often off the Pacific coast.
The Christmas Bird Count, now in its 102nd year, tracks changes in the continent's bird populations over the years by using local birders who look for birds in 15-mile diameter circles between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5.
So far this year, more than 50,000 participants have logged more than 1.8 million birds from the Caribbean Islands to Nome, Alaska, in a count that may be remembered more for its oddities than any trend it reveals.
A flurry of western hummingbirds and flycatchers have appeared on the East Coast. The Macon, Ga., count recorded Georgia's first broad-billed hummingbird, a tiny Mexican flyer that usually edges no further into the U.S. than the southern tip of Arizona.
Minnesota counters spotted a Eurasian brambling. A western tanager turned up in Maryland. An Arctic tern was taking the sun in Galveston, Texas. Chicago came up with a Townsend's solitaire from the high-mountain West. British Columbia birders were crowing about a blue jay found 3,000 miles west of its usual haunts in the eastern woodlands.
Some ornithologists suspect this winter's freaky weather and changes in the jet stream have contributed to the wandering, ''but we don't really know (the cause),'' said Wayne Peterson, a field ornithologist with the Massachusetts Audubon Society.
The weather was apparently a factor when calliope hummingbirds, usually found in the Pacific Northwest, that were attracted to late-blooming flowers in Fort Tryon Park in upper Manhattan.
At the same time, a shortage of seed and other food in the far north, perhaps caused by this year's drought, has sent a flood of Arctic species from tiny boreal chickadees to snowy owls south into New England, LeBaron said.
LeBaron led a count in Rhode Island and Massachusetts last weekend that spotted a varied thrush, a Pacific Coast cousin of the robin, and barnacle goose that may be visiting from the high arctic in Greenland.
Another barnacle goose is hanging around the campus pond and dairy barns at the University of Connecticut and others have been spotted on Long Island and in Gloucester on the Massachusetts coast.
Weather aside, LeBaron suspects the growing popularity of birding, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists as the fastest growing outdoor activity, is playing a part in the spurt in reports of rarities. Some birds, he said, just may not have been noticed before.
''More and more people are out looking,'' he said. ''And as they grow in their appreciation of birds and all nature they aren't only able to notice a different looking bird, they are able to identify it.''
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