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Exotic birds get free tour of Philly

Tropical storms and hurricanes can sweep up more than debris during their journeys. Often times they take with them our avian friends and leave them displaced in a new world, just like Sandy introduced some to Philadelphia.

Foreign birds were brought -- against their will -- to Philadelphia with Superstorm Sandy. (Steve Young/VIREO-ANSP)
Foreign birds were brought -- against their will -- to Philadelphia with Superstorm Sandy. (Steve Young/VIREO-ANSP)Read more

By Justin D'Ancona

Not all flights into Philadelphia were cancelled last week during the treacherous weather conditions Hurricane Sandy bestowed upon us.

Several species of open-ocean and coastal birds, including some from the Caribbean, were seen traveling - or trapped - in the storm's wind gusts that exceeded 65 mph, by avid bird watchers Tom Johnson, Cameron Rutt and Doug Gochfeld.

While it's rare for these birds to turn up in Philadelphia, it's quite common for this phenomenon to take place.

"Tropical storms and hurricanes are known for scooping up these pelagic, or open-ocean birds, and displacing them in unfamiliar settings," says Doug Wechsler, director of Visual Resources for Ornithology at the Academy of Natural Sciences Of Drexel University.

Birds can actually safely ride out the storm by traveling within its eye.

Last Tuesday morning, the trio of hardcore birders started their adventure on an old pier in Pennypack Park along a narrow section of the Delaware River, a spot that would make it easier to spot and identify any birds flying up or down the waterway.

They had been closely monitoring the movements of Hurricane Sandy to pinpoint her exact track, choosing this location inland because it would be less prone to flooding and safer than areas along the coastline.

So, what did they see?

One extremely rare bird spotted inland was the Leach's Storm Petrel, which Wechsler describes as a seabird a little bigger than a sparrow, which lives on the open ocean only coming to land in the summer to breed.

The aggressive Parasitic Jaeger, a larger bird known to chase gulls, forcing them to drop fish they had just caught was also observed.

Overall, the group saw and logged 70 total species of birds from three different locations during Hurricane Sandy. View the full list of birds seen by Johnson, Rutt and Gochfeld here and here. And check out our gallery of some of the marine species that showed up on the Delaware River with Sandy.

What about you? Post your list or photos of birds you saw after the storm that would not typically be in our area on our Facebook page or tweet them to us @phillycomhealth.