Group for the East End president Robert DeLuca thought he saw a dead seagull off in the distance when he first spotted a rare bird on a beach in East Marion this summer.
Turns out what he was actually approaching was a white-tailed tropic bird, which was carried to the North Fork in the strong winds from Tropical Storm Irene.
Now the deceased bird rests in the hands of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
That the bird was found by Mr. DeLuca has everything to do with how well preserved it is, according to collection manager Paul Sweet, who works in the museum’s department of ornithology.
Mr. DeLuca, who considers himself “a backyard birder.” And once he saw the bird’s distinctive tail that is so long it actually doubles the bird’s size, he knew what he had. Until that day, he had seen the white-tailed tropicbird only in pictures. The bird typically breeds in Bermuda and the Caribbean, Mr. Sweet said. The last time one was seen further north than Bermuda was in the wake of Hurricane Carol in 1954, he said.
So how did it land on the shore in East Marion during Irene’s blast up the coast?
“That storm was so big and wide, it just pushed things,” Mr. Sweet said of Irene. Another white-tailed tropicbird was found in the Albany area, but the steps Mr. DeLuca took to preserve the specimen he found weren’t taken upstate and that carcass couldn’t be salvaged for study, Mr. Sweet said.
Mr. Sweet had put out a call for rare bird finds in the wake of the storm and that’s why Group for the East End’s top staff birders — Steve Biasetti and Aaron Virgin — knew to advise Mr. DeLuca to call Mr. Sweet.
“We are getting these drifters,” Mr. DeLuca said in regards to recent finds of birds not native to Eastern Long Island.
When Mr. DeLuca and his family found the dead bird, they spent several minutes taking photographs with their cell phones. Then they carefully wrapped the bird in his wife Lisa’s sweatshirt and took it home, where they put the body on ice to preserve it. Mr. DeLuca credits Angel’s Country Store, now Fork & Anchor, with having enough ice to keep the body in good condition until Mr. Sweet could have a look at the find.
“We had no lights, but we had ice,” Mr. DeLuca said.
The museum will eventually stuff the bird for display purposes. But first there’s molecular research to be done on the tissues that might reveal the colony of birds from which this male became separated, Mr. Sweet said. The museum has only five specimens of the White-tailed Tropicbird in its collection, he said.
“As a parent, the benefits of keeping your eyes open was great,” Mr. DeLuca said. He and his family were saddened by the bird’s death, but heartened to learn their find would enhance the base of knowledge about the white-tailed tropicbird and provide an excellent exhibit at the Museum of Natural History.
“This one was really in pretty spectacular shape,” Mr. DeLuca said.