Sandy's winds push coastal birds into skies over Western Pennsylvania

| Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012, 8:10 p.m.

Hurricane Sandy brought to Western Pennsylvania some birds not normally seen here, delighting birdwatchers in the region.

“There are still some here,” said Brian Shema, operations director at the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania. “Some caught in the storm may have gone back. They move about much faster than we do.”

The Brant, a small, goose-like bird, was spotted in Fayette and Allegheny counties, he said. The birds breed in the Arctic and spend the winter on the coast.

“Any Brant inside Pennsylvania is here for some strange reason,” Shema said.

Two dozen were spotted flying southeast over Sewickley on Thursday. They may stick around a bit because the river habitat is capable of supporting them a little longer, Shema said.

“These birds get caught in the center of the storm and they're not powerful enough to fly out,” said Geoff Malosh, 37, of Moon, who has been birdwatching for 28 years. “They end up getting dumped.”

Malosh spotted a Pomarine Jaeger, a bird that normally lives on the ocean, flying over the Ohio River.

More birds not normally seen in Pennsylvania were reported on the eastern side of the state, where more of Sandy's wrath was felt.

Some birdwatchers, like Dave Wilton, 55, of Scott, left Pittsburgh as the storm approached to head east in search of sightings.

“The rule of thumb is the worse the weather, the better the birds,” said Wilton, who described himself as an “extreme birder.”

Wilton spent a day or two in Philadelphia overlooking the Delaware River and then headed to the Susquehanna River valley before moving off to some of the mountain lakes in the region.

Shema also spotted a Pomarine Jaeger in Allegheny County — in Fox Chapel.

“They are exceptionally rare,” he said. “They live their lives on the ocean.”

Storm–petrels were also spotted here, but nothing like in the east. A flock of 47 was reported in the Susquehanna River valley.

A Wilson's storm-petrel was reported on Somerset Lake in Fayette County.

There were several reports of Red Phalaropes in Allegheny County, Shema said. They nest on tundra pads and are rare in Pennsylvania.

A black-legged Kittiwake was seen on Khale Lake in Venango County. Similar to a gull, they also breed in the Arctic and spend the winter on the Atlantic coast.

Craig Smith is a reporter for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5646 or

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