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#ABArare – Northern Gannet – California

On April 25, Peter Warzybok spotted a Northern Gannet from Southeast Farallon Island, San Francisco County, California. The bird circled the island multiple times, where it was well-photographed by Sophie Webb.  This is a first state record for California, and a first record for the Pacific Ocean.

  NOGA CA 1st
Photo by Sophie Webb (PRBO), used with permission

Northern Gannet is one of the most abundant seabirds of the North Atlantic, nesting in massive communal colonies from Atlantic Canada across to Scandinavia, but until now it has never been reported in the Pacific Ocean.  How, exactly, the bird ended up in California is an open question, but finder Peter Warzybok of PRBO has a theory:

The likely answer is that it came across through the now open water of the Northwest Passage. Climate warming has resulted in a reduction in pack ice and and an increase in open water all the way across the top of the continent.  This bird probably followed that water and ended up in the wrong ocean. In fact, just last summer, there were two individual Northern Gannets reported in the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska.  That was a first for that region and a clear sign that a warming planet is opening up new avenues for seabird dispersal.

The Farallon Islands are off limits for recreational birders, though some whale-watching boats can get close.  Communal bird nesting colonies and marine mammal colonies on the islands are subject to long term studies by researchers affiliated with Point Reyes Bird Observatory

Thus, refinding the bird appears to be a long shot, but seawatchers in Marin County and surrounding areas may just get lucky. And if Warzybok is correct, this may not be the last Northern Gannet record for the west coast of the continent. 

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Nate Swick

Nate Swick

Editor, Social Media Manager at American Birding Association
Nate Swick is the editor of the American Birding Association Blog, social media manager for the ABA, and the host of the American Birding Podcast. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Danielle, and two young children. He is the author of Birding for the Curious and The ABA Field Guide to Birds of the Carolinas.
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