On this day in 1926, Witmer Stone was out for a swim at the beach in Cape May when he spotted "a bird that was quite unknown" to him (Stone 1926). His account continues, "Upon swimming out I was able to approach near enough to convince myself that it was a Shearwater but I soon lost sight of it as the sea was choppy and the bird was constantly disappearing in the trough of the waves." The shearwater alternated between flying and sitting on the water "beyond the breakers."
As luck would have it, lifeguards in a boat off the beach picked up a moribund shearwater later on; it went to Dr. T. S. Palmer and his wife, who presented the bird (now dead) to Stone. It turned out to be a female Audubon's Shearwater and the specimen went to the collection of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. Stone knew of only one previous NJ report of the species, "...Audubon's vague statement that he had seen them 'off Sany [sic] Hook'" (Stone 1926).
Stone may have been lucky to have a relatively uneventful swim, because the morning he chose for his dip was several days after a hurricane made landfall in Florida (and when another tropical storm was starting its trip up the Atlantic). The unnamed storm, the first of the season, wreaked havoc in the Bahamas before hitting Florida, continued inland as far as Louisiana, then reversed course and wound up at the Great Lakes by 2 August (storm track here).
Storm waifs were found in a number of Eastern states after this storm. South Carolina got White-tailed Tropicbird, Bridled Tern, and Brown Noddy, as well as multiple Sooty Terns and Audubon's Shearwaters (Sprunt 1926, Von S. Dingle 1927, Wayne 1926, Wayne 1927); two Sooty Terns were in North Carolina (Brimley 1926); and a Sooty Tern was in West Virginia (Johnston 1926).
Audubon's Shearwater was a good find indeed, but the storm had one last avian surprise in store for NJ. But that's tomorrow's post.
Anon. 1926. The Nassau Hurricane, July 25-26, 1926. Monthly Weather Review 54:296-297. PDF here
Brimley, H. H. 1926. Sooty Tern in North Carolina. Auk 43:535. PDF here
Johnston, I. H. 1926. Sooty Tern (Sterna fuscata) in West Virginia. Auk 43:535-536. PDF here
Sprunt, Alexander, Jr. 1926. The Sooty Tern (Sterna fuscata) at Charleston, S. C. Auk 43:535. PDF here
Stone, Witmer. 1926. Audubon's Shearwater at Cape May, N. J. Auk 43:536. PDF here
Von S. Dingle, E. 1927. Sooty Tern (Sterna fuscata) and Bridled Tern (Sterna anaetheta) on the South Carolina Coast. Auk 44:93-94. PDF here
Wayne, Arthur T. 1926. The Sooty Tern and Audubon's Shearwater in South Carolina. Auk 43:534-535. PDF here
Wayne, Arthur T. 1927. Two Birds New to the Fauna of South Carolina. Auk 44:94. PDF here