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New York's first limpkin has local bird-watchers aflutter

Limpkin credit Willie D'Anna.jpg
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Willie D'Anna
A limpkin recently found along near the Niagara River in Lewiston dines on a snail. The tropical marsh bird had never been seen in New York state until it was spotting by a fishing guide on Nov. 14.

There's been a lot of excitement among bird watchers in western New York after they recently recorded a first when a limpkin was spotted in Niagara County.

"A limpkin has never been recorded in New York state before," said Willie D'Anna, who keeps track of rare bird sightings for the New York State Ornithological Association.

A limpkin is a heron-like, tropical marsh bird whose breeding grounds have traditionally stretched from the warm climates of Florida to Argentina. But starting this past spring, they've been seen well north of there, especially along the Mississippi River, according to the bird mapping site ebird.

Still, when fishing guide Frank Campbell snapped a picture of an unusual bird that he saw near a boat launch along the Niagara River in Lewiston on Nov. 14, D'Anna was flabbergasted when he was asked to identify it.

"I can't repeat what I said when I saw the photo," he said, laughing. "When I saw it, it was such a shock."

Within an hour, D'Anna was at the Niagara River in search of the straying bird.

He said he got on the phone with state Department of Environmental Conservation bird biologist Connie Adams, who told him Campbell frequently noticed the limpkin foraging around the weeds near the harbormaster building, which happened to be right where D'Anna was standing.

"And right at that moment, I saw this movement in the weeds," he said.

He thought it must be a squirrel.

"But I put my binoculars up and sure enough, it was limpkin," he said. "It was absolutely shocking."

Hurricanes or even strong winds have been known to scatter birds far outside their natural range, but D'Anna doesn't believe this is what happened here. One theory is that the species is starting to migrate north in search of good feeding areas.

The limpkin that was discovered in Lewiston was feasting on what D'Anna was told, but hasn't confirmed, was a kind of invasive snail. That could explain why the bird, usually drawn to marshy areas, was within feet of a river.

"This limpkin somehow found this place and he was getting snail after snail," he said. "It was quite remarkable."

But a massive snowstorm was about to dump up to 6 feet of snow on parts of western New York, so the decision was made to rescue the bird.

D'Anna said Wild Kritters, a nonprofit group of state and federally licensed volunteers, set a trap using a wide net and lured the limpkin into it after nightfall on Nov. 18.

By then, areas south of Buffalo were being pummeled with heavy snow, but Lewiston, located to the north, had no more than a few inches.

Once in the care of veterinarian Karen Slote, the limpkin dined on half his body weight in fish. She said the bird needed had been underweight. It was then transferred to a wildlife rehabilitation center in Delaware, which will reportedly care for the bird before relocating it further south.

Beth Adams joined WXXI as host of Morning Edition in 2012 after a more than two-decade radio career. She was the longtime host of the WHAM Morning News in Rochester. Her career also took her from radio stations in Elmira, New York, to Miami, Florida.