Caribbean visitor stirs bird-watchers

VIRGINIA BEACH (AP) — A booby, a squat, yellow-legged seabird more common to Caribbean waters, has been sighted off this resort city, creating a stir among birders.

Since 1982, only one brown booby has been seen in Virginia, and a mere six have been confirmed in state history.

A biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said a booby sighting is akin to spotting another more southern native, a manatee, in the Chesapeake Bay.

“Brown boobies in Virginia Beach? I would say, ‘Wow, that’s really rare,’” said Eric Davis, the federal biologist.

The booby was identified by visitors from Maryland. Their discovery, confirmed by scientists, has sparked excitement among bird enthusiasts.

Some traveled hours for a glimpse of the lone booby.

Brenda Tekin drove from Charlottesville for her first viewing of a brown booby.

“During my observation, the booby spent 99.9 percent of the time preening, flying off its perch only once when a boat approached too close,” Miss Tekin recounted.

Brown boobies are about 27 inches long when mature, slightly smaller than pelicans but larger than gulls.

They have chocolate brown feathers and a snow white breast. Their feet and beak are yellow. They are notoriously quiet.

Best known for their diving skills, they slam into the water at an acute angle in search of fish and squid.

Boobies get their name because of their once-perceived stupidity. John Audubon, the famed naturalist, once tracked boobies in the Tortugas, off the Florida Keys, and took umbrage to the nickname.

“Authors, it is true, generally represent them as extremely stupid,” Audubon wrote in 1832, “but to me the word is utterly inapplicable to any bird with which I am acquainted.”

Mr. Davis said the Virginia Beach booby may have been following the Gulf Stream or a warm-weather pattern as it strayed north.

“It doesn’t happen a lot, but you’ll sometimes see a tropical bird coming up this far,” Mr. Davis said. “Then they’ll often leave the same mysterious way they arrived.”

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