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An Ancient Murrelet in Northern in Northeastern Nevada

Gordon W. Gullion
Publication Information
2 (March-April)
From Field and Study

An Ancient Mm-relet in Northeastern Nevada.--On the morning of November 14, 1955, following the first major winter storm of the season, Frank Lespade found an Ancient Murrelet (Syntkliborumphus antiques) in the yard of a local lumber dealer in Elko, Nevada. The live bird was turned over to George E. Gruell who in turn passed the bird on to me.

In view of the unlikelihood of this individual finding its way back to a marine environment from so far inland, it was made into a study skin (now no. 133834 Mus. Vert. Zool., Berkeley). The bird, a female, was lean and showed signs of diarrhea. This specimen not only constitutes the first record for this species in Nevada, but apparently it also represents the first Nevada record for any member of the family Alcidae. Later, it was learned that Mike Coboz, an associate of Lespade, saw another bird of apparently the same species on the Humboldt River in Elko on this same day.

One can only speculate how a normally short-flighted, strictly oceanic species could wander so far inland. Bent (U. S. Nat. Mus. Bull. 107, 1919:138-140) notes that the flight of this species is “swift and direct, usually close to the surface of the water, and not usually much prolonged.” He continues: “I have never seen this species make a long flight.” The murrelets that appeared in Elko would have had to make a sustained tlight of at least 175 miles from the nearest large body of fresh water (Pyramid Lake, in western Nevada), or one of nearly 47s miles from the nearest seacoast of northern California, crossing mountain ranges exceeding 5000 feet elevation en route.

The possibility that the storm of November 13 might have carried these birds so far inland makes it worthwhile to record some details of this storm. On November 11, there was a strong low pressure area centered in northwestern Colorado, and a strong high pressure area centered about 600 miles off the Washington coast. The gradient between the two pressure centers was steep enough that an air mass moved almost directly to the east, accompanied by winds with velocities of 20 to 39 knots at lower levels. This rapid movement of air brought moderately heavy precipitation in the form of snow to much of northern Nevada, and perhaps it also carried a flock of lost Ancient Murrelets along with it.

Perhaps significant is the recent record by Jewett (Condor, 53, 1951:301) of a female of this species east of the Cascades in central Oregon, also in mid-November (1950) and following a heavy cyclonic storm with high winds. If the Nevada birds were diverted while on southerly migration from their Alaskan nesting grounds, one would expect them to be gradually pushed inland as they moved south, coming over the same area from which Jewett reported his bird, rather than being blown directly east from the northern California coast.-GORDON W. GULLION, Elko, Nevada, November 21, 1955. 

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