Sandy brought wind, rain and feathered friends to the region

A pelican cools its webbed feet Thursday in a cage after being caught by New London Animal Control Officer Mike Martin on the beach off Neptune Park in New London.
A pelican cools its webbed feet Thursday in a cage after being caught by New London Animal Control Officer Mike Martin on the beach off Neptune Park in New London. Sean D. Elliot/The Day

New London — Ralph Belfiglio and his son were surveying the storm damage on the beach along Mott Avenue Thursday afternoon when 12-year-old Guthrie Belfiglio spotted something moving among the flotsam and jetsam scattered across the sand.

It was a pelican. Not exactly a native species.

"It came right out to us and started following us around," Belfiglio said.

He called the New London Police Department, which sent its animal control officer, Michael Martin, who captured the bird, announced that it appeared to be healthy, and put it in a cage.

"In my 26 years on the job, I've never seen a pelican,'' Martin said.

But Patrick Comins, director of bird conservation for Audubon Connecticut, said a lot of birds were blown around by Sandy's hurricane-force winds, including another pelican that landed on a beach in West Haven.

"It's not all that unusual to see a pelican here after a storm," he said. "Seabirds are used to being tossed around."

The traditional range for pelicans extends as far north as southern New Jersey, Comins said, but they have been expanding their range in recent years and are now sometimes seen off the south shore of Long Island.

The massive size of this storm, he said, swept up birds from as far away as Europe and the Arctic. A red phalarope, normally found in the Arctic and Europe, was spotted in Madison, and three northern lapwings, native to Eurasia, and a Ross' gull from the Arctic, landed on beaches in Massachusetts.

As for the pelican in New London, Comins recommended that if it doesn't appear injured, it be left alone to find its way home.

But Martin already had put the bird in the back of the animal rescue van. He said he would contact a licensed ornithologist for further instructions.

Belfiglio, who was busy cleaning out his basement at 49 Mott Ave., which had filled with 6 feet of seawater during the storm, said he was glad the animal welfare people responded so quickly.

"I think he's happy to be rescued,'' Belfiglio said.

Staff writer Judy Benson contributed to this report.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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