Albatross makes a rare and frustrating trip north

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The Independent US

It was the thrill of the season for birdwatchers in the American North-east when two of their fraternity saw something extraordinary during a twitching expedition to the island of Penikese close to Martha's Vineyard: above them was the unmistakable silhouette of a yellow-nosed albatross.

It was the thrill of the season for birdwatchers in the American North-east when two of their fraternity saw something extraordinary during a twitching expedition to the island of Penikese close to Martha's Vineyard: above them was the unmistakable silhouette of a yellow-nosed albatross.

The excitement was understandable. The albatross is a southern hemisphere species, with colonies in the South Atlantic and South Pacific.

Sightings on this side of the equator are extremely rare. This bird made its appearance on 9 May and then vanished out to sea. Now it is back.

In recent days, it has been seen around the New York area, first on a Long Island beach and later flying down the central reservation of an expressway. This week it was spotted on a beach on the New Jersey side of Delaware Bay.

These birds, whose wingspan can reach 7ft, come ashore for one reason only: to find a mate. Which means that this albatross is in for a frustrating spring. Each time it has been seen, the bird has been trying to find friends among groups of gulls, in vain.

How the yellow-nose got to the other side of the world where even the season is wrong - it should be enjoying autumn now - is a mystery. Some experts believe it may be the same albatross that was spotted off southern Massachusetts 28 years ago. An albatross can live up to 80 years. Alternatively, it may have been swept north by one of last season's Atlantic hurricanes.

Ornithologists have warned that the albatross population in places such as the Falkland Islands is in sharp decline and the bird could be extinct within 25 years. There are potential breeding grounds aplenty for the albatross off the coast of New England.

If only there were just two of these accidental tourists riding the region's winds. But that would be too much to hope for.

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