ANNA MARIA ISLAND -- Those who have never seen a sleek, black-and-white razorbill are rushing out to Anna Maria Island, where flocks of the bird, so rare in Florida, have suddenly appeared.
Normally a species that lives offshore in cold climates, razorbills have been seen cavorting at the Rod & Reel Pier in balmy Anna Maria.
"Unprecedented" was the word used by Julie Brashears Wraithmell, director of wildlife conservation for Audubon Florida, to describe the situation.
"Where there have been fewer than 20 historic sightings of razorbills in Florida previously, there are thousands in the state right now," she said Friday.
Although no one has yet established a cause, some have hypothesized changes in food sources in the birds' normal wintering grounds might have sent them in search of better opportunities. Others suggest Hurricane Sandy, or higher-than-normal sea surface temperatures, may have disturbed the birds' normal patterns,
Razorbills began showing up a few weeks ago, first off Volusia County, then in larger numbers along the entire Atlantic Coast of Florida, with concentrations in southeast Florida.
They then spread up the Gulf Coast. They've been seen as far west as Pensacola in the last week.
Certainly, like all seabirds, razorbills are sensitive bellwethers of climate change, and the phenomenon bears watching, according to Wraithmell.
Meanwhile, local birders are thrilled to spot a species they normally would have to go out in a boat in thecold North Atlantic to view.
"I was there last week to come see these razorbills-- for some reason Anna Maria seems to have a bigger share than most," said Steve Black, former president of the Manatee Audubon Society.
"I've never, ever, seenthings like this here before."
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.com.