[CT Birds] Fwd: Hurricane Birding tips

Frank Mantlik mantlik at sbcglobal.net
Thu Aug 25 22:12:04 EDT 2011

Hi all,
Here's some comments and birding tips, as well as safety reminders from VA 
birder Ned Brinkley, copied from the Va birding list-serve, via birdingonthe.net 
   (Ned is also the editor of ABA's excellent publication, North American 
Birds).  Much of the info is also applicable to other eastern states, including 

Frank Mantlik

Subject: Hurricane Irene
From: Ned Brinkley <23cahow AT gmail.com>
Date: Thu, 25 Aug 2011 10:22:04 -0400

Hi all,  With a hurricane approaching, there has been much internet discussion 
of bird displacement and safety issues.  I thought I'd put in my usual two 
cents, based on past experiences with storms that made landfall in, or near, 
Virginia. The coming storm is forecast to do a great deal of damage to eastern 
North Carolina, and it's very likely that southeastern Virginia will experience 
high winds and widespread flooding over the weekend. Safety is the highest 
priority in birding after the passage of hurricanes, and no one should venture 
out until authorities declare it is safe to do so. Fallen power lines, flooded 
roads, falling trees are all hazards, and tornadoes can still pop up after the 
storm's center has passed.  That said, we stand to learn a great deal about the 
effects of such storms on birds and their populations by being recording the 
birds after such events.  Here are some possibilities for birding strategies 
after a storm's passage (and after an area is safe):  1) Inland lakes and 
reservoirs, especially large ones, harbor seabirds and shorebirds displaced by 
storms; Virginia has records of frigatebirds, all three jaegers, three gadfly 
petrels, four shearwaters, two storm-petrels, two tropical terns, almost all 
other terns, Sabine's Gull, and two-dozen shorebird species from such settings. 
And that is only from a handful of recorded hurricanes, notably Fran of 1996 and 
Isabel of 2003. Irene's forecast track is to the east of these storms', but many 
things can happen between now and Saturday. Even if the storm does pass off the 
coast of Virginia as forecast now, such spots are still worth checking.  2) 
River mouths and peninsulas near them can be very productive for seawatching; 
there are many interesting records of seabirds seen from such locations, 
including White-faced Storm-Petrel in Virginia.  3) Dredge-spoil areas such as 
Craney Island can be the site of "storm" roosts, large assemblages of terns, 
shorebirds, gulls, and skimmers, with all birds resting quietly, bills pointing 
into the wind. Bridled and Sooty Terns frequently sit with them.  4) Farm 
fields, especially harvested ones (harvested potato fields are optimal), can 
also be the site of storm roosts, but when wet or flooded, shorebirds are also 
found in numbers feeding in the muddy areas (or drier areas in the case of 
golden-plovers, Buff-breasted Sandpipers, Baird's Sandpipers, etc.). Even areas 
that have relatively little rain and wind can sometimes produce a surprise or 
two.  5) Open beaches.  Although storms that pass east of our coastlines do not 
tend to produce large numbers of sightings of seabirds, they sometimes do 
produce large numbers of seabirds on beaches, some of them in weakened 
condition, some of them dead.  Photographs of such birds are very valuable. All 
such specimens have even more value to science, so they should be salvaged and 
preserved (donated to museums).  Walking miles of beaches can produce dozens of 
interesting birds.  We still know very little about which taxa of Cory's 
Shearwater and Band-rumped Storm-Petrel visit our waters, for instance, so every 
specimen can provide another piece of the puzzle.  Yesterday, I photographed an 
adult Masked Booby off northeastern North Carolina, just a few miles from 
Virginia waters.  Our state has no report of this species, but it seems likely 
that Irene could displace such a bird a few miles northward.  Brown Boobies have 
been noted in recent weeks from Cape May, NJ, to Maine, so that is another bird 
to look for after the storm.  6) Almost anywhere. Records of odd things like 
Cave Swallows have popped up in odd places after recent hurricane landfalls, so 
looking at every bird carefully, no matter where you are, seems prudent. In 
theory, birds migrating at this time of year could be not just displaced by the 
storm but also "put down" by the storm, that is, stop migration and seek shelter 
in the nearest area.  Because landfall of the storm may occur in darkness, 
"grounded" migrants of many sorts should be looked for across a large area of 
the American East from Sunday through Tuesday.  The Virginia Avian Records 
Committee would be very grateful to receive reports of any storm-blown seabirds. 
Ideally, reports of these birds should be accompanied by photographs of the 
birds, for verification.  Because birding after a storm can be challenging, and 
because many seabirds are difficult to identify even by very experienced 
seabirders, there is no shame in recording a bird as "phalarope sp.,", "jaeger 
sp.", "storm-petrel sp.", or even "large tubenose" or "shorebird sp.".  It can 
be tempting to put a name on a bird seen poorly, but it's best to be 
conservative.  Let's hope that we avoid extensive damage in Virginia, of course, 
and that the storm douses the terrible Dismal Swamp fire (smoke is terrible this 
morning) and moves on out to sea.  Ned Brinkley Cape Charles, Va. 
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