Pelicans in Patchogue, a Skua in Sea Cliff, rare terns and shorebirds galore…all these were birds blown far off course by Irene during their migration. Shorebirds begin their migrations in mid to late summer – they have very long distances to go, often travelling from one pole to the other. Some of the other rare bird sitings made in the days immediately following Irene include black capped petrels, leach’s storm petrel, a white tailed tropic bird, magnificent frigatebird, a white ibis, sooty, bridled and sandwich terns, and a long tailed jaeger. Unless you are a birder, these names may not mean much to you, but to the birding community, Hurricane Irene provided an unprecedented amount of rare birds in the tri-state area. And, by Monday, most of them were gone. Hopefully, most of them will arrive at their destinations.
The South Polar Skua is a large pelagic (oceanic) bird which nests in the Antartic, and migrates to North American waters during the southern winter. They are very rarely seen inland. The South Polar Skua in Sea Cliff was exhausted, and unable to fly or continue his journey. Fortunately, he was spotted by someone who identified him as a rarity, rather than just a large dark gull. A posting was made on the NYS birds list, and some local birders ventured out early on Sunday to see him. Stella Miller and Simone DaRos from Huntington Oyster Bay Audubon were able to dodge through the trees and power lines to get to the beach. They realized the bird needed to rest, and saw that it was being harassed by dogs and children. They called Volunteers for Wildlife, who were able to capture the bird and let it recover overnight. The bird was released the next morning, and flew away.
All these sitings of rare birds, and the storm battered condition of many of them, made me wonder, how do migrating birds ride out a storm, and what happens to them? Birds migrate when the wind conditions are favorable, so they will not take flight if a storm is coming. Those birds crossing open water during a storm have a difficult time. They may not have enough energy reserves to fight against headwinds. Those birds who survive to make landfall are exhausted, making coastal habitats critically important. With bird populations declining, and with reduced habitat, it is harder for bird species to rebound from hurricanes.
Hurricanes can also have a long term effect on migratory bird species located as far as 60 miles from the storm. Forests, which provide the food that birds need, such as berries and fruits are damaged or destroyed. One of the best things to do to help birds in hurricanes, is to provide a healthy habitat, whether a forest or coast, for them to live in.
Friends of the Bay volunteers were unable to get out on September 6 to conduct monitoring due to wind conditions.