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Unusual Birds with an Unusual Storm, Hurricane Sandy  

Armas Hill has presented the "Birdline", originally from Philadelphia, on the phone and internet for over 3 decades, and on the radio in Delaware for about 10 years.


A List & Photo Gallery of North American Birds, in 6 Parts

A List & Photo Gallery of North American Mammals  

A Chronological List of Upcoming FONT Tours     Other Birdlines/Naturelines

Photos here of two species referred to in this November 5, 2012 edition of the Birdline & Natureline:


Above: Pomarine Jaeger & Red Phalarope,
two bird species seen 
throughout the path of Hurricane Sandy
(upper photo by Alan Brady) 

Below: an immature Red-billed Tropicbird,
blown to shore during the storm,
to southern New Jersey
 (photo courtesy of the 
Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge)

The Birdline & Natureline for November 5, 2012:

In the Birdline, here, nearly all the BIRDS are those related to the storm known as Sandy that came ashore in eastern North America on October 29, 2012, in New Jersey, and continued west across Pennsylvania, and then north.
The NATURE in the Natureline is the storm, the large and forceful storm that it was. Nature, with it, had a big affect on people, the environment, and to birders, it had an obvious affect on BIRDS.

The Birdline & Natureline was had been prepared for this time will be sent out in a few days. Now, this one refers almost exclusively to the STORM and its affects.     

It is an unusual edition of the Birdline, and it was an unusual storm. It came north, out over the Atlantic Ocean, along the eastern coast of the United States, and instead of going east, out to sea, as most storms do, with the west to east flow of the Jet Stream, it instead went west, as it was blocked by another weather system, and came inland.     

SANDY was a big storm. it was 1,000 miles across.
Its highest storm surge was 14.6 feet at Bergen Point, New Jersey.
The number of US states with intense effects of the storm was 17.
The number of human deaths was about 100.
The damage of estimated property losses is at about 20 billion US dollars, making the storm among the most expensive US disasters.
The top wind gusts on land were 90 miles per hour at Islip (on Long Island), New York, and Robbins Reef, New Jersey.
Power outages at their peak were more than 8.5 million.
Canceled airline flights were about 20,000.
The most rainfall was 12.55 inches at Easton, Maryland.
The most snow was 34 inches at Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
The evacuation zone included communities along 400 miles of coastline from Ocean city, Maryland to Dartmouth, Massachusetts.

In Connecticut, there was widespread damage by the Long Island Sound. Power outages peaked at more than 620,000.
In Delaware, southern coastal areas were under water. Power outages peaked at more than 45,000.
In Illinois, there was flooding and high waves on the Lake Michigan shore.
In Kentucky, there was as much as a foot of snow in the higher Appalachians.
In Maine, ocean conditions were dangerous with high winds. Power outages were more than 90,000.
in Maryland, in the east there was the storm surge from the ocean; in the west there was 29 inches of snow. Power outages peaked at 290,000.
In Massachusetts, there were fallen trees and power outages to 400,000.
In Michigan, waves on the Great Lakes were up to 20 feet. Power outages were up to 154,000.
In New Hampshire, a construction worker was killed in a landslide. Power outages were up to 210,000.
In parts of New Jersey, there was simply put, devastation. More than 20 people died. Power outages peaked at 2,700,000.
In parts of New York, also devastation. New York City came to a halt. Places were flooded with the surge from the sea. Nearly 50 people died. Power outages peaked at 2,200,000.
Off the coast of North Carolina, a tall ship (that was in the movie "Pirates of the Caribbean") sank; the captain died. Onshore there were 2 human deaths. Power outages peaked at 126,000.
In Ohio, high winds uprooted trees. There were 2 deaths. Power outages peaked at more than 250,000.
In Pennsylvania, the core of Sandy went west across the southern part of the state to western PA and then north toward western New York State. There was wind, flooding, road closures, and 9 people died. Power outages peaked at 1,200,000.
Most of the displaced birds noted in the Birdline that follows were in Pennsylvania.
In Rhode Island, power outages were more than 122,000.
In part of Tennessee, heavy snow (as noted above) accumulated.
In Vermont, damage was not as severe as that from last year's storm Irene, but power outages peaked at 10,000.
in Virginia, power outages from wind and snow were up to 180,000. In Washington DC, up to 25,000.
In West Virginia, there was heavy snow that collapsed buildings. In that state, 5 people died. Power outages peaked at over 270,000.

I'm repeating here now what I wrote in a Birdline last year (on September 5), referring that time to the storm Irene, and this time to Sandy:

"Please know that presenting this report of birds in no way minimizes the bad effects of the recent storm in the eastern US, that is the loss of lives as well as the hurt and damage for many people.
It is nonetheless interesting to have this composite of various birds so affected by the severe weather."

And if I might take a moment to express thanks and appreciation to those, from far-away, who expressed concern to us during and after the storm.
The center of the storm came very close to us here in northern Delaware, but we are fine. Our condolences to those in nearby states who are not.

Now, the BIRDS, nearly all displaced by Sandy:

A juvenile RED-BILLED TROPICBIRD was found, exhausted, on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River on October 30. It was taken from there, the Carney's Point area, to a rehab center in southern New Jersey, where the bird did well, before being taken to the Tri-State Bird Rescue center in Delaware.
Actually where the bird came ashore, the land is New Jersey, but the water is Delaware. So, the bird was taken back to a state where it must have been.
To see a photo of this RED-BILLED TROPICBIRD:   


It's said to be the second RED-BILLED TROPICBIRD that's been in New Jersey. I remember apparently the first, also a juvenile, years ago, in May 1983, taken to a bird rehab center on Long Beach Island, by the ocean.  

A TRINDADE PETREL, a pterodroma of the Atlantic Ocean, nesting well off the coast of Brazil, apparently was brought with the storm into Pennsylvania.
One was found in Holidaysburg, south of Altoona, in Blair County, after the storm. It was found by a mailbox, and not near water. When such a petrel gets grounded, it can not lift up into flight.
The bird was not well. It was weak, and taken to a bird rehab center in State College, PA, where it was measured and weighed.
Subsequently it died, and will be a specimen in a museum.   

Years ago, in the 1960s, an all-dark petrel was seen in flight at a hawk watch along the Kittatinny Ridge in Pennsylvania. It was said to be, oddly, a KERMADEC PETREL, but it may have been a dark-morph TRINDADE PETREL.
The TRINDADE PETREL is a bird of the Atlantic Ocean, while the HERALD PETREL, with which it has been conspecific, is a bird of the tropical Pacific.
And the word is "Trindade", not Trinidad. The Trindade Islands, where the bird breeds, are off northeastern Brazil.

A CORY'S SHEARWATER, very much alive, was along the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania, near Harrisburg, on October 30. It was observed hovering above the river for 10 to 15 minutes before it went north.

The rest of this "Birdline" will be nearly entirely devoted to birds in relation to Sandy in Pennsylvania and some other nearby places.

Among such storm-related birds that were out-of-place at a number of locations were these: RED PHALAROPES, POMARINE JAEGERS, LEACH'S STORM-PETRELS, BLACK SKIMMERS, PIPING PLOVERS, AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS, SABINE'S GULLS, BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES, NORTHERN GANNET, SOOTY TERN and more - with many of some of these, and other species too as you will read.

The center of the storm traveled west across southern Pennsylvania. In the central part of the state, many miles from the sea, these birds were found on farm ponds on October 30, in Franklin County, west of Chambersburg:
That day, at one pond after the other:

Pond 1 at Keefer Road: 2 RED PHALAROPES, 3 BLACK SCOTERS, BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS, 40 GREATER YELLOWLEGS, HORNED GREBE, and many, many ducks, coots, and grebes (PIED-BILLED).|

Pond 2 at Long Lane: 11 RED PHALAROPES, SURF SCOTER, and many, many ducks, coots, grebes.

Pond 3 at Mountain Brook Road: 2 BRANT, 12 RED PHALAROPES, 41 BLACK SCOTERS, 4 SURF SCOTERS, 5 WHITE-WINGED SCOTERS, 2 LONG-TAILED DUCKS, and many, many ducks, coots, grebes. 3 RED-THROATED LOONS flew overhead.

Bear in mind that these birds (and those that follow) are not normally seen in Franklin County, in south-central Pennsylvania.

Pond 4, Loudon Pond: RED-NECKED GREBE, HORNED GREBE, SPOTTED SANDPIPER, DUNLIN, and many, many ducks, coots, grebes.

Pond 5 at the Bender's Farm fields: 13 DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS, 2 RED PHALAROPES, 1 WILSON'S PHALAROPE, 21 BLACK SCOTERS, 4 SURF SCOTERS, 75 BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS, 300 GREATER YELLOWLEGS, 100 DUNLIN, 10 BONAPARTE'S GULLS, 4 LAUGHING GULLS, other more expected gulls and many, many ducks, coots, grebes.

Pond 6 (actually a lake, Fannettsburg): 5 DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS, 5 RED PHALAROPES, 9 BLACK SCOTERS, 8 SURF SCOTERS, and many, many other ducks, coots, grebes.

Pond 7, Rockwell: 2 RED-NECKED PHALAROPES, BLACK SCOTERS, other ducks. 
Late October is late for RED-NECKED PHALAROPE.

Site 8, a flooded field by Back Creek: 2 PIPING PLOVERS, 2 HUDSONIAN GODWITS, 2 BLACK SKIMMERS, and thousands of shorebirds.
It is likely that at least 2 of these 3 species, the plover and skimmer, have never been seen previously in Franklin County, Pennsylvania.

Further east in Pennsylvania, on October 30, these birds were seen along the lower Delaware River, in the area of Philadelphia:
20-plus LEACH'S STORM-PETRELS, a POMARINE JAEGER and a PARASITIC JAEGER (a subadult floating down the river), an immature SOOTY TERN, and an immature SABINE'S GULL, along with 4 ROYAL TERNS, nearly 120 COMMON TERNS (with 1 flock of 80), 20 FORSTER'S TERNS, and 8 BONAPARTE'S GULLS.
Also: over 230 BRANT, and all 3 SCOTER species, 16 COMMON LOONS, 2 RED-THROATED LOONS, a HORNED GREBE, a RED PHALAROPE, and over 75 DUNLIN.   

Along the Delaware River, by the Commodore Barry Bridge, south of Philadelphia, early in the am on October 30, among the 8 LEACH'S STORM-PETRELS that were seen, 2 were observed, in an extended aerial bout, being caught by PEREGRINE FALCONS that reside at the bridge.
Nearby, later in the day, a PHALAROPE (probably a RED) was also seen being snatched by a PEREGRINE.

Observers were looking at birds along the lower Delaware River from both the Pennsylvania and the New Jersey sides of the river. The species just mentioned were seen from New Jersey as well as from PA.

Also quite unusual, seen from the NJ side along that stretch of the Delaware River, were 2 AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS.
Another LEACH'S STORM PETREL along the river was seen being pursued and caught by a NORTHERN HARRIER.

On October 31, on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River, a LEACH'S STORM-PETREL was seen flying along the river near the Philadelphia Airport.
Also, two large flocks of RED PHALAROPES were seen there, totaling around 50 birds. Both BLACK and SURF SCOTERS were present. And a PARASITIC JAEGER was seen chasing a RING-BILLED GULL.
Downriver, at Marcus Hook, again, as there were the previous day along that stretch of the river (but on the NJ side), 2 AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS were present.     

Some people along the lower Delaware River, on October 30, were at the right place at the right time to see large numbers of POMARINE JAEGERS. One set of observers on the NJ side saw 2 flocks of POMARINES, 1 with 8 birds, and the other 11. The JAEGERS flew downriver, put down on the water for a bit, and then continued flying on their way. Some had long tail streamers, while many did not.

Further south along the Delaware River, in the state of Delaware, where the river widens at Delaware City (and where there's not much originality with the river, city, and state all having the same name), some observers saw as many as 80 POMARINE JAEGERS. There were over 50 in one flock.
Another large flock of POMARINE JAEGERS along the lower Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania will be noted in a moment.

All this begs a question. Why SO MANY JAEGERS together?  It's very unusual anywhere to see 50 or so JAEGERS at once.

South of Delaware City, Delaware, on October 30, from 9:30am to 1:30pm, 68 JAEGERS were tallied, mostly POMARINE, some thought to be PARASITIC. There was a large group of 41 JAEGERS at once. Also seen there were some COMMON TERNS and BRANT.
Also near Delaware City, a SANDWICH TERN was seen with a LAUGHING GULL.
All of the birds that follow were on October 30 unless noted otherwise.  

Along the Delaware River, at New Castle, one observer saw a LEACH'S STORM-PETREL and another STORM-PETREL that appeared to be a WILSON'S. It would have been late for a WILSON'S but the bird did not look or act like a LEACH'S. Other WILSON'S STORM-PETRELS were identified as such in Pennsylvania, as you will read below.

Further south in Delaware, along the coast of the Delaware Bay, from Delaware City to Cedar Swamp, birds seen included:
Yet more POMARINE JAEGERS were seen reported at Fowler's Beach by the Delaware Bay. 

On October 31, in northern Delaware, away from the river, a POMARINE JAEGER was seen flying by the Ashland Hawk Watch, heading south.

Shifting now back to Pennsylvania, to the lower Susquehanna River (still east of where our narrative began in Franklin County), these birds were seen during the afternoon on October 30:
a NORTHERN GANNET near Harrisburg, flying north along the river,
a RED PHALAROPE flying downriver, and then at least 2 flocks of RED PHALAROPES containing 20 birds,
and a BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE seen on the water and in flight with a BONAPARTE'S GULL before it lifted up into a low cloud and disappeared.
More along that part of the Susquehanna River near Harrisburg included:
2 PARASITIC JAEGERS, both adults,
and as many as 58 POMARINE JAEGERS, including one flock of 47 birds sitting on the water.
An immature BLACK SKIMMER flew upriver. 3 AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS flew upriver, together.
Also, but flying downriver: almost 200 RED KNOTS, in several flocks.
And 1 flock of SANDERLINGS, several flocks of other peeps, 2 HUDSONIAN GODWITS, and at least 3 CAVE SWALLOWS.
Tallies of other species included:
about 550 BRANT, 680 PINTAIL, 400 SCAUP (both species), one CATTLE EGRET, about 700 DUNLIN, 50 LAUGHING GULLS, over 50 COMMON TERNS, 4,000 TREE SWALLOWS, 1 CLIFF SWALLOW.
And yes the SCOTERS again, all 3 species, numbering about 80.      

In the city of Harrisburg, a WHITE-WINGED DOVE was seen on October 31.

More SWALLOWS along the Susquehanna lately have been between the Route 30 & Route 462 bridges: numerous TREE, a BARN ot two, ROUGH-WINGED, and both CLIFF and CAVE. These were all after Sandy, on November 1.    

Further south along the Susquehanna River, a the Conejohela Flats in Lancaster County, on October 31, after Sandy, an immature BLACK SKIMMER was found, and 4 RED PHALAROPES were seen.
The BLACK SKIMMER continued at the Conejohela Flats until at least November 4.

Further south yet along the Susquehanna River, in Pennsylvania just north of Maryland, on October 30, during a 5-hour period, there were:
almost 220 BRANT, 9 BLACK SCOTERS, 23 RED PHALAROPES (in 2 flocks of 12 & 11 flying downriver), and 8 POMARINE JAEGERS that sometimes harassed gulls and terns.

Let's go now to some various places elsewhere throughout Pennsylvania:

In Carbon County, in northeastern PA, at the Beltsville Reservoir, on October 30:
a RED PHALAROPE, 2 late RED-NECKED PHALAROPES, 3 POMARINE JAEGERS, 1 probable PARASITIC JAEGER, hundreds of DUNLIN, a single SANDERLING (an unusual bird there), 1 RUDDY TURNSTONE (an unusal bird there), over 100 BRANT (unusual there), all 3 SCOTER species, and a CAVE SWALLOW.
The following day (October 31), all of those birds were gone, except 1 SANDERLING, 4 BLACK SCOTERS, and 1 RED-NECKED GREBE not seen the previous day.

In Bucks County, in eastern PA, at Peace Valley, there was a RED-NECKED GREBE on November 1 & 2, and a SURF SCOTER on November 2. 
Back on October 30, 4 LEACH'S STORM-PETRELS were seen, 1 at Lake Nockamixon and 3 in Lower Bucks.
AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS were seen at both places, one of each. Amazingly, the one at Lake Nockamixon was the 3rd record of one there, we understand, since 2003!
2 RED PHALAROPES were at Lake Nockamixon, as were 2 WHITE-WINGED SCOTERS and 2 HORNED GREBES. Also, over 160 BRANT, and 2 or 3 CAVE SWALLOWS. 
2 POMARINE JAEGERS were in Lower Bucks, as were all 3 SCOTER species, 2 or 3 CAVE SWALLOWS, and a late CHIMNEY SWIFT and BARN SWALLOW.      
On October 31, at Lake Nockamixon, there was a ROYAL TERN and CAVE SWALLOW.

CAVE SWALLOWS were also in Philadelphia on October 30 at the FDR Park and along the Delaware River.
At the John Heinz Refuge, along the Philadelphia-Delaware County PA border, on October 31, there was a CAVE SWALLOW, a RED PHALAROPE, and a NORTHERN SHRIKE (the first of these in that area this season).       

In Chester County, in southeastern PA, at Chambers Lake, on October 30, there were 20 SURF SCOTERS, with other ducks.  

In Berks County, in east-central PA, at Lake Ontelaunee, on October 30, there were 4 RED PHALAROPES, and BLACK and SURF SCOTERS, seen within 30 minutes. The next day, there was still 1 RED PHALAROPE there.  

In Lancaster County, in south-central PA, a JAEGER (possibly PARASITIC) was seen at the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area on October 30.
The next day, further south in the county, 2 RED PHALAROPES were seen in a flooded field, near a town called Gap. The birds were actively feeding and very tame, close to a road.      

In York County, in south-central PA, at the Pinchot State Park, on October 30, there were 20 COMMON LOONS, and at least 50 BUFFLEHEAD.  

In Lebanon County, in south-central PA, on November 4, a few days after Sandy, there were as many as 5 species of GREBES on one lake.
Having those 5 on 1 body of water in PA is unprecedented.   

Now, let's go still in Pennsylvania to west of where this narrative began (in Franklin County): 

In Somerset and Bedford Counties, in southwestern & south-central PA, these birds on October 30:

At Somerset Lake, in Somerset County there were: many flocks of BRANT flying about, a single BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER, and a large flock of DUNLIN (sounds like the New Jersey shore, but it wasn't).

At the nearby Shawnee State Park, in Bedford County, also in the remnants of Hurricane Sandy's eye:
There were large numbers of BRANT on the water, where there also was an adult BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE.
2 AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS were on the ground close to the birders' car (hundreds of miles from the seacoast).
A WILSON'S STORM-PETREL was flying around. I don't know if that bird were photographed, but it was said (when reported) to be the first ever in Pennsylvania.
Also, at Shawnee that day: the call of a WILLET could be heard as it flew, and there were many sizable flocks of DUNLIN. Also both COMMON and FORSTER'S TERNS. (Of course, the COMMON TERN is not common in Bedford County, PA).

Also there, JAEGERS. At first 3 POMARINES, the 5 other JAEGERS came in, so that in all there were 6 POMARINE and 2 PARASITIC.
Then, as at so many other places in Pennsylvania on October 30, there was a RED PHALAROPE. It flew by.  
An immature LAUGHING GULL (unusual, of course) was with RING-BILLED GULLS (usual, of course).

In Huntington County, in south-central PA, at Lake Raystown, on October 30, there were 11 RED PHALAROPES, and a POMARINE JAEGER.
The next day, there was a WILSON'S STORM-PETREL, seen well, a LAUGHING GULL (far from where one would normally be), and even better, a juvenile SABINE'S GULL. Also, a CAVE SWALLOW, and a few RED-THROATED LOONS in a large raft of COMMON LOONS.
At one point, both the WILSON'S STORM-PETREL and the SABINE'S GULL were close together, a combo never seen previously in Pennsylvania.     

In Centre County, in the center of PA, at the Bald Eagle State Park, on October 30, nearly 2,200 DUNLIN and over 460 BRANT were counted. COMMON LOONS were very common, and there were 17 species of WATERFOWL, in addition to 1, and then 2 POMARINE JAEGERS.  

In Fayette County, in southwestern PA, at the Greenlick Run Lake, on October 30, there was a flock of almost 30 POMARINE JAEGERS, and some BRANT.  

In Indiana County, in west-central PA, at the Yellow Creek State Park, on October 30:
a POMARINE JAEGER (a new bird for the county), 1,500 DUNLIN, all 3 species of SCOTERS, a RED-THROATED LOON, and over 100 COMMON LOONS. 
On October 31 at Yellow Creek, there were 2 RED PHALAROPES, and some BLACK and WHITE-WINGED SCOTERS. The 2 RED PHALAROPES were still there the am of Nov 1, on the water by the reeds in the cove.
Still on November 1, the lake was said to be "full of waterfowl" !

In Clearfield County, in north-central PA, at the Dubois Reservoir, on October 30, there were 4 BLACK SCOTERS. At Bimini Lake, BRANT.   

In the Venango/Clarion County area of northwestern PA, at Kahle Lake, on October 30, there was a BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE.
At that lake on October 31, there were 4 RED PHALAROPES, 140 DUNLIN, 7 BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS, and an OSPREY.  

In Allegheny County, in southwest Pennsylvania, there was a POMARINE JAEGER along the Ohio River, at the Dashfields Dam, said to be the first POMARINE JAEGER ever in that county. 
It is in Allegheny County that Pittsburgh is located. There was a PHALAROPE (presumably RED) there on October 30 along the Allegheny River.
Along the Ohio River, on November 4 & 5, two juvenile BLACK SKIMMERS were at the McKees Rock Marina. Who would have thought? Two SKIMMERS along the Ohio River!   

In Mercer County, in far-western PA, on October 30, 9 BRANT were at Lake Wilhelm, and a BLACK SCOTER was at Stonesboro Lake.

In nearby eastern Ohio, last week there were 2 WESTERN GREBES.
They of course came from the opposite direction of Sandy, but, as noted earlier, a WESTERN GREBE in Pennsylvania this week, is not as much of a "westerner", that is it is even further east (as noted in Lebanon County).

From western Pennsylvania, Sandy turned north toward western New York State and Ontario.

On October 30, a LEACH'S STORM-PETREL was seen over Lake Ontario, flying west past the Fort Niagara State Park in New York. It was a new species for that region.    
BRANT were noted moving along the Lake Ontario shoreline in hundreds to thousands, with also high numbers of COMMON LOONS, BLACK SCOTERS, and RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS.

At Fort Erie, in Ontario, on November 1, there were 3 POMARINE JAEGERS, a BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE, a SABINE'S GULL, along with, oh yes, a ROSS' GULL.
Certainly a LEACH'S STORM-PETREL at Lake Ontario, and maybe JAEGERS, the KITTIWAKE, and the SABINE's were due to the storm. 

After a big storm, where do displaced birds go? How often do the individual birds recover? And how much is a particular species impacted? These are all questions for another time, another Birdline.    

The Birdline & Natureline are affiliates of Focus On Nature Tours.

Armas Hill has presented the Birdline, originally from Philadelphia, on the phone and the internet for over 3 decades, and on the radio in Delaware for 10 years.

For an archive of some previous Birdlines & Naturelines:   

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