Saturday, November 3, 2012

Hurricane Sandy and the Lost Week ....

I've been out of touch for a week, largely because we've had no power and hence no WiFi out here in Northwest Harbor.  Hurricane Sandy turned out to be a much worse storm than we anticipated and roughed long Island up pretty badly.  Living without power means that we really didn't see a lot of the impact in other areas, and now as I look at TV coverage of New Jersey or Staten Island, I realize how lucky we were.  Five days with no hot water or heat isn't so bad when you consider how much worse it could have been.  Our thoughts and best wishes go out to everyone who was impacted by the storm.


It seems like so long ago but on Monday I was really excited to bird the storm.  Unlike last year when Irene brought many storm-driven seabirds to the East End of Long Island, this Summer really didn't produce much in the way of tropical sea-birds (yes, as I write I still need a Brown Pelican!).  So when Hurricane Sandy popped up I thought this might be a chance to catch up.

On Monday Peter Polshek and I did some seawatching and checked a lot of the local coastal freshwater lakes to see what was around.  To be honest we were mostly killing time, knowing that for sea-birds we needed the Southerly winds on the back side of the storm and really waiting for Tuesday morning and the anticipated bird bonanza.  By mid afternoon I'd gone home to get an early night for a day of Storm-Birding on Tuesday and even losing power at around 4pm didn't put a damper on the excitement.

Waking up on Tuesday though I knew things weren't going to plan.  The winds were strong and the trees around the house were swaying, but it clearly wasn't a hurricane.  Having no TV to watch for an update (and no WiFi) I drove over to Peter's house and we headed off to meet up with Jim Ash and check all the spots that had produced so well during Irene.  It didn't take long though to realize that the storm had passed through quickly and the relatively mild winds were not going to be enough to wreck or detain sea-birds.  Sure enough Hook Pond, Wainscot Pond, Sag Pond and Mecox had not a storm bird between them.  Realizing there'd be no wreck we tried to sea-watch but finding access to the beach was really tough.  The police had most of the beaches closed due to the tidal surge and even when we did find what looked like a safe place a local cop (who we knew) still wouldn't let us go through, telling us that there was a dead body on the beach (!).

So by noon, we'd given up on Storm-birding altogether.  Jim went home and Peter and I went out to Montauk just to see what was around.  No unusual seabirds there either but we did get a surprise when a CAVE SWALLOW flew over the point.  We both jumped out of the car and got good looks through bins but when I ran back for the camera the State Park Police showed up and moved us on before I could get photos.  The irony of a Cave Swallow showing up was interesting given my having spent the best part of 4 days successfully chasing the Cave Swallows up near Rochester the week before.  Still, always good to see a wanderer like that and it was a Suffolk County Year Bird at least (and a State Bird for Peter).

And so that was that in terms of the hurricane - a bust for me in terms of year birds.  There were storm birds - Leach's Storm-Petrels, Jaegers, and a Tropicbird sp. seen in New York City.  There was also a South Polar Skua on Staten Island and all sorts of oddities dropped into lakes upstate and further West.  There was even a Ross's Gull at Cayuga Lake (!) although it didn't stick around and so saved me a long drive.  Given the disruption I settled into a bit of a 'lost week' of birding locally and trying not to worry too much about what was going on elsewhere (the lack of power and a shortage of gas kept me pretty close to home).

Snow Bunting at Sammy's Beach, East Hampton
There were moments of excitement during the week.  A report of a VIRGINIA'S WARBLER in Queens got everyone excited overnight on Wednesday, but an army of birders couldn't turn it up the next day.  BROWN PELICANS and MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRDS were reported from a few spots in the NorthEast (and prompted many, many hours of sea-watching on my part).  There was even a second ROSS'S GULL sighting that came from just across the Canadian border near Buffalo.

For my part I did finally see a Leach's Storm-Petrel close to shore at Montauk on Wednesday - a bird that made me feel a lot better about all the sea-watching hours I put in.  I've also been enjoying the masses of birds (including Pine Siskins and Purple Finches) that are coming to my feeders, and the many wintering birds that are settling back in for the season out here.  In many ways it's actually just fine that nothing good showed up this week as the gas shortage means that I wouldn't be able to chase it in any case.

Ipswich Sparrow - Gin Beach, Montauk.
On the positive front, the power came back on on Friday night and there are signs that we may get gas again next week.  Let's hope that things get back to normal as soon as possible and then back on the road ....

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