Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene one year anniversary

What a difference a year makes, Winsor Dam at dusk, Aug 28, 2012
It has been one year since the arrival of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene in western Massachusetts and delivered some incredible birds to the area.   I have written about that day extensively before but find it worth mentioning again on the one year anniversary.  Besides the tropical/pelagic species brought in from the storm there were a variety of shorebirds.  The list for the day is quite amazing when you look back.  Here is the eBird list submitted by Marshall Iliff for the time that he, Scott Surner and I were at Winsor Dam at Quabbin Park.  I think it does a great job of summing up the day.
Sooty Tern, Winsor Dam at Quabbin Park, Aug 28, 2011

Quabbin Reservoir--Park HQ., Hampshire, US-MA
Aug 28, 2011 9:00 AM - 8:00 PM
Protocol: Stationary
Comments: This count is for the full day totals by Marshall Iliff, Scott Surber, and Larry Therrien, joined by others in afternoon. I kept detailed hourly totals, so this count is a duplicate of the other 11 checklists. With Tropical Storm Irene hitting Manhattan at 8:00-9:00 am, and its arrival in western Massachusetts scheduled for 15:30, I arrived here at 9:00 with the intention of staying all day and trying for hurricane birds, not least of them my state Sooty Tern. All week the 'eye' had been forecast to pass over Quabbin or slightly west, so this seemed like the perfect spot being a large north-south water body near to or just east of the eye of the storm. Scott Surner arrived two hours earlier than I and stayed all day; Larry Therrien joined intermittently, including the whole afternoon. Dozens more joined from 15:00 to 18:00, and were witness to the highlights of this phenomenal day.
Canada Goose 90
Mallard 75
Common Loon 3 adults; one pair seen in display flight
White-tailed Tropicbird 1 ***mega; stunning, full-tailed adult spotted by Larry Therrien at 16:34 and called out as 'I got something REALLY interesting'! Larry had not acted this way all day, so I snapped to attention immediately and followed his directions, expecting a Sooty Tern. When I got on his bird in my scope, it was flying directly away over the 'gap' (the view to the northern part of the reservoir) and was flying with fast, shorebird-like wing beats. I did not instantly realize what I was looking at, and seeing the flight style and odd black stripe down the back very quickly considered and eliminated American Avocet and then Pied Avocet. The bird banked slightly about a second later and I started screaming ADULT WHITE-TAILED TRPICBIRD!, which I am sure is what Larry knew it was all along! Pandemonium ensured as the bird banked left and flew towards the island, revealing the long tail streamer flowing wave-like in the wind. On the water (probably 0.75 to 1 mile distant or so) it sat very squat, not riding high like gulls, and it propped its rear end up. Occasionally the long, slim, tail streamers could be seen while sitting, It spent almost all its time facing right towards us, into the wind, but at one point it turned sideways and a white bird with a bold black carpal bar could be seen. No one was quick enough to take photos in flight and when sitting on the water it was hard enough to keep in the scopes, let alone to photograph. It sat on the water for over an hour, drifting slowly away from us, until lost from view at about 17:40. Amazingly, one of 10 live White-tailed Tropicbirds seen, with 2 in Delaware, three in a single Cape May, NJ, seawatch, at least two live (and two dead) in New York, and one or two at Onota Lake, Pittsfield, MA. Are more are yet to come? Tom Johnson and other researchers offshore this summer noted elevated numbers of White-tailed Tropicbirds, which may be a factor in this unprecedented storm for tropicbirds. DESCRIPTION: Bonaparte's Gull sized bird with gleaming white plumage and fast, hurried flap. It was flapping constantly and seemed to require much effort to stay airborne, flying much like a Willet (I once heard a pelagic Willet called out as a tropicbird) or avocet. The wings were slender and narrow, and came to blunt points. The tail was long, as long as the body perhaps, and very slender, flowing with every flap. The upperparts had a bold black carpal bar and bold black outer primaries (outer wedge, involving several outer primaries). The back was pure white. I could not see the details of the head, but there was certainly a mask. I could not see the bill color. The bird flew left and then wheeled into a glide and flapped as it landed on the water.
Double-crested Cormorant 3
Turkey Vulture 3
Osprey 1
Cooper's Hawk 1 flying across lake; spotted by Dave Donsker
Bald Eagle 2 one ad, one TY
Red-tailed Hawk 1 my first of the day; soaring at dusk to east
Black-bellied Plover 7 *rare; one flying with Hudsonian Godwit flock at about 13:30 and at 18:00-19:00 flock of six flying with two American Golden-Plovers; in flight, blackish underparts and white rumps and tails easily seen, as well as larger size relative to the Golden-Plovers
Whimbrel 1 **rare; heard clearly 4x giving 'slightly descending 'kek-kek-kek-kek'. I must admit, I first thought it might be a flicker (an ID problem I have never had before), but after another two calls it became clear that it was a Whimbrel and I called it out to the others. We heard it give one more call then, and after that it must have circled because a minute later we heard the call again, loud, right overhead. Never seen.
Hudsonian Godwit 12 **rare; about 10:30; I initially counted 11 in the field but photos clearly show 12
Ruddy Turnstone 4 *rare; flock spotted flying south towards us into wind (and ultimately over the dam and off to the south) by Mike Resch, who commented on their dark chests and instantly agreed when I suggested turnstone (before seeing the birds); flock flew past and seen well in flight. Bold pattern of white and black on wings with white oval up central lower back and dark smudges on chest.
Baird's Sandpiper 1 *rare; flying with Ruddy Turnstones and only slightly smaller and without the chety appearance of Pectoral. Not seen well, but the size in comparison to turnstone, lack of a bold wingstripe or white rump, and long-winged appearance all combine to eliminate all species except Baird's, Buff-breasted, and Pectoral, and I was ocnfident that the shape was not that of Pectoral. The bill and head were seen well enough to eliminate Buff-breasted
peep sp. 1 small peep, probably Least
large shorebird sp. 20 one tight flock of about 20 shorebirds at 13:30 was spotted late and mostly got past us before we could Id then; some observers that saw them best thought Black-bellied Plover, but I felt I saw then well and saw long trailing legs
Bonaparte's Gull 5 at about 17:10; four distant birds and one much closer juvenile that landed on water and which I carefully checked for other gull species
Ring-billed Gull 58 almost all apparently adults
Herring Gull 24 one juvenile, one second-summer, the rest adults
Great Black-backed Gull 1 near adult; 15:00 hour; flew right over dam
Sooty Tern 1 ***mega; arrived at about 16:42; some photos by me may be identifiable and others (including Scott Surner) were shooting too; fully expected in this Tropical Storm, and by this time we had heard about Sooty Terns all around us: Boston, Long Island Sound, Manhattan, Pennsylvania, Maryland, etc. This bird flew by close (0.5 mi away or so), and generated some chatter as I screamed ADULT SOOTY TERN! A few people were struggling to get on it, but ultimately all present (10+ people) had prolonged views as this bird worked its way to the east side of the dam, fed in the small cove for 5-10 minutes, and then circled high and flew out over the dam and away (into the wind) to the south. DESCRIPTION: Moderately large tern, larger than a Common Tern with a broad-winged appearance but sharply pointed wingtips. It soared several times for 10-20 seconds and when feeding would swoop down to the water and pick things from the surface much like a Black Tern might. No molting flight feathers or aps in the plumage, so otherwise very crisp looking.  Underparts pure white. Underwings white with extensively dark undersides to primaries and secondaries, giving distinct two-toned appearance (like Swainson's Hawk). White underparts sharply demarcated from dark upperparts. Upperparts blackish with a faint hint of brownish on the central back indicating wear. Dark cap and nape connected to back without any sign of a collar, eliminating Bridled Tern. No contrast between black cap and blackish back. White forehead large and prominent in from of eyes and suqared off at rear, not coming to a point over the eye as on Bridled Tern. Tail, when flared and seen from above, had only a single narrow white rectrix, also eliminating Bridled Tern which has 2-3. Tail came to a moderate fork, with a rounded central notch. State bird for me!
Black Tern 3 *rare; 16:10 or so; Mike Resch spotted these distantly; I concurred with his ID: smallish terns that appeared pale gray overall at a distance without the white gleam of Sterna terns or contrast of a tropical tern. All even above (no white tail). I only saw the flying and did not see any foraging.
Common Tern 2 adults at 13:45 and 9:58
Sterna sp. 2 very distant, presumed Common Tern
Parasitic Jaeger 1 **rare; continuing bird from 13:00-14:00 period; adult or near adult intermediate morph; clearly not a Pomarine Jaeger, this bird was dark smoky gray on the head and chest, with a contrasting dark cap. Although I could not see a pale forehead, this plumage is probably only shown by Parasitic, since Pomarines are so dark as to have little contrast and have a more jagged cap margin and more uneven (less smooth) breastband etc. When in flight the upperwings looked very dark and the tail seemed to have some short, ragged points as though a non-adult. Some white at base of tail. In flight I felt size and structure was consistent with arasitic as well, and while I considered Long-tailed more likely here on this date, I saw nothing to indicate that species and felt the size was clearly that of Parasitic.
jaeger sp. 1 extremely distant darkish birds that were seemingly the same size. One showed dark plumage, a paler belly, and a bit of an underwing flash. I did not know if these were the same or different from the bird seen earlier, but I assume one of them was the same individual. The distance was extreme and we were unable to stay on them when flying against dark pines in the background.
Common Nighthawk 8
Chimney Swift 5
Belted Kingfisher 1
Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted) 1
Blue Jay 2
American Crow 8
Common Raven 2
Tree Swallow 31
Bank Swallow 4
Barn Swallow 24
Cliff Swallow 2
swallow sp. 10
Tufted Titmouse 1
Cedar Waxwing 1
Chipping Sparrow 2
Northern Cardinal 1
Bobolink 4 flight calls heard
American Goldfinch 1

I managed to add two life birds, four state birds and seven birds to my Hampshire county list.   In addition to the birds the day of the storm a few days later (September 1st) I also sighted a large swift species (moving with nighthawks) that very well may have been a Black Swift. 

Here is a link from the day after the storm:

As well as a link regarding the large swift species seen after the storm:

Hurricane Isaac projected path as of the evening of Aug 28, 2012
On the date of the one year anniversary of Irene a hurricane looks to be on track to impact the gulf coast over the next few days.  Hurricane Isaac is expected to strengthen before landfall as a category 1 storm.  Although there is likely to be no impact at all from the latest storm here I have included a link from eBird regarding the possible species that could be displaced by the storm along the gulf coast:

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