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Thursday, November 01, 2012

Post-Hurricane Birding

Like a lot of birders around the tri-state area, I'd been watching the progress of Hurricane Sandy closely, trying to figure out a safe strategy for getting out to look for storm birds as soon as the worst passed. Emails went back and forth between a few of us, remembering the incredible diversity of seabirds that appeared locally after Hurricane Irene last year. I felt bad for Heydi as she was trapped in Louisiana. She was down there for the "Yellow Rails and Rice Festival" and, from the looks of the published photos of flooded NYC airports, she wouldn't be partaking in any special storm species this time around.

My strategy during the storm was to sit at home, watch the non-stop news coverage on television, check my emails and sip "Dark and Stormies". I woke just before sunrise and it seemed very quiet outside on our block. There were lots of leaves and small branches scattered around, but nothing very serious. Not like last year's storm. I texted a couple of people while gulping down breakfast to find out if anyone had been out yet. Paige was still half asleep, but Rob was finishing his coffee and getting ready to head out. We'd meet in Prospect Park next to the lake.

My path to the lake took me across the Long Meadow, through the Ravine, across the Nethermead Meadow, passed the Maryland Monument and down Wellhouse Drive to the water. While I encountered several uprooted trees and some large broken branches, the damage didn't seem nearly as bad as the aftermath of last year's hurricane. Perhaps Irene had already weeded out all the weak trees. Here's a short slideshow of some of the damage:

Unlike last year after the storm, Prospect Lake seemed eerily quiet. There were no gulls or terns and only a scattering of waterfowl. The only new birds appeared to be a small flock of Buffleheads. As I scanned the water Shane texted that he was seeing Leach's Storm-Petrels on Gravesend Bay. This is a bird normally only seen far offshore. I called Rob and we decided to head over to Gravesend after picking up Keir at Grand Army Plaza. A brief conversation with Shane let us know that the promenade along the water's edge was closed, as was Shore Parkway.

We ended up driving down Bay Parkway to Bensonhurst Park. Car access to Caesar's Bay shopping center, which is on Gravesend Bay, was blocked off. Driving behind the park onto Shore Road we found that a small section of the road was flooded so ended up parking right there. The wind didn't seem too bad until we walked across the parkway towards the water. Huge waves were crashing against the seawall and the bubble over the tennis courts had collapsed. With the wind blowing out of the East I suggested that we use the Toys R Us building as a windbreak and scan the bay from that location.

We had to pick our way through concrete, large boulders, bricks and other debris, much of which had been the storm protection at the very end of Bay Parkway. A chain-link fence, which would have normally prevented us from using the building as a windbreak, had been torn away by the powerful storm driven waves. Even large sections of concrete sidewalk had been lifted up and moved towards the shopping center's main parking lot. As we set up scopes and began scanning the water I noticed curious people slowly starting to make there way down to the water's edge.

Occasional wind driven cold rain and high waves crashing against the seawall chased some folks away, but as the morning progressed, more and more people came down to survey the results of the storm. I was amazed by the daring (or stupidity) of some people who would walk right up to sections seawall where there were waves crashing up onto the promenade. Folks don't realize the force behind a wave of this size. Unfortunately, some people have probably lost their lives during this storm underestimating the power of water.

Despite the strong wind on the open bay, there were thousands of birds flying around. A line of Northern Gannets could be seen feeding from the Verrazano Bridge, south to Hoffman Island. Several flew fairly close to the Brooklyn coastline. Large numbers of Laughing Gulls streamed passed from North to South. I spotted a juvenile Black-legged Kittiwake flying across the bay from West to East. Shane had been scouting for a different vantage point farther North along Shore Road, but returned and joined us in front of Toys R Us. Shortly after his arrival he pointed out a Royal Tern following the edge of the seawall and heading right towards us. Over the next few hours we spotted one more of these huge terns. Lots of Common Loons and a few Red-throated Loons fought the wind as they passed over the bay. One of the strangest sights was a Great Blue Heron flying into the wind above the churning water. Earlier in the morning Shane had seen a couple of Leach's Storm-Petrels on Gravesend. By the time we arrived they weren't to be found, but we did observed at least one Wilson's Storm-Petrels. Two main highlights of the morning, were a tropicbird and Red Phalarope. Eagle-eyed Shane spotted both birds. The tropicbird was flying back and forth under the Verrazano Bridge among a flock of gannets. It never got close enough that we could say without question which species of tropicbird (i.e., red-billed, white-tailed), but it was an exciting find, nonetheless. The phalarope was seen flying south and we all watched it as it came relatively close, eventually moving in the direction of Norton's Point.

By around 11:30am the constant stream of South flying birds had slowed considerably. By noon Keir, Rob, Paige, Mike and I decided to drive over to Floyd Bennett Field to check the runways and fields for more storm birds. Shane stayed behind to monitor the bay a bit longer. At Floyd Bennett there were lots of gulls sitting in the parking lots, but nothing unusual. There were a couple of hundred Brant and Canada Goose on the cricket field. Moving between the waterfowl were some Killdeer and Black-bellied Plover. Again, nothing out of the ordinary. The beach at the end of Archery Road showed a lot of erosion, cutting back into the vegetation and extending the beach to twice its previous depth.

New York City's transit system and power grid has suffered a lot of damage, but New Yorkers are resilient. We've bounced back from worse.


Location: Gravesend Bay from Caesars Bay Shopping Center, Brooklyn
Date: Oct 30, 2012 8:45 AM - 12:00 PM
Comments: Scanning Gravesend Bay post-hurricane for storm birds. With Keir, Rob and Shane. Joined later by Mike and Paige.
Species: 25 (+1 other taxa)

Canada Goose
American Black Duck
White-winged Scoter
Black Scoter
Common Goldeneye (2.)
Red-breasted Merganser
Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
WILSON'S STORM-PETREL (1, Flying south from under the Verrazano Bridge.)
TROPICBIRD SP. (1, Flying back and forth under Verrazano Bridge among flock of Northern Gannet.)
Northern Gannet (Many. Possible a few hundred birds.)
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron (1.)
American Oystercatcher (5.)
RED PHALAROPE (1, Flying south from under the Verrazano Bridge. Followed bird until it passed Toys R Us.)
Bonaparte's Gull
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Common Tern (1.)
Forster's Tern


Charles said...

the morning after the hurricaine in marine park which was showing effects of some salt water surge-we saw a few rumped tailed warblers, a yellow bellied sapsucker, a brown creeper, flocks of brants, and one american egret. otherwise the place seemed deserted, we even walked the back walk which is now open. I wonder did a lot of the smaller birds die during this megaevent?

Yojimbot said...

awesome sightings!

Rob Jett said...

Inevitably some birds die during large storms. However, many just hunker down until it passes. Over the last couple of days there have been huge numbers of birds around the area, so I think they are, for the most part, alright.

Vicki Ganguly said...

that flooding on shore road is right outside my window! haha. you should of see what it looked like when sandy was arriving. the water from the bay covered the entire belt parkway and benches by the waterside and was coming in huge waves right on shore road. the water was at least 2 feet high at night, the water was drowning some of the small cars. But I am just lucky to be a live and well. My friend on the other hand in Belle Harbor Rockaway is really suffering. No power, no food, no hot water and it's been 2 weeks after sandy. Both cars submerged under water. The water was 5 feet high, houses just burning to ashes. Real tragedy. He had 3000 pounds of sandbags guarding his house, the water pushed it away like it was nothing.

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