8PM EDT updates to Hurricane Sandy’s forecast track suggest that a late Monday and early Tuesday landfall in central or southern New Jersey is still likely. However, as hinted (and written) in previous forecasts, this storm is huge, and regardless of the exact landfall, many area of the mid-Atlantic and New England will feel the effects of Sandy sooner and beyond the landfall location. The center of circulation comes ashore one way or another in the coming 24-36 hours. Furthermore, the wind field is so large that it spreads inland many hundreds of kilometers. This is a very dangerous storm, please be smart and safe if you plan to do any storm-watching and hurricane-bird chasing. Safety is always first.
As the storm comes ashore, all of the central and northern New Jersey and south shore of Long Island, and probably inland bays and larger harbors, will begin to experience a spike in hurricane driven birds. This should happen beginning on Monday, as winds in these areas pickup from the north and eventually shift more easterly. Most notable among these will be the near shore species, as stated in previous forecasts and on eBird. The time to watch (safely and carefully!) for the entrained pelagic or tropical species at the coast will be first thing Tuesday morning, throughout that day. By that point, easterly winds will be strongest. Any sheltered area, such as a parking lot or ball field, may contain birds seeking some sort of shelter. As the center of the storm moves inland, those to the immediate east of its track should experience the largest windfall of birds; however, the magnitude of this storm and its unprecedented timing and journey may have surprises in other areas away from the typical hotspots for hurricane-driven birds. If safe and possible, checking inland lakes and rivers, parking lots with concentrations of gulls, and river valleys all warrant repeated checks. As the system moves past an area, the clock begins ticking for many driven birds to return to the ocean, so just past passage becomes a prime window for observation.
Almost all of New Jersey, central and eastern Pennsylvania, central and eastern New York, and the eastern Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River valley will be in the hot zone for hurricane birds. Birders inland should begin to see action first in New Jersey by Tuesday morning and Pennsylvania midday and early afternoon. Tuesday afternoon will presumably see many driven birds return to the ocean via the Delaware River, so safe vantage points along the river and on either side of the Delaware Bay will experience return movements of these birds. By Wednesday, much of eastern Pennsylvania and the southern Tier of New York should start to experience the avian effects of Sandy’s passage. As of now, Thursday morning looks like whatever the bounty of Sandy’s passage will be felt in central New York and along the eastern shores of Lake Ontario. Presumably the entrained birds transported with the storm from farther afield will depart as soon as they can – as birds driven farther inland begin to move, river valleys and ridgelines may be conduits for birds moving back to the ocean.
Additionally, other areas outside of our predicted hot zone may well see birds, given the nearly 1,000 mile wide circulation of this storm. For example, movements of birds in areas not affected by the hurricane, per se, but by the back end of the massive system, particularly in the Appalachians, may be large as birds attempt to escape early season heavy snow. Locally common residents, some of the irruptives already moving this season, and other later season migrants may be on the move.
For all of those birding or observing in the storm, please be smart and safe. Additionally, please submit all of your records to eBird, as this is an unprecedented opportunity to collect information about this unique meteorological event and the ways birds respond and distribute themselves as a result! Additionally, if anyone finds dying birds, contact your local wildlife rehabilitator, and dead birds, please follow Paul Sweet’s (collection manager at AMNH) suggestion posted on the NYS Birding Listserve:
“Inevitably a storm of the magnitude of Sandy will result in some bird casualties. If anyone finds unusual dead birds would you please save them for the museum. These specimens are useful not just for record purposes, they can also be used in a host of other studies. After Irene we were able to salvage two White-tailed Tropicbirds, Sooty and Bridled terns and a Long-tailed Jaeger. If possible bag the birds and freeze them with a slip of paper indicating the locality and date of salvage. Walking beaches once the storm has passed could yield something interesting.”