Hurricane could wash some rare seabirds into Ohio

Among Hurricane Irma hitchhikers could be magnificent frigatebirds. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Ohio’s birding community is preparing to make lemonade out of the lemons still tossed about by Hurricane Irma and its aftermath.

At one time a powerful Category 5 storm, Hurricane Irma crashed through the Caribbean, swept up the west coast of Florida, and is now headed toward the Tennessee River Valley, with its remnants possibly invading the Ohio River Valley.

It is what Hurricane Irma is carrying that is intriguing Ohio’s birding community: bird species rarely encountered in the state.

“It’s unfortunate that the hurricane happened but birders are prepared to take advantage of potential sightings,” said John Pogacnik, Lake Metroparks’ biologist and an avid birder.

“Hurricane Harvey never did much and it didn’t bring anything into Ohio because it sort of died out,” Pogacnik said.

What makes Irma so different is the anticipated hook the storm’s remnants are anticipated to take, a route that is projected to move north-northwest and then swing northeast.

When freed of the winds and the resulting entrapment, the birds are going to work to find a place to rest their weary wings. This potential appearance of uncommonly to rarely seen bird species could began as soon as the end of this week, Pogacnik says.

Pogacnik says, too, that sea birds and shorebirds in particular are likely to be Hurricane Irma’s hitchhikers. Among these potential avian visitors are laughing gulls, magnificent frigatebirds, and shearwaters.

“These birds may very well have been trapped inside the eye of the hurricane for days, and they could end up along Lake Erie or some of our inland lakes” Pogacnik said. “We also could see some rare terns showing up, too, but it’s all possible. It could be some good stuff.”

Even so, Pogacnik says whatever arrives may stick around for only a day or two and then depart in an effort to return to familiar places with more suitable habitat.

However, not all of any arriving refugee bird may make it back home alive, Pogacnik says.

“Some of these bird species can live only in a salt-water environment, and we could see that these birds have died; it’s happened before,” Pogacnik said. “It could go bad for some species.”

As for what Hurricane Irma and its residuals might mean to migrating birds – which have begun their seasonal trek south – Pogacnik says the recent weather events could delay but will not stop that travel.

Yet whatever happens, the birding community is ready, and its spy-glassing citizens are primed to take quick action when news via the Internet appears quicker than a carrier pigeon, Pogacnik says.

Sites that Ohio birders will find themselves monitoring include the North American Rare Bird Alert (narba.com), ebird.orgburroughsnatureclub.org, and birding.aba.org/maillist/OH.

Categories: Ohio – Jeffrey Frischkorn

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