Bird Watchers Flock to Cape May After Hurricane Sandy

When most people in Cape May, N.J., were boarding up windows and scurrying out of the path of Hurricane Sandy, Sam Galick was packing for the beach. For serious birders like Galick, hurricanes are a literal once in a lifetime windfall, sweeping up rarely seen species from hundreds and even thousands of miles away, and scattering the birds in front of their binoculars.

Post storm, Galick picked his way around downed trees and flooded streets in Cape May choked with up to six feet of sand, toting a camera and a notebook to track hourly bird counts. “Over 100,000 birds passed through in the mornings after Hurricane Sandy,” according to Galick. “We ended the day with 130 Pomarine Jaegers, a New Jersey high count,” said Galick, describing a tundra nesting seabird rarely seen on land.

A Major Hub for Migrating Birds

Even without the largest Atlantic hurricane on record, the New Jersey community of Cape May has long been a mecca for bird watchers. Located at the mouth of a river estuary, the Cape May peninsula juts into the Atlantic, and northwesterly airflows funnel migratory birds inland to the New Jersey coastline where birders from throughout the country and even overseas await to note their passage.

Some birds begin migrating south in early summer riding the Atlantic Flyway, an avian freeway that spans from the northern Atlantic coast down to South America. In Cape May, migration peaks from late September to late October. “Sandy hit us right at the end of the peak period,” according to Mike Crewe, program director at the Cape May Observatory. “Warblers and shorebirds were mostly gone, but robins, sparrows and some hawks were at their peak.”

Rare Birds Spotted After Hurricane Sandy

Pomarine Jaeger
Pomarine Jaeger

Photographer Sam Galick and 35 other birders spotted several rare birds at Sunset Beach in Cape May Point, N.J., on October 30. Since Hurricane Sandy hit Cape May, several rare birds have been spotted including this bird, the Pomarine Jaegers. "We get excited to see one here in Cape May, let alone 130! An unprecedented number in New Jersey," says Galick.

Black Skimmer
Black Skimmer

Galick says that most Black Skimmers have already migrated south for the season, but several were displaced during Sandy. Some were even spotted in inland Pennsylvania and New Jersery, which is very rare.

Red Phalarope
Red Phalarope

"Red Phalaropes are shorebirds that breed in the tundra and commonly migrate offshore to their wintering grounds. They are very hard to come by on land," says Galick.

Northern Lapwing
Northern Lapwing

On November 8, Galick photographed a Northern Lapwing in Allentown, which is only the third occurrence in recorded ornithological history that the bird has been seen in New Jersey. "This European shorebird has shown up recently in New England and is part of a movement post-Sandy," Galick says.

Black-Legged Kittiwake
Black-Legged Kittiwake

According to Galick, Black-Legged Kittiwakes are tough to see from shore. "One usually needs to go on a boat several miles offshore to run into one," he says.

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