For the Birds Radio Program: Hurricanes and Birds, Continued
More birds have been killed in this year’s devastating hurricane season.
During this season’s unprecedented four hurricanes hitting Florida, with overwhelming property damage and the horrifying loss of human life, it seems trivial to wonder how birds are faring. But even where hardest hit, some people take a moment from helping people to consider the storms’ effects on birds. Jeff Bouton, from Port Charlotte, Florida, by Punta Gorda and Fort Myers on the Gulf Side, made some interesting comments on the National Bird Chat internet listserve yesterday. Jeff writes that in the weeks following Hurricane Frances, over 600 seabirds called Cory’s Shearwaters were found dead on Florida’s east coast beaches. The actual number affected is probably far greater than this as this total has been garnered from 4 different individuals from different locales. The first day this was noted, 4 days after the storm, one individual found over 200 dead and ~8 dying Cory’s on the beaches of Cape Canaveral alone. Jeff notes that it is likely to assume that this same occurrence is happening across the entire broad front where these birds are being found.
One rehabber in the Ponce inlet received an assortment of dying birds, including 67 Cory’s Shearwaters, 1 Great Shearwater, 1 Audubon’s Shearwater, 1 Sooty Tern and 1 Bridled Tern. He mentioned that most have died. The interesting thing here is that this trend has continued for the weeks following the storm and despite the absence of strong onshore winds, birds like Brown Noddy, and Sooty/Bridled Terns seemed to become more prevalent. Jeff believes that the winds and rough surf may have affected the plant-animal communities upon which these birds feed, and starving birds moved into shallower water in search of food.
Now that Hurricane Jeanne ripped through the same area, Jeff fears they will undoubtedly receive more reports of dead birds which will trickle in a few at a time. He predicts a major lag in reporting, thanks to lack of power, downed phone lines, and such, as well as the lack of desire to bird. He says, “After being hit by Charley head on I know that despite being in the best area to bird, all of my efforts went into getting trees off my house, assisting neighbors with the same, getting limbs cleaned up, boarding broken windows, and repairing the roof temporarily with tarps.” He says the number of blue roofs in Florida right now is staggering! He also points out that another problem with birding the hardest hit areas is that they are closed and access is restricted by national guard, noting that it’s an interesting situation for those who have never been in an area under state of emergency.
Jeff says that many public areas are closed right now. Jeanne has damaged the bridge out to Merritt Island from Titusville. Many of the parks in the Port Charlotte area remain closed even though a month and a half has passed since Charley, and Jeff reminds us that parts of Everglades National Park remained inaccessible for a decade after Hurricane Andrew hit. Jeff suspects that great efforts will be placed on restoring beach communities, but guesses that wild areas will be left as low priorities. So he suggests that if you are planning a trip to Florida, you may wish to do some homework, contacting locals or the parks you hope to visit. And he notes that the good news is that the Everglades, and the Miami areas remained unscathed as of yet. Of course, we’ve got two months to go in this year’s hurricane season.