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#ABArare – Hurricane Irma Bird Round-Up

Hurricane Irma will not soon be forgotten by those impacted. We’ve all seen the sobering images of the destruction caused by this historically powerful storm, and we at the ABA wish our friends and members in Florida and throughout the Caribbean well as they assess the damage and work to clean up. Irma’s status as an exceptionally windy storm and its path through the northern Caribbean and into the Gulf Stream provided the opportunity for a number of interesting birds to be entrained in the system. A few days after Irma made landfall we are beginning to get reports of those waifs.

Irma’s path saw it pass over the entirety of Florida, before turning westward towards the Mississippi River Valley. Photo: Wikipedia

FLORIDA – Florida took the brunt of the storm, which made landfall near Sugarloaf Key southwest of Miami, and as such few Florida birders were able to safely monitor birds. In the immediate wake of the storm, however, a Black-capped Petrel was recorded at Lake Jackson near Tallahassee, the first for Leon County since 1964.

GEORGIA – After passing over Florida’s panhandle, Irma crossed nearly the entirety of Georgia from south to north. On Tuesday, September 12, the day after the storm passed, Georgia birders ventured out to find a nice selection of pelagic species wrecked inland. A Black-capped Petrel was picked up in a parking lot in Rome, and a second one was in Lamar County. A Great Shearwater dropped in at Lake Allatoona near Atlanta, and 2 Cory’s Shearwaters on Walter F. George Lake on the Alabama/Georgia state line. A White-tailed Tropicbird was found in southwest Georgia and taken to a rehabber. A Magnificent Frigatebird was at West Point Lake. Various coastal species were pushed inland, and at least 11 Sooty Terns and 2 Bridled Terns were spotted at various sites all over the state.

SOUTH CAROLINA – Irma was so large that its northeast edge hung out into the Atlantic as it made its passage over Florida’s panhandle and Georgia. The southeast winds appeared to push seabirds up towards the shore, most notably a Brown Noddy at Huntington Beach State Park in Georgetown County on September 12.

NORTH CAROLINA – A Brown Noddy in Brunswick County may have been the result of the same winds that brought that species to South Carolina, but it was in the mountains where Irma made most of her mark in North Carolina. The storm system passed briefly over the southwest part of the state, dropping at least two Sooty Terns in Buncombe and Henderson Counties, first records for the mountains, as well as some near Charlotte.

TENNESSEE – By the time Irma reached Tennessee it had been downgraded to a post-tropical low, which made the fallout of sea-going species all the more surprising. In addition to the more or less expected suite of Sooty Terns, Tennessee’s 1st records of Black-capped Petrel and Brown Noddy were discovered at Pickwick Lake in Hardin County, real surprises in a storm that had lost a lot of energy by the time it passed out of Georgia.

KENTUCKY – Though north of most of the Irma-related weather, birders in Kentucky did find at least 3 Sooty Terns at Kentucky Dam in Livingston/Marshall Counties.

Though most inland pelagic species tend to bug out as soon as the weather clears, there’s still a chance that birds could still turn up in the next couple days. Please note those in the comments here, along with any notable storm birds I have missed.

UPDATE: ALABAMA – Northern Alabama birders are starting to find returning seabirds, with the most notable a Band-rumped Storm-Petrel at Wheeler Lake in Lauderdale/Lawrence Counties, along with Sooty Terns. 

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Nate Swick

Nate Swick

Editor, Social Media Manager at American Birding Association
Nate Swick is the editor of the American Birding Association Blog, social media manager for the ABA, and the host of the American Birding Podcast. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Danielle, and two young children. He is the author of Birding for the Curious and The ABA Field Guide to Birds of the Carolinas.
Nate Swick

Latest posts by Nate Swick (see all)

  • Adam D’Onofrio

    2 Sooty Terns yesterday (9/13) at Kerr Reservoir in Mecklenburg Co., Virginia

  • Rob Hilton

    In the South Carolina section, shouldn’t “its northwest edge hung out into the Atlantic” be “its northeast edge hung out into the Atlantic”?

    • Yes. Sorry. Typo there.

  • Melanie

    How did Hurrican Irma affected the nesting places of the Barbuda Warbler?

    • We don’t know and probably won’t know for some time. It’s likely that some birds were able to hang on, but it’s hard to tell what the prognosis for that population is right now.

  • Pingback: Rare Bird Alert: September 15, 2017 « ABA Blog()

  • Ted Floyd

    I’m guessing the Sooty Tern in Ohio is Irma-related?

  • Pingback: American Birding Podcast: Bird Tours from the Inside with Rockjumper’s George Armistead « ABA Blog()

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Recent Comments

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  • Nate, in Rare Bird Alert: October 13, 2017... { That's fair about the weather timing. I recall the observers saying something about Hurricane Nate being involved, but how much is not clear. As to... }
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