It takes a powerful storm to earn a name and the current monster of a storm churning up the Mid-Atlantic coast earned the name, Jonas. AKA, Blizzard of 2016. Here in New Hampshire, we were spared, the storm stayed just to our South, we only had wind gusts and cold temperatures but no snow, bummer. So what else would a sane person do? We'll travel into the storm in search of birds of course.
Big storms can often cause a “fallout” of birds, literally, birds are blown ahead of the storm. The confused birds will look for a safe haven to ride out the storm, and Plum Island Preserve, a small slip of land just off the coast can be that safe haven for storm-weary birds. So the possibility was there that I could see some interesting birds or a least large numbers of birds gathered together.
Reports on the Rare Bird website listed some unusual sightings, like the Short-eared Owl, Northern Sawet Owl, Great Horned Owl and Snowy Owl as all being on the island. Now it is well known I have a weakness for owls! I just had to get on the island to search for these owls. I invited Chris, Becky, and Beth to join me. Sisters Chris & Becky declined, due to the cold and wind. In retrospect, they made the right decision. Beth decided that the possibility of a “fallout” and possible chance to see an owl were worth braving the elements on the island.
And brave the elements we did! We arrived on the island and it was void of all the usual birding crowd. We pretty much had the island to ourselves. It was nearly high tide and it was excepted to be a very high tide due to the full moon and the strong winds from the storm just off shore. The water was almost flooding the road, the salt marsh was doing its job of retaining the storm surge but it looked like it wouldn't take much more to completely cover the road. I truly have never seen the water so high. I do hope the residents of the island can ride out the storm without much damage.
We checked out the North Overlook Pool for the Owls to no avail, tried the Pines Trail and struck out there as well. We scanned the salt marsh at Hellcat Trails, no owls, though we were surprised to see a Hermit Thrush hopping around in the snowy underbrush. We walked the trail thru the dunes at lot 5, but the strong winds drove us back. No owl sightings this trip. We saw birds, flocks of Canada Geese, Mallards, Northen Pintails and Robins. We saw a total of 15 different species. But no owls.
We made our way over the dunes along an icy trail to the ocean. The force of the wind was incredible! Really I mean it, the wind pushed us off balance, it was hard to stand up against the gusts. Beth tried in vain to set up her scope but the wind was too strong. There was a flock of small shorebirds scurrying in the sea foam, I made my way across the sand to get closer to identify them, the wind blown sand was like glass, but I did it I got close enough to tell they were Sanderlings. There were also Dunlin running in and out of the surf. I don't know how those little bitty birds kept from being blown away.
Washington closed down, New York banned all travel, the New Jersey shore flooded, there is no question that Jonas is a powerful dangerous storm. I hope all those in its path make it thru OK. As I drove off the island the temperature gauge in the truck said it was 19 degrees, there were light snow flurries and my weather app said the wind gusts were 30 mph.
I have to give props to Beth, she braved the sandblasted winds, icy trails and frozen outhouse seats to help me try and find my owls. Together we stood up to Jonas! May all those in the thick of it made it out safe and sound.