Don's Jersey Birding: Will our birds survive Irene? It may be up to us
Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge after Hurricane Irene.
Photo Credit: flickr.com
We packed up Annie May and Boonie, our two beagles, and Sparky and Weenie, our two guinea pigs, and headed for higher ground to avoid Irene’s fury. I have been through every conceivable storm in my 40 plus years living in Moonachie, a small town in the Meadowlands district, but I’ve never before felt the need to evacuate until Irene. I’ve had water up my door more times than I can count and snowdrifts over my door more times than I want to remember. I even had to get my two boys and a lot of my neighbors to safety with my old flat bottom boat after a powerful Nor’easter back in 1993. This was different.
Besides the warnings we all received for days before the storm, I saw firsthand the super high tides we were having. The water levels in the Meadowlands were incredible even before we received this historic hurricane. Maybe I am getting older or maybe wiser, but either way I didn’t need any more convincing. It was time to go.
Lucky for us my in-laws have a house in Oakland located on a high setting well out of the way of the rising Ramapo River. We settled in to wait out this “monster storm” (the media loved to call it this, as if we needed to be scared even more). My in-law’s house has large windows overlooking a small picturesque lake, which are ideal for a situation where you have to sit and wait out something.
Saturday night the torrential rains came. Sunday morning Irene arrived in full force. I began to wonder, as did most birders, how our birds were going to make it through this horrible storm. Migration was in full force, but no birds or any other wildlife could be seen over the lake. Unsurprisingly, birds for the most part do not fly into hurricanes. They hold up and take cover just like humans. Sure they would have their casualties, but hasn’t that always been the case? After all birds have survived throughout millennia facing the most powerful hurricanes, but this was different.
The effect that a storm or natural disaster has on a bird population may depend on whether or not the numbers of that particular bird species are healthy. If a bird species is already threatened or endangered, then could a storm of the century like this be disastrous? And now let’s add to this dangerous recipe the fact that global warming is causing larger and more powerful storms that occur more often. What does this do to already dangerously low bird populations?
Not to mention habitat loss and fragmentation. What will bigger storms do to an already limited habitat, especially habitats that have been created or improved for wildlife? Will it alter or destroy them making them unavailable to migrating birds? Now maybe just for good measure let’s just say that there are a few more BP disasters. As far as I know there are no scientific studies to ease my fears. Maybe it’s just the negative effects of watching a natural disaster occur before my eyes that makes me think this way or maybe I have just begun to think a little more clearly.
Finally Irene began to waste away. Her damage was done. The blue jays began to sound off, a Willow flycatcher emerged from a large tulip tree as if to say, “Here I am. I made it!” Dragonflies hovered over the little lake that I watched so closely as the hurricane did its worst. Nature had survived despite this horrific storm as it has always done. But would it continue to do so? Will it still survive when man adds his global warming, habitat destruction and pollution to these deadly tempests? The answer may up to us.
Don Torino is the Education Chairperson for Bergen County Audubon Society.