Anne and I hunkered down in our daughter and son-in-laws’ home on Long Island when hurricane Sandy struck the New York area. We were there for our granddaughter’s christening the day before the brunt force of the storm hit. Outdoor pictures of blowing hair with baby Teagan in front of the church were evidence that the storm was approaching. The christening party was dominated by talk of the impending storm and the preparations people made while children played on the backyard swing set. The following morning we awoke to the sound of rustling branches and whistling power lines. The winds became stronger with each hour that passed on.
Later, I stepped outside onto the concrete stoop to witness nature’s fury. The anxiety of the storm caused my heart to beat faster. Two 60 foot Norway spruce trees swayed, pushed by tropical storm force winds that lasted hours not minutes. Frequent bursts of 94 m.p.h. winds, wreaked havoc in this suburban neighborhood. It pushed trees over, the roots unable to hold them in place. Oak trees, that appeared healthy on the outside, snapped and fell across power lines, revealing the rot and decay within. I thought about squirrels, sheltered within the cavities of these trees. How were they handling this storm? A large flock of blackbirds, most likely grackles, suddenly appeared. They were flying into the wind, actually making forward progress. Downdrafts forced some of the birds, towards the ground, yet they recovered and joined the flock. I retreated to the safety of the house and closed the door behind me.
After the storm, northern lapwings, birds native to Scandinavia were seen in Massachusetts. In their effort to fly south to the African coast for the winter, they were carried out to sea by Hurricane Sandy and dumped on the east coast of North America. Pelicans from as far south as Florida were swept up by this maelstrom landing in New England. Many were exhausted and injured, some could not recover and died. Parmarine jaegers, birds that nest in the Canadian tundra and migrate to the oceans to winter also got caught up with the wind and were cast off in Pennsylvania. Gannets, birds that live mostly out at sea, found themselves on the Hudson River in New York.
When birds sense a drop in barometric pressure, they scramble just like we do. Gulls, terns and other coastal species flee inland; others abandon the area by taking advantage of the strong winds on the forefront of the storm. Many birds hunker down in the shelter of the leaf litter, amongst dense vegetation and on the leeward side of large trees, fences and buildings. Pelagic birds, birds that live mostly over the ocean, seek the calm eye of the storm where they move with it and await for the storm to dissipate oftentimes dropping the birds hundreds of miles inland.
Once the storm dissipated, Anne and I roamed the neighborhood surveying the damage and were grateful that we and our family were safe. We were without power and modern conveniences, but we still had a home to stay in and food to eat unlike the thousands of people who lost their homes. Crows flew overhead. Squirrels and sparrows scratched through piles of fallen leaves looking for insects and seeds. A red-bellied woodpecker emerged from a hole is in an old maple tree that survived the storm. We all, birds, animals and people survived the largest most powerful storm of our lives.