North American Birds

VOLUME 70 NO1 2017

A Quarterly Journal of Ornithological Record Published by the American Birding Association. The mission of the journal is to provide a complete overview of the changing panorama of our continent’s birdlife.

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Page 6 of 139

V O L U M E 7 0 ( 2 0 1 7 ) • N U M B E R 1 5 E D I TO R S ' N OT E B O O K / T H E C H A N G I N G S E A S O N S : O F G A L E S , W I TC H E S , A N D G AT H E R I N G S TO R M S Areas south and east of the Western Great Lakes generally got in on the Franklin's action the following day. Cape May was perhaps the epicen - ter of the event, a distinction cre- ated by its geographic uniqueness, a full-time waterbird migration count, and over a hundred birders who were specifically out looking for Franklin's Gulls in the wake of the system. A minimum of 350 were tallied in Cape May County on the 13th (with only a handful seen on subsequent days), far outmatch- ing the 51+ that were recorded there during the last such event on 14-15 November 1998. And that it- self is something that deserves more contemplation. Among this total was a single flock of 62 that briefly rested on wind-whipped, white-capped waves just offshore Cape May City, possibly represent- ing the largest congregation of the species ever documented on the Atlantic Ocean. Interestingly, it appeared that the north-cen- tral portion of the U.S. East Coast received some of the largest numbers of the species, and a more technical analysis of the winds and overall track of this system would likely be enlightening in explaining why that was the case. Comparatively few were noted to the north, such as a total of ca. 9 in Que- bec 13-16 November, plus scattered reports through both coastal and inland portions of New England. Farther south along the coast, this mess were a few Franklin's Gulls along the East Coast and the Great Lakes. Returning to the event at hand, the 2015 Witch also picked a set of dates remarkably similar to the 1998 and 1975 storms. The storm first left its mark in the Rockies on 10 November, where plenty of wind-swept snow fell in some areas. It proceeded on to the Plains and was particularly rough on Iowa, where at least 10 tornadoes touched down in the central part of the state dur- ing the afternoon of 11 November, part of a squall line that fit criteria necessary for classification as a derecho. Amazingly, both a tornado and snow were recorded at Des Moines, Iowa in the span of just six hours. Wind gusts in excess of 70mph were mea- sured at both Peoria and Chicago, Illinois. As the storm progressed east, multiple loca- tions along Ohio's Lake Erie shoreline re- corded wind gusts in excess of 60mph. Chi- cago also witnessed a swift and significant drop in barometric pressure, as the mercury fell 6.8 millibars in just three hours during the evening of 11 November. The first signs of the impending Franklin's Gull displacement came through the birding wire 12 November, with several reports along the western shoreline of Lake Michigan that detailed an unusual quantity of southbound flocks: a total of 37 counted throughout the day at Harrington Beach, Wisconsin; 250 moving past Winthrop Harbor, Illinois; 168 (including a single flock of 150) counted at Gary, Indiana, with lesser numbers tallied at numerous other lakefront locations. Inland from the lake, Franklin's Gulls were also found at a number of landlocked locations, including near Indianapolis and Louisville. This U.S. National Weather Service map of 10 November 2015 depicts the projected position of a fierce low pressure system on 12 November 2015. Image courtesy of National Weather Service. An eBird feature story covered the Franklin's Gull event of November 2015. Image courtesy of eBird. both Virginia and Maryland also established new state high counts for the species, cour- tesy of 17 at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge- Tunnel and 22 at Ocean City, Maryland. Quite striking was the total of 20 at Tybee Island, Georgia on the 13th and a single that traveled as far as Bermuda by the 14th, truly showing the magnitude and extent of the avian aftermath generated by this particular November Witch. Making the Connections, Looking Ahead Many birders felt that this particular event was far larger than the 1998 edition. Per- haps that was the case. But as was discussed at the start of this piece, the way we view major avian events and—just as important- ly—how we compare them to past events must also leave room for consideration of how advances in technology have enhanced our ability to predict, communicate, and document these occurrences. Were there just 50 or so Franklin's Gulls that went through Cape May during the 1998 event, or was it in actuality closer to the 350 seen in 2015? Do text message alert systems, eBird, and social media get more birders into the field, more quickly, to document these events now? Are we better prepared? Are we more skilled as field birders? Is it a mix of these? These are difficult questions to answer. How we synthesize all of this, in a changing world, is also a challenge to consider, but it something we must keep trying to do. Stay tuned for more. n

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