Hurricane Swifts

Yeah, I’ve been slacking with this blog.  But thanks to Jochen, I’ve decided to pick it back up again.  Mostly, I’ve just been affected by the summer time doldrums.

I’ve also been looking for an odd ball topic to sort of research and write about.  Well I think I’ve finally found one.  One of my favorite sites to look at is the Irish Rare Birds Committee.  As I was reading the 2005 report, I saw an interesting little side note about Chimney Swift.

Chimney Swift is actually a relatively new species to the Emerald Isle (Did you know the National Color of Ireland is BLUE?) , the first seven(!) records come from October 23-25, 1999.

Since Swifts spend the majority of their life in the air, it makes sense that they would be affected by violent weather, much like terns and other pelagic species which often turn up far from home following storms.  I went to the National Hurricane Center website (www.nhc.noaa.gov) and look up the 1999 Hurricane Season.  From there I discovered this first wave of Chimney Swift records was caused by Hurricane Irene, which was around between the 13th and 19th of October, 1999.  The Storm formed east of the Leeward Islands, before passing near Jamaica, then across Cuba, Southern Florida, before parallelling the Eastern North American Seaboard, before accelerating and becoming extra-tropical (a normal mid latitude cyclone) Northeast of Nova Scotia, Canada.  The remnants of this system would have passed over Ireland a couple of days later, and as the system slowly weakened it no doubt deposited these birds along the south coast of Ireland.  All total, 7 individual Swifts were recorded, marking the 1st 7 records for Ireland.  In addition to the Swifts, while birders were actively looking for Swifts a lone Common Nighthawk appeared at one of the locations, landed on a fence post, allowed excellent views by many observers before flying off, never to be seen again.  This marked the 1st record for Common Nighthawk in Ireland, two 1st records in one weekend, amazing!

History would repeat itself in 2005, this time to a much more dramatic effect in some areas.  The 1st sighting of Chimney Swift in Ireland occurred on October 29, 2005, much like the 1999 sightings, these sightings were likely tied to the remnants of a Tropical Cyclone, in this case Hurricane Wilma, which lost ttropical characteristics on October 25, but remained a powerful cyclone as it slammed into western Europe.  Several more Swift sightings occurred all along the southwestern coasts, from Kerry through Cork to Wexford.  Swifts were seen until November 9, 2005, but whether these are the same individuals seen earlier or perhaps wanderers from other areas of Europe in unclear.  During the 2005 event, several European countries in addition to Ireland recorded Chimney Swift, including the 1st ever record in France.  On the Azore Islands, west of Portugal, a whopping 112 Chimney Swifts were recorded! (IRBC 2005).  In fact the Azore Islands were bombarded with North American migrants, giving European birders the same thrill as American Birders get being on the Aleutian Islands or Attu in Alaska.  For a full account of the Azore excitement, check this site out http://www.birdwatch.co.uk/website/content/view/331/104/ .

The 2005 Hurricane season was one of the busiest in history with 28 named storms, including a very rare December-January storm.  If you look at this map you can clearly see how many North American migrants were blown towards western Europe.  Other North American species recorded around the same time as the Swifts was Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Red-Eyed Vireo and Gray-cheeked Thrush.   In both events, who knows how many migrants perished at sea.  It would be interesting to see if Hurricanes that occur during peak fall migration periods have any direct effect the following year on species population.

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2 responses to “Hurricane Swifts

  1. What, BLUE?

    I was sure (as everyone else but the Irish I presume) that it was GREEN.

    Thanks for the interesting write-up on the phenomena that make fall birding in Europe so exciting, although very, very few North American species ever make it to Germany (they all make landfall as soon as possible, which is the UK, France, Spain and Portugal). Those that do turn up are almost always ducks or shorebirds.
    Here are two links to European birding sites that might be interesting to you come this year’d hurricane season:

    Azores:
    http://azores.seawatching.net/index.php?page=recent

    Spain:
    http://azores.seawatching.net/index.php?page=recent

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