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Hurricane/Tropical Storm KAY birding potential and impacts on Sunday pelagic trip

Hurricane/Tropical Storm KAY birding potential and impacts on Sunday pelagic trip
By – 2:49 pm

As undoubtedly almost all of you know, a hurricane has formed off western Mexico named KAY that is forecast to come north just barely off the west coast of Baja. Once it gets to central Baja it should start to weaken due to cooler ocean temps and encountering drier air, so it should be “only” a weakening tropical storm once it gets beyond there–as well as start to curve offshore to the west. It may still be a weak tropical storm when it gets to its forecast northernmost latitude, well off about Ensenada around late Friday or early Saturday. The principal effects in San Diego County are forecast to be strong EAST winds on Friday PM into Saturday AM, chance for substantial rain in the mountains (especially east slope), and more spotty rain nearer to the coast from late Friday through Saturday.

First, a comment about the scheduled Sunday pelagic trip. Right now it looks like it could well go. Saturday looks hopeless, but seas typically lay down rather quickly following the passage of tropical systems. Right now the swell forecast for Sunday is down substantially to 4-6 feet, and dropping. If the storm gets delayed, then Sunday is in trouble. But the bottom line is that presumably no decision will be made until a more certain storm outcome is known, which probably would not be until around Friday afternoon, maybe. In the meantime, hang tight. And do NOT try to get a hold of Dave Povey to ask, as he is currently out on the “Searcher” 5-day pelagic trip and won’t be back to shore until Friday morning.

My gut–and my gut can be incorrect–is that the center of the weakening storm will not get close enough to us, and the dominant wind direction unfortunately will be EASTERLY, to bring us a plethora of vagrant pelagic species. The one species that could well turn up is MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRD, and they could be seen not only along the coast, but perhaps also over any larger inland body of water, including in the mountains, and even over at Borrego Springs. Best time to look will probably be Friday PM and much of Saturday. (Frigatebirds are the species often displaced the farthest out from the center of the storm, of any of the hoped-for seabirds. Two frigatebirds turned up in L.A. County this past weekend right after the extremely weak remnants of “Javier” moved by early on Saturday. In eastern North America, after frigatebird, the species displaced the farthest out from a tropical storm is often Sooty [and Bridled] Tern.)

But in addition to a possible frigatebird or pie-in-the-sky something even better, the strong east winds and some amount of rain could drop numbers of inland over-flying shorebirds and other over-flying waterbirds (including inland rarities such as jaegers and Sabine’s Gulls and terns) on any larger inland body of water. AND perhaps the strong east flow MIGHT result in a grounding of landbird migrants along the coast.

So, lots of choices to be made! And perhaps only a couple folks will make the right choice! Try the coast late Fri and all of Sat for frigatebirds? Try inland for frigatebirds and grounded waterbirds and shorebirds of note right after the worst of the weather? Try good landbird sites along the immediate coast Saturday [or even Sunday?] AM?

Many a good waterbird does NOT linger long, at all, after a storm passes, so if you are lucky enough to find something good, please post the word IMMEDIATELY to the listserve and WhatsApp group. Do NOT wait several hours to eBird it.

–Paul Lehman, San Diego