Imagine the confusion: One day you're a sooty tern contentedly flapping away in South Carolina. The next day, you've been sucked up into a major weather event and deposited off the coast of New Jersey.
Hurricane Floyd not only threw the lives of millions of people into temporary disarray but also dealt a big slap to the animal world, blowing Carolina sea birds hundreds of miles from home, rendering dozens of local baby squirrels homeless and washing turtle eggs into the sea.
But for some people, the natural havoc had an upside. Birders not so secretly welcomed the hurricane, hoping it would bring species up here that are rarely seen north of the tropics. Some birders actually rushed to Southern Maryland or Ocean City beaches at the height of the storm to watch what the storm brought in.
They were rewarded with a few misplaced sooty and bridled terns. But the bulls-eye site was Cape May, N.J., where two dozen birders stood on a balcony Thursday in the howling wind--until police kicked them out--eating pizza and sighting unprecedented numbers of the two rarities.
"It was wonderful," said Shawneen Finnegan, of Cape May. "Everybody was really excited. And I have a terrible headache from staring through scopes for a day and a half."
Although Floyd did not turn out to be as monstrous as forecast, big hurricanes can inflict long-term disruption on wildlife. Yesterday, the U.S. Geological Survey announced that teams of federal biologists have launched studies of the storm's effect on wildlife from deer to migrating birds.
"Shorebird migration is, no doubt, being seriously disrupted by Hurricane Floyd, and it is even possible that many coastal species will be pushed to far-inland sites," Mike Erwin, of the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, told the Associated Press.
Locally, wildlife sanctuaries are caring for dozens of baby squirrels knocked out of trees by the storm. This is a time when many newborns are in nests.
"This is probably the worst we've had . . . in 20 years," said Dianne Pearce, founder of the Chesapeake Wildlife Sanctuary in Bowie. On Thursday alone, the shelter took in 35 orphaned baby squirrels, one blown-down flying squirrel and several fledging robins and sparrows.
The Second Chance Wildlife Sanctuary in Gaithersburg took in 21 orphaned baby squirrels Thursday. The Wildlife Rescue League of Northern Virginia and the District is caring for four dozen orphaned animals and birds, mostly squirrels. Arlington's Animal Welfare League also took in several homeless squirrels.
"The most notable was a little squirrel found on a puddle by somebody's dog," said Ellen Brown, the group's finance director and the only official with the time to answer the phone yesterday. "We blew it dry with a hair dryer and it seemed to be doing okay, and we took it to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator."
One Northern Virginia wildlife rehabilitator even gave a baby squirrel cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Usually, baby squirrels may be released to the wild after several weeks of care.
Local wildlife groups expect more homeless animals to arrive this weekend but urge people to call for advice before they deliver anything, because in some cases the animals can fend for themselves.
The storm, like Dennis before it, dealt a blow to turtles that nest along beaches from the Carolinas to Florida. On Oak Island, N.C., Jane Reece anxiously walked the beach yesterday morning, looking for turtle damage.
"Floyd did not do as much as we were afraid it would," she reported. "We had 14 nests in the ground, and we found nine of them this morning."
Many birds and animals are able to hide from the storm. Frogs hunker down in the mud. Deer and other mammals seek high ground. Birds closet themselves in foliage.
But storms bring out other wildlife. Grubs pop up on people's lawns, followed by hungry raccoons. Snakes crawl away from flooded dens and into people's houses.
Fairfax County wildlife biologist Earl Hodnett said the hurricane's winds prematurely knocked acorns out of trees across Northern Virginia, and "to the deer population, that's like someone delivering the buffet tray to their room."
The downside for humans, he said, is that deer will be out more hunting for food, raising the possibility of more car accidents.
Staff writers Tom Jackman and Craig Whitlock also contributed to this report.