Monday, September 25, 2006

The Jaeger Hunters

Jesse scopes for jaegers

The 2006 WSO Wisconsin Point Trip was the best one yet! I rode up with Jesse Peterson, Aaron Stutz and Tom Prestby on Thursday night. Given reports of jaegers earlier in the week, our expectations were high and we were generously rewarded for enduring some very rough weather. Though we saw many great birds over the weekend, my personal highlight was an incredible look at a lifer Pomarine Jaeger at about 30 yards away.

The weather on Friday and Saturday was exceptionally grim – 30 to 40MPH winds and pelting rain. This was sort of a mixed bag – on the one hand it meant great opportunities for bringing in jaegers and rare gulls, but there were several optics casualties. One barrel is completely internally fogged on my Swarovski 8x30 SLC’s and will have to be sent in for repair. A few scopes were unable to weather the storm as well, including a B&L Elite, Jesse's Zeiss zoom lens and an EO Raven.

Tom and Aaron survey Tom's drenched scope

My Swarovski scope got completely soaked, as did Tom's, but neither one of us had any problem with internal fogging. Pictured above, Tom and Aaron are looking at Tom's drenched scope. Below is a picture of Tom Schultz, WSO field trip leader, tending to his scope.

Tom Schultz cleans his objective lens

Luckily for me, Tom Prestbly's Dad arrived on the scene Saturday afternoon with a pair of EO Rangers he loaned me that dutifully held up in the rain. When the sun finally returned on Sunday, I switched to my Nikon Superior E's. Unfortunately, birds we were hoping to view in comparative comfort had apparently left with the change in weather – we went jaeger-less on Sunday.

Return of the Sun!

We had around 80 species for the trip, but I think the 5-day total for the "early birders" was something closer to 140. New birds for the year for me were:

Surf Scoter – WI YEAR
Sharp-tailed Grouse - LIFE
Sanderling – WI YEAR
Parasitic Jaeger – WI YEAR
Long-tailed Jaeger - LIFE
Pomarine Jaeger - LIFE
Little Gull – WI LIFE
Sabine's Gull – WI YEAR
Common Tern – WI YEAR
American Pipit – WI YEAR
Harris's Sparrow – WI YEAR
Red Crossbill – WI YEAR

I wasn't able to get on the Long-tailed Jaeger fast enough to identify it by plumage characteristics, but it's flight behavior and Jesse’s field mark descriptions (he saw it when it was much closer) were enough for me to add it, but hopefully I'll manage a better look next year. Nevertheless, it sure helped to read Olsen and Larsson's skua and jaeger guide before this trip. There were only a few jaegers that were either in poor light or too far away for us to identify, which is a good reminder that not all of them can be.

I was pretty thrilled to confidently distinguish differences between a juvenile dark morph Pomarine Jaeger and a juvenile dark morph Parasitic Jaeger that flew past us at close range within a few minutes apart – a nice visual comparison of flight behavior and plumage characteristics. In one excellent demonstration of jaeger behavior, I watched an adult light morph Parasitic Jaeger harass a Ring-billed Gull until it either dropped or regurgitated food – the jaeger caught it midair and made off with its pirated meal. Three gulls then chased the successful jaeger as it made a beeline back out to open water.

Getting a little waterlogged and worn from the adverse weather, on Saturday afternoon we scoped for ducks at Allouez Bay from the comfort of the pinewoods which blocked the wind. Within a few minutes Aaron found an adult light morph Parasitic Jaeger floating on the water! We radioed it in and many other birders joined us. The jaeger zoomed around the bay a few times but would return to the water – sometimes preening other times just resting. After harassing a few Ring-billed Gulls and coming up with nothing, the jaeger gave an excellent fly-over look as it headed out to Lake Superior.

Sunday morning we walked out to the Wisconsin Point Lighthouse and stayed long enough to find a pair of adult winter plumaged Little Gulls. We wanted to make a few stops on the way home for other northwoods specialties (Red Crossbills, Sharp-tailed Grouse, etc.), so we left the Point mid-morning.

Wisconsin Point Lighthouse

Pied-billed Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Tundra Swan
Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Surf Scoter
Common Merganser
Turkey Vulture
Bald Eagle
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Ameican Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
Ruffed Grouse
Sharp-tailed Grouse
Black-bellied Plover
American Golden Plover
Spotted Sandpiper
Baird's Sandpiper
Parasitic Jaeger
Long-tailed Jaeger
Pomarine Jaeger
Little Gull
Bonaparte's Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Sabine's Gull
Caspian Tern
Common Tern
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Black-capped Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
Gray-cheeked Thrush
Swainson's Thrush
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
American Pipit
European Starling
Blue-headed Vireo
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Palm Warbler
American Redstart
Northern Waterthrush
Eastern Towhee
Clay-colored Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Harris's Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Lapland Longspur
Rusty Blackbird
Common Grackle
Red Crossbill
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch

All images © 2006 Mike McDowell

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