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Jaegers and other west wind rarities

Drew Weber|

upperside - 2 white primary shafts
[dc]T[/dc]his afternoon I got a call that a Northern Gannet had been seen heading west from Derby Hill Hawk Watch. This is a pretty uncommon bird for Lake Ontario so I decided to make the drive up and hope for it to circle back around. When I arrived Bill Purcell told me that it had not been reseen and other than a few ducks the only other good bird was a distant jaeger, probably a Parasitic. The winds were blowing strong out of the west, kicking up decent waves for the lake. As it turned out, I had no luck waiting for the gannet, but the other birds we saw more than made up for it.

About an hour after I showed up on the hawk watch we spotted two jaegers as they appeared from nowhere and landed distantly on the water. Soon both birds got up and chased after a Ring-billed Gull, following each other around and eventually separating. One jaeger was a light adult with long central tail feathers while the other jaeger appeared much smaller and was a darker juvenile bird. At this point I was so thrilled to be watching jaegers that I didn’t even think that they might be two different species.

The adult jaeger managed to keep its distant during the entire time we were watching it, but the features that stuck out the most were the very dark cap and undertail, and the grackle looking twisted tail streamer.

These features led us to identify it as a light adult Pomarine Jaeger. Light morphs account for about 90% of Pomarine Jaegers so it was the expected plumage for this species. To get a feel for the flight style of this jaeger see the video below. I apologize for the less than ideal video but I think there are some worthy clips in there that make the video worth watching.

The immature jaeger was especially exciting because after it split up with the larger adult it approached much closer and allowed great looks. In contrast with the adult, this bird was much more petite overall and this was particularly noticeable in the head and bill shape. The body structure coupled with the cold brown body color, bold barring on the undertail, and two white primary shafts led us to identify it as a juvenile intermediate morph Long-tailed Jaeger. This is an exceptional find for this late in the season; Long-tailed Jaegers are rare to begin with and when they are found in the Great Lakes, it is usually in August and September.

The video below follows the Long-tailed Jaeger as it worked its way closer to us, eventually landing several times right below us as we peered down from the North Lookout at Derby Hill Hawk Watch. We were able to watch it on and off for over 30 minutes as it worked its way back and forth the lakeshore, sometimes close, and sometimes way out on the lake.

Finally, to just add to the already excellent day, as I was flipping through some of the jaeger videos I had just taken Dave shouted out, “Franklin’s Gull! Franklin’s Gull!” And indeed, there was an immature Franklin’s Gull rapidly speeding west along the shoreline. It wasn’t much of a look, but we could clearly see the dark eye smudge, smaller size compared to the Ring-billed Gull, and dark mantle. An excellent find this far east in the Great Lakes.

Note: I am a novice at jaeger identification so feel free to point out any errors you think I’ve made in the comments.

About the Author

Drew Weber

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Drew is the founder and editor of Nemesis Bird and now works to curate some of the best content the web has to offer on birding and ornithology from an energetic crew of ornithologists, field researchers, tour leaders and photographers. Drew is originally from PA but now lives in central New York where he is enjoying the long and snowy winters. He has done various bird jobs including bird surveys for the 2nd PA Breeding Bird Atlas, tracked saw-whet owls from dusk to dawn with Scott Weidensaul and counted hawks for several years for Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. Drew is an avid lister, especially on smaller scales, and enjoys adding new birds to county, state and life lists. He also enjoys digiscoping and making apps for birders. He is Project Coordinator for the Merlin Project at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. He is also project manager for the North American Rare Bird Alert.