Tag Archives: Parasitic Jaeger

Boothbay Mini-Pelagic Trip Report, 10/11/22

Northern Fulmar

Our third and final ½ Day Pelagic with our partners Cap’n Fish’s cruises out of Boothbay Harbor took place on a glorious fall day on Tuesday, October 11th.

OK, let’s get right down to business: it was NOT a South Polar Skua. This is not the first time a mea culpa was issued over a Stercorariidae. It won’t be the last. Certainly not my last, anyway.  But yeah, I got this one wrong, and I apologize.

We spotted a large, dark, and very heavy-looking skua/jaeger in flight parallel to the boat. Captain Nick did an exceptional job of staying with it, staying parallel to it, affording incredible views for an unusually long amount of time.  We were traveling at 18.2 knots, and the bird was slowly taking the lead. When it looked like it was thinking of landing, I had Nick angle slightly away so as not to make the bird concerned. It worked! It landed, we slowly worked our way up to it, and almost circled it before it took off.  High-fives were exchanged. Smiles reigned. We got a skua!  Big, barrel-chested, thick dark bill, and short tail. The very cold tones and extensive molt strongly suggested South Polar Skua. It would be a life bird for many.

I was convinced in the field, and I was convinced when I got off the boat. Everyone I talked to was convinced too. Other than a small feeling that the bill looked a little long, and the bird looked a little, well, not-menacing on the water, I had little doubt. But as I announce on all of my pelagics, all jaeger and skua identifications are provisional until I can review photographs.

The doubt -err, fear – began in the evening, as I looked over Jeannette’s shoulder as she began to sort photos. Starting with the skua, I wanted to make sure it was in fact a South Polar, and not a Great. That was my only real concern.  But then I saw her pics. I was observing through 8x binoculars, she was shooting at 400mm.  Details would likely emerge that I could not see in the field.  And I didn’t like those details.

That rear end did look a little tapered. The bill did seem a little thin. And wait, is that barring in the underwings? Uh-oh. Are we sure? What about the location of white within the outer primaries? Is it too narrow? And boy, it looks cuter on the water than I expected. And that bill does look two-toned and kinda long.

Photos were sent to a friend. The shadow of doubt cast over the room. He immediately said “Pomarine.”  But we discussed, and he left it off as “but I could buy this as a skua.” Another friend “That’s a skua.”  “I’m flip-flopping…maybe a hint of barring on the undertail and underwing coverts, but it looks so skua-like…the molt pattern is identical to one I saw a couple of weeks ago.”  Back and forth with these three friends continued. I posted to the Skuas and Jaegers of the World Facebook page; “Definitely a skua…” said the first commentor. Books and papers were referenced.

More photos were received.  And discussion continued.  Some photos showed what could be nearly impossible to argue was anything other than a South Polar Skua. I only wanted to look at these.

I mean, look at that short little tail!
And those dark underwings!

Sheepishly – knowing how tired he must be after a long drive to and from in the same day, I asked my friend Bill Thompson to check his photos. He jumped right on it, and sent this.

Well, crap.

Is that the beginning of the long, round-tipped central tail feathers of a Pomarine Jaeger? They’re so broad. And the rest of the tail is a worn, ratty disaster. That would explain why it looked so short-tailed in the field. But that bill looks short, stout, and all-dark.

I asked for an underwing shot.

Yeah, that looks barred. But still, that bird was a massive keg.

These photos were entered into the various discussions, and uncertainty ruled as I finally passed out from boat and skua-induced exhaustion.

I awoke – stalled in turning my phone on – and what little glimmer of hope was crushed when I opened some emails from Tony Carapella that clearly showed a Pomarine Jaeger. I mean clearly, unequivocally, without a doubt.

“And upon further review, the call on the field is overturned. After the play, personal foul, unnecessary roughness on the trip leader’s self esteem. 15 yards…”

Sorry, folks, I got this one wrong.

But, hey, the rest of the trip was decent, too, even if we scratched the headliner off the top. Right? Please tell me it’s all OK?

Of course, this wasn’t the only quandary on the day either. Late in the trip, three jaegers gave us the slip. I am hoping someone got some distant photos that might yield a hint, but for now, they will go unidentified.  There were also two larger dolphins within a small group of Atlantic White-sided Dolphins.  Kelsey and I are still trying to figure things out. Stay tuned. They were not skuas, either, however.

Several Northern Fulmars included one that eventually gave fantastic views. We had a few Black-legged Kittiwakes, and Captain Nick did an amazing job getting us a close look at the first one that was loafing on the water. We also had an American Pipit fly-by, and a Yellow-rumped Warbler land in the cabin and rest for a while before departing.  

And it was an absolutely, insanely gorgeous day. The water had only a slight ripple, there was virtually no swell, and it was warm with plenty of sun (but just enough high clouds to reduce the glare). There could not be a better day to head into deep water in the Gulf of Maine.

In fact, the unreasonably benign conditions allowed us to motor even further offshore than usual to explore a new area. After finding two of our favorite spots a little, well, low on birds, we headed out about 28 miles to an area we found on the map known as “Mistaken Ground” where the bottom plunged to a depth of 918 feet.  I accept the name as a warning that maybe this would not be a good decision. But alas, it was where most of our action was. I could have spent all day here.

Northern Gannets

While the chum slick failed to work, perhaps because it wasn’t windy enough to waft the odor towards hungry birds, and there were long stretches with virtually no life in sight, overall, we had a solid list for merely 4.5 hours offshore.  The proximity to deep water and interesting underwater topography afforded by starting from Boothbay Harbor allows us to run these trips in a shorter timeframe, especially for those learning to get their sea legs. And today was definitely a day for building up one’s oceanic confidence. Confidence in skua identification, however, well, that is another story. Apparently, my “mistaken ground” was thinking I could identify these birds before studying photos on the computer! 

Here’s the annotated trip list:

  • 8 Canada Geese
  • 970 Common Eider
  • 113 Surf Scoter
  • 12 White-winged Scoters
  • 24 Rock Pigeon
  • 1 POMARINE JAEGER (see treatise above)
  • 1 PARASITIC JAEGER (one of the three distant birds that turned out to be identifiable from photos)
  • 2 Unidentified jaegers
  • 1 COMMON MURRE (spotted in outer harbor by a few observers)
  • 1 Razorbill (confirmed from jaeger photo bomb)
  • 9 Black Guillemots
  • 7 Black-legged Kittiwakes
  • 2 Bonaparte’s Gulls
  • 145 Herring Gulls
  • 1 Lesser Black-backed Gull
With Great Black-backed Gull (right)
  • 51 Great Black-backed Gulls
  • 3 NORTHERN FULMAR
With Great Black-backed Gulls
  • 1 Red-throated Loon
  • 15 Common Loons
  • 242 Northern Gannets
  • 75 Double-crested Cormorants
  • 2 Great Blue Herons
  • 2 Bald Eagles
  • 1 Merlin
  • 8 American Crows
  • 1 American Pipit
  • 1 Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • 1 Unidentified passerine.

Mammals:

  • 1 Minke Whale
  • 1 small pod of Atlantic White-sided Dolphins
  • 2 unidentified larger dolphins (still working on ID possibilities but we have no conclusive photos yet)
  • 2 Gray Seals
  • # Harbor Porpoise
  • # Harbor Seals

Insects:

  • 1 Monarch

This Week’s Highlights, July 23- July 29, 2022.

A lousy photo of great birds: two Stilt Sandpipers were in the Pelreco Marsh on 7/29.

Seal Island, Monhegan Island, and shorebird migration. Lots of “good birds” in great places this week. Here are my observations of note over the past seven days.

  • Red Crossbills along the coast: 1+, Pownal, 7/23; 1, Brooksville, 7/24 (with Laura Blandford); 1-2’s scattered on Monhegan Island, 7/25;
  • An incredible trip to Seal Island on 7/23 produced all of the expected breeding seabirds, a couple of Common Murres; a Peregrine Falcon show; migrating Whimbrels, one Great Shearwater, and a PARASITIC JAEGER.  Photos and the complete trip report can be found here.
  • Hardy Boat from New Harbor to Monhegan, 7/25 (with Jeannette): 6 Cory’s Shearwaters (FOY) and 8 Great Shearwaters.
  • A “non-birding” weekend with Jeannette friends to Monhegan Island 7/25-26 actually yielded some outstanding birding! The highlight was a four-species shearwater show off of Lobster Cove throughout the day on 7/25. We saw at least 3 MANX SHEARWATERS and 2 Sooty Shearwaters (FOY) among numbers of Cory’s and Great Shearwaters.  They were passing at a slow but steady rate of about 16 Great and 6 Cory’s every 5 minutes, plus an average of 9 Atlantic Puffins per 5 minutes.  Hard to tell if the shearwaters were swirling, rounding the island, or just streaming by. 1-2 ROSEATE TERNS joined Arctic and Common Terns feeding nearshore – Roseate was a new “island bird” for me.
  • Other Monhegan highlights: 1-2 Blue-winged Teal continue, 1 Great Egret (also an “island bird” for me!), and 1+ Sharp-shinned Hawk.
  • Hardy Boat departure from Monhegan to New Harbor (with Jeannette), 7/26: 1 PURPLE SANDPIPER, Outer Duck Islands from ferry seal watching diversion. Unexpected and incredible mid-summer record; no camera available and phone-binning was a complete failure.  With a few Ruddy Turnstones.  1 more Cory’s Shearwater en route.
  • 1 molting adult BLACK TERN, Pine Point Co-op, Scarborough, 7/29.

Shorebird high counts this week. I had an excellent tally of 19 species, although counts were a little low due to limited visitation to the best shorebird sites.

  • Black-bellied Plover: 14, Pine Point, Scarborough, 7/29.
  • Killdeer: 4, Rte 1/9 pannes, Scarborough Marsh, 7/29.
  • Semipalmated Plover: 159, Pine Point, 7/29.
  • Piping Plover: 6, escaping people by foraging on mudflats off the Pine Point Co-op, Scarborough Marsh, 7/29.
  • Whimbrel: 20 (flocks of 12 and 8), Seal Island, 7/23 (with “Not-so-search for Troppy Tour Group).
  • Ruddy Turnstone: 5, Outer Ducks, Monhegan, 7/26 (with Jeannette).
  • STILT SANDPIPER: 2 ad, Pelreco Marsh, Scarborough Marsh, 7/29 (John Lorenc had 5 earlier in the morning) and 1 ad, Eastern Rd Trail, Scarborough Marsh, 7/29.
  • PURPLE SANDPIPER: 1, Outer Ducks, 7/26 (with Jeannette; see above).
  • Sanderling: 4, Seal Island, 7/23 (with “Not-so-search for Troppy Tour Group).
  • Least Sandpiper: 40+, Eastern Road Trail, 7/29.
  • White-rumped Sandpiper: 6 total around Scarborough Marsh, 7/29.
  • Pectoral Sandpiper: 1, Pine Point, 7/29.
  • Semipalmated Sandpiper: 100+ Pine Point, 7/29.
  • Short-billed Dowitcher: 24, Eastern Road Trail, 7/29.
  • Spotted Sandpiper: 3, Seal Island, 7/23 (with “Not-so-search for Troppy Tour Group).
  • Solitary Sandpiper: 1-2, Monhegan Island, 7/26 (with Jeannette).
  • Lesser Yellowlegs: 18, Eastern Road Trail, 7/29.
  • “Eastern” Willet: 27, Pine Point, 7/29.
  • Greater Yellowlegs: 12, Eastern Road Trail, 7/29.

Our next event here at the store is on August 4th when we welcome Paul Doiron to read from and sign copies of his new book, Hatchett Island. His latest crime thriller takes place on an imaginary seabird island here in Maine!  More information can be found here.

2022 Seal Island Trip Report (The “not-so-search for Troppy), 7/23.

After 17 consecutive summers in the Gulf of Maine, “Troppy” the Red-billed Tropicbird failed to return to Seal Island.  Arriving in 2005, but continuing annually throughout the summer since 2009 exclusively at Seal Island, Troppy had become a mainstay of summer birding in Maine – and our tour calendar!

Arriving as an adult, Troppy was therefore at least two years old when he was first sighted in 2005.  Since most sorces seem to reference “16-30 years” as a lifespan, a 19-year old “Troppy” would be getting a little long in the tooth, err, bill.  But, as I romanticized in my 2019 article for Birding magazine, we all hoped he would find the long lost love. Maybe he did. Maybe he’s making a trop-ling somewhere in the Caribbean where he “should be.”  Yeah, that’s what I’ll think.  We need more happy thoughts these days.

Wherever he might be, it was not Seal Island or any other Gulf of Maine seabird island this summer, and with his absence, tours to Seal Island were few and far between. Our first one cancelled, but we were able to run our July 23rd departure with our friends at Isle au Haut Boat Services thanks to a dedicated group of birders who know how special Seal Island is, with or without the famous rarity.

And Seal Island most did not disappoint!  Even without a tropicbird (or a Tufted Puffin for that matter, which of course we all hoped would make a reappearance).

First, the weather: it was unbelievable! Actually, it was downright hot, even offshore, and especially away from what little breeze there was when we were not motoring. Seas were a gentle 2-3 feet, with an occasional slightly larger but inconsequential swell.  Falling rapidly, it was incredibly smooth in the coves of the island, and on the way back where we enjoyed following seas for a very flat and fast ride.

Shortly after departing Stonington, we spotted our first Atlantic Puffin before we even cleared Isle au Haut.  A few more, scattered small numbers of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels (I tallied 41 in all), and a few Razorbills punctuated our trip out.  Not much was happening around Saddleback Ledge though.

Of course, the show realty began upon arrival at Seal Island.  The heat sent the alcids into the water, so virtually all of the Atlantic Puffins that were present were in the coves and often allowing close approach and stellar photo ops.

We worked our way around the island, slowly improving our views of Razorbills (at least 6) and finally finding two Common Murres. 

Razorbill
It took a while, but we finally found a Common Murre – it was even the uncommon “Bridled” morph.

We motored around the south end, where the swell was just enough to prevent us from getting too close to the Great Cormorant colony – Maine’s last. But the nests brimming with growing chicks was still thoroughly enjoyed.

Off the northeast end, we cut the engine and drifted among the alcids.  Off the open waters came a flock of 12 Whimbrel which we heard first before they flew close by. Likely having tanked up on blueberries in a barren Down East or in the Maritimes, they didn’t seem to consider pausing on the island. Later, 8 more flew by even further offshore.

Laughing Gull

While the lack of shearwaters all day was disappointing, the one Great Shearwater that we saw came in for a close look at us!

A little group of Sanderlings flew by, a few peeps were along the shoreline, and we spotted several calling Spotted Sandpipers.

And don’t forget about all of the dapper little Black Guillemots!

And of course, there were the terns. Hundreds of Arctic and Common Terns were present, with a goodly number of juveniles learning the ropes. Arctic Terns were particularly conspicuous today, with many making close approaches of the boat or disregarding our presence to take a bath.

Arctic Terns
Juvenile Common Tern.

I both enjoyed and lamented the fact that I didn’t have Troppy to stress over. In fact, without needing to be in position and waiting for him, we took advantage of the gentle seas to not only circumnavigate the island, but also spend ample time drifting in sheltered coves, photographing alcids and searching for a big, black puffin with punk-rock hair.

The eastern side.

But we still had a time limit for our charter, so we decided to spend our last moments enjoying the action at the tern colony. That’s when a Peregrine Falcon arrived.  While this is a most unwelcome guest at a seabird colony and we were conflicted about seeing it, it was also impossible not to sit back and watch the show. 

It surprised the terns by coming up and over the backside of the island, scattering the entire colony. Upon identifying the intruder, all of the adults made a beeline and began diving, mobbing, and otherwise trying to drive the predator away. Watching one of the world’s greatest – and fastest – predators in action was a real special treat, but we were also not upset that it came away empty; we were rooting for the terns.

If that wasn’t a grand finale, I don’t know what is.  Well, maybe the Parasitic Jaeger on the way back!

About halfway between Seal and Saddleback Ledge, I first thought it was a Peregrine tearing in after a lone Common Tern. But when it became clear that it was a jaeger, I yelled for Captain Mike to “step on the breaks.”  We watched the dogfight for several minutes, and it was spectacular to see. It was just far enough away that we couldn’t tell if the tern gave up its fish, but it definitely didn’t do it willingly. 

Shortly thereafter we began to run into little rafts of Razorbills (a conservative tally of 36, plus 7 more between Saddleback Ledge and Stonington) and scattered Atlantic Puffins. We had quite a few more Wilson’s Storm-Petrels on the way back, and finally some Northern Gannets.

Wilson’s Storm-Petrel

We even had time to check some rocky islets for roosting shorebirds (none), loafing Harbor Seals (lots), and maybe spot something like a Great White Shark (nope; but the boat had one the very next day!).

Gray Seals and Harbor Seals. Note the “horse’s head” profile of the Grays, verses the puppy-like Harbors.

In other words: what a trip! And exactly why it’s well worth a tour to Seal Island regardless. That being said, I must admit, it was not quite the same without “Troppy.”  But as a guide, my stress level was a lot lower!  Having seen him 9 times out of 12 visits to Seal, I consider myself beyond fortunate. I’m also so happy to have shared his glory with so many other birders on all these tours. So, wherever you are, Troppy, I’ll continue to lead trips to Seal Island in your honor!

Looking back at “Troppy’s Cove”

A Weekend at the Cape Cod Bird Festival

Other than a departure point for pelagics, it has been over 15 years since I have birded Cape Cod.  Too long.  Every late summer and early fall in particular, it’s “we really should get to the Cape” for shorebirds, especially South Beach and Monomoy Island.  Well, my visit this weekend only wet my pallet for a future, more birding-intensive visit.

I was asked to join the Leica Sports Optics team of good friends Jeff Bouton and David La Puma at their booth for the first annual Cape Cod Bird Festival.  As the only Authorized Leica Optics dealer in Northern New England, I had multiple roles to play.  First, it was to be the retailer of any optics sales.  Secondly, I was there to use my first-hand experience in telling the story of the Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper.  Leica has recently become a leading sponsor of the international effort to save this unique species.  And finally, I was there to sign some copies of my book.  Oh yeah, and do some birding and beer-ing with Jeff and David, of course.

The weather forecasts as of Thursday suggested that some good movements of migrants were about to occur.  I went to bed optimistic that the first flight would occur behind the front for Friday morning (see previous blog entry), but as I woke up to rain still falling, I knew that this was not to be.  Therefore, I began my trek southward, stopping for a short visit at Fort Foster in Kittery.  That short visit lasted a little longer than expected, as I found not one, but TWO Connecticut Warblers!

With rain still falling, I left the camera in the car.  Of course, this usually results in some exceptional photographic opportunity.  Yup, sure did.  A Connecticut Warbler (CONW) – normally a frustratingly secretive skulker in migration, walked out (the fact that it was walking, one foot in front of the other, rather than hopping itself helps to clinch the birds’ identity) onto a low branch at the edge of thick brush.  I lamented the lack of a camera, but was enthralled with my view.

A short while later, I was even more shocked to see a second CONW walking out into the relative open!  This time, I remembered that there was an iPhone in my pocket, and out of sheer desperation, I held it up to my binoculars and shot away.  It actually worked…a phone-binned CONW!  (This, as a friend pointed out, may have been a first-ever occurrence).  My best shot – relatively speaking of course – was this one.
CONW_edited-1

But this other shot nicely shows the very pink legs and exceptionally long undertail coverts.
CONW2_Fort_Foster,Kittery, 9-13-13

Oddly enough, with the exception of plenty of Common Yellowthroats, I only encountered three migrant warblers this morning…and two were CONW!  (The other being my first Palm Warbler in southern Maine this fall).  After stopping at Kelly’s Roast Beef, I finally arrived at my destination for the weekend, The Cape Codder in Hyannis.

Meeting up with David and Jeff, we got to work, and it was nice to run into quite a few other friends over the course of the weekend.  David – radar guru and creator of www.Woodcreeper.com – and I were (I know this will come as a surprise) glued to the NEXRAD images and wind forecasts in the evening, hoping to make a sound prediction for the hot birding.

IMG_1556_David_Leica,9-14-13
David works with the next generation of Leica fans.

Well, perhaps we should have tried elsewhere, as Harding Beach in Chatham was not the place to be.  In fact, we tallied the reorienting migrants on one hand (although we didn’t exactly make it there in time for sunrise).  There weren’t many passerines around the woods at Morris Island, either.  Looking at the overnight radar images, and seeing that winds were light north (instead of the forecasted NW), it was obvious that the big flight out onto the Cape just didn’t occur.  I guess the silver lining to this was that we didn’t have too hard of a time pulling ourselves away to spend the rest of the day inside.

At least I had my brand new review copy – thanks to the good folks over at the Houghton Mifflin booth – of the Peterson Reference Guide to Seawatching: Eastern Waterbirds in Flight by my friends Ken Behrens and Cameron Cox to page through.
IMG_2093_edited-1

And look who I found inside!
IMG_2095_edited-1

Come evening, we enjoyed seeing Pete Dunne in his native habitat: captivating a room full of birders with his story-telling.
Pete_Dunne_atCCBF,9-14-13

Afterwards, David and I checked the radar once again.  And once again, we saw birds on the radar, but few birds east of Boston.  Take a look at the 1am radar and velocity images from the Boston area NEXRAD.  The winds were just too light to push birds well out of Cape Cod Bay, apparently.

1am radar,Boston,9-15-131am velocity, Boston,9-15-13

At least we didn’t have to make a decision as to where to start the day, as the three of us were on our way to the harbor to take part in the festival’s pelagic trip.  Like the waters north of Cape Cod (until your reach the waters off of Mount Desert Island), the summer seabirding has been dreadfully slow overall, so expectations were not too high.  The first half of the trip was living up to said low expectations, but things really picked up in the last few hours, as were well east of Cape Cod.  While the least expected seabird (for the season and the area) was probably the Leach’s Storm-Petrel, the highlight for me was this cooperative juvenile Long-tailed Jaeger.
DSC_0022_juvLTJA2,offCapeCod,9-15-13DSC_0024_juvLTJA1,offCapeCod,9-15-13

Although a fairly dark individual, we can see the fairly slim build, small head and bill, and overall more “gentle” appearance.  I flight, it seemed slim and attenuated.  The photos show the two white primary shafts on the upperwing, and the rounded central tail feathers.

We also saw at least two Parasitic Jaegers, including this one chasing a juvenile Common Tern.DSC_0013_PAJA_ad2,off Cape Cod, 9-15-13DSC_0016_PAJAad1,offCape Cod,9-15-13

Four more unidentified, distant jaegers added to the strong finish – any day with jaegers is a good day in my book.  Other highlights included a Black Tern, 14 Sooty, 5 Great, and 1 Manx Shearwater, some good looks at Red-necked Phalaropes, two Basking Sharks and a Mola Mola, but only a couple of Minke Whales.  The cloud of Tree Swallows over Monomoy was quite impressive, as were some of the offshore landbirds: a Cape May Warbler, a Magnolia Warbler, a Northern Harrier, and an immature Black-crowned Night Heron – the latter of which was voicing its displeasure about being about 15 miles from shore, heading back north towards the Cape.  Three bats – at least one that I conclusively identified as a Red Bats, three Lesser Black-backed Gulls, two early Great Cormorants, and a “pelagic” Cloudless Sulfur rounded out what, in the end, was actually a fairly productive outing.

It was a long drive home afterwards, however.  Luckily, southwesterly winds suggested I wouldn’t have to wake up early to get to Sandy Point for dawn.  However, take a look at the radar image.  Once again, I’ve included the 1am image for the example.  It looks like a ton of birds!
1amradar,9-16-131amvelocity,9-16-13
But the velocity image suggested little to no speed for whatever was in the air (it was not foggy last night), so I do not know what it was.

There was little overhead in the morning in either our yard or at Old Town House Park, so I don’t think I was mistaken about this not being a big flight of birds.  Furthermore, in a short listening session before going to bed, I heard very, very little.

Tonight, however…well, let’s just say that I will be at Sandy Point tomorrow morning!  I just hope the winds stay more northwesterly than north, or – gasp – northeasterly by morning as currently suggested by the wind forecast I like to use.
11pm wind forecast,9-16-13