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Monday, September 20, 2010

An Unexpected Bird!

This morning I went down to Fourth of July Beach to do a COASST survey and see what sort of bird activity there was. Right away I saw three river otters out in the bay, repeatedly coming to the surface with fish - surely a good omen! There weren't any beached birds on the shoreline, just two beached lion's mane jellyfish, but there were a lot of birds at the far end of the bay so I walked down that way.

The biggest flocks were of surf scoters, increasing in abundance seemingly by the day. Mixed in a were a couple of white-winged scoters and probably some harlequin ducks, though I wasn't able to pick any out. A few common loons were out in the open avoiding the mobs, and two or three red-necked grebes dove at the perimeter of the flocks of scoters. A bunch of mallards were sitting on the shoreline, which was kind of an odd sight for this beach, and behind them a great blue heron stood on the rocks.

A flock of about 20 western sandpipers flew around and around, circling me and the bay but never really settling down anywhere as far as I could tell. A red-tailed hawk kited up above, and a turkey vulture could be seen in the distance. I could hear the calling of a belted kingfisher and also of a northern flicker.

Lots of glaucous-winged gulls were wheeling about overhead, when something distinctly un-gull-like caught my eye. The bird was about the same size as a gull, but with dark pointed wings, a white belly, and a long tail - a parasitic jaeger!!!!!!! (NA Life Bird 337, year bird 218) I have a 1987 San Juan Island guide the describes parasitic jaegers as being numerous from late August through mid-October, with "up to a dozen birds terrorizing a single stretch of water at a time", but I have never seen one in my ten years of birding here, so this was a fantastic and exciting find for me.

It was a gray, drizzly, windy morning, but it gave way to a brighter, clearer, windy afternoon. It sounded like all the whales might have headed out west when some were discovered right on the west side of San Juan Island, perhaps overlooked earlier in the day due to the rough sea conditions. I got word they were headed towards Lime Kiln, so I hopped in my car to head out there, and on the way out of town a sharp-shinned hawk (year bird 219) flew over the road - a definite bonus! Funny to have the year list grind to a near halt only to get two species added to it in one day.

I caught the end of the whales heading north, and they were hard to spot among all the white caps. This one was easier to see when it cartwheeled!

While watching the whales head north I saw a bald eagle. This is the one time of year where eagles aren't as common as a lot of them apparently head to the mainland to feed on salmon at the rivers over there, so after their young fledge in mid-August we see fewer birds until later in the fall.

I also saw a harbor seal pup in the kelp, which reminds me to share a seal encounter from the other day. This was also out at Lime Kiln, when a seal came up right in front of a couple of us just offshore of the lighthouse. It had a big orange fish in its mouth (maybe a rockfish?) and proceeded to eat it while looking right at us. I was on the rock right above it so could look straight down on it - an amazing perspective! Unfortunately it happened to fast to pull the camera out, but it was awesome to witness a seal feeding at such close range. It didn't seem at all worried about us there just feet above it!


Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

Congrats on the lifer, an a year tick too - nice one. I seem to have missed all the hundreds of skuas (jaegers - where did you get that name from?) that passed during tyhe storm although I have an inkling yesterdays mystery bird might have been a Long Tailed Skua which would have been a lifer, c'est la vie!!!



Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

Now fairly certain that the possible LTS/J wasn't - too big and the bird was was much more likely to have been a black tern, which we should have got. Musta been thrown by it being out of context, always see em as adults in spring in full sum plum doing the dipping feeding thing rather than over a rough sea careening through the waves - obviously not as good a birder as I think I am! Still can't count it though.



The K said...

Congrats on the Jaeger. You beat me to it! There have been OBOL reports that last few weeks of jaegers around Redmond and Eugene. Surprises me the read about them so far inland.

Warren Baker said...

Well done Monika, its great to find a new bird, I wish I could emember how it felt though :-)