Saturday, July 21, 2012

A lonely drifter or a brave explorer? - Pomarine Jaeger

Skippers Fish Camp, Darien, GA
After a long, hot and tiring birding in south Georgia, my birding friend and I checked out this hot spot, Gould's Inlet on St. Simons Island. Unfortunately we did not stay at the Gould's Inlet for long due to rain and thunderstorms coming from South Carolina. It was low tide and there were too many people on beach and sandbar and I could barely see any bird through my binocular. Mark still managed to spot an immature Reddish Egret through his scope. Too bad, this egret was too far to be photographed. My friend suggested to go to Skippers Fish Camp to celebrate Linda's lifer, Swallow-tailed Kite! I really don't care much about food, but it turned out that this waterfront sea food restaurant was not a bad choice at all.

During lunch, we talked about if we should chase this Pomarine Jaeger (Sterocorarius pomarinus), also called Pomarine Skua, reported to be seen on north tip of Tybee Island on July 10. We were both exhausted, my birding buddy just got back from his pelagic trip, plus hiked 7 miles to chase his lifer. I really did not want to go through downtown Savannah during afternoon rush hour and there was very little chance we would even find this bird.

On my way to Tybee Island ..the sky looks promising ....but  not for long

Pomarine Jaeger is a large seabird with wingspan over 45 inches and can weigh over 2 lbs. They breed in Arctic tundra and winter at sea. My friend told me we don't normally see this bird on dry land only if you take a pelagic trip and go as far as over 100 miles and you might see one or two if you are lucky. But if we don't go and check it out, we definitely will have very tiny chance to see it in near future.... "Should we try our luck?", we contemplated ... Next thing we found ourselves landed on Tybee Island.

In searching of a Pomarine Jaegar reported to be seen on Tybee Island, we walked miles and miles of sand ....

With storms coming over any minute, instead of wearing my bikini on beach, we had to carry backpack, camera gears, spotting scope and tripod, plus two huge umbrellas ...hahaha, not too pretty as one could imagine. We searched all over north tip of Tybee Island, we saw a huge flock of Brown Pelicans, Least Terns, Royal Terns, Laughing Gulls and one Common Tern, which was rare at this time and few Willets, no sign of Pomarine Jaeger....

I was having fun snapping pelicans and terns but Mark was very disappointed after scanning entire beach with his scope and told me "let's go home now ...I guess we don't have much luck today.....".  As the night fell, we were chit-chatting and waking towards Polk St parking lot, suddenly, Mark yelled cheerfully "Hey, look, here is the Pomarine Jaeger (GPS location, or N 32 01.633 W 80 51.261). Omg! I could not believe this bird was just sitting right in front of us nice and quietly! I did not dare to make a move until we realized his left eye was hurt. So basically, jaeger was not able to see us if we could by-pass him from the side of his wounded eye.

Pomarine Jaeger, 1st onshore record in GA. Click image to enlarge

It was dusk and with low light condition, I still managed to snap few pictures while Mark was on the phone calling Rare Bird Alert Center (770- 493-8862) and local rehabber to see if someone would come to rescue this jaeger. In my opinion, this bird is not well but I'm not sure if I want to say this bird is "hurt". I have seen one-legged crow beautiful and strong; I have also seen House Finches with conjunctivitis happily feeding.  This jaeger seemed alert and he (or she) was constantly looking around and not afraid of human. If you study jaeger's life and behavior, you will know their main food is lemmings but they will steal other bird's eggs or harass gulls or terns for food. Breeding pairs mate for life and will attack people who are near their nests. Non-breeders fly alone, that makes me wondered would this jaeger a lonely drifter got lost from the sea? Or a brave explorer tried to search for a better food source on beach. This bird has not been found again by others since our sighting on Tuesday evening.  After all, four lifers in one day, I have no complain, a good birding day indeed! -- Linda

Update on 7/22: A birder from California reported and saw POJA on 7/21 and a GA birder also saw this same bird today at 7 :30 PM,  which is almost the same time I snapped the above photo on Tuesday . The bird seems healthy and cool 

Update on 7/23: this bird was found and netted by Tim Keyes called in and said he netted the bird and was on the way for rehab, though it's in a good condition despite his left eye. 

Update on 8/6: Bird has gained 80 g during the past two weeks of rehab and was released on 8/5 on Jekyll Island south beach :)

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