Unprecedented Parasitic Jaeger flight and N. Fulmar - 27 Sep 2009

The passage of the low pressure system and associated front produced heavy rain overnight and through most of today. With the limited visibility, I opted for seawatching from the shelter of the beach club house at Main Beach in the Village of East Hampton (Suffolk). There were lots of Common Terns and Laughing Gulls feeding offshore, and it soon became obvious that there was a strong eastward push of PARASITIC JAEGERS. Over the next 4 hours I counted close to eighty birds moving eastwards, often in ones and twos but sometimes small flocks (5-11 birds). There seemed to be an equal mix of juvenile-types and adults/near-adults. A few of the adults still had full-length tail streamers. Some of the young bird were quite dark and one was pretty much as dark as they come – dark brown/black like a Sooty Shearwater, with very reduced pale patches on the underwing and no evident flash on the upperwing. Around 11 am, I was joined by Hugh McGuinness and we continued to carefully pick through jaegers. Hugh spotted a storm-petrel moving west very quickly but it was gone before I could connect with it. Around 11:30 am, jaegers started appearing from the west (circling back?) and we clicked off 43 different birds. At the end of the count period, my tally was 88 PARASITIC JAEGERS traveling east, with an additional 16 jaegers left as unidentified, and 43 Parasitics traveling west [presumably duplicates]. Needless to say we looked very hard for the other jaeger species, but saw no convincing candidates and I feel comfortable calling all of these birds as Parasitic.

In addition to the jaegers, there was a trickle of CORY’S SHEARWATERS moving east and whilst watching a trio of birds in the middle distance, a light-phase NORTHERN FULMAR powered up behind them, a rare and pleasing sight from shore! My bird of the day, however, was all white Common Tern that passed up and down the beach several times. This is the first example of an aberrant colored tern I can recall seeing with my own eyes. It’s plumage was an immaculate ivory white and suggestive of a true albino, had a pink bill and pink legs - very striking! We watched it at length as it foraged with other Common Terns, sometimes alighting on the sand. Interestingly, it did not attract the attention from the jaegers nor was it harassed by the other terns. The proportions seemed identical to the other Commons – hence the ID as a Common – but we noted how the bird often _appeared_ larger that the others; a familiar trick of the eye that bedevils observations of white birds.

Once the offshore movement slowed down, I trekked out to Montauk Point but found the viewing difficult in the heavy rain and mist. All of the jaegers I noted during an hour-long watch were moving rapidly from the north side of the Point and they seemed anxious to get out into the ocean proper. Could these birds have traveled down Long Island Sound? At the time of writing, I've not seen reports of jaegers from further west along Long Island and can add that none were seen by Tom Burke and Gail Benson stationed near the Shinnecock Inlet (20 miles southeast) around mid-day. So were where the birds coming from or going to?

*** Main Beach, East Hampton ***
8:50-13:00, heavily overcast w. persistent rain.

COMMON EIDER – 1 (fem. west with scoter)
White-winged Scoter – 1
Black Scoter – 82 (mostly west)
Surf Scoter – 10
dark-winged scoter sp. - 1
Green-winged Teal – 1 (fem)
NORTHERN FULMAR – 1 (light-phase traveling east w. 3 Cory’s)
CORY’S SHEARWATER – 17 (mostly moving east)
[storm-petrel sp. – 1 speeding west (likely Wilson’s)]
Northern Gannet – 63 (most west, mix of ages)
Laughing Gull – 70
BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE – 1 (1st basic, west)
LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL – 1 ad. (roosting on beach)
Common Tern – 250++
Forster’s Tern – 3
PARASITIC JAEGER88 (east, 50:50 split of juvs to ads/near ads, 43 traveling west).
Jaeger sp. – 16

*** Montauk Point ***
14:05-15:05, heavy rain with limited visibility.

COMMON EIDER – 2 (fem types)
White-winged Scoter – 28
Northern Gannet – 12
Laughing Gull – 300++
LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL – 1 (ad. flew around Pt.)
Common Tern – 250
Roseate Tern – 2
PARASITIC JAEGER – 9 (mix of ages)

*** Maidstone Golf Course, East Hampton ***

*** Further Lane, East Hampton ***

*** Gerard Drive, Springs ***
Common Loon – 6
Northern Gannet – 4

Additional stops at Napeague Bay (Lazy Point), Hither Hills, Montauk Inlet, Star Island, Rita’s Horse Farm Pond and Deep Hollow did not yield anything of note.

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