Parasitic Jaeger, Cape May Point, 29th Sept 2013

While spending time in Cape May with my son, I stopped at the Magnasite Plant in the early evening of the 28th September 2013 to look for Northern Harriers and Merlins that often hunt at dusk in this area. I bumped into Jonathan Wasse and Peter Lansdown, visiting from the UK, and as we were chatting, Jonathan noticed a gull soaring over land and said “That Herring Gull is doing a good job imitating a skua (jaeger)”. Even distorted by the windshield, it didn’t look like a gull and immediately looked interesting and jaeger-like. Jumping out of the car, I snapped a few flight shots as the bird flew over us and drifted away towards Lily Lake. Clearly a juvenile Parasitic from the views we had and quite strange to see it circling over land.

That was the end of that…or so I thought. The following day, I arrived at the hawk watch at Cape May Point, when I was greeted with shouts of “Jaeger on the pond!” Indeed there was! A juvenile jaeger was sitting on the pond close to the platform. From the looks of it, it was the same bird we saw the evening before..and perhaps the same bird that had been seen briefly at the same spot the day before by the CMBO-appointed hawkwatcher Tom Reed.

Juvenile Parasitic Jaeger, Cape May Point, NJ, 9/29/2013 (Julian Hough)

Juvenile Parasitic Jaeger, Cape May Point, NJ, 9/29/2013 (Julian Hough)

The following features were typically pro-Parasitic:
  • Longish-spiky bill , not really stout with a dark-tip that appeared to be a 1/3 or so of the bill
  • Disproportionately small head, with streaky cheeks and a short, steep forehead. The slightly raised crown giving a more triangular-shaped head rather than a domed, rounded head
  • Overall warm cinnamon/nutmeg tones to the plumage, especially the pale upper part feathers and primary tips
  •  Prominent, chevron-shaped primary tips, tinged pale buff-brown, not white.
Identification of juvenile jaegers can be problematical, but the good views of this bird made for an easy identification as an intermediate-type juv. Darker, juvenile Parasitics can be difficult to separate from some dark juvenile Long-taileds. The pale-fringes to the primaries can be shown by both Parasitic and Long-tailed, so they are not diagnostic, but coupled with other features may be used as a supporting character. On some images, the pale fringes to the primaries in Long-tailed tend to be narrower and paler, while those on typical Parasitics, like the Cape May individual, are well-defined and chevron-like.
Overall a great bird to see and photograph!
"Crippling Views" - birders enjoying the unusual occurence of an "on-the-deck" Parasitic (Julian Hough)

“Crippling Views” – birders enjoying the unusual occurence of an “on-the-deck” Parasitic (Julian Hough)

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