Thursday, 27 February 2014

Pelagic pirate

On a recent pelagic trip off Lakes Entrance East Gippsland to look for and photograph seabirds a number of Jaegers were seen flying by, well beyond camera range.  However one bird came in close to check us out and pick up a feed of fish we were using to attract seabirds such as albatross, storm-petrels and shearwaters. 
Click on a photo to enlarge and use mouse wheel to scroll between photos.
A pelagic pirate off Lakes Entrance, a Jaeger.
This bird is in non breeding plumage and is missing its two elongated central tail feathers.
Closely related to Skuas and Gulls, there are three species of Jaegers, the Pomarine, Arctic and Long-tailed, all are strongly migratory and can be found off the Australian east coast during the Arctic winter. They all breed above the Arctic Circle on the tundra across Siberia, Alaska and Canada.
During breeding, lemmings are their main food source along with eggs and nestlings of other bird species. For the rest of the year they are strongly pelagic feeding on fish and invertebrates obtained mainly by piracy. The word Jaeger comes from the German word meaning “hunter”. They hunt other birds in the air to steel their food.
When we see Jaegers in the southern hemisphere they are in non-breeding plumage and often missing their distinctive central tail feathers, which elongate into streamers, so identification can be difficult with fleeting views at a distance. The bird in question came in close giving a sudden and short opportunity to take a few shots.  It took a close look at us on the boat before snatching a piece of fish from the water behind the boat and moving away some distance to eat it.
Back on shore, photos and bird guides  revealed the Jaeger was an adult light morph non-breeding Pomarine.
Here are a few hastily snapped shots of the bird as it unexpectedly and briefly hovered above us.
The bird came in unexpectedly and so close it would not all fit into the screen. The bird was clearly taking a close look at us.
 Only ten of the full compliment of twelve tail feathers are showing - the gaps highlight the missing two streamers.
The bird turns away to focus attention on a piece of fish in the water behind the boat.
This Jaeger and others will soon be making their way back north to the arctic tundra to breed during the northern hemisphere summer.