The Phalarope and the Jaeger (Redux)

Back in 2011 I wrote about a visit to Andrew Haydon Park where I had the privilege to see both a Red-necked Phalarope and a Parasitic Jaeger. Today I had the opportunity to see another Red-necked Phalarope the same time a different jaeger was reported.

It was a cool, gloomy morning threatening rain, so I wasn’t sure I wanted to go out birding. At 10:00 I received a report that two Red-necked Phalaropes, as well as several Sanderlings, Pectoral Sandpipers, and Bonaparte’s Gulls, were refound at Ottawa Beach (Andrew Haydon Park East). Then, almost three hours later another report came in: a jaeger was also present at Ottawa Beach! It wasn’t a flyby, as so often happens with rare birds; instead it had landed and was resting on the water. That report settled my indecision, so I headed off to the river. Unfortunately by the time I arrived it was just a dark blob bobbing on the water near Britannia Pier, so I turned my attention to the shorebirds instead. I saw the Bonaparte’s Gull standing in the water, the Pectoral Sandpipers and Sanderlings near the mouth of the creek, and both Red-necked Phalaropes. One was foraging on the opposite bank, but the other was on my side of the creek only a few feet away!

Red-necked Phalarope

They were both juveniles – they both lacked the red neck of breeding adults, and had a dark cap and yellow lines down the back, both features that adults in non-breeding plumage lack. The juvenile Red-necked Phalarope can be distinguished from the juvenile Red Phalarope by the same yellow lines (Red Pharalopes have gray and white backs and wings, as well as distinctive white edging along the wings). Wilson’s Phalaropes lack the black line extending behind the eye.

Red-necked Phalarope

After I was finished watching and photographing the shorebirds, I returned to where all the birders had set their scopes up in time to see the jaeger pass by directly overhead. I got a great view of the stubby central tail feathers sticking out beyond the edge of the tail and little else before it headed back over the water. It flew east again, and landed somewhere in the vicinity of the Britannia Pier. I waited with the other birders to see if it would return, but it seemed content with its patch of water. Then, when I got another message from a birder saying that there were better views from the pier, I drove over to Britannia Park.

I found another group of birders watching the jaeger at the base of the pier. Just as I got my scope on it, it flew off again – and landed even closer, just beyond the end of the pier! We headed out to the end, and I was able to get a few photos. There was some dissension regarding the exact identity of the jaeger. First reported as a Parasitic Jaeger, most were leaning toward Long-tailed Jaeger by the time I had arrived at the beach. I reported it as a jaeger sp. on my eBird checklist; it wasn’t until much later that our local reviewer Mark contacted me to say it is unmistakably a 2nd year (“subadult”) Long-tailed Jaeger. Of the two species, Long-tailed Jaeger is the rarer of the two. I have only seen one other Long-tailed Jaeger, a bird observed at Andrew Haydon Park on August 12, 2007. That bird was also a speck of the water, and no photos were taken. I was happy to finally photograph this species, even if the lighting was poor.

Long-tailed Jaeger

The Long-tailed Jaeger is the smallest of the three jaeger species and is the one least likely to be found in Ottawa. When it leaves its breeding grounds in the Arctic, it usually flies along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts to its wintering grounds on the open ocean much further south. Most birders need to book a pelagic trip in order to see one, but we’re fortunate that they show up on the Ottawa River every now and then. It was a thrill to see up close through the scope; my only disappointment is that my photos don’t do the beauty of this bird justice!

2 thoughts on “The Phalarope and the Jaeger (Redux)

  1. Way back when I first moved to Canada – 2009- and a couple of times since, you were very helpful with IDs and disussion via email and here on the blog, and I always hoped we may bump into each other out birding some time. Turns out we were both stood under that Jaeger as it flew low over the birding crowd….I met a fair few new faces that day (as well as reconnecting with some familiar ones), and somehow missed out on meeting you!
    Til next time! And happy birding.

    • Hi Amy,

      Yes, I remember you! There was quite a crowd that day, and a lot of faces I didn’t know. Too bad the jaeger didn’t stick around long – it sounds like it hasn’t been seen since it left the pier that day.

      Glad to hear you’re still out birding – hopefully we’ll run into each other again!

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