Tybee South Beach 12/30/15

Over winter break, I birded Tybee south beach once on my own for about an hour and a half. The birding was especially productive and I saw some fantastic species. As I rounded the south corner of the island and walked the main stretch of the beach towards the pier, I decided to scan the horizon. Among a flock of about 40-50 Northern Gannets, one bird stood out. I followed the bird as it flew right over the horizon for about 15 seconds in my scope at 60x zoom. The bird was fairly large, brown-bodied, with a short bill and short neck. This first scan allowed me to narrow the possibilities to Pomarine Jaeger and juvenile Herring Gull but the bird’s flight pattern pointed to jaeger. I scanned the horizon a second time with no success of finding the bird. I scanned the horizon a third time and finally found it again, this time a little bit closer to shore and flying low over the water. Because the backdrop was water, I could see the bird’s coloration better and noticed it had a white belly, allowing me to conclude that it was a Pomarine Jaeger. After 5-10 seconds, I lost the bird among the waves. Jaegers are interesting birds because they make their livelihood through piracy. The layman’s term for piracy is stealing and the proper scientific term is kleptoparasitism. While breeding in the North American tundra, the main source of food of a Pomarine Jaeger is lemmings and other rodents. However, in the winter, Pomarine Jaegers become pelagic birds, spending most of their lives offshore. Their main winter food source is fish and carrion that other species such as gulls and shorebirds have caught for themselves. The jaegers harass and bully their victims until the latter drops the food or the former snatches the food directly from the bill of the other bird.

As I rounded the corner once more on my way back, I spotted two Red-throated Loons and one Common Loon in the channel on the backside of the island. There were also four Piping Plovers huddled together in a pack resting on the beach. Two of these birds were banded. One of them was banded by a Virginia Tech researcher on a river in Yankton, South Dakota. It is pretty awesome to be able to tell where certain birds come from and that is one of the best parts of bird banding!

Birds (17 species, 0 lifers):

Red-throated Loon  2    

Common Loon  1     

Northern Gannet  40     

Double-crested Cormorant  15

Brown Pelican  10

Osprey  1

Piping Plover  4     

Sanderling  30

Pomarine Jaeger  1     

Laughing Gull  5

Ring-billed Gull  50

Forster’s Tern  11

Royal Tern  1

Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  2

Cedar Waxwing  10     

Boat-tailed Grackle  40

American Goldfinch  1    


Red-throated Loon – This bird has a skinnier, more upturned bill and whiter face and throat than a Common Loon