A glorious fall day was had today on the first-of-the-year Local Patch Birding pelagic, offshore Vermilion and Huron. From 8 am to 2 pm, 25 intrepid birders boarded the Irish Drifter in Vermilion, for what to be was a grand day on the lake, with light winds, comfortable cool temps, and amazing Autumn light. Guided by Gabe Leidy, Jerry Talkington, Ben Warner and myself, along with a participant group representing some of the most avid, keen, and active birders in Ohio. Big thanks to all for a spectacular day.
Upon leaving Vermilion, we caught our first mega gull flock composed of Ring-billed, Herring and Bonaparte’s. Bonaparte’s would prove to be in excellent numbers throughout the course of the boat trip, with upwards of 900 birds between Vermilion and Huron (the focus region of this trip). We worked a path towards Huron, making an arch out onto the lake, to 4 miles offshore. Scattered Horned Grebes, a few Common Loons, small groups of waterfowl (Red-breasted Mergansers), and parties of Double-crested Cormorants composed the waterbird count. Until…. the skilled chumming (popcorn, squid, shrimp, catfish, suet) of Ben Warner composed a gull flock that stirred our first POMARINE JAEGER to follow our wake. This intermediate immature disappeared for a moment, but like a Peregrine on the trail of prey, reappeared close in the strong morning light, to offer OUTSTANDING views off both sides of the boat and the wake.
We worked our way inland towards Huron Harbor, with sizable scattered flocks of Bonaparte’s all the way until one major lull (15 minutes) where hardly any gull/waterbird action was present. Approaching Huron, the gull action picked up, but the harbor and river mouth itself were very, very quiet, surprisingly.
It was then straight back out onto the lake, setting a course due northeast towards a mass group of fisherman. At 4.5 miles out, we noticed more and more Horned Grebes, Common Loons, and Bonaparte’s flocks, getting OUTSTANDING on-water views of all. The action stayed steady, with Ring-billed Gull numbers dropping significantly to be replaced by Bonaparte’s. At one point, 100 Bonaparte’s were close in our wake, which must have instigated, again, another immature POMARINE JAEGER (spotted by Haans Petruschke) to chase us down. Yet again, outstanding looks at this immature bird as it coursed alongside us and put on a show dive-bombing Bonaparte’s. The high intensity action caught the attention of a third POMARINE JAEGER (a subadult) which joined the immature bird in close proximity. The two pushed powerfully alongside the boat, pumping hard with falcon-like wings and coursing low over the water, until they disappeared into the bright sunlight.
We worked our way east by a bit, still at 3.5 miles out, when another jaeger, an immature PARASITIC JAEGER, closed in on our wake and gave us all a fantastic flyby.
These jaegers made it look EASY (!).
Continuing on, we found a fantastic fishing party of 55+ Common Loons, Horned Grebes, and Bonaparte’s Gulls, with the addition of a few Red-breasted and one Common Merganser. The only migrant waterfowl of the day were distant Canada Geese (9), two Northern Pintail and two distant, unidentified scoters (probably Surf). Large numbers of gulls were loafing and frenzying just offshore Vermilion (many more Bonaparte’s, Ring-billed, Herring and a few Great Black-backed), alas, no Little Gull or kittiwake.
A full report, with photos and more details, will be posted within the next couple of days at: http://www.northnw.wordpress.com
THANKS to all for the spotting, the fun, and the excitement. Congratulations to all who had a life, state, or year bird today in the form of the jaegers! Simply stunning views.