By Landon Neuman
As I scan over the horizon I think, “Wait what is that? Is it a jaeger?” Then I hear the cry, “Jaeger!” from another birder in our group. I ask him, “Is it flying on the horizon or high in the sky? Where is it compared to Chicago”? I search and search, and then finally there it is, a Parasitic Jaeger flying along the horizon in front of the Chicago skyline.
When you think about what you normally do on Labor Day, does sitting under an abandoned building by the beach all day watching for jaegers come to mind? This year my friends and I did just that. After looking at the weather, my friend decided to head to the Indiana lakeshore, on Lake Michigan, because the weather was promising for jaegers. The next morning we raced up to the lakefront in attempt to see some jaegers and other migrating birds. We didn’t realize what a day it would turn out to be.
When we arrived at our destination, Miller Beach, near Gary, Indiana, a very powerful wind was howling from the northeast and a lake effect weather system was producing rain on and off, perfect jaeger weather. Soon after arriving and meeting the other two birders that were from the local area, we quickly set our scopes up and began to scan for jaegers and other birds. At around 7:55 a.m. the first “jaeger” cry of the day was sounded. It turned out to be only identifiable as “jaeger species” because it was too distant to see field marks other than body shape. As we continued to scan over Lake Michigan the magic finally appeared. Flying fast and low over the beach was a juvenile Parasitic Jaeger. Never in my life had I seen my friend run so fast with his 600mm lens and camera on his back. But the magic wasn’t over yet! Five minutes later a juvenile Long-tailed Jaeger came by flying slowly low over the beach. Even with this incredible sighting, the magic still continued. For the next hour we had a jaeger flying out on Lake Michigan almost every five to ten minutes. Then, suddenly, everything came to a halt.
For the next two hours we had only one jaeger, but this didn’t damper our good mood. As we waited for our next jaeger to appear, we enjoyed the local Peregrine Falcon chasing the flock of Sanderlings on the beach and the other migrating shorebirds and terns resting out on the beach. Even the local Ring-billed Gulls entertained us as we ate our lunch. But before long we began hoping for jaegers again.
Then, finally, after two hours of only one jaeger, we spotted two Parasitic Jaegers. But soon the silence of jaegers began again. We started to hope for a Sabine’s Gull to come drifting in with some Bonaparte’s Gulls or terns, but none came. That afternoon jaegers were in short supply and we spotted only three more that afternoon. Our last jaeger of the day was a juvenile Parasitic, which we saw around 3:45pm. About 30 minutes later we ended the day’s lake watch, very satisfied with what the day had been.
What a day it was! I will never forget that Long-tailed Jaeger flying low across the beach. Our group ended the day with an incredible total of fourteen jaegers, including my lifer Parasitic Jaeger. I continue to dream about this day, and can’t wait to until another one like this happens again.
About the author: Landon Neumann, 14, lives in Logansport, Indiana. He has been birding for about five years. His favorite group of birds are shorebirds, but is favorite bird is Painted Redstart. Landon participated in 2011 Camp Colorado.