August 28 2015 – As predicted the rain has come, perhaps not as big a downpour as Vancouver had recently, but rain nevertheless. Shearwaters and gulls feed in the deeps and among the busy group are six Pomarine Jaegers. These big birds nest in the high Arctic and start heading south once nesting season is over. Jaegers are the falcons of the sea, although falcons are top predators and usually capture their own food whereas jaegers chase down gulls and other seabirds and force them to throw up their food so they can have it. It’s an extraordinary evolutionary adaption. Why not save all that energy and get their own food instead of harassing other birds? On the nesting grounds jaegers will take lemmings but they will also eat the eggs and young of other species.
Most actions in the natural world are about species survival; some activity proved successful and became the norm. Why? Because it works. Sadly, most species are not so good at adapting to human behaviour and become extinct. It seems that if they want what we want or have any smarts at all, they have to go. During recent discussions with an Australian who had lived in the outback he told us about Crocodile behaviour and how smart they are. The crocs watched campers and learned their routine. They would lie in wait for the next campers to wash their plates in the same stream at the same time and come in for the kill. The crocs were shot of course, they were smarter than us and had to go. They has learned how to capture easy prey for their survival and we hadn’t learned not to wash our plates in croc-infested streams.
Jaeger is German for ‘hunter’ and there are three species, Pomarine, Parasitic and Long-tailed. They are pelagic (sea-going) birds and are rarely visible from shore, although on September 11 1993 two Long-tailed, six Parasitic and eight Pomarine Jaegers flew up the mouth of Masset Inlet and two Pomarine and three Parasitic flew past Rose Spit. It was an exceptional jaeger day.
Gull identification is a challenge. They all seem to look the same, especially the young ones. Some birders spend their lives on gulls, but most learn what each adult looks like and ignore the rest. Gulls hang out on breakwaters and boardwalks, on pilings and beaches and generally stay out of our way. The most common species on Haida Gwaii is the Glaucous-winged Gull. It has a grey back and grey wingtips. It’s a gulls wingtips that help with identification. Herrings are mostly black and Thayer’s are grey with white ‘windows’. Those are the larger gulls. Then there are the smaller ones. Mew Gulls nest on the islets in Mosquito and Yakoun Lakes and have black and white wingtips and Kittiwake wingtips look like they were dipped in black ink. Kittiwakes nest on Holland Rock near Prince Rupert.
Gulls were in the news in Britain recently. The Herring Gulls that nest on chimneys in seaside towns can get pretty feisty if you get too close and reports were coming in of gulls attacking kids who were carrying food and adults walking the boardwalks. They were getting a little too close for the gulls’ comfort. Even the Prime Minister got into the discussion. Gulls were accused of Hitchcockian gatherings and people were in fear of their lives. I guess it is a little scary to have a gull almost take your hair off, but really! Just give nesting birds lots of room and keep out of their space.