Sunday, June 20

Photo Op!

Parasitic Jaeger

This morning, with my Sunday off, I did something I thought I would never do: I put on my hip boots (voluntarily) and trudged out to one of our study sites. But this time I was on my own, and working my own schedule-- I was out to photograph a pair of Parasitic Jaegers and a pair of Golden-plovers at their nests. These are both species that were surprisingly difficult to approach and photograph early in the season (i.e. before they were on nests), and since I haven't been carrying a camera while we work (when they are cooperative), this was my first real chance to capture some cool images. Luckily for me, they were cooperative enough to get some good shots today, but uncooperative enough still to merit more attempts in the coming weeks.

I parked behind the rifle range, before a large expanse of wet, sub-arctic tundra, and rammed open the stiff door of our old Suburban. I immediately regretted not putting on a bug net before getting out, because now I had to struggle to put it on without trapping dozens of mosquitos between the net and my face. I pushed the shells into the shotgun, pulled up my hip boots and headed into...the big, open, wet area in front of the car--I don't think it's actually called anything in particular by anyone, now that I think about it.

I made my way to the Golden-plover nest first, and watched the bird calling loudly from a lichen mound as I approached. It repeatedly uttered a clear ascending whistle, jumping up to a higher pitch seamlessly, as if sliding into a falsetto. When I came closer, the bird depressed and spread its tail, and shuffled away, feigning a broken wing to draw me away from its nest.

American Golden-plover

I spotted the Jaeger incubating from quite a ways off, and saw it flush to a different mound to watch me approach before I was even within half a kilometer. The bird's mate came flying in from much farther away, and the two of them watched from separate mounds. As I got closer, they circled around me, calling sporadically.

When I got within 100 meters of the nest (which held two, surprisingly small eggs), the birds began to take turns dive-bombing me. One would fly away from me and upwards, then suddenly bank and dive towards my head with stiff, outstretched wings; with a sudden "whoosh," it would pass and begin another climb while its mate swooped down.

As I got even closer, the birds abandoned their efforts to scare me away and instead tried to draw me away with broken wing displays. They would sit near me and spread the wings on the ground, and slowly flap and squawk, sometimes even rolling on their backs and sides. It was strange to see this formidable nest predator desperately defending its own, precious eggs.

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