I, along with my husband, was one of the passengers (lucky) onboard the Skimmer with Captain Tom Moore for a Whooping Crane Tour on Monday, March 26, 2007. We had just reached the man-made breakwaters of Aransas NWR. The Captain was calling out the various bird species that were there when he yelled "What is THAT bird?" A brown and white bird had just flown over the bow of the boat. No one answered him and he yelled (whooped) it again. He was serious! One passenger suggested a Long-tailed Jaeger and the research (and doubts) with many different field guides began.
First, we needed another look at the bird and, luckily, it had settled on the breakwater perpendicular to ours. The captain maneuvered the boat towards the bird and I started photographing. This is the first photo taken at 8:40AM.
As we got closer to the bird, various details were discuss but I concentrated on taking as many pictures as I could because it was very windy and the boat was rocking. This is the closest photo.
Laughing Gulls soon settled on the breakwater beside the bird disturbing it and it decided to leave.
As the bird flew away, a fellow passenger, Chuck Mills (I think that's his name), noted the dark under wings and that fact confirmed for him that the bird was a Long-tailed Jaeger.
Doubting passengers remained until someone noted that the size of the Laughing Gulls was similar to this brown and white bird. It was a Long-tailed Jaeger, a life bird for many of the passengers. What a lucky find!
Later, one passenger remained unconvinced until he visited me at my campsite and saw my next photo of the Long-tailed Jaeger with a partial Laughing Gull and he could see the similarity in body size. After checking with The SIBLEY Guide to Birds, Sibley states that Laughing Gull's average body weight is 320 grams and that a Long-tailed Jaeger's weight is about 300 grams. The two other jaegers have average weights of 470 and 700 grams, too large for this bird.
This really was our lucky day because the Long-tailed Jaeger (now most of us are convinced, including the Captain) flew only a short distance away to the breakwater that was on our course for the Whooping Crane tour. (and we were all whooping about our good fortunes and had not even seen one whooper!)
I took 59 photos in the wind on a rocking boat and after throwing away all out-of-focus images, I still have about 15. We resumed our tour fifteen minutes later. It felt much longer and the excitement will stay forever, especially when I look at my pictures again.
Stay tuned for more pictures soon.