I’m not a bird counter or a bird accountant. I don’t have a list of ‘must see’ birds, and don’t travel half way round the world to see that last blue-headed rock eater. So mostly I get a bit surprised when a bird turns up the would qualify as as ‘lifer’ for me. But as I was to discover, what was interesting to me was a matter of life and death for a Silver Gull.
We had taken Mr An Onymous down to the Treatment Plant for an evening drive, in the relative cool, and also to see if we could locate the Brolga in that lovely afternoon light.
Part of birding is of course enjoying a repast, and so we were parked at the Bird Hide track, snacking on our various gourmet delights, in my case a cuppa of Early Grey.
The beach was awash with high tide and the Silver Gulls in their hundreds had settling in to squabble over the few roosting spots on the bushes, small bits of sand and mud bar, and enjoy the cool breeze too. What happened next was as much a surprise for the gulls as it was for us.
Every gull on the beach took to the air, with a high pitched squeak. Not the usual gull calls, but a really high pitched call of excessive agitation. I figured a Sea-eagle or a Harrier had made a run over the bushes, but couldn’t see any sign of the big birds. Then the massive flock of gull, literally ‘cleaved in two’ in the most biblical way. One group heading along the coast to the south, the other rushing toward the salt bushes on the land. Then I spotted a small gull sized bird going at a speed that anywhere else would have me call Falcon, or Hobby. But it was not that shape. It latched on to the path of a single gull, and relentlessly pursued it. I gained an new admiration for the aerial exploits of the gull. It cried in what can only be described as ‘sheer terror’. The twisting spinning gull was able in the end to shake off its purser. All this happened of course in the time it takes to put down a hot cuppa, and pick up the camera. By the time I’d found the shutter button, the brown blob was rocketing out to sea.
The answer I concluded to the questions, What was that, did you see that, did it catch the gull, where did it go, what was it, can you see it now, (you get the idea), was Jaeger. Now I can of course confidently say the word, but having never seen one, nor seen anything that puts pure fear into Silver Gulls, I was only at best, guessing.
The gulls settled down, we settled down, and began to talk of other things.
Then the same high pitched call from the gulls, and they were all up in an instant. This time the D7100 was by myside and I soon got on to the brown shape bulleting through the gulls. They split. But, the Jaeger was not to be denied, and as they split it singled out a lone gull which it then proceeded to herd away from the two flocks until it was on its own. Then it pursed it about 500-700 metres inland. The gull was completely outclassed for speed and any attempt to turn only had the Jaeger on that side like a sheep dog, blocking its escape. With plenty of room to manoeuvre, and the gull now totally isolated, the Jaeger took time to grab some height and then stoop on the gull. By sheer good luck the desperate gull avoided the first stoop, then the Jaeger climbed again. With nowhere to go the gull went into a spiral, but the speed from above was relentless. The Jaeger missed the second time, (just by the width of a feather I suspect), and now had to go round in a wide turn to the right to regain both speed and height.
The gull took all of its remaining strength and sprinted back toward the main flock. With its nemesis in hot pursuit. The gull’s speed proved adequate, and the flock rose again as the brown bullet sped through. Missing that meal it turned to the southern flock that was just making its way back along the beach. Again the high pitched squeal, and the Yeager headed out to sea again.
But, it must have moved on.
They are a branch of the Skua family. They nest in the Arctic, up like, Finland, and then patrol the seas. A long way to come for a Gull dinner methinks.
My guess is this is an Arctic Jaeger. Mr An Onymous tells me Jaeger is the German for “Hunter”. And the brand of a first rate beer. Although he didn’t offer me a glass.
The Silver Gull has been singled out and separated from the main flock. The Jaeger’s turn of speed meant it was in total control.
In a stoop, you can see the two angles of flight are going to intersect.
Strike and miss, now it had to make a wide turn to gain height and speed. The gull, seeing its only chance heads for shelter.
In pursuit, but not gaining the advantage.
Slowed down as it didn’t want to waste energy on a fruitless pursuit.
Sizing the flock of another strike.
I was amazed at the high-pitched emergency call of the gulls as they scattered from its attack.