South Polar Skuas on a New York Pelagic
Back on the last day of May I boarded a boat in Brooklyn and headed out onto the Atlantic Ocean in search of seabirds. It was a pelagic trip organized by See Life Paulagics and it was a pretty memorable trip with five species of shearwater, Leach’s Storm-Petrels, Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, a variety of dolphins, some sharks, and a variety of other sea life. But, for me, the undisputed highlight of the trip was the quintet of South Polar Skuas that had everybody on the boat buzzing with excitement.
Because I spent most of my time on the boat vomiting or curled up into a ball hoping to die – I really need to start taking seasickness medication – I’ll leave it to Luke Musher writing at Nemesis Bird if you want a full write-up of the trip. (You really should click through on that link to check out his awesome images and to get a real feel for how amazing the trip was.) Instead I will just focus on the bestial behemoths of the seabird scene, the penguin plunderers, the tern terrorizers, the jaegers so impressive that even North Americans call them skuas, yes, Stercorarius maccormicki, the South Polar Skua.
South Polar Skua before dawn
Our first skua of the morning was the one in the picture above, which we picked up when it was way up the chum slick and watched as it buzzed the boat. Yes, we were thrilled with the sighting, which took place over one hundred miles off shore where a warm patch of Gulf Stream water had spun off from the Gulf Stream proper. This water, our chum slick, and the skills of the birders aboard would combine into a perfect storm that led me to coin the term “Skuapalooza.”
Later in the morning, another pair flew in and when we watched them land on the water they actually landed next to a third bird! Three South Polar Skuas at once! It was pandemonium and a miracle that no one went overboard.
A fifth South Polar Skua was sighted and another skua that never came close enough to be identified to species. It was a pretty memorable day on the water and a wonderful way to get a life bird: close, in good light, and in multiples!
To think that this bird spends half the year in the company of penguins before coming north for our summer. Awesome!
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