Bird trip finds first San Luis Valley record of rare seabird


SAN LUIS VALLEY — A birding trip conducted on September 7th found a species of bird that has never been recorded in the San Luis Valley before. The bird was a road-killed Jaeger, an ocean-going seabird, that breeds in the arctic and migrates through North America as it moves to the southern hemisphere.
John Rawinski, bird trip leader said, “In my 35 years of keeping bird records for the San Luis Valley, I have never heard of a Jaeger occurring in the San Luis Valley”.
The way it was found was even more amazing.
The year 2018 has been declared as “The Year of the Bird.” It is acknowledgement and celebration of the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the most powerful and important bird-protection law ever passed. In honor of this milestone, nature lovers around the world are joining forces to celebrate the “Year of the Bird” and commit to protecting birds today and for the next hundred years.
The birding trip began as a celebration of our fall migrating birds. Rawinski said “This year has been phenomenal as far as landbird migration is concerned. I have never seen so many landbirds as we have in the Valley right now and this is the best fall migration ever.”
Reasons why this is occurring are a little more challenging to discern. Rawinski explained that food sources affect migrating birds and there has been an abundance of aphids on trees around certain parts of the Valley. The aphids and other insects have acted as magnet to migrating birds. Home Lake State Wildlife Area is good example of where this insect explosion is occurring right now. Water and wildfires may also factor into migration as well.
For example, a few weeks ago a flock of 100 Black Swifts were seen feeding over Home Lake. Black Swifts are normally seen in the mountains of the west near waterfalls where they nest. But large groups of migrating swifts are rarely seen. They were undoubtedly feeding on the abundant insects flying above the lake.  Warblers also are making a notable presence and have been extremely numerous in the foliage of the shrubs and trees where they glean aphids for their migrational energy needs.
The 11 members of the birding group that day counted seven different species of warblers, including Townsend’s Warbler, an unusual migrant through the Valley. Other highlights of the day included Stilt Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, Lesser Yellowlegs, Peregrine Falcon, Osprey, Burrowing Owl, Lewis’s Woodpecker and Western Tanagers.
Ironically the Jaeger species was the last bird found for the day.
Rawinski explained, “We were done for the day and returning to Monte Vista when we noticed a road-killed bird in Cat Creek. We stopped and examined the bird and it was a real head-scratcher for sure!”  The team carefully examined the bird and concluded it as a  “juvenile jaeger species.” There are three types of possible jaegers including Long-tailed, Parasitic, and Pomarine Jaegers. Juvenile Jaegers present an identification challenge, even with the bird in hand. Based on observed field characteristics and measurements, this bird appears to be a juvenile Long-tailed Jaeger.
“The bird must now be documented with the Colorado Bird Records Committee before final approval,” said Rawinski.
The bird group included  John Stump, John Rawinski, Debbie Seiden, Patricia Eagle, Jan Oen, Alex Ware, Lisa Clements, Diane Underwood, Brian Underwood, Lynn Miller, and Stan Oswalt.

In honor of the Year of the Bird, a donation was made to KRZA Radio station, on behalf of the San Luis Valley birwatchers. For those interested in seeing the Jaeger, you can view it under “Jaeger, Warblers Plus” at the following website: https://johnrawinski.zenfolio.com/.


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