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Mega-rarity: Brown Booby at Harlan Co. Lake

On Tuesday morning I found myself in Sioux County on a late spring/early summer birding trip with my wife when I received a text about a possible Brown Booby observed over the Memorial Day weekend at Harlan County Lake near Alma. Brown Boobies are seabirds, typically seen on or near oceans.  Nebraska is a long way from any ocean.  So, the report had to be bogus, right?  Well, the observer and text was from Jeff Drahota who observed the bird while fishing on the lake.  While Jeff may not be a hardcore birder, he is a professional biologist and he does know his birds.  Also, among the many species of seabirds, the Brown Booby is one that has a pattern of vagrancy inland.  In fact, Nebraska’s first Brown Booby was photographed three years ago in Sarpy County by a local resident (no birders saw it).  A Brown Booby also appeared in Iowa two years ago.

The report was tantalizing and intriguing.  Even if a Brown Booby was at Harlan County Lake over the weekend, it could have already moved on.   Although we did not make a mad dash to Harlan County, we did strategically saunter down there on Wednesday to arrive in the evening.  When we got to the dam, I started scoping and miraculously in less than five minutes I located the Brown Booby sitting on the water about a quarter mile out from the dam.   The bird soon took flight and flew around for approximately 20 minutes before landing on the gates of the dam, which is where we left it after about an hour of observation.   Below are a few photographs of the bird.

This will be Nebraska’s second confirmed Brown Booby.  It is a big-time rarity, and other birders had already arrived before sunrise Thursday to catch a glimpse of it.  Many thanks to Jeff Drahota for having the wherewithal to recognize an odd bird while preoccupied with fishing.  Also, thanks to Jeff for passing along the report (and for nailing the identification)!   If the bird sticks around, many birders will likely make the pilgrimage to see it.

Good birding!

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About Joel Jorgensen

Joel Jorgensen is a Nebraska native and he has been interested in birds just about as long as he has been breathing. He has been NGPC’s Nongame Bird Program Manager for eight years and he works on a array of monitoring, research, regulatory and conservation issues. Nongame birds are the 400 or so species that are not hunted and include the Whooping Crane, Least Tern, Piping Plover, Bald Eagle, and Peregrine Falcon. When not working, he enjoys birding.

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