Twice this summer, I have seen a bird that I can't seem to find a match for in my bird ID app or online. Both times I saw it I was in a car and couldn't get a picture. The first sighting was along the highway between Moncton and Sussex. The second time was along the highway between Hampton and Quispamsis.

It is a fairly large bird, similar in size to an osprey, but with long tapered wings. From below, the head and wings are dark, most likely brown but could be black. The belly is white with no pattern. It appears to have buff or rust coloured feathers on the upper part of the legs. I seem to remember the tail being rounded or pointed but it could have been square. I didn't get to see the beak shape.

Since I didn't get a picture, I drew what I remember the bird looking like. One search I did online came up with a rare Falcon visitor from Europe but it wasn't quite right. I thought I would pick your brains.

Tags: Tapered, along, belly, dark, highway, white, wings

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Maybe a Merlin?

Or maybe a Tern or Gull?

It is definitely larger than a Merlin and doesn't have the right markings for a Peregrine. As I've done more searching, the closest I've found to shape have been the Jaegers but they aren't quite right colour-wise. It may be that it is a juvenile or a rare colouring.
Maybe check Northern harrier, I saw this bird last week being persued by a kestrel on a dark cloudy day and at first the profile had me stumped. It appeared to have the shape of a jaegar or osprey. Most sightings of this bird are from the side or near eye level as they tend to hunt just a few feet off the ground, so I think this is why I had trouble initially. I eventually saw the trademark white rump as it was turning the corner, trying to evade the kestrel. You say along a hwy, perhaps open fields or was it forested. Open fields could
point to this raptor. Just a guess really but some of your clues match...
I just saw your drawing after writing this If you saw a white rump like in your drawing, this may be your bird...
Hmm, unfortunately, that drawing is representing the bird from below so the white area is the belly. I didn't get to see the rump since both times I saw it, it was flying above the tops of the trees. The Harrier did look similar in colour to what I saw, though the bird I saw did not have "fingers" on its wings.
After a bit more searching, the Petrels and Shearwaters look very close in shape and colouration. Not sure if one would be found that far from the ocean though. The highway areas I was driving through were mostly forested though there were some grassy areas. If it was closer to the bay I would think likely a sea bird but just outside of Moncton and near Hampton seem a bit far inland for over-ocean flyer/coastal nester.
I just found the closest pictures yet and they are of a Long Tailed Jaeger. The wings are a perfect fit and with the tail pulled together rather than fanned out, the tail fits too. In my drawing, I had the white closer to the tail than the head, but that certainly could just be a memory glitch. I may be wrong so I welcome more input. See what you guys think of these photos.

Still thinking a Gull , maybe an immature greater black backed.  Gulls fly up the Kennebasis quite often, all the way up to Penobsquis where they use fish guts for compost.

A Jaeger or other seabird so far inland along the east coast would be exceptional. What's the likelihood that a single person would have two such sightings widely separated in time and distance?

Now I'm not doubting the sightings but I'd suggest that, if both sightings are the same species, it's highly likely that it's a fairly common species.

Petrels are out simply because of size. Likewise Terns are out on colour and size.

I'd also suggest that given the time of year there's a strong possibility that you should be looking at immature and sub-adult birds.

You haven't mentioned anything about it's flight. Did it soar or glide? Did it flap its wings? Fast, slow, deep, shallow?

Any additional information might be helpful.

The sketch shows a dark front end/neck region with dark underwings and that is inconsistent with the majority of birds that one might find in this region. I'm sure there must be others but only two in your general size range that come to mind: female Surf Scoter and 1st year Great Cormorant.

I strongly suspect that the apparent dark wings and underbody were at least partly the result of viewing the birds against the bright sky. 

It's a nice little mystery. I look forward to other opinions.

I agree that it is very unlikely to be the Jaeger. That is just the closest pictures I've seen so far and might help someone else narrow things down.

The flight pattern was definitely more soaring than flapping and was smooth and straight. When it did flap, the beats were slow and shallow. It was flying near lots of hills on breezy days so may have been finding good updrafts for land-soaring.

You are totally correct that the dark underwings don't seem to match anything I'm finding online. It is certainly possible that the lighting and angle of view made them seem dark when really they were mottled or buff coloured, etc. And I know for certain that quick glipses like this are not exactly set in stone in the memory so my drawing of the pattern could be totally wrong lol.

The colouration of the juvenile Great Cormorant is a good match but I know the shape and movements of cormorants well since I worked with several in a zoo in the States. The Surf Scooter is a posibility though I would expect a duck to flap more in flight. I must say I am truly baffled. It is possible I've simply been seeing Osprey in a bit of shadow and holding their wings in a way to catch the particular winds in that area. I know for certain that there are Osprey nests viewable from the highway between Hampton and Quispamsis, and I did see birds flapping around on the nest closest to my second sighting of the bird. Maybe I'm creating confusion for nothing lol.

I think that we all look for those "fingers" and sort of expect that they will always show but I know that I've been fooled a few times when the primaries were held tight, similar to your last pictures.

I've burned a lot of gas turning back to check quick glimpses and almost always (if the bird was still around) it turned out to be a familiar species.

Your suggestion of Osprey is a reasonable fit.

I'd also agree that a backlit Osprey would be a far more reasonable suggestion for a sighting in that area.


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