Archive for the ‘Ducks’ Category

“Hump-nosed” Scoter-one to look for in CT!

March 14, 2011

The recent scoter/scaup flock that lingered off Stratford earlier in the winter held several nice White-winged Scoters (deglandi). Being from the old country, I often sift through any close male birds in hope of unearthing the European race/species, known as Velvet Scoter (are there any NE records??). However, my little peepers are also on alert  for a third race/taxon that might be lurking in their midst..Stejneger’s Scoter. Huh??!! Say what??????

Take a look at my pal, Martin Garner’s site:

The siberian race of our more familiar White-winged Scoter is stejnegeri and males can be separated from other races on bill, bill color and head shape (see link above). It thas been recorded in Alaska (naturally) but now there is currently a male in southern Ireland and one in Denmark, despite the fact that the Nearctic race, deglandi is more likely to occur in Europe. The species may eventually be split. The Irish bird (first for Ireland) found by visiting British birder Josh Jones (kudos to him)  is at:

Note the bill protrusion obvious on this Stejneger’s. Obviously close views are essential and females are likely almost impossible under typical field conditions, but males of the European and Siberian race can be separated from deglandi White-winged Scoters. The Irish and Danish birds were returning birds and had been present as “Velvet Scoters” for over a year.

This is one bird that we should all look for when looking at close flocks of White-winged Scoters.

Good hunting!

Oldsquaws ++++

March 6, 2011

In need of a bird injection, and to escape the prospect of actually cleaning the house and other irrelevant duties, I headed for a short jaunt along the West Haven coast. I opted for Woodmont in case any early staging Boney’s were around (they weren’t).

Looking out from Woodmont and Oldsquaw galore

When I got there quite a few birds were offshore. Whipping out the scope, lots of Brants were sitting offshore, being buzzed by small flocks of breeding Oldsquaws moving west. Within 20 minutes I had nearly 400 of the little buggers…all resplendent in summer garb flicking past in a determined manner. Mixed in were American Wigeon, a small flock of Surf Scoters, RB Mergs, a loafing raft of Greater Scaup, a couple of hulking Common Loons and three lightweight Red-throated Loons.

Oyster River, the typical place to find loafing Bonaparte’s Gulls, didn’t produce the goods but I wasn’t expecting any due to the absence of any birds passing off the coast during my short watch from Woodmont. It is still early, but the next few weeks should see a notable increase and a chance of Little Gull. Watch this space!

18th February – Scaups on Sea Street, New Haven

February 26, 2011

After being confined to the house due to a bout of bronchitis, a quick walk to the bottom of the street to check the harbor resulted in good views of several more quackers; Lesser Scaup numbers had increased and the three Redheads were still present. A few more Greater Scaup were admixed with the Lessers providing good comparisions.

Female scaups - Greater (front right) and Lesser (behind left)

Note the head shapes – the less broad head and thinner neck look of the Lesser, the sloped crown of the Greater (with high point of crown in front of eye). Color of body plumage and amount of white on face is variable, so usually id. of birds is based on size, head shape and bill shape. Note here the Greater has a more spatulate bill with the dark of the nail extending more onto the sides .

Male scaups - Greater (in front) and Lesser (behind)

Lone birds can be really tricky, but when seen together, note the differences in head shape. Here the Greater has the typical greenish head sheen while the Lesser has typical purplish. Some of the literature describes Lesser “riding higher in the water” but as above this may be misleading. The coarser vermiculations on Lesser compared with Greater may also be difiicult to determine in the field.

An interesting scaup – Greater or Lesser??

February 20, 2011

Greater and Lesser Scaup often look relatively straightforward to id. from the books, but in the field, at least to me,  they can sometimes be decidedly deceiving and difficult.  I don’t look too hard at ducks as it is, but the subtleties of head shape and bill size can be hard to analyze when faced with a distant raft of scaup. New Haven harbor is an important wintering area for Greater Scaup, the default species you’ll see in good numbers around West Haven.

Near the house this morning, I came across 4 scaup – three obvious male Lessers and a female bird, which I assumed to be a Lesser too, but I was busy trying to photograph them rather than “look” at them –  an unfortunate bad habit associated with trying to photograph and bird at the same time.

2 male Lessers (left) and the female-type bird

They took flight and when reviewing the shots on my camera I noticed the female appeared to be a Greater Scaup, not a Lesser as first assumed.

A typical female Greater Scaup, New Haven, February

This was based on rounded head shape, lots of white around the bill and a rather spatulate bill with broad, dark nail (as on the bird above). The interesting part, is that on the flight shots, the bird shows a wing pattern typically associated with Lesser Scaup in that the white secondaries did not extend onto the inner primaries??? Had I gotten it wrong? After all, it was with three other Lessers.

1st-w male Lesser (below) and same female-type scaup (above)

composite of the female-type bird showing wing pattern

Note the white secondaries end and give way to grayish primaries, a Lesser Scaup feature. Greaters typically show white extending onto the primaries and also have a paler, whitish underwing, whereas Lessers are often more greyish as in the bird above.

So, is the bird a Lesser, or a Greater? From the sitting shots it appears to be a Greater, so how do we explain the  atypical wing pattern. It doesn’t seem to be a lighting artefact. Did i get the id. right?? Do Greater’s often show this wing pattern?? Comments welcome.