I heard c 4 days ago of a ‘White-winged Scoter’ identified retrospectively from photographs. It had been seen only on Boxing Day 26th Dec. 2013. The reports made it sound like an American ‘deglandi’. Only this afternoon however I saw the photos for the first time on the Birdguides review of the week. With OCD level of interest in the 3 white-winged Scoter taxa for the last 16 years even with the distant photos, the bird looked instantly like a Stejneger’s Scoter- potentially making it a first record for Britain. Thoughts were ‘tweeted’. I have been asked variously why the Asian and not the American taxon. Had I been too hasty? Thanks to Josh Jones at Birdguides and Brian Egan at Rare Bird Alert who quickly pointed me in the direction I got in touch with Owen, whose wife Sarah Louise took the photos, not even knowing the bird was there. So here’s my quick comment with thanks to Owen. More of Owen’s account will appear on RBA and I also worked on a piece on these scoters prior to all this, for Birdwatch magazine, which I guess… will be in this months copy very soon. Good timing I hope.
There are others but this is the most instructive image. It also seems to be the least blurry/ most well defined so I am a bit more confident in trying to interpret this one, rather than 2 other images provided. Despite being a little blurry, I think it is possible to make out some features with confidence as follows:
Firstly, the reddish part of the bill clearly has a yellow mark running horizontally close to the bill edge. Straight away your into Stejnegeri territory. Indeed it’s essentially a diagnostic character. On Stejnegeri this yellow mark is obvious and well-defined in males. In White-winged Scoter ‘deglandi‘ any yellow is more ill-defined, bleeding into surrounding orange/ redder colours and higher up on the bill tucked under the nostril cavity. In the cases of the first North American record and 3 of the previous Western Palearctic records which I have been involved in (helping to ) identify, this character was the immediately most tell-tale feature pointing to Stejneger’s Scoter.
Secondly the basal knob, allowing for again a blurry image looks steep and with vertical front edge. Steep/ tall and vertical. On deglandi– at this kind of range, it should slope more into the distal part of the bill and wold not be so tall looking. That looks very Stejneger’s-shaped.
Thirdly, the head shape, though at a slightly obtuse angle and not a proper profile seems to lack any kind of obvious forehead. It really should be quite a ‘step between front of crown and first part of the bill base if it was a deglandi. This seeming gentle slope from somewhere on top of the crown is better looking for stejnegeri.
So, mine was a gut reaction at first because it just looked like a drake Stejneger’s Scoter. On closer inspection I think 3 attributes are discernible which together make the identity .. err good for Stejneger’s Scoter. As ever have a look for yourself and make your own mind up.
Thanks to Owen and Sally – and glad Birding Frontiers was a useful resource: