Category Archives: White winged and Stejneger’s Scoters

Japan in Digiscoped Photos

by Tormod Amundsen

Just back from a family break in Japan. Check out these images mostly  digiscoped with new Swarovksi ATX 95.

For more images visit our Biotope Facebook Page or our Biotope website.

Drake Stejneger's Scoter, Japan, January 2014 by Tormod Amundsen. Probably a 3cy (2nd winter) male.  Digiscoped with Sony RX100m2 + Swarovski ATX 95mm

Drake Stejneger’s Scoter, Japan, January 2014 by Tormod Amundsen. Probably a 3cy (2nd winter) male. Digiscoped with Sony RX100m2 + Swarovski ATX 95mm

Blakiston's Fish Owl, Japan, January 2014 by Tormod Amundsen. Biotope are very fortunate to be supported by Swarovski Optik Nature with their finest optics for birders. Not only has this taken our birding experiences to a whole new level, even in our bird photography we can do much more! The fact that the photo of the Blakistons Fish Owl was taken with a compact camera is pretty cool. The following set up allowed this photo: the Swarovski ATX 95mm telescope with a Sony RX100m2 compact cam, set at iso 1600, shutter speed 1/4sec F2.2, with the telescope zoom set at 45x magnification. In a pitch black night time scene only lit by a white light lamp. Pretty cool digiscoping  How cool it is to be able to so closely document one of the greatest and rarest owls in the world. Thank you Hokkaido, and thank you Swarovski! A full review of the optics will be available on www.biotope.no in a while. We still have more birding and digiscoping to do first.

Blakiston’s Fish Owl, Japan, January 2014 by Tormod Amundsen.
Biotope are very fortunate to be supported by Swarovski Optik Nature with their finest optics for birders. Not only has this taken our birding experiences to a whole new level, even in our bird photography we can do much more! The fact that the photo of the Blakistons Fish Owl was taken with a compact camera is pretty cool. The following set up allowed this photo: the Swarovski ATX 95mm telescope with a Sony RX100m2 compact cam, set at iso 1600, shutter speed 1/4sec F2.2, with the telescope zoom set at 45x magnification. In a pitch black night time scene only lit by a white light lamp. Pretty cool digiscoping How cool it is to be able to so closely document one of the greatest and rarest owls in the world. Thank you Hokkaido, and thank you Swarovski! A full review of the optics will be available on www.biotope.no in a while. We still have more birding and digiscoping to do first.

Steller's Sea Eagle, Japan, January 2014 by Tormod Amundsen. What the Swarovski ATX 95 and a compact camera can do!

Steller’s Sea Eagle, Japan, January 2014 by Tormod Amundsen. What the Swarovski ATX 95 and a compact camera can do!

 

Fishermen preparing their nets for ice fishing. Stellers Sea Eagles are waiting in the distance for scraps

Fishermen preparing their nets for ice fishing. Stellers Sea Eagles are waiting in the distance for scraps

Steller's Sea Eagle, Japan, January 2014 by Tormod Amundsen. Showing some close-up detail.

Steller’s Sea Eagle, Japan, January 2014 by Tormod Amundsen. Showing some close-up detail.

 

Asian Rosy Finch. A top target birds for this trip. Digiscoped with SonyRX100m2 & SwarovskiATX95mm

Asian Rosy Finch. Japan, January 2014 by Tormod Amundsen. A top target bird for this trip. Digiscoped with Sony RX100m2 & Swarovski ATX 95mm

 

Drake Black Scoter, Japan, January 2014 by Tormod Amundsen. Impressed by digiscoping capabilities of SwarovskiATXscope. camera handheld in heavy wind at 45x magnification

Drake Black Scoter, Japan, January 2014 by Tormod Amundsen. Impressed by digiscoping capabilities of SwarovskiATXscope. camera handheld in heavy wind at 45x magnification

Nice comparison of upperpart grey tones. From left to right at front, Glaucous-winged Gull, Glaucous Gull (pallidisimus) and Slaty-backed Gull. Japan, January 2014 by Tormod Amundsen

Nice comparison of upperpart grey tones. From left to right at front, Glaucous-winged Gull, Glaucous Gull (pallidisimus) and Slaty-backed Gull. Japan, January 2014 by Tormod Amundsen

and our final one: Far Eastern taxa of Snow Bunting...

and our final one: Far Eastern taxa of Snow Bunting…

 

 

 

Stejneger’s Scoter: First for Britain

Musselburgh, Lothian

Martin Garner

Bill colour, shape of basal knob and head shape all point towards Stejneger’s Scoter, albeit from a blurry photo!

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.

Apparent drake Stejneger's Scoter, Musselburgh, Lothian 24th December 2013, Sarah-Louise Selly.

Drake Stejneger’s Scoter, Musselburgh, Lothian 24th December 2013, Sarah-Louise Selly.

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:

“Hi Martin,

 …Funnily enough I actually used your blog for the initial ID, an excellent resource so thank you. I was still hovering on the side of deglandi but I have little experience with these species. I’d be very interested to see what you think.
 
Many thanks,
 
Owen Selly”

 

American White-winged Scoter in Japan

Amoung the Stejneger’s

A great find yesterday by David Cooper. He emailed to say he had found an adult male American White-winged Scoter in a harbour in eastern Hokkaido, Japan. Seems to be the first for this part of the world, with the only other records of ‘deglandi’ from the Kommander Islands. Great scoop and likely to see a few Japanese twitchers along to see it today. More here

all photos Ad male American White-winged Scoter, Hokkaido, Japan, 26th February 2012, copyright David Cooper.

and David’s original target- a young male Stejneger’s Scoter, same day, same place

Stejneger’s Scoter – Norway

1st summer male- Varanger!!!

Just over a month ago I was envisioning the guys in Vardø, – they should get Stejneger’s Scoter. Early this morning only 15 minutes north of Vardø, at Persfjordena, Varanger a first summer male ‘White-winged type’ Scoter was found by birder, Tor Olsen and some other guys.

I think they are still discussing the ID in terms of is it deglandi/ stejnegeri. To me in the photos it looks a straightforward Stejneger’s Scoter. Tormod says there is pale at bill tip and age look like a 1st summer (2nd cal yr) male. Great comparison with the Aberdeen White-winged Scoter.

The above photos by Morten Kersbergen  and below by Tormod Amundsen. Thanks also to Knut-Sverre Horn . Cheers guys- great bird for Varanger!

White-winged Scoter taxonomy

and vagrancy…

Scoters. Painted by  Henry Thurston for Jonathan Dwight’s 1914 paper. (see below) Back then all 3 Scoters with white wings were split as separate species.

This is the guts of the text from ‘Frontiers in Birding’ on the subjects of Vagrancy and Taxonomy.

Vagrancy:

Velvet Scoter in North America

Velvet Scoter has reached Greenland (Witherby et al. 1944), and thus seems a likely potential vagrant to North America.

White-winged Scoter in Western Europe

Iceland is the only country so far in the Western Palearctic with confirmed records of White-winged Scoter. Since the first, at Arnarfjordur, northwest Iceland, in June 1993, there have been five accepted records, all in the period May to July including one adult male, which paired with a female Northern Eider (Kolbeinsson et al. 2001). There have also been several records of White-winged Scoter (deglandi) in northeast Asia (Dementiev & Gladkov 1967).

Postscript. Hard to tell exact number of individuals involved due to repeat appearances. It is claimed from 2-8 birds have occurred. Iceland is now no longer the only place that White-winged Scoter as occurred in the W. Palearctic (as of last Saturday!).

Stejneger’s Scoter in Western Europe

There have been four extralimital records of Stejneger’s Scoter in Europe, two of which were initially misidentified, perhaps suggesting that others have been overlooked. The records, all of adult males, are as follows: Baie de Somme, northern France, 4th December 1886 (recently re-identified specimen: Jiquet 2007); Kemio, southwest Finland, May to June 1996 (Lindroos 1997); Iceland, April to May 2003 (Garner et al. 2004); Gdansk Bay, Poland, 10th March 2007 (photographed, Dorota Lukasik pers.comm).

Postscript: Adult male Rossbeigh Strand, co. Kerry, Ireland  winter 2010/2011

Short clip of Stejneger’s in Mongolia taken by James Lidster last week.

Stejneger’s Scoters in North America

Until recently there were no records of Stejenger’s Scoter in North America. In early June 2002, while leading a bird tour to Gambell, Alaska, Jon Dunn, Steve Howell and Gary Rosenberg found a ‘White-winged’ Scoter swimming off the northwest tip of St Lawrence Island. They had witnessed a small, but consistent, spring passage of White-winged Scoters in late May and early June in each of the previous twenty-five years they had collectively led tours to Gambell, but this was the first time that a swimming bird had been found there. JD was the first to notice that this male-plumaged bird had ‘black’ flanks, unlike normal deglandi White winged Scoters from the mainland. The bird remained off the point for at least three days (2nd-4th June), and photographs were taken by GR. Shortly thereafter, GR photographed normal deglandi in the interior of Alaska, from which differences in bill colouration and structure were noticed. Further direct comparison of the photographs of the Gambell bird with photographs of stejnegeri in a photographic guide of the birds of Japan confirmed that the Gambell bird was an example of Stejenger’s Scoter.

This record was subsequently pre-dated when a photograph was discovered of an adult male Stejneger’s Scoter taken at Cape Nome, Alaska, by Brad Bergstrom on 30th May 2001 (Garner et al. 2004). Given this overlooked record and the fact that most birds are seen only in flight off Gambell (see above), it seems likely that Stejneger’s Scoter actually occurs more commonly in North America.

Taxonomy

In a paper published back in 1914 Henry Thurston illustrated not 3 but 6 species of Scoter (see Dwight 1914). Under the genus of Oidemia the six recognized species were:

Oidemia americana = Black Scoter

Oidemia nigra = Common Scoter

Oidemia fusca = Velvet Scoter

Oidemia deglandi = (American) White-winged Scoter

Oidemia carbo = Stejneger’s Scoter or Asian White-winged Scoter

Oidemia perspicillata = Surf Scoter

Since then the genus has changed to Melanitta and in the ‘west’ the 6 Species were lumped into 3 Species during the early/ middle part of the 20th Century. With some bird forms there have been genuine discoveries in the last couple of decades about biology, behaviour and characteristics (including molecular data) that have caused an elevation of a former subspecies to species status. Examples such as Taiga Flycatcher, Balearic Shearwater and Hume’s Warbler spring to mind. However some taxonomic changes, and are more of a pendulum swing simply reflecting current trends rather than new information, and this is certainly more the case with the Scoters. Past authors such as Dwight fully recognized the very significant differences in bill structures, feathering around the bill base and some plumage differences that caused them to see specific status for these birds as axiomatic.  More recently the BOURC split Black Scoter and ‘American’ White-winged Scoter (Collinson et.al. 2006), and the criteria used are largely the same as those evident in Dwight (save for difference in courtship call between Common and Black Scoters).

Russians ornithologists have had these species splits in place for many years. Here is how the taxonomic situation looks currently under the BOURC:

Melanitta americana = Black Scoter

Melanitta nigra = Common Scoter

Melanitta fusca = Velvet Scoter

Melanitta deglandi (ssp. deglandi and stejnegeri) = (American) White-winged and Stejneger’s Scoter

Melanitta perspicillata = Surf Scoter

It may sound presumptuous, but by simply applying established criteria (Helbig et al. 2002) it is clear that all 3 forms of ‘white-winged Scoter’ display more than sufficient criteria for them all to be classified as full species. They well-defined biological and evolutionary species. It is anticipated that any DNA/Phylogenetic studies will further establish this taxonomic position.

All three taxa are diagnosable in the field and exhibit differences at all ages and in all plumages (e.g. Dwight 1914, Witherby et al.1944, Cramp & Simmons 1977, Gardarsson 1997, Garner 1999, Garner 2004). They also appear to be reproductively isolated: they have essentially separate breeding and wintering ranges, and there is no evidence of interbreeding or clinal variation. Thus, according to the criteria proposed by Helbig et al. (2002), they can justifiably be classified as three separate species:

Velvet Scoter Melanitta fusca (Linnaeus 1758)

White-winged Scoter M. deglandi (Bonaparte 1850)

Stejneger’s Scoter M. stejnegeri (Ridgway 1887)

References

Collinson, M., Parkin, D.T., Knox, A.G., Sangster, G. and Helbig, A.J. 2006. Species limits within the genus Melanitta, the scoters. Brit. birds 99: 183 – 201
Cramp, S. & Simmons K.E.L. Eds. 1977. The Birds of the Western Palearctic. Vol. 1. Oxford.
Dementiev, G.P. & Gladkov, N.A. Eds. 1967. Birds of the Soviet Union. Vol. 4. Jerusalem.
Dwight, J. 1914. The moults and plumages of the Scoters, genus Oidemia (Melanitta). Auk 31: 293-308.
Gardarsson, A. 1997. Korpönd að vestan. Bliki 18: 65-67.
Garner, M. 1999. Identification of White-winged and Velvet Scoters – males, females and immatures. Birding World 12: 319-324.
Garner, M., Lewington, I. & Rosenberg, G. 2004. Stejneger’s Scoter in the Western Palearctic and North America. Birding World 17 (8): 337-347
Gilroy, J.J. & Lees, A.C. 2003. Vagrancy theories: are autumn vagrants really reverse migrants? Brit. Birds 96: 427-438.
Gooders, J. & Boyer, T. 1986. Ducks of Britain and the Northern Hemisphere. London.
Helbig, A.J., Knox, A.G., Parkin, D.T., Sangster, G. & Collinson, M. 2002. Guidelines for assigning species Rank. Ibis 144: 518-525.
Jiquet, F. 2007. Siberian White-winged Scoter, New to France. Ornithos, Vol. 14 No.1: 38 – 42
Kaufman, K. 1990. Advanced Birding. Houghton Mifflin. Bostonm..
Kolbeinsson, Y., Prainsson, G. & Petursson, G. 2001.  Sjaldgaefir Fuglar a Islandi 1998 [Rare birds in Iceland in 1998]. Bliki 22: 21-46.
Lindroos, T. 1997. Rare Birds in Finland 1996. Alula 3: 160-169.
Madge, S. & Burn, H. 1988. Wildfowl. London.
Palmer, R.S. 1976. Handbook of North American Birds. Vol 3. London.
Phillips, J.C. 1922-1926. A Natural History of the Ducks. New York.
Proctor, B. 1997. Identification of Velvet and White-winged Scoters. Birding World 10: 56-61.
Iráinsson, G. & Pétursson, C. 1997. Sjaldgaefir fuglar a Islandi 1995. Bliki 18: 23-50.
Sangster, G., Collinson, M., Helbig, A.J., Knox, A.G., Parkin,
D.T. & Prater, T. 2001. The taxonomic status of Green-winged Teal Anas carolinensis. Brit. Birds 94: 218-226.
Sangster, G., Hazevoet, C.J., van den Berg, A.B. & Roselaar, C.S. 1997. CSNA-mededelingen Dutch avifaunal list: taxonomic changes in 1977-97. Dutch Birding 19: 21-28.
Stepanyan, L.S. 1990. Conspectus of the ornithological fauna of the USSR. (In Russian) Moscow.
Stepanyan, L.S. 2003. Conspectus of the ornithological fauna of Russia and adjacent territories (within the borders of the USSR as a historic region). (In Russian) Moscow.
Witherby, H.F., Jourdain, F.C.R., Ticehurst, N.F. & Tucker, B.W. 1944. The Handbook of British Birds. Volume III. London.

American White-winged Scoter

Blackdog, Aberdeen- an American ssp. deglandi …candidate.

Got phone call y’day evening from top geezer Chris Gibbins. Chris, Paul Baxter and Hywel Maggs hade seen an interesting first summer male Scoter (with white wings). Trouble is it’s a way out , hard to see the fullest details on, and picture are not all easy to obtain.

They are rightly cautious!

Nevertheless looking through the photos and listening to Chris’ description 3 things stand out:

1) The colour on the bill is restricted towards the bill tip  lacking the full reach back of young male Velvet (young males ghost the adult male pattern)

2) the colour is pinkish (yellow on Velvet)

3) the head shape is peculiarly squarish, fuller (more Eider-like) and in the first of the photos below look spot on for American White-winged Scoter.

They are in full agreement that these features are present on field views. The reason I use the word candidate above, is I really think it is one- but given the pressure on folk travelling, spending money, and the fact that this will be a First for Britain– it’s an anxious thing to make such a big call. They wish they had better views, but they are courageously willing to stick their collective neck out- and I think with very good reason!

American White-winged Scoter, Blackdog, Aberdeen, 11 and 12th June 2011

Nick Littlewood then obtained better photos today and they were able to confirm features such as profile of head and bill and extent of colour on the bill. The bird is moulting inner primaries/ outer secondaries so would be expected to hang around for a while…

Thanks to David Cooper- 2 v. helpful photos of 1st summer male White-winged Scoter taken at Point Pelee last month. (Nostalgic mo- where I saw my first in 1985!)

(all photos below Chris Gibbins – yesterday)

On separation from Stejneger’s Scoter

in first summer plumage

Hope this helps, as I have been asked this question a couple times already. Basically the head/ bill profile is actually v different between White-winged and Stejneger’s. On White-winged there is  a 2  ‘stepped’ profile versus a continuous line from crown to basal knob on Stejneger’s. This is obvious on adults but also true (to lesser extent) on first summer males. Furthermore the ‘yellow lick’ originally highlight as an easy ‘aid memoire’ for male Stejneger’s is also apparent on 1st summer males as bill colour appears. Ian Lewington illustrated it when we worked on it together. You can hopefully see what I mean below.

It’s of course a lot easy on a bird at point black range than one on choppy seas, but the lack of yellow lick on the Aberdeen bird and the stepped profile, points most favourably towards American White-winged.