Category Archives: 01) Wildfowl

Pacific Eider: news from Varanger

Still there today!

Tormod Amundsen and Martin Garner

v nigrum

 

Following its stunning surprise appearance reported HERE. Over a month later and the bird is still present. Seemingly eluding detection during the Gullfest it left its mark in the most bizarre- and for some frustrating way. The now famous King Eider/ Eider VORTEX was enjoyed again by Gullfest goers. Some took photos of Eiders in flight- of course. First Tormod, then Jonnie Fisk discovered amoung their photos (see above) that they had actually taken pictures of the Pacific Eider, Mr V-nigrum. Which kinda means their retina would have picked up the bird- as we used to say “can they tick it on assumed retinal capture?”

It was seen again in harsh conditions this morning -30th March 2014.

Meanwhile here’s some stuff on the occurrence of Pacific Eider off West Greenland and the range in NE Asia as far west as Yana river- presuming the Varanger bird is most likely to have come from the NE Asian population rather than the Alaska one.

Frontiers in Birding

p169: “While investigating the subject of origins and identification of Eiders it became apparent that there was real potential for Pacific Eiders to mix with Northern Eiders off the Canadian Arctic and occasionally abmigrate bringing them into the North Atlantic. Coincidentally, not long after the publication of ‘Norther Eiders in Scotland- are they being missed?’ (Garner and Farrelly 2005) , Bruce Mcatavish found Newfoundland’s first Pacific Eider, mixed in with flocks of wintering Norther Eiders. While it might surprise some, the potential for this stunningly beautiful duck to reach Western Europe is very real.

Pacific Eiders off West Greenland

Speaking about the Eiders occurring in the Davis Straight off w and sw Greenland, Palmer (Handbook of North American Birds Vol 3) writes:

Furthermore both typical and atypical v-nigra have been taken, not breeding: details, including meas., in Schiøler (1926). Perhaps a few v-nigra in the Canadian arctic join flocks of borealis (or even of King Eiders) which fly to molting and wintering localities to sw. Greenland. Schiøler stated that they occur there every winter. Presumably any such progeny would show some v-nigra characters. This assessment is contrast to that of J.C. Phillips (1926), who regarded the birds in question as “merely individual variants and not true Pacific Eiders.”

 

Boertmann (1994) Birds of Greenland on v-nigrum status there:

“SUBSPECIES: The breeding population in Greenland refers to ssp. borealis. ssp. v-nigrum from northwestern North America is a scarce winter and spring vagrant in West Greenland. Since Salamonsen 1967 it has been recorded on 15th May 1967 (Asvid 1974) and several times since 1972 (Salamonsen unpublished).”

1909225_638034652937192_1125907535_o

 

Pacific Eider in NE Asia

from Birds of North America (online) : S. m. v-nigrum Gray, 1856: Pacific Eider. Breeds from Coronation Gulf, Nunavut (east to Jenny Lind I.) west along coasts of Beaufort Sea and Bering Sea, Alaska (Kodiak, Cook Inlet, Glacier Bay), Aleutian Is.; in Asia as far west as Yana River (about 137°E), New Siberian Is., locally around Chukchi Peninsula (west of Chaun Bay and Aion I.), Bering Strait near Diomede Is. and St. Lawrence I., Commander Is. and Kamchatka Peninsula, including disjunct population in ne. Sea of Okhotsk (Tauisk Gulf east to Penzhinskaya Gulf). Winters in ice-free regions around Bering Sea, with both Asian and North American populations probably concentrated in Aleutian-Alaskan Peninsula area (Palmer 1976). Has occurred east to Newfoundland and w. Greenland (Peters and Burleigh 1951,Boertmann 1994) and south to interior Canada (Manitoba: Lake Manitoba, Giroux, near Winnipeg, and Patricia Beach) and central Great Plains (near LeCompton, KS; Mlodinow 1999). Largest subspecies; male typically has black V on chin (sometimes absent, especially birds in Sea of Okhotsk), bill color vivid orange or yellow-orange; frontal lobes narrow and pointed as well as positioned higher, more toward midline of forehead than other races; skull large, resulting in greater distance of eye from bill; feathering in loral region notably rounded at anterior margin (not as wedge-shaped as other races); extensive green on head of male, extending from nape in fine line under eye; adult female plumage typically dark brown.

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map from  Laputan Logic 

The  Vortex 

Graham White writes:

“Then out by boat into the Eider Vortex. Now I am not an ‘OMG’ person; it’s a bit cringe-worthy, but, OMG!  Around 25,000 Common and King Eiders flying past, over and behind you is one of THE wildlife spectacles to be found anywhere.  As it turned out, it was even more OMG than usual, as Tormod later spotted a Pacific Eider in his photographs that must have flown by us on the day. I’m still searching through mine!”

Graham White

The Grumpy Ecologist
King Eider Vortex Vardø Varanger Gullfest 2014 Amundsen Biotope

.king eider vortex 2

click on photos to really appreciate what’s going on…

 

Thanks to Marshall Iliff for extra info

Black Brant and hybrids

in Norfolk – March 2013

by James McCallum  (photos Martin Garner)

March and April are key time for watching and studying the 4 Brents. Spring movement  and flock shuffling. Lots to watch and learn. James McCallum’s study of Black Brant and theory hybrids in Norfolk in full of useful stuff.

 

Black brant hybrid lone bird aAdult Black Brant X Dark-bellied Brent, Holkham, February 2013

Some of my earliest memories of growing up on the north Norfolk coast are of flocks of Brent Geese and their lovely muttering calls. In my early teens I developed a stronger interest in the local bird life and a closer look at the Brent flocks occasionally revealed the presence of a few Pale-bellied Brents and, more rarely, a Black Brant. Such occurrences set the scene for the following two decades – although in some winters, small influxes of Pale-bellied Brents occurred and occasionally two or three Black Brants graced the local flocks.

In January 2001 I was watching a flock of Brents at Burnham Deepdale when, suddenly, a rather well-marked Black Brant walked into my telescope view. This well-built bird frequently adopted a very upright stance and regularly made threat postures aimed towards other geese that ventured too close. I was confident that it was a gander and it wasn’t too long before it became apparent that it was paired to a Dark-bellied Brent Goose. This was the first occasion that I could recall seeing a vagrant Black Brant that had formed a pair bond with a Dark-bellied Brent and my interest turned to surprise when the pair came towards the edge of the flock to reveal four hybrid goslings in tow!

This was the first time that a mixed pairing had been recorded in Norfolk and, prior to this, there had only ever been one other documented British record -a mixed pair with six hybrid young was found by Barry Collins at Thorney Island, West Sussex in the early winter months of 1989 (two of these original hybrids returning during the following three winters). The same observer also found a second adult Brant (another gander, but this one was without a mate) in the same area between October 1991 and March 1992, accompanied by four juveniles that resembled berniclas (the other adult may have died on migration or on the breeding grounds, or the Brant may even have adopted the family).

In subsequent winters after 2001, two more mixed pairings with hybrid young appeared in Norfolk, both in the Wells and Holkham area. They could often be encountered, with ease, on the Pitch & Putt course near Wells Beach Road or in the fields adjacent to Lady Anne’s Drive at Holkham. These Norfolk hybrid youngsters have shown high survival rates and, in common with many of the Brent flocks, are largely site-faithful.  At least seven birds have returned as adult hybrids and currently, in the winter of 2012-’13, at least four are to be found in north Norfolk – one at Burnham Overy and three in the Wells/Holkham area (with one or two of these also appearing at Cley during a period of cold weather in January).

Picking out a potential Black Brant as it walks into view amongst a flock of Dark-bellied Brents is both instantaneous and exciting – working out whether it is a pure Brant or a hybrid may take a little longer but, so long as the views and light are good, it should prove possible. The returning birds have provided an excellent opportunity for observers to familiarise themselves with the appearance of adult hybrids of known parentage. Interestingly these hybrids have (so far!) all shared a remarkably consistent appearance.

Plumage

Pure Black Brants show distinct brown hues on their body feathers. The tone can vary in its darkness but the brown hue is always present – I tend to liken the colour to ‘plain chocolate’ or ‘tar brown’ whereas others describe the brown colour as having ‘tobacco’ hues. The pale flank patch usually has a striking chalky-whiteness which contrasts greatly with the rest of the dark brown body feathers. Hybrids, at first glance, can closely resemble a Black Brant, but more prolonged study will reveal some subtle differences in plumage hues that hint at the Dark-bellied influence -the body feathers have distinct grey hues and the flank patch often appears slightly ‘dirty’, caused by a pale buff-grey wash.

These plumages hues can, however, be influenced by light. Bright but overcast days are particularly good for assessing the subtle plumage hues of Brent Geese.  Full sun can sometimes ‘burn out’ some of these subtleties. On very dull, overcast days assessing the plumage colours can prove problematic. Hybrids can look quite dark and, at times, the grey hues of the body feathers frustratingly difficult to see. During these lighting conditions it is worth concentrating on the back feathers that catch the light e.g. the mantle and upper scapulars. As the bird turns, these highlighted areas will often be the first to show the telltale grey hues of a hybrid. As ever prolonged observation will often provide a more accurate picture of true colour and tone. (It may be worth noting that on very dull days most pure Black Brants appear very ‘black and white’, they often appear as if the contrast level has been turned up! On such days there is very little or no distinct division between the breast and belly and this dark feathering can make the flank patch and collar especially white and dazzling.)

Neck Collars

The neck collar detail of the returning adult hybrids has varied between individuals.  When viewed from the side most birds have a large, striking Black Brant-like collar but on the majority of birds the collar is broken at the front, particularly on the upper edge (see illustration). NB when relaxed or feeding it can be difficult to correctly interpret the detail of the collar at the front, some individuals can appear to have a broad unbroken neck collar at the front and it is only when a bird is alert that the true shape of the collar can be seen.

James McCallum hybrid Brants

Neck collars of known hybrid adults – B&C are most frequent whereas A is more unusual (2 individuals). James McCallum.

 

To date, the plumage colour hues of all of the known hybrids in Norfolk have been consistent. This has suggested that colour hue is probably more helpful than the presence of neck collar that meets at the front when identifying a hybrid.

The following photos, taken in Feb 2013, are of two adult hybrids that continue to return each winter to the Wells and Holkham area.

Hybrid One

Black brant hybrid lone bird b

This eye-catching individual readily stands out from the accompanying Dark-bellied Brents. At first glance it does look very like a Black Brant. The presence of grey hues in the body plumage and the ‘dirty’ wash to the rear flank-patch are indications of a hybrid.

Black brant hybrid lone bird f

In duller light the plumage can appear more contrasting and, frustratingly, the body plumage can sometimes appear to have brown hues. During such conditions this individual can appear extremely Black Brant-like, however,  a greyish ‘bloom’ can often be visible on areas of the mantle and upper scapulars that catch the light as the bird turns.

Black brant hybrid lone bird e

In better light the grey hues and buffy/grey washed rear flanks area much more evident making it easier to identify this bird as a hybrid.  When seen well, the neck collar of this individual is obviously broken at the front. (See Fig ‘C’ in the illustration of neck collar patterns)

Hybrid Two

Black Brant hybrid paired g

This bird has a striking collar. (The collar usually appears unbroken but, at very close range, it has tiny dark flecks eating into the upper edge, immediately below the bill.)

Black Brant hybrid paired e

In spite of the bold neck collar this bird is easier to identify as a hybrid due to the paler greyer hues of the body plumage and the obvious buffy/grey wash to the flank patch.

Black Brant hybrid paired j

In brighter light the Dark-bellied Brent influence is clear to be seen. In the winter of 2012-13 this bird returned paired to a Dark-bellied Brent, with a gosling in tow. The bird’s behaviour showed it to be a gander and it would readily threaten any of goose that wandered too close to his mate and young.

Black Brant hybrid paired l

Hybrid gander paired with Dark-bellied Brent and gosling. This family has spent most of the winter at Lady Anne’s Drive, Holkham. The Brent flock with which they associate often fed close to the road allowing close views and the opportunity to obtain excellent photographs. The resulting images may well represent the first documentation of definite F2 hybrid.

Black Brant hybrid paired f

In terms of plumage the 1st winter F2 gosling shows strong similarities to that of a Dark-bellied Brent. The neck collar is perhaps more striking than an average 1st winter Dark-bellied but it is not exceptional.

Black Brant hybrid paired F2 juv

Living in the heart of a traditional wintering ground of Dark-bellied Brent Geese it has been possible to get to know many of the local flocks and to watch them in a variety of weather and lighting conditions. This privileged situation has proved invaluable for regularly sharing observations and thoughts with other local observers, notably Andrew Bloomfield, Mark Golley and Richard Millington.

Further thoughts - Vagrant Black Brants in Norfolk can vary in the darkness of their body feathers, not all are distinctly ‘black and white’ and it is not uncommon to see a distinct division between the brown body feathers and the blackish neck, (as discussed above, light conditions will, of course, have a great influence). The presence of a neck collar unbroken at the front is often a requirement of an ‘acceptable’ pure Black Brant. It is now clear that an unbroken collar doesn’t exclude a hybrid Black Brant X Dark-bellied Brent.  The question that has to be asked is – how variable are the neck collars on pure Black Brants, particularly during the winter months?  (I have seen a Black Brant in Alaska in early summer with a neck collar that only met at the front on the lower edge). I guess that the answer can only come from those with experience of Black Brants within their native range.

James McCallum

Many thanks to Mark Golley for reading through the first draft and commenting on the text.

Pacific Eider in Norway. A New Western Palearctic Bird!

Magnificent Eider in Magnificent Varanger!

Tormod Amundsen / www.biotope.no  & Martin Garner

.

Warning: Please excuse exuberant excitement. We have dreamed about this one- more than most!

Who will be going?  For sheer iconic beauty, rarity value and surely a stand out taxonomic full species- The (magnificent) Pacific Eider- latin name v-nigrum from Alaska. Never recorded in the Western Palearctic Region. Once definitely recorded in the North Atlantic, off Newfoundland by Bruce Mactavish. And for any who came to the ‘Pushing the Boundaries’ tour- this was one we featured and predicted as a vagrant to …. VARANGER!

Pacific Eider. v-nigra. Vardø, Varanger, 19th February 2014. Digiscoped photos by Alonza Garbett (Samsung phone and Swarovski ATX95mm spotting scope)

Pacific Eider. v-nigrum. Vardø, Varanger, 19th February 2014. Digiscoped photos by Alonza Garbett (Samsung phone and Swarovski ATX95mm spotting scope)

Hotline: Varanger- East Yorkshire today, 19.2.14

Just an insight in to our world but it’s been a very exciting, tweeting and phone calling day between East Yorkshire and Arctic Norway this afternoon! Why? Simply this is one of our all-time DREAM birds!

Tomorrow Morning,  20.2.14

From before daybreak tomorrow Tormod and Alonza will be on the hunt to relocate the beast. For Western Palearctic Listers, any news will break on the BIOTOPE accounts on

1) TWITTER and

2) Facebook and on

3) BIOTOPE webpages- as well as all things Birding Frontiers.

Gullfest starts in one months time. Perfect BOOM!

Alonza finds a monster First

The rafts of eiders are back in outer Varanger Fjord. Numbers are building and from the Biotope office we are enjoying increasing numbers of both Common, Stellers- and King Eiders from our office window. As we are very busy with several bird projects at the moment we have not had much chance to go birding in Varanger. But today it seems Varanger struck gold again! Alonza Garbett, architect and birder at the Biotope office, documented this striking looking eider today after lunch. At first thought to be a ssp borealis, known as Northern or Borealis Eider. However after closer examination of the photos it looks very much like this is the first ever record of Pacific Eider Somateria (mollissima) v-nigrum in the Western Palearctic!
Pacific Eider. v-nigra. Vardø, Varanger, 19th February 2014. Digiscoped photos by Alonza Garbett (Samsung phone and Swarovski ATX95mm spotting scope)

Pacific Eider. v-nigrum. Vardø, Varanger, 19th February 2014. Digiscoped photos by Alonza Garbett (Samsung phone and Swarovski ATX95mm spotting scope)

The birds’ bill is strikingly bright orange tending towards redd-ish at the base of the bill. Immediately your eye is drawn to the deep arching curve of black on the lower edge of the black cap. On the Common Eiders the lower border is relatively straight. Adding further to the peculiar look of the head. the overall head/bill profile seems very long-looking and sloping, so the bill has unusual droopy look to it. Just visible caught in Alonza’s photos is the green coloration on the nape, and how it fades into the cheek sides and horizontally under the black cap. In both ssp borealis and ssp mollissima the green nape separates distinctively from the white cheek. According to Alonza he thought he saw the other big feature- a diagnostic black V under the chin. Due to less than ideal weather conditions (snow storm), unsurprisingly this was not confirmed a 100%.
Pacific Eider. v-nigra. Vardø, Varanger, 19th February 2014. Digiscoped photos by Alonza Garbett (Samsung phone and Swarovski ATX95mm spotting scope)

Pacific Eider. v-nigrum. Vardø, Varanger, 19th February 2014. Digiscoped photos by Alonza Garbett (Samsung phone and Swarovski ATX95mm spotting scope)

Legal speed limit ;) ?

Unfortunately for me (Tormod) I spent the day in Vadsø on a business meeting (about bird projects, of course!). I saw the photo posted on twitter by Alonza on our way back to Vardø, and got a phone call from Alonza shortly after. Martin Garner had already, after seeing the tweeted photo, raised the question whether this could possibly be a v-nigrum eider.  This resulted in some less than legal speed driving back to our office in Vardø. The bird however had drifted south accompanied by some 50 of its mollissima Common Eider friends. In scope view from the Biotope office we could find several rafts of King- and Common Eiders. Before the evening darkness made birding impossible we managed no more than registering approx 2500 Common Eiders and 750+ King Eiders in the waters south of Vardø, but did not connect with the possible v-nigrum eider. But we will try again tomorrow!
Still it is a most amazing and exciting find. One we have dreamed of and talked about. Now living in Arctic Norway, birdifying Varanger- another dream is coming true – well spotted and documented, Alonza!
Small eider raft seen from the Biotope office (iphone photo from yesterday by Tormod Amundsen: our standard garden birds in February, March and April)

Small eider raft seen from the Biotope office (iphone photo from yesterday by Tormod Amundsen: our standard garden birds in February, March and April)

The Biotope office is the white house by the shore, just below the church. Our view of thousands of King and Common Eiders explains why we chose this place!

The Biotope office is the white house by the shore, just below the church. Our view of thousands of King and Common Eiders explains why we chose this place!

Now it seems a uber Western Palearctic first record may have found its way to our door step. Quite literally.

A little closer?

(Carefull you’ll need sunglasses- even in a snow storm!)
Pacific Eider. v-nigra. Vardø, Varanger, 19th February 2014. Digiscoped photos by Alonza Garbett (Samsung phone and Swarovski ATX95mm spotting scope)

Pacific Eider. v-nigrum. Vardø, Varanger, 19th February 2014. Digiscoped photos by Alonza Garbett (Samsung phone and Swarovski ATX95mm spotting scope)

 

Pacific Eider. v-nigra. Vardø, Varanger, 19th February 2014. Digiscoped photos by Alonza Garbett (Samsung phone and Swarovski ATX95mm spotting scope)

Pacific Eider. v-nigrum Vardø, Varanger, 19th February 2014. Digiscoped photos by Alonza Garbett (Samsung phone and Swarovski ATX95mm spotting scope)

 

Pacific Eider. v-nigra. Vardø, Varanger, 19th February 2014. Digiscoped photos by Alonza Garbett (Samsung phone and Swarovski ATX95mm spotting scope)

Pacific Eider. v-nigrum Vardø, Varanger, 19th February 2014. Digiscoped photos by Alonza Garbett (Samsung phone and Swarovski ATX95mm spotting scope)

Cape Spear, Newfoundland, March 2005

MG, Having found several of the ‘early’ borealis Northern Eiders off the North coast of Ireland- and chatting to Bruce MacTavish about them and the possibilities of dresseri and v-nigrum, - Bruce unforgettably emailed images of this bird just found. A slam dunk v-nigrum and the first confirmed for the North Atlantic. So read the story on Bruce’s blog, check out the photo and compare with the Vardø bird from today. From:

>>> Bruce MacTavish Newfoundland Birding Blog <<<

IMG_0589--v

“Exceedingly rare – but how rare?- is the Pacific Eider (S. m. v-nigrum), currently regarded as a race of Common Eider.  See the monster eider with the carrot-coloured bill in this picture? This bird photographed off Cape Spear in March 2005 is as far as I know the only concrete proof that this ‘subspecies’ from Alaska, Russia and western Canadian Arctic has occurred in Newfoundland and perhaps the Atlantic Ocean. At the time in 2005 I checked around and could get no solid evidence that it has reached the Atlantic. The research was short of exhaustive.  It does appear there are small numbers semi-regular in western Greenland in winter.  More research is needed. This Cape Spear bird is a perfect in every feature for Pacific Eider.” 

 

 

Black Scoter in action!

Avalon, New Jersey. Super video from last week.

Calling, some display, close up of female with classy bill structure (identifiable away from home). Enjoy the wonder into the world of this sea duck. :) Stay with it for the close-ups and male and female Surf Scoters slipping through the flock.

Nice one Tom Johnson thanks to Chris Wood for passing on..

 

 

Northern Eider explorations

Still Learnin’

by Martin Garner

Eiders are stunning – anyday. Recent years  occurrence of birds with sails and orangey bills pointing to Arctic breeding ‘borealis’ and the very distinctive male Dresser’s Eider, have added value to our studies. Some birds seem distinctive enough. Others raise yet more questions…Answer? Document ss well as possible!

 Seahouses, Northumberland, April 2013

The sails on this bird caught the attention of Jonathan Farooqi last April 2013. He got some beautiful photographs which also showcase a stunning bill. My reason for flagging up this one is, despite lots of ‘sailed Eiders’ being reported, few I think look like this, I would call this as good as you can get for a borealis. Others from the range of borealis can be a little less impressive, but yellowish bill with obvious orange basal half  (the colour of a ripe orange that is!) and narrow frontal process ending in almost pointed tip. Ideal!

Notice the vague impression of the leg colour seems to match the vivid bill tones.

Northern Eider JF 3

Northern Eider JF 4

 

all photos above Jonathan Farooqi. Seahouses, Northumberland, April 2013. The sails on this bird are prominent. Some an be more impressive even than this with very pointed peak, and deep curved rear edge. Bear in mind these feathers will be 9 plus months old and a little worn.

all photos above Jonathan Farooqi. Seahouses, Northumberland, April 2013. The sails on this bird are prominent. Some an be more impressive even than this with very pointed peak, and deep curved rear edge. Bear in mind these feathers will be 9 plus months old and a little worn.

Curiously >>>THIS BIRD<<< , a bit of a looker, but less on the sail front and broader frontal lobes  was also at Seahouses back in May 2008. Could it be the same, with frontal lobes more or less swollen?

 

Flamborough, Fog Station, 1st February 2014

This bird swam below 3 of us yesterday morning. First view head on and it seemed to show remarkable looking frontal lobes, broader throughout and longer than almost any nominate mollissima type Eider I have ever seen.  The boys concurred. With an orange tone to boot in low early sunlight (which soon muted in duller light) it also has a very thin ‘loral’ line between the frontal lobes and white of the face. The ‘V’ at the top of the lobes was very shallow. It kind of said “maybe dresseri genes”. But no green under the black cap, no sails and no real ‘dresseri head shape’ , despite sometime straight lower edge to black cap and peaked forecrown.

It appears to be a 3cy (2nd winter) male. The tertials appear to not be white and are not connecting the white upperparts plumage to the round white rear flank patch. This could juts be a European drake with exceptionally excited frontal lobes. I have just never seen one quite like it. So…

“Anyone with a photo of an Eider matching this in February in either Europe or North America?”

3cy drake Eider 1.2.14 MG.b3cy drake Eider 1.2.14 MG.e3cy drake Eider 1.2.14 MG3cy drake Eider 1.2.14 MG.l3cy drake Eider 1.2.14 MG.m

3cy (2nd winter male Eider, Flamborough, East Yorkshire, 1st Feb 2014 by Martin Garner

3cy (2nd winter) male Eider, Flamborough, East Yorkshire, 1st Feb 2014 by Martin Garner

I am hoping we see it again for more and closer study. Finally to North America:

 

Cape Cod, Massachusetts January 2014

with Keenan Yakola

Hi Martin,

I am a birder from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. I have read that you have had a lot of experience identifying northern Common Eiders. I was wondering if you could give me your opinion of these two birds. Any input would be greatly appreciated. Photos have been attached to this email. Let me know if you have any questions about my sightings.

Thanks in advance,

Keenan Yakola

keenan 3keenan 4What do you think about Keenan’s birds? Here are my musings.

Hi Keenan,
 
This is a tricky subject when it comes to females as you  probably realise.  I have also not looked sufficiently at females of dresseri  and borealis  to have a fulsome view of the subject.  With that in mind these are the two most likely taxa for your area, the first photograph above seems to have quite narrow frontal processes running up to the eye.  In that regard I suppose it’s a candidate female borealis.  However the bird still looks slightly odd to me in terms of head shape and plumage tones.  So I would want to explore variation in dresseri before being sure.
 
The second bird above has rather broad rounded frontal processes for a female Eider and I would be pretty confident that this is a female dresseri.
 
Hope that helps.
 
Kind regards
Martin.

 

 This one taken at Corporation Beach in Dennis, Ma. on 30th January 2014. Leading rustier coloured bird has some rounding to frontal process and maybe a dresseri. The greyer bird at the back maybe the other taxa...


This one taken at Corporation Beach in Dennis, Ma. on 30th January 2014. Leading rustier coloured bird has some rounding to frontal process and maybe a dresseri. The greyer bird at the back maybe the other taxa…

 

Some might argue it would be better if they just stayed asleep...   With grateful thanks for interesting correspondence and above photos to Keenan Yakala

Some might argue it would be better if they just stayed asleep… With grateful thanks for interesting correspondence and above photos to Keenan Yakala

Thanks to Richard Millington and Chris Batty for v. helpful chats.

 

Velvet, White-winged and Stejneger’s Scoters

in Birdwatch this month

by Martin Garner

Just a heads up. Timing could not have been better! Dominic Mitchell asked me to do a write up for Birdwatch magazine in their innovative photo captioned style.. The piece would be on the scoters wi’ de white wings. So it’s out in the shops today. Hope you find it helpful. With American White-winged back in June 2011 and candidate Stejneger’s last month, never mind the sheer beauty of a  close Velvet Scoter – it’s all to play for!

p045_BWFeb14

If its’ helpful here’s how my waffle starts in the Birdwatch article:

“Look at the shape on that.  It’s nothing like the same!”  I was talking with Anthony McGeehan and David Quinn and responding to views of a female American White-winged Scoter off Vancouver Island.  It was (perhaps to some) a boring brown duck surrounded by Pacific Rim wonders such as Ancient Murrelets, Harlequin Ducks, Rhinoceros Auklets and Pacific Divers. It was late November 1997 and I had spent some time carefully watching a female type Velvet Scoter in Belfast Lough only the week before. Noting all its characteristics and behaviours, I was watching it as if I was seeing the species for the very first time. I like the way small children learn their colours; one at a time. The first colour might be blue…”

p048_49_BWFeb14Yesterday I had my first fly by Velvet Scoter of the month at Flamborough. Will be scrutinizing every one from on.

Special mention goes to Ian Lewington and Killian Mullarney who stepped in to the breach when I got admitted to hospital before the photos captions were done. Very very grateful.

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”