Category Archives: d) Diving Ducks

Carrot-billed Eider off Newfoundland

Yesterday

Newfoundland’s Bruce Mcatavish emailed a rushed set of news and photos- check out this bad boy! See Bruce’s post HERE.

Carrotbill-x

A remarkabley bright orange-billed drake Eider. Thoughts instantly turn to the possibility of it being Newfoundland’s second record of Pacific Eider v-nigrum. Is that what it is?

Hmmm

We don’t think this is a  v-nigrum. At first glance it’s inspired but appears to completely lack a bunch of key characters.

Specifically v-nigrum should have deep curvature to base f black cap- horizontal on this bird with forehead bump- very typical of borealis. There is not enough green under black cap (under there seems tad more than most of borealis around it). I don’t think the basal lobes feathering intruding into bill base are big and fat enough. The bare skin frontal process should be short-looking for v nigrum

So what is it?

Either an extreme coloured borealis (not impossible) or that all-in v-nigrum from a few years back got cheeky with the locals?

IMG_1455-yup

 Palmer’s words.

The Handbook of North American Birds:

Referring to the Davis Straights/W &SW Greenland and southerly East coast… between Greenland and Canada...both typical and atypical v-nigra have been taken (not breeding) including measurements in Schioler (1926). Schioler indicated they occur there every winter…

J.C .Phillips (1926) thought them merely individual variants (of borealis) and not true Pacific Eiders.

So… the answer is?

 

Velvet Scoter – an odd one

with Sweeping Sub-ocular

Haven’t encountered one like this before. A drake Velvet Scoter (fusca) in which the white sub-ocular mark has an upsweeping tail as in White-winged (deglandi) and Stejneger’s Scoters (stejnegeri). It doesn’t look quite as thick and striking as on many examples of both of those species in adult male plumage- but is similar nevertheless.

Stuart Gillies sent this observation:

Hi Martin

I thought you may be interested in this. My usual birding site is Musselburgh and I am always checking the Scoters in the hope that a nice White-winged will appear!
I have noticed a lot of variation in the white eye patches on Velvets but never as pronounced as on the bird below. 
 
 
kind regards
Stuart Gillies
Adult male Velvet Scoter with unusually obvious white upsweeping tail on sub-ocular mark

Adult male Velvet Scoter with unusually obvious white upsweeping tail on sub-ocular mark

Adult male Velvet Scoter with normal white sub-ocular mark.

Adult male Velvet Scoter with normal white sub-ocular mark.

 

Pacific Eider in Norway. A New Western Palearctic Bird!

One Year Anniversary!

19th, February 2014

The 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”