Monday, January 12, 2009

The Scaup Scoop

Some species of birds challenge the best of birders. So it goes with the Scaup. As my skills as a birder progress, with my point and shoot camera always handy to get adequate documentation shots, and with a very fine birder, my own son, a simple email away, I find myself more willing to stick my neck out these days. And so it went this past week when I spotted some ducks way out of their expected location.

Set in the center of Springfield, Southern Hills Lakes have always been a winter hotspot. We regularly get Ring-necks, Canvasbacks, Redheads, Wigeon, Hooded Mergansers, Gadwalls, Teal, Scaup, and our resident Mute Swan population there. Hardly a large body of water, it seems a rather unlikely place for a Greater Scaup.

Last Thursday, however, this greater species graced the middle lake. Or, at least, that's how I see it. I hesitated to post the sighting, for fear that I had overlooked something. I emailed Nathan with an attached photo, and his quick reply gave me confidence. I Googled for comparison pages and found an excellent one that distinctly illustrated the differences. Brian Currie's page is awesome, but Ryan O'Donnell's ID challenge still illustrates the difficulty of the ID and differences of opinion among birders as well.

Internationally recognized KU ornithologist Mark Robbins and his colleague Northwest Missouri State ornithologist David Easterla, in their 1992 essential records book, "Birds of Missouri: Their Distribution and Abundance", state that "the only reliable field mark for distinguishing these two species is the extent of white on the upper side of the primaries." I have met both of these men, and I greatly respect their knowledge and expertise.

I'll still stand by my identification. By now, I hope I have piqued your curiousity. If so, here are my photos of last week's Greater and Lesser Scaup, followed by a few more of my
Greater Scauup. Greater Scaup above: note the rounded head, lack of distinct peak, green iridescence, broad bill, and generally longer gizz than Lesser Scaup below.
Lesser photo taken 3 days after Greater photo.
Lesser Scaup
Here's a few more of the Greater Scaup:
Unfortunately, the birds did not stick around. By the following morning, they were gone. So, I was the only birder that got to see them.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the plight of this beautiful species and its lesser counterpart, whose numbers are both plummeting. Click here for more information.
I welcome your comments and insight.


N8 said...

Very nice pics.

You see now what I was talking about with that bill? Compared to the Lesser, that Greater is packing some serious heat! : )

Greg said...

I agree, but the GOAS bunch is reluctant to get on my bandwagon.