Bird #368 — Black Scoter

melanitta (from melanos, black, and netta, duck) nigra (black)

Thursday, February 4, 1999 — 1:15 pm

Ozaukee County, Wisconsin — Virmond Park — Lake Michigan

I spent most of the day at Virmond Park looking for the Barrow’s Goldeneye and Surf Scoters that were reported on the Wisconsin hot line. The wind made it very cold and shook the scope a lot. I finally found a pair of Surf Scoters swimming about 150 yards out from the shore. I watched them for a while and kept looking for the Barrow’s. 

Not too far away, I saw a indistinct brown duck about the size of the scaups, but lower to the water and skinnier. Its back was a uniform dull brown. Its face and fore-neck were pale tannish-white, with a dark brown cap and a dark brown nape that extended as a line on the back of the rounded head. It stood out some because of the face pattern, and because the head generally looked lighter than the back (except when it was facing directly away from me). The female scaup and goldeneyes in the area had heads that were darker than their backs. The thin bill and feet were brown. I thought immediately it might be a female Black Scoter, but it dove, and then I couldn’t find it again. I spent about 10 minutes looking for it without luck.

Another birder (named Phil) showed up and set up his scope next to me. I showed him the Surfs and he showed me a lone female White-winged in among the huge raft of Greater Scaups. He scanned for the Barrow’s, but I kept looking for my mystery duck. I finally found it a bit further to the north than I had seen it before. It was still on the outer edge of the huge raft. I watched it for twenty minutes or so, as it swam and dove. At one point, it passed within a few feet of the pair of Surf Scoters. When it dove, it stayed under about 15 seconds, and when it resurfaced, it would always come up further from where it went under (maybe up to 15 yards) than the Surf Scoters did. (They always seemed to come up almost in the same spot, for what that’s worth.)

I pointed it out to Phil, and he agreed with my identification. I never did see the White-winged Scoter except through Phil’s scope. It gives me a strange pleasure that I saw all three scoters on the same day in the same place, but even more so that the two lifers were the two I found myself.

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