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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Seaducks and Wintering Waterfowl in the Bay Area

[Bay Area, San Francisco, CA. November 2012.]

Seaducks are a sub-family of the ducks, swans and geese; most of which [there are exceptions], are wholly are partially marine with a high tolerance for sea water. They include scoters, eiders, golden-eyes, and mergansers.

Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay is a great location to observe Surf Scoter.

The male surf scoter shows bold patches of white on the nape and forehead and has a prominent bill of orange, white and red. The female is plainer with a white patch on the face and a black bill. The photo above shows 2 males with one showing only the white patch on the nape of the neck. The female is on the left with a single white smudge behind its ear.

In addition to the scoters, other birds observed were Western Grebe [lower left] and Clark's Grebe [upper right], Eared Grebe [lower right], and Bufflehead.

Bufflehead are part of the Goldeneye group and these small seaducks are one of the few whose populations appear to be stable. Their name is a contraction of "buffalo head" -- referring to the male's ability to puff out the feathers on his head [and hence resemble a buffalo head].

The 2 large grebes shown -- the Western and Clark's Grebes -- were considered for many years to be the same species because they are visually and behaviorally so similar.  However, they don't interbreed and when seen side by side, subtle differences may be noted.

The Clark's has white around the eyes, a slightly upturned and brighter bill. The Western has black around the eyes and a straighter, greener bill.

Other waterfowl seen (this time at Baylands Preserve), were Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, Ruddy Duck, Canvasback, and both Green-winged and Cinnamon Teal.

Gadwalls are dabbling ducks like mallards and wigeons; the male Gadwall is strongly patterned but chromatically modest in his simple greys and browns.

The Canvasback is a large diving duck whose sloping head is distinctive. It has a red head and red eyes and a finely patterned off-white back that earned it its "canvasback" name. It favors dabbling for seeds and vegetable matter

Ruddy Duck [shown above in winter plumage] is a member of the stiff-tailed duck family; in breeding plumage, it has a baby-blue bill and a deep chestnut coat. It is an aggressive breeder and hybradizes eagerly with related species.

The Northern Shoveler is a global dabbler -- found in North America, Europe as well as Asia. In the US, it is perhaps the most common duck after the mallard and has a superficial resemblance to it. The bill of the Shoveler is distinctive.

And lastly 2 teals: Green winged [above] and Cinnamon [below]. The Green-Winged is our smallest dabbler. It is very similar to the Common [or Eurasian] Teal of Europe and some consider them conspecific. However, the AOU is yet to rule definitively in this matter.

The Cinnamon teal is a new world dabbler. It is a handsome duck with rich red coloration and is found widespread in the West. Several subspecies exist; some of which are exclusively South American and others that are exclusively North American.

The Bay Area is a splendid destination for waterfowl and a quick trip to this area will yield several delightful species including Surf Scoter, Grebes, Ducks and others [shown clockwise above Greater Yellowlegs, Snowy Egret, Long-billed Curlew, American Avocet and Brown Pelican].

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