Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Black Velvet

Correctly, it is the nominate European race of Melanitta fuscus which is the Velvet Scoter, whilst North American birds are White-winged Scoters, indeed the British Ornithologist's Union even considers them separate species. Nevertheless, I do rather prefer the more romantic version, the gorgeous males are indeed smooth, velvety sea-ducks. This male of the North American deglandi race has a fantastically orangey-red bill contrasting starkly with the overall black plumage...and just look at that white iris!

This series of photos was taken along the Hamilton Ship Canal which provides access to Hamilton Harbour from Lake Ontario. The harbour itself is entirely iced over now and the shipping season has ended, but the channel provides open water and, presumably, good foraging, for the thousands of ducks which spend time there during the winter. This is the Lift Bridge, which does what it says on the tin - lifts - to allow larger ships to pass along the channel.

Looking into the harbour the extent of the ice - and ducks - is clear. The most numerous species here are Long-tailed Duck, Greater Scaup and Common Goldeneye.

I counted 137 White-winged Scoters along the canal last friday, a very small proportion of the local wintering population, which can top 30,000 in record years.

Flashing wings...

These two are clearly not adult males, but what are they? I would posit that the rear bird is an immature male, judging by the pinkiness starting to emerge on its bill. The front bird, not sure.

This bird, grappling with a cluster of mussels, maybe an adult female as the secondaries appear to have quite extensive white tips?

A couple of flight shots now. They're pretty unmistakable in flight, even when they're a couple of kilometres away, out to sea or on the lakes. This male has some brown tips visible on the greater coverts - perhaps a second-winter bird?

Big old plates too.

Cruising with the Long-tails. These two scoters have some dark tips to both the greater coverts and the secondaries themselves.

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