The birds have provided most birders from across northern Utah the opportunity to add a species to their state list, and to enjoy a bird not normally seen in Utah--and never for such a long period of time. Utah is no stranger to "sea ducks" though; scoters and Long-tailed Ducks are an annual part of early winter birding in Utah. With November right around the corner we are approaching the height of sea duck season in the state, and that means the best time to find and see these uncommon visitors is here.
Antelope Island Causway in November 2007
Long-tailed Ducks are one of my favorite members of the waterfowl family. This species can be quite varied in plumage, including blackish, brownish, reddish, and whitish individuals. Most have some combination of those colors--but the prized sight for most birders is the adult male in alternate plumage from which the species received its name (the old name, "Oldsquaw" is perhaps one of the most interesting names for a bird, and one that many were sad to see go). Long-tailed Ducks are the most common of the sea faring species you will encounter in Utah. More often than not it isn't just one or two birds gracing the causeway in November--but often time 5,6, 10, or a dozen birds. On November 11, 2007 I saw an astonishing 18 along the causeway which seems to be the highest single day total for Utah (that November saw numbers in the teens all month).
Surf Scoters come in as the second most common sea duck found in Utah. Usually single birds or pairs are encountered, but flocks of up to 4 are reported from time to time. By far the most common Scoter you may encounter in Utah. All three scoters are fairly uncommon, but most years there are multiple reports from around the state. These species can show up on any open body of water, but the causeway does seem to get the most reports--it in turn also gets the most coverage by birders. Adult males in alternate plumage of any of the 3 are extremely rare--meaning most are browns, grays and white of females and juveniles.
White-winged Scoter are next in line. Long bodies, white wing patches, and a striking bird in flight. Easy to identify because of the patches they usually show up one at a time--although pairs are not out of the question. Occasionally, mixed groups of scoters can be found allowing for direct comparison to the other species.
Black Scoter is the rarest of the scoters in Utah. Almost always found by themselves, there are reports of multiple birds on the same day, but usually not together. Usually very dark looking,with a unique shape, this species is easy to separate from the other members of the family. Adult males in alternate plumage are stunning jet black with orange bills, and very rare in state.
Utah Weekend Reservoir Map
This doesn't show all the lakes in Utah, but gives you a few ideas if you wanted to give it a try.