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a blog by and for Utah Birders

Sea Ducks

posted by Tim Avery at
on Thursday, October 27, 2011 

It's now been about a month since an overly cooperative Harlequin Duck showed up at the Antelope Island Causeway.  The bird in question is the first chase-able long staying Harlequin Duck in Utah in more than a decade.  Even more surprising was than in mid October the individual was joined by ANOTHER Harlequin Duck.  The 2 birds have now become something of a sure thing at the first bridge allowing for fantastic looks, and great photo opportunities.  One of the birds has began to transition into alternate plumage--and if it sticks around would be the first male with such plumage seen in Utah.

Harlequin Duck at Antelope Island Causeway, September 2011

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.

10 of 18 Long-tailed Ducks seen at
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 Scoter coming into land at Antelope Island Causeway

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 in flight at Antelope Island Causeway

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 at Antelope Island Causeway

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.

White-winged Scoter, Surf Scoter, and Long Tailed Duck
at Antelope Island Causeway 

Over the next month as you visit lakes, reservoirs, and the Great Salt Lake be on the lookout for these wandering ducks.  If you aren't up for the causeway, there are a number of reservoir loops you can take in northern and southern Utah on a given day to maximize your chances for finding these birds, along with loons, grebes, and other waterbirds.  Often times 5 or 6 lakes in a day might turn up a few treats.  I created  a weekend reservoir map for Utah last year that has two pages.  The first is northern and Central Utah, while the second page is southern--you can take a look here if you need some ideas:

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.

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Blogger Unknown said...

Wow! That sure gets the Utah birding juices flowing with excitement. I think I need a spotting scope!

October 27, 2011 at 10:05 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

The article was not only a good read but very insightful. I have a query though. How would you target a niche where there are not many blogs and those that are there are not kept up to date and have a low/very niche readership? Any tips would be gratefully received. animal image

May 23, 2017 at 12:23 AM  
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