Saturday, March 28, 2009

Name That Duck

Since I didn't bring any duck photos back from Lake Erie, I spent some time trying to digiscope a decent picture of this pair at East Fork Park on Thursday. Can you ID them? Here's a closer view.

One of the things that helps in duck ID is knowing when and where they were found - these are on Harsha Lake, a fresh-water reservoir, in Clermont County, SW Ohio, in March.

female mystery duck
Note the white area between bill and eyes.

If you have trouble with female ducks, look at the male she is swimming with.

male mystery duck
Check out the blue bill.

One more hint: These are diving ducks, not dabblers.

So now, the challenge is on to -



Edit, 3/29/09: And the mystery ducks are - Greater Scaup.

When I first saw these ducks on Wed. morning, it was raining and the light was poor. I came home with a vague impression of "scaup - species unknown." This is often a legitimate call, since scaup can be tricky under the best of circumstances. I went back Thursday afternoon in better conditions, spent quite a while studying them and taking pictures, then checked the local bird list to see what others thought.

Greater Scaup, Aythya marila, and their smaller relatives, Lesser Scaup, Aythya affinis, are diving ducks commonly found on large bodies of deep water. Both are found in Ohio from late fall through early spring, when they migrate to their breeding grounds. Both species, and the similar Ring-necked Duck, Aythya collaris, present an identification challenge to waterfowlers.

Like Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, there is a size difference between Greater and Lesser Scaup, but only a couple of inches seperate the two species, and it isn't a helpful field mark unless the two are in close proximity. Greater Scaup are said to have a greenish irridescence to their heads while Lesser Scaup appear more purplish. To me, both their heads look black, so that doesn't help. Some books say that the sides of Greater Scaup are whiter than Lesser, which are a more dirty gray, but lighting conditions can influence that, so it is not a reliable indicator. In flight, the white wing stripe extends from the body through the primary feathers in the Greater Scaup, only part way in the Lesser. This doesn't help with our swimming ducks, though.

Your best bet for scaup is to look at the shape of the head - rounded in Greater Scaup, peaked in Lesser. So, Denapple (Kathy) wins with her first comment, although I think we have to give bonus points to Lisa, for her (non-birder's) answer of "Oreo Duck."

Thanks to all who played.
Admittedly, the poor quality of the photos made this contest harder than it had to be, but soon, I hope to have better pictures to share with you. My Canon Rebel XSi camera and 70-300 IS zoom lens is on the way - due to arrive on Wednesday! Whoo-hoo!!


denapple said...

OK, I'll go out on the ice and say it's a Greater Scaup. Gray back, rounded head, female with the milk mustache.

holly said...

Daisy and Donald? ;)

wv: dookable. Johnny Depp is totally dookable.

Beth in NYC said...

I agree on the scaup but I'm not good enough to distinguish between Lesser and Greater.

dAwN said...

Two in this household are going for Lesser Scaup ..has a more rounded head than Greater

Lisa said...

It's an Oreo duck. (really good when diving in milk.)

Kathiesbirds said...

I'd say Scaup also. Lesser or greater is your guess! However, Lisa gets the most points for being creative! I like Oreo Ducks! Perhaps they can hang out with Lynne's Mallard Mutt!

KatDoc said...

Greater Scaup is right! See post for details. Funny-bone points to Lisa, my non-birding sister, for her answer of Oreo Ducks.


Kyle said...

Heh, love the "oreo duck" guess! There's a field that we drive by from time to time that's filled with what our kids call "oreo cows," sporting almost exactly the same fashion. Great minds and all that...