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  • Writer's pictureGregg Severson

Welcoming the White-winged Scoter

On November 14th, while I was still unable to bike, Kellie went for a run around Bde Maka Ska. While she was near the northeast corner of the lake, she thought she saw a duck that looked different. She didn't have binoculars, and couldn't get a great view, but clearly noticed a distinct head shape and that it sat very low in the water. She tried to take some pictures with her phone, but with the conditions and distance wasn't able to get an identifiable picture. After she got home, we talked about some of the possibilities, and Kellie thought she ought to go back to the lake with binoculars and my camera and see if she could see it better. This was going above and beyond to help me with my big year! She went back to the lake and got some pics of the Common Goldeneyes there, but didn't capture the odd duck that had previously caught her sharp eye.

There were still good gulls to see late in the day, so that afternoon I headed back to Lake Harriet. Curt Rawn also wanted to see some of the gulls, so we agreed to meet on the west side. When I arrived, there were already a number of birders on the scene. On this day, the viewing conditions were really good - it was a clear and relatively calm day, and the group of gulls was relatively close to the western shore. However, the number of individual gulls present was pretty low.

After a while of talking with people and scanning through the gulls with my scope, Andy Forbes declared that he had found an Iceland Gull (Thayer's subspecies). The Thayer's subspecies of Iceland Gull looks very similar to a Herring Gull, so this was an ideal day to find them, since we had good light and the gulls were fairly close; picking out very small details was easier to do. Andy graciously let me look through his scope so that I could tick the Iceland Gull. This "scope sharing" is common practice among birders at a scene like this, because it can be hard to explain to someone else where a particular bird is in a floating flock without fixed reference points. If you find a good bird, especially if someone is really interested in seeing that species, then you let other people view it through your scope so that they can see it quickly before the bird goes out of sight or the whole flock takes flight. Looking through someone else's scope can also help you quickly get your bearings on the bird, so that then you can find it in your own scope and take more time to look and study. This practice is yet one more example of how I have been helped out by others in the birding community during this big year.

After we had been watching the gulls for a while, Bruce Fall arrived. He had just been at Bde Maka Ska, and he had seen a White-winged Scoter. This was likely the bird that Kellie had seen on her run earlier in the day! Now, I had a decision to make - do I stay at Lake Harriet and hope for a Lesser Black-backed to arrive, or do I quickly walk up to Bde Maka Ska to search for the scoter? I checked Google maps, which predicted that by walking I could get to Thomas Beach right at sunset. I quickly decided that I should head for the scoter - my thinking was that it is better to go for a bird you know is there, than to wait for a bird that may or may not show up! Off I headed for Bde Maka Ska, walking as fast as I could so that I would arrive when there was still light to see the scoter.

I got to Thomas Beach, and set up my scope. In the far distance, hanging out with a group of Common Goldeneyes, was the White-winged Scoter! Sweet! After a bit, Frank Fabbro and Curt Rawn showed up and were able to see the scoter as well. Frank told me that the Lesser Black-backed Gulls hadn't shown up on Harriet, and that not long after I left, the whole group of gulls took off into the air. It was great I got the scoter, and also good to know that I made the right decision to go chase it. My decision looks even better now, since the White-winged Scoter was not seen again; if I had waited I likely would have missed it altogether!

Poor quality image of several ducks on the water, including a White-winged Scoter.
I didn't get a good pic of the White-winged Scoter - it was very far out and the light was fading. (It is the third bird from either direction - would you have been able to notice that bird was different than the others nearby if you were running by and didn't have binoculars??)

Mile biked on the Iceland Gull/White-winged Scoter trip: 0 (I walked!)

Miles biked during this time (since the last new bird species): 0

Miles biked year to date: 3,171.9

Species count (MN): 230

Species count (overall): 231

My bike birding eBird profile: (Please note that you need a free eBird account to see profiles in eBird)

Fundraising links for the two organizations I am supporting with this green big half year. These causes are really important and they could really use your dollars to do a lot of good!

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