My big secret.

No, this is not clickbait, but yes, I'm about to divulge a most embarrassing secret to you all:  I am terrible at scaup.  For the first two or three years of birding I never even said the word "scaup" out loud because I didn't know how to say it.  Now I rarely try to distinguish lessers and greaters unless I "need" to for a county bird, year bird, or some other ridiculous list.  I remember being at Lake Merritt in Oakland a couple years ago and seeing them up close and thinking how easy they were, so maybe it's just that I normally see them at a great distance? 

I need to work on this.  I can feel eBird roll its eyes at me every time I enter "Greater/Lesser Scaup X".  Last week I walked over to Broughton Beach for my motorless list and found a lot of scaup close in on the river, a perfect opportunity for learning.  Let's begin.


This bird above clearly has that head peak folks like to talk about for Lesser Scaup.  Is it that simple?  Am I missing something?  I don't know.  Below there are four scaup.  Scaups?  Scaup.  The far right lady looks to be a Greater, while the three trailing appear to be lesser with their head peaks and smaller size. 


But.  The two left birds don't have THAT much of a peak.  Is it enough?  Am I overthinking?  Below there is a small pack of scaup.  The center two dudes look like a nice comparison of Greater and Lesser. 


I would say there are at least seven Greaters in the above photo, and at least two Lessers.  Here is another small pack:


Now I'm feeling uncertain.  Left column middle looks Lesser, along with the female to her right.  The rest Greaters?  I'm not confident.  Ok one last photo, where the black nail on the bill should help, rather than head peak:


The top left bird looks big, but with that head peak and small nail I would say Lesser.  Bottom left looks small, but rounded head and big nail, so Greater.  Top right bird, big nail could be Greater.  And bottom right bird, small nail, but otherwise unsure and would guess Lesser. 

Oh.  Wait.  I have one more bird, from Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden last week.  I called it a Lesser despite not having much of a head peak.  Lots of heavy barring on the back and a small-ish nail though.


For a bird I see nearly every day it's kind of ridiculous that I only have TWO blog posts with the label "Lesser Scaup."  If you want more, my coworker John recently photographed a bunch of Greaters at Broughton Beach, and also a beaver!  Wild.

Here's some other random junk from recent times. 

My first bike path coyote, though I've been poking their path poop for years.  Terrible shot.

Wood Duck, Crystal Springs

Foggy Tufted Duck, Marine Park, Vancouver

Top Gun 2, Whitaker Ponds

 Red-shouldered Hawk, continuing at Whitaker Ponds (that's a leaf behind him, not a dead thing in his mouth)

 All-time high of four Eurasian Collared-Doves in the yard

That's about it.  Plan to do some more interesting birding tomorrow.  Stay tuned.  Good times!

Comments

  1. I still don't like the name "scaup". It's too nasally.

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  2. I have nothing helpful to contribute (what else is new) but I was just noticing how absurdly prolific of a blogger you are Jen. Like hot damn, you're averaging a post every 4 days or so, and that is truly impressive, borderline inspirational.

    Also, that Wood Duck shot made me weep softly.

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  3. I think I'm more confused now. I thought I had those guys sorted out, but this has be digging into my field guides. You are a Path Poop Poker too? More common ground for us to bond over.

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    1. I enjoy the seasonal changes in coyote poop ingredients.

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  4. You need to look in autumn when they are all brown and messy! Thousands of scaup (sp.). I hate not knowing. But as the D.P.R. say's: "Get used to disappointment."

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    1. Ha, yes the brown and messy ones may even end up in duck sp. if they're messy enough!

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  5. Great post. First off you are doing the right thing by entering the scaup sp. into eBird rather than splitting the number into wild guesses. So no one that knows eBird or scaup in general will roll their eyes if you do that. If you see 30 scaup and you ID 14 Greater then decide to move on or are not sure, you should enter the rest as 16 scaup sp. The rest of us that enter 30 Greater Scaup will say to ourselves: "yeah smarter move would be what Jen did".

    When scaup are active and diving the feathers can be pressed down on the head and some birds will probably best be left as scaup.

    The 5th photo down is a great photo. It captures two helpful points on scaup id. The two right males: Note the huge bill on a Greater Scaup compared to the smaller bill of a Lesser. Also see the wide head of a Greater compared to the narrow head of a Lesser. Also the paler back of Greater compared to the darker back of Lesser. By bill size alone, the lower left bird is Greater. According to measurements in Pyle's book, Greater will always have a greater distance from back of head to tip of bill than Lesser's will have (comparing same sex) (and I am pulling that from memory, think I am right).

    Can't really say I disagree on any of your id's or your methods The duck surfacing in the third photo looks Lesser to me. And I doubt your error percentage is that much greater than anyone who claims to know it all.

    Next time you scan some scaup, try the bill size route as well. Helps for me.

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    1. Thanks, Bob, I will definitely try that out.

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  6. I didn't see anything wrong with anything. I think with similar species we can get ourselves all wound up turning one into another. You did great as far as I'm concerned, and I learned about the bill nail, which was news to me. I go by head shape all the time. Yeah, in the Bay Area they're RIGHT THERE and so obviously different. You can even see the difference in head gloss in sunny Oakland (though I think there's overlap in the color gloss so it's not a go-to mark). Nice job!

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    1. And Bob sure is right about the ginormous bill on the Greater.

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    2. Thanks, Laura! Perhaps I'm not as terrible at this as I feel like I am...

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  7. You are so right I would just be saying Scaup, I'm guilty of not paying close attention to Gulls...

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  8. I think you pretty much nailed all of them. In case it helps, I think of head shape less as being peaked vs. unpeaked and more as being vertical vs. horizontal. I feel Lessers have dainty vertical heads and necks and Greaters have heavy/thick horizontal heads and necks - overall.

    Nice post, and as far as I can tell, you're rockin' that I.D. situation.

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    1. The way you rock a Tilley hat and a guide to birds of the Willamette Valley? Thanks for the head shape tip!

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    2. Come on now, you know I'd never REALLY rock either of those ;-)

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  9. And, as for "clickbait" I must say, Jen, that your blog titles always make me want to click through and read--and I'm always glad that I do!

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  10. Yeah you are great at scaup ID. Now everyone knows. And now you just casually throw in a Tufted Duck picture because you dont give a fuck.

    The title for this is 100% clickbait and you know it.

    Yeah, cool WODU shot. How are you liking D7000?

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    Replies
    1. TUDU's are the ones that don't give a fuck. Such little beotches.

      I hated that camera. I tried to love it but I seriously felt like I could not take a good photo with it. I gave up and went back to Canon.

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  11. Thanks for the great illustrated scaup ID discussion. I was just getting very frustrated trying to ID 16 scaup in a nearby pond out here in western PA. Looking at your pictures and reading Bob Archer's discussion has me all set to rush out tomorrow and try again, hoping they are still there.
    One thing I don't think anyone commented on is that the nails on the greater scaups in picture 5 look broadly triangular and on the lessers more like a thin nail.
    Steve Sanford, Sharon PA (presumably no close relation to you, Jen)

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