There’s something hauntingly romantic about Common Loons, frequent visitors to our region in winter. Like so much of the Gooseberry bird population, they are just visitors. In spring they go grab a lake somewhere up north and sing their mournful songs as they mate and raise a family. Or so I’m told. I’ve never heard their song, the most distinctive trait, though I have seen them in their northern habitats. When their lakes freeze they head for the open waters of the coast. So I’ve been expecting to see one off Gooseberry soon and today was the day – right off the west side of the causeway as the rain pelted down and the waves and wind of a developing nor’easter started to batter the east side.
But my real surprise came when I got home. See, I went down early. It was high tide and I figured they might close the causeway once the storm picked up as expected. I expected to see the Eiders hunkered down in the ocean to the west of the causeway, out of the wind and waves and they were. So I snapped some pictures of them from the car – there was a raft of a dozen or so near Bar Rock and and about seven in close to shore. Of those seven, I took a close-up of these three and when I got home – well, look closely and you’ll see, I think, that they’re not all Eiders!
Yes, the one closest to the camera is, I believe, a White-winged Scoter! Now it’s not like I know all these ducks. I know the ones I see often, but I need a book to pick out a White-winged Scoter – especially when you can’t see the white on their wings. (It shows up when they’re flying, or when they turn a certain way as they float.). What caught my attention here were those two white patches on the face. When I first saw them I just assumed it was an Eider in some sort of transitional stage. But it isn’t. The guy on the left is a first winter male Common Eider, I believe, although I can’t see his breast which should be white, the mottled white on his back is diagnostic.
But I see no pictures of Eiders with splotches on their faces and the adult female White-winged Scoter shows just this pattern, is a tad smller than the Eider, and has roughly the same general bill shape. What’s more, the bill on the female is black. Pete Dunne’s “Essential Field Guide Companion” says “in winter and migration, particularly south of breeding areas,” the Common Eider associates “with other sea ducks, especially Scoters.”
The storm also brought a pick-up truck loaded with surfboards to Gooseberry. It rushed ahead of me as I headed towards the island on the causeway, and a few moments later passed me rushing out. Guess the surf wasn’t anything like they expected from the reports of high storm winds – hardly a shocker since the Bay, with an easterly wind, seldom kicks up like the ocean does on a westerly wind. And the ocean, under these conditions, looked like a proverbial mill pond – quite still.
The Bay side was pretty with a reasonable wind and surf for that side – this view is along the North East Beach towards East Point. The gulls seemed to be having fun surfing the incoming wind. And I did see a lone Sanderling on the beach.
I’m sure it got angrier as the day wore on. In fact, as I write this about 10 hours later, it is snowing just a couple dozen miles north of here and they are now forecasting a mix of snow and rain for us later tonight. This is early for winter. Maybe the Loon and White-winged Scooter know something 😉