Earlier this spring we spent a couple of days on our boat, anchored in one of our favorite little places – not far from home, but enough distance to feel “away”. I expected a quiet time, but the Surf Scoters had something else in mind.
These sturdy, highly social and decidedly odd-looking sea ducks were constantly on the go: feeding, diving, surfacing, displaying their plumage, and taking to the air en masse for frequent, short flits about the bay. Skimming along just above the water, the flock’s rapid wingbeats created an eerie, wavering trill not unlike the ululation you might hear at a Middle Eastern funeral. What an amazing show! (More photos below.)
I’ve often seen large flocks of surf scoters feeding on mussel beds in the Gulf Islands in the winter and early spring, but always at a distance. Apparently they’re elusive enough to be one of the least studied of all North American waterfowl. So seeing them all up close, over two full days, was a rare treat.
They were probably feasting on herring eggs, and enjoying their last hurrah here in our area. By now most of them are likely winging their way up north, to the lakes and wetlands of the boreal forests and tundra, their prime breeding habitat. I’ll look forward to their return in the fall.
More photos: mouse over to see the captions; click on any image to view in larger, slideshow format.
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