A Rare Pair: Surf Scoters

Immature male Surf Scoter

Surf Scoters were the third most numerous bird in the North Basin in the years 2004-2007, after Ruddy Duck and Scaup.  Bird census takers in the study commissioned by the California Department of Parks and Recreation found an average of 327 scoters present during the peak migration season.  Then came the Cosco Busan oil spill in November 2007, which killed more than 1100 Surf Scoters on the Bay.  Since that time, scoters have been few and far between.  On the North Basin, the only Surf Scoter I saw before today was on May 9, 2015.  

This bird at first baffled me because it didn’t quite have the dramatic neon orange and white proboscis of the scoter I saw three years ago.  But checking the sources on the web once I got home, there was no doubt. The earlier sighting was a mature male. This bird today was an immature male Surf Scoter. 

Surf Scoter female

Even better, not far away from the current bird there floated what almost certainly was a Surf Scoter female.   

These birds breed on freshwater lakes way up north in boreal forest and tundra, so I’m not getting my hopes up for a local breeding pair.  

There was also another bird all tucked in for a nap that may have been a mature scoter.  I didn’t have time to hang around and wait for it to wake up and stretch.  

Sleeping bird, possibly mature male Surf Scoter

In any event, seeing Surf Scoters on the North Basin again, even in these tiny numbers, is something to celebrate.  


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