An afternoon’s walk: Scaup, Coot, Willet

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Scaup (probably Greater)

On a Sunday afternoon walk, I saw about a hundred birds in the water on the west side of the park, where you don’t usually see more than a handful.  On closer look, they were Scaup.  I don’t know if they were Lesser or Greater (probably Greater) and I don’t know what got them out there into these rather windy and a bit rough waters this afternoon.

Previously I’ve seen Scaup in these numbers only in the calmer waters east of the park, in the North Basin.  Another park visitor asked me how to spell the birds’ name — S-C-A-U-P — and then asked if they were ducks.  I didn’t know, but when I got home I looked them up and the answer is, yes.  The Cornell Lab of Ornithology says they’re a “medium-sized diving duck.”  Walks like one, quacks like one, etc.

Demonstrating the comparative  parsimony and tact of the English language, the bird’s name in French is Fuligule milouinan and the unkind Porron bastardo in Spanish.

American Coot

Rounding the bend on the northwest corner, I saw a couple handfuls of black swimmers with white beaks who were not Scaup but Coot.  These had been out in large numbers at low tide a few weeks ago, but today there were only a few.  I wonder what drives them sometimes to congregate in large numbers, at other times to scatter.

Saw no Burrowing Owls in their northeast corner preserve.  They’re hard to spot when they’re present, and even harder when they’re not.  So far this year I haven’t heard of a sighting in this area.

Walking south along the North Basin, a pair of birds about the size of gulls but with striking wing markings of white and brown flew past and then settled on the rocks at the water’s edge.  When I got close enough for the camera, I saw that they were Willets.  Saw them here before, but not as a pair.  They’re elegantly understated birds, sort of a tweedy Ivy League type.  No flashy Los Angeles yellow legs or neon red eyes or “look at me” beaks.  They seemed very comfortable at their chosen landing rock and just stood there, preening a bit, and seeming to doze.


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