I couldn’t believe my eyes. On June 25, on a rock just south of the Open Circle viewpoint sat a little duck with a brown head, brown back, and a white stripe on its cheeks: a female Bufflehead, if ever I’ve seen one. She preened a bit, then slipped into the water and paddled around for a while, in no particular hurry, and not diving for food.
Not fifty yards south along the same path, I spotted another odd brown bird in the water, considerably larger. Brown head, brown back, white patch around the base of the bill. A female Scaup, beyond doubt.
What in the blazes are they doing here? At this season, in the last week of June, their sisters and brothers by the many thousands are up in Alaska and northern Canada, breeding up a storm. Are the drakes up there getting too rude and are these #me too birds?
I did spot a solo female Scaup in May of last year, who had stayed on for a couple of weeks after the rest of the gang emigrated. Four male Scaup flew in a week later, courted her, and all five then flew off. After they left, on June 13, a bachelor Scaup (male) appeared. I saw him again as late as July 17.
So the presence of solo birds in the North Basin during the summer, when the rest of the species are up in the far north breeding, is not unheard of. But I’ve not seen a female Scaup as late as this.
And I’ve never seen an out-of-season Bufflehead, male or female.
These are not leftover birds, individuals from among the great number who wintered here between October and April, and declined to join the migrating flocks that left here in the spring. These individuals either formed part of flocks that wintered elsewhere on this coast, did not migrate with their flocks, and are working their way north in solo migration now, with a stopover here in the North Basin. Or they are birds that migrated north and have come back, for reasons I doubt we’ll ever understand.