There’s a PhD thesis waiting to be written on the motions of Scaup on water. There’s been a lot of work on schools of fish, how they stick together and maneuver, and analysts have learned a lot about dense flocks of birds in the air. Right here on the North Basin is an opportunity to do similar work in what may be a much easier subject: how these ducks form rafts and trains and big muddles where every bird is going in a different direction, and how sometimes they scatter and practice something like social distancing.
The little video above begins with an example of Scaup in linear motion. This is a train. Everyone is moving in the same direction at the same speed, more or less. Then a train encounters another one going in the opposite direction, and the linear motion decays into a broad raft where the birds move in something resembling Brownian motion, the random action of molecules in a fluid. If the video were extended, we would see that in time a new train takes shape, sometimes more than one, and linear motions resume. How does this happen? Are there leading birds, or leading groups of birds? Or does the random motion sometimes by chance create the start of a cohesive group, like the locomotive of a train, that attracts followers and builds into a coherent shape? Come on, young ornithology Einsteins, get your cameras down here and solve these mysteries.