Surf Scoters, long a rarity here, returned by the dozens this week, a cause to be grateful. This flock, seen off the north side of the park, consisted almost entirely of females, with only one or possibly two mature males included. The moving Scoter flock sometimes swam through the middle of a raft of the smaller Bufflehead, without friction beyond a peck or two. A stray Common Goldeneye also joined the Scoter flock as it cruised east and west, with birds occasionally diving in a synchronized pattern.
These birds breed in Northern Canada and Alaska and come down into these latitudes for the gentler winter. They’ll go down as far as the Baja peninsula. They use the winter period to form pairs. They’ll generally return to the same nesting area year after year.
They’ll eat whatever’s available, but their preference is marine protein such as crabs, shrimp, and mussels. They generally seize their prey underwater and swallow it whole before surfacing.
The 2007 Cosco Busan oil spill killed thousands of these birds, most of them healthy adults. They all but vanished as flocks from the park surroundings after that, with only the rare pair or individual seen. This little flock of several dozen, while far short of the kind of number seen before 2007, is a very encouraging sign that they may be recovering.