Click on any of the main images for a closer view

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Black Scoter

(Email sent to Kerry birders this evening)

"Yesterday, Davey Farrar was on his way out to Reenard when he stopped at ‘Mountain Stage’, near Rossbeigh, and saw a scoter which showed a lot of yellow on the bill. We (DF and M.O'Clery) both went back today and searched for an hour before finding it again in the small flock of scoter there (just 70-80 birds). The upshot of it all is that we are both sure that it is a Black Scoter. Weather today was atrocious, so we were watching it at long range and in very difficult conditions, but together, over three hours or so, became convinced that we were indeed looking at the real thing.

MOC tried to get a few photos - conditions were appalling - see photos below. Although these photos just about show the large area of yellow on the bill, through the telescope there were additional features which don’t show up on these images. We showed the photos to Killian Mullarney who kindly commented:

"Thanks again for the photos Michael. As I stated earlier, it is difficult to reach a definitive conclusion on the evidence of the photos alone, but from what I can see they do indeed suggest a Black, and your impression of it looking good in the field is very significant. The second photo in the series is probably the best. I attach the first photo, with an arrow to the slightly worrying hint of a knob-like swelling at the base of the bill, but this may well be photographic artefact."

The additional features mentioned, which don’t show up so well on the photos, include:

The large swelling on the upper bill, resembling a small orange ball, 'glued to the forehead' of the bird, consistently rounded-looking from front and side.

Thin black line along the ‘cutting edge' of the bill.

Distinct and even black tip (culmen) on the bill.

Face on, the yellow on the bill also looked curved and even, again like an orange ‘ball’ stuck on the forehead - no hint of a small ‘knob’ or bump along the bill’s upper profile at any time.

Over time, we were sure that there were also subtle but distinct differences in ‘jizz’, particularly a stockier build to the neck and head, making it look overall a good bit chunkier-looking than nearby male Common Scoters. The head and neck looked slightly more akin to a Surf Scoter profile than a Common Scoter.

There have been a number of claims of Black Scoter in Ireland over the years, and we are aware that hybrids and aberrant birds can throw up all sorts of permutations, and with that in mind we feel the cautious approach would be to announce it as a bird showing all the characters of Black Scoter, and none of the characters of a hybrid/aberrant bird! Bit of a mouthful, but this bird would cause quite a stir, and anyone travelling to see it might bear that in mind!

Bottom line, we think it’s the real thing, and would encourage you all to go and try see it and decide for yourselves.

The really awful part of it is that the weather forecast, not just for the next day or two, but the whole week ahead, is shite - gale force winds, large swell, etc. Viewing conditions are not likely to improve any time soon, but we might be lucky and get it closer in, when it’s not lashing rain.

Check out the map below, for a precise location of where it was seen yesterday and today.

All the best for the moment, Michael"

You can click on any of the main images below for a closer view

Black Scoter (left), 'Mountain Stage, near Glenbeigh, 9th January 2015 (M.O'Clery).

Black Scoter, 'Mountain Stage, near Glenbeigh, 9th January 2015 (M.O'Clery).

Black Scoter (left), 'Mountain Stage, near Glenbeigh, 9th January 2015 (M.O'Clery).

Annotated photo, courtesy of K. Mullarney, but see text above

Map showing area where the bird was seen initially yesterday, and again today (M.O'Clery)