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Posts Tagged ‘Greater Scaup’

They made a bit of an odd couple, but this scaup and this Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) seemed happy together as they paddled around in the waters off of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge on Monday. I have the distinct impression that birds are increasingly willing to tolerate the presence of other species during the winter months and it is not uncommon for me to spot mixed flocks of birds in the water and on the land.
The Pied-billed Grebe has a very distinctive look and is easy to identify. When it comes to the scaup, however, identification is a bit more problematic, because there are Greater Scaups (Aythya marila) and Lesser Scaups (Aythya affinis). Lesser Scaups are somewhat smaller than Greater Scaups and their heads are shaped differently (the Lesser has a thinner, more peaked head than the Greater Scaup, which has a more round head), but I have never been able to tell the two species apart.
I really like the visual comparison in the photo between the size and shape of the bodies and bills of these two swimming birds as well as their very different coloration. Birds that look different from each other can live together in peace. Why is it that we humans can’t do the same?
odd couple
© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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At this time of the year I am always looking for birds in the waters off of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, like this scaup, a small diving duck, that I spotted on Monday. There is a Greater Scaup (Aythya marila) and a Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis) and they are quite similar in appearance.

For the sake of identification, I am going to assume that this is a “Greater” one—I do not want to damage its self-esteem by calling it “Lesser.”

scaup

scaup

scaup

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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The wind was blowing strongly on Monday morning, kicking up lots of waves in the waters off of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. In the deeper water I could see a small group of scaups bobbing up and down among the waves. Were they Greater Scaups (Aythya marila) or Lesser Scaups (Aythya affinis)?

I confess that I can’t tell the difference between the two species. I was content to get shots of both genders, especially the female with the distinctive white markings at the base of her bill.

scaup

 

scaup

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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I have been seeing increasing numbers of scaups off of Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, but they stayed in the deep water, so I never managed to get a close look at them.

I think they are Greater Scaups (Aythya marila), but there is also a chance that they are the similar-looking Lesser Scaups (Aythya affinis). The differences between the two species are subtle enough that I do not feel at all confident in distinguishing between the two. The white stripe behind the bill indicates that the one in the first image is a a female. I think the one on the left in the second photo may be an immature female and the one on the right is almost certainly a female.

Greater Scaup

Greater Scaups

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Sometimes when I take a photo of a bird, I have no idea what kind it is—I tend to shoot first and ask questions later. That was the case last Friday when I spotted this beauty at Belmont Bay, an area of open water at the confluence of the Occoquan and Potomac Rivers in Northern Virginia.  Fortunately some more experienced birders on the What’s This Bird Facebook forum helped me identify it as probably a Greater Scaup (Aythya marila), a type of diving duck.

I had tried to identify the bird on my own using a field guide that I have at home and some on-line resources, but I confess that I got stuck. I couldn’t figure out if this was a Greater or Lesser Scaup. Most of the information on distinguishing between the two species is comparative, i.e. the head is narrower or more oval. It’s hard to make a comparison when you see only a single member of a species.

As you can see from the photo below, conditions were a  little strange and there were distinct color bands in the water. I am not sure exactly what caused them, but perhaps it was the angle of the sunlight or the way the wind was moving the water. Whatever the case, it made for a pretty distinctive color change in the top third of this image that almost looks artificial.

Greater Scaup

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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