Sunday 28 December 2014

Feast of Eiders

This morning, at Cape Spear, the sun and the eiders aligned. After 2+ years of seeking out good close looks at eider flocks it finally happened this morning and we were rewarded - Mira was there for the fun too!

At sunrise the eiders were eager to come close to shore and were stretched out in a long line:

The reason I was so keen to get close looks of eiders wasn't really for the photos. It was more to see if I could distinguish them along their sub-species. The borealis sub-species is most common during the winter months in Newfoundland, whereas the dresseri sub-species is much more uncommon/rare - and the object of my desires this morning.

Among the 600+ eiders, I managed to find one adult male Common Eider of the dresseri sub-species - can you find it in this photo (click on the pic for a larger version)?

While scanning through the flocks for different eiders I noticed a handful that looked something like this:
I'm assuming they're all sub-adult male COEIs, but I suppose it's possible that they're still moulting out of eclipse plumage? Something to look into.

All three males in this photo are of the same sub-species (borealis) - but there is notable variation among their bill patterns. Ranging from bright orange to dull olive, and from pointed to more rounded lobes. Gaining an appreciation of their variation is the first step towards finding a dresseri in Newfoundland.

It didn't take long for one lone-dresseri to stand out. The two adult males in this photo represent the two 'expected' sub-species in our waters:

Note that the eider to the left has much more rounded lobes and a dull olive bill colour.

Hard to appreciate in this photo - but I found that the dresseri eider had a more peaked forehead - giving it a more blocky appearance.

It was lucky that the eiders learned to trust Mira and I as we were standing on the rocks. Unfortunately they flushed when a few tourists gained an interest in the birds.

In addition to the two COEI sub-species we managed to pick out 2 female King Eiders. Perhaps the most surprising sighting though was a lone male Northern Pintail that was hanging out with the flock of eiders...

Later that day we saw a 2nd cycle Lesser Black-backed Gull - only my second of this age this season.

Success at last!