Centre County bird 193: Surf Scoter, April 26th 2010 and the start of an amazing month of birding

We’ve all heard about April showers and May flowers and all that, but spring rains can bring much better things. Rain during migration, especially inland, often ground many waterbirds which migrate over land. If you check any field guide that shows migration paths, you can see a large number of typically coastal or sea ducks which migrate from the Atlantic to the Great Lakes before heading to the Arctic–a path which takes them through the interior of Pennsylvania, New York, and other eastern states. I experienced an extreme season of this in March of 2008 when prolonged rains downed large numbers of Long-tailed Ducks, Redheads, Canvasbacks, Common Loons, and other waterbirds; filling up local lakes like Colyer Lake and Lake Perez in Stone Valley. 2009 and 2010 weren’t as impressive, but most rains caused minor fallouts. In the middle of April, reports of scoters at Bald Eagle State Park began to come in.

Mel and I went traveled to DC during the last weekend of April to visit a grad school friend who was visiting the US from Argentina. The drive back was rainy and I had visions of scoters and other ducks as we drove back. Thinking that my girlfriend probably didn’t want to stand in the rain next to a huge lake looking at specks on the water, I dropped her off in town and headed north to Bald Eagle State Park. Luck was with me–when I pulled into the overlook just north of PA 26 I found three Surf Scoters far out on the lake. Despite the distance, I could make out white patches on the head and orangey bills on two of the birds.

Can you tell these are Surf Scoters? (the three in the middle of the photo)

Male and female Surf Scoter in Maine. Photo by David Maher

I didn’t find too much out of the ordinary, but one Bonaparte’s Gull was on the beach with the Ring-billeds.

Bonaparte's Gull with Ring-billed Gulls

Over the next month, my Centre County list grew like crazy, mostly due to completely unexpected birds. Phalaropes, terns, a bittern, and a gull…well, stay tuned for those stories!

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2 Responses to Centre County bird 193: Surf Scoter, April 26th 2010 and the start of an amazing month of birding

  1. Joe Verica says:

    The Scoter was a memorable bird for me as well. I distinctly remember seeing your txt message on my phone and inhaling my dinner to get out to BESP to see the bird. Although I had seen Scoters on the west coast when I lived near the beach in San Fran, I had never seen one in PA before. Great bird!

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