Greater? Scaup and Brown Thrasher

Over the weekend, a birding friend had found a Brown Thrasher at the Turquoise Trail campground and archeology museum on the east side of the Sandias. This species is the common thrasher in the east and is a rare winter visitor and migrant to this part of the state. There were also reports of a Greater Scaup, rarer inland than Lesser Scaup, at the Rio Grande Nature Center in the visitor center pond. After dropping Melissa off for class, I set out to try and find these birds.

Lesser Scaup (top) and Greater Scaup in California. Photo by Paul Sullivan at Flickr (Creative Commons 2.0)

Of course I forgot my camera.

The Candelaria wetlands by the nature center parking lot held the usual species and I enjoyed watching a couple dozen Cackling Geese fly in from somewhere to the north. Sandhill Cranes bugled from the fields but mostly stayed hidden from view.

This was my first morning trip to the nature in a while and the normally deserted feeders were hopping with Gambel’s White-crowned Sparrows, all four subspecies of Dark-eyed Juncos including one very dark Slate-colored. This bird appeared different from the typical Slate-coloreds I’m used to from the East, and might have been from the Cassiar subspecies which tends to have a “hooded” appearance with a darker gray head, throat, and breast. Clicking on the photo will take you to a page of photos of many, many different plumages of Dark-eyed Juncos in Colorado. The Cassiar Junco is intermediate between the gray Slate-colored and the more black-hooded and brown-bodied Oregon Junco.

I parked myself in the observation room of the nature center and checked out the pond. A muskrat swam back and forth right in front of the window, hauling itself out of the water onto a log now and then to eat. This little mammal delighted a young toddler and her grandparents as well as me. A few scaup swam on the pond, and one actively fed not more than 15 feet from the windows. It dove so frequently that it was hard to get a good view of its head shape, the best way to distinguish Greater from Lesser Scaup. The head seemed more rounded without a distinct peak in the back, making me think it was the reported Greater Scaup [edit 11/28/10 Now I’m not so sure…A lot of the scaups at the nature center seem to have rounded heads when feeding and a greener head. Not counting it for now]. While almost all field guides state that male Greater Scaup always have a green head and Lesser Scaup always have a purple head, it all depends on the lighting and viewing angle. Check out male Mallards on a bright day and see how many of their heads look purple. This bird’s head was distinctly green while the nearby Lesser Scaup were definitely purple. If this bird sticks around, it will be easy to get some decent photos of it.

I missed last week’s Thursday trip to Los Poblanos Open Space, a farm in northwestern Albuquerque managed for Sandhill Cranes. In addition to hundreds of close views of cranes, the group saw some Savannah Sparrows, a species I’d missed so far in the county. I had no idea how close the cranes are to the paths here! Many cranes were far off in the fields but several dozen fed along the paths within 50 feet and stood their ground as long as I didn’t move around too much. I found two Savannah Sparrows (Bernalillo bird 166) fairly quickly and decided to head back home to grab my camera before going to look for the Thrasher.

Camera in hand, I made my way to the campground and archeology museum. At first all I saw was a Canyon Towhee and no birds at the feeder or working through the seed on the ground. I must have spooked them when I drove up. Eventually I caught sight of a long-tailed bird running beneath a swingset nearby. Rusty color, streaking on the breast–Brown Thrasher! (NM bird 237 and Bernalillo bird 167) It ran behind a shed and then along the side of a cage full of doves. My views (and photos) weren’t the best because I was looking into the sun. I watched the thrasher for a bit as well as Dark-eyed Juncos until it disappeared into a nearby juniper tree.

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5 Responses to Greater? Scaup and Brown Thrasher

  1. Like your new blog, Matt!

  2. Matt, There definitely was at least one Greater. Last Fri. I was able too see the white wing stripe that went the entire length of the wing when it raised its wings in place.


    • Matt says:

      Good to know, Judy. I saw it on eBird from the wetland survey as well. The scaup I mentioned in this post was an adult male, while the one I saw the following week was a 1st winter male with a broad bill. What age was the one you saw?

  3. I don’t know. There were 6 scaup together. Through the scope all the heads looked alike. Then one of them raised its wings and I could see the wing stripe. For the wetlands survey, I put the others down as Lesser, since there was no way to tell for sure.

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