Not a Scooter!

Greetings everyone! First off, wanted to let you know that I have update the Birding Chronicles page with the latest progress in Ron and I’s “Average Year” (link here). Between the brutally cold days we’ve had a few bearable temps to get in a bit of tundra birding. From the last update I am now sitting at 185 and Ron coming in at the 156 mark. If you take in the unique species between us we are at a very healthy 194 between us. Absolutely surprising to me as that is nearly 2/3rds of my current life list number! Ron has also been adding new features to our personal tracker using software he developed (Sliver link here) coupled with Google Maps, he is now able to visually chart all of our outings since the first of the year. I’ll be putting the videos he produced from that on the Chronicles page as soon as he gets the current maps generated.

For today’s post I thought I would go with one of my two highlights so far in this young (and short) month. Drum roll please… yes, it is official, I have finally lost the remaining black toenail from my last ultra-marathon (link here). If you recall, last October I entered the…

Linda: “What’s ya doin’?”

Me: “Writing a new post!”

Linda: “”bout what?”

Me: “Successfully losing my last black toe”

Linda (blinks twice): “What?””

Me: “Yeah, I am pretty excited and thought I would share with my rea..”

Linda: “Ummm, No!”

Me: “..but they like to read abou..”

Linda: “HELL NO!”

Me: “Bu…”

Linda: “Go with the Scooter”

Me: “Dammit, it is not a SCOOTER!”

Linda: “Scooter!!” .. walks out of the room.

With a wife like that who needs an editor hehehe. Will heed my lovely wife’s advice and opt out of the extremely thrilling toenail ordeal (for now) and go with the OTHER highlight from a recent birding trip to downtown Peoria, IL.

White-Winged Scoter found on Illinois River in downtown Peoria Feb 2022

I guess it is still sort of blackish, and if you stretch your imagination kinda looks like a foot and ankle.

Hit the jump to find out what today’s “substitute” featured feathered friend is!

Those that are not that into birding could probably still get this creature at least slotted in the right overall category. In water, loosely got that foot shape, large bill – Alex, I’d like to go with birds in the duck family. Right you are. Where it really gets interesting is when you learn this is not just an ordinary, run of the mill, Midwestern duck. Nope, this duck is referred to as a sea duck. My general geography knowledge is severely lacking. A majority of my formal education years were focused on math, physics, electronics, programming and psychology, not where Waldo or Dora happened to be exploring. Hell, if it wasn’t for my international blogger friends and the board games RISK and Pandemic I’d probably still think Cuba, Havana, Athens and Cairo were just cities in Illinois. With that said, I can still tell you without hesitation there are no “seas” near Illinois.

White-Winged Scoter found on Illinois River in downtown Peoria Feb 2022

When news hit the eBird alerts there was a White-Winged Scoter spotted in the Illinois River, my excitement grew. I do not have this bird checked off my life list yet and now one was making a rare appearance only 30 minutes or so from my home. Ironic, in a sense, as I had recently posted about my first anniversary of being retired and the sightings were only 1 minute from the building I spent a majority of my career in. We had to come back from Texas when we did because Linda and I have/had several doctor’s appointments this month. Most of those are/were in the Peoria/East Peoria area – threw the camera in the car with us and simply dropped by the riverfront after each of the appointments this week.

White-Winged Scoter found on Illinois River in downtown Peoria Feb 2022

Yes, that was visits – plural thanks to a struggle finding this little lady. It took 5 attempts to tin this Scoter. That is 5 times this scenario played out “You going after the Scooter today Bri?”, “Not a Scooter, ScOter and yes”, {travel to place last reported}, “Did you find the Scooter?”, “Not a Scooter, Sc0ter and no”, “Bummer, no Scooter for Bri”, “ARRRGGGHHHHH”. It was an absolute relief to finally say “I got it, and STILL not a SCOOTER!” I know a lot of you out there have (wrongly) assumed Linda should be sainted – all clearly oblivious or willfully overlooking her devious tendencies to take great pleasure in driving me absolutely crazy.

White-Winged Scoter found on Illinois River in downtown Peoria Feb 2022

Not being able to find a certain bird, especially a rare bird, is not a big deal. It is literally like a needle in a haystack sometimes. Somewhere over the span of a mile and usually farther is one object that is the size of a football with the ability to fly where ever it wants. Elated when I succeed, understandable when I fail. What does annoy me is when I read an eBird report proclaiming it was found again RIGHT WHERE I WAS STANDING – less than an hour difference or in some cases same time, but directly on the other side of the river where I didn’t have the glass reach to make out field markings.

White-Winged Scoter found on Illinois River in downtown Peoria Feb 2022

After my 4th failed attempt a report was made that it was seen 15 minutes after I left, yes, directly across from where I was standing. The observer was on the Peoria side of the river this time and not East Peoria. Told Linda and we made plans to try the Peoria Hooters parking lot to find the Scooter.. I mean Scoter (she’s getting to me). Made it to the location, grabbed my camera and prepared for the worst. Took some shots of a small flock of Hooded Mergansers (chuckled as we made a special trip out of our way on the way back from Texas to tin one of these), took a few snaps of the huge numbers of Common Goldeneye before I stopped in my tracks. Hanging next to the group of the white patched heads of the male Goldeneyes (link to females here), was an oddly shaped duck. It had the bold white patch of the male Goldeneye, but this was behind the eye and it lacked the iridescent green head.

White-Winged Scoter found on Illinois River in downtown Peoria Feb 2022

Did some quick searching on Cornell’s website and it hit me. I had been searching for the wrong features – this was a female White-Winged Scoter, and not a male which are blacker, have more of a comma shaped eye patch (referred to as a Viking horn) and an orange/red bill with a very distinctive bulge at the top. White patch behind eye, lighter smudge at the base of the bill, flatter/bumpier dark bill, brownish body feathering and an elongated white wing bar. All checked with the exception of the wing patch.

White-Winged Scoter found on Illinois River in downtown Peoria Feb 2022

Spent a significant amount of time trying to capture that wing bar. Tried to capture angle after angle in hopes of spotting the final field characteristic. Cornell stated it was often visible at rest – began to question that “often” descriptor. Clearly in an effort to set my mind at ease, the specimen rolled over and showed me its much lighter colored belly which sealed the deal for me.

White-Winged Scoter found on Illinois River in downtown Peoria Feb 2022

That many descriptor checks brought a huge smile to my face. I finally had it in the tin and a new lifer checked. Immediately, sent a picture off to Ron (‘cuz that is what brothers do hehehe) and noted my disappointment at not getting the white wing bar. He pulled it up on his Audubon app and replied “the white wing patch is conspicuous in flight, but often hidden while swimming”. For once, Audubon appears to be more accurate than Cornell.

White-Winged Scoter found on Illinois River in downtown Peoria Feb 2022

Should probably get to some details on this rare visitor to Peoria. They instead prefer to spend their winters on the east and west coast. From there they migrate to the western half of Canada for their breeding season. For my European based friends, the White-Winged species was split from the Eurasia and Stejneger’s in 2019. Cornell did mention that a small number of these Scoters do winter on the Eastern Great Lakes so this female may not be as far off its path as originally thought (3/4 hours south from Lake Michigan).

White-Winged Scoter found on Illinois River in downtown Peoria Feb 2022

Excited to learn the White-Winged are considered the “scarcest of the three Scoter species in North America” – always good to get the hardest one out of the way first. They primarily eat crustaceans, fish and mollusks. The Illinois Rive should work out just find knowing how the Zebra Mussels have been invading for some time. Now if we can just import more and teach them to also take out Asian Carp we would be in business. Although this is the only Scoter that has been spotted, she at least has a lot of Goldeneyes to keep her company. It was noted in the other sightings and personally that she would hang just beyond their groupings.

White-Winged Scoter found on Illinois River in downtown Peoria Feb 2022

Hope Linda was right and this was more exciting to read about than my toe. If not, blame her hahaha. Will call it a post here so I can take off my socks and let the little piggies go Wee Wee Wee on the soft carpet. Lastly, NOT A SCOOTER DAMMIT!

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