A Lucky Duck Weekend

Hey all you readers,

It’s been a while since you’ve heard from me! 2017 has been good to me so far, with 4 lifers since New Year’s Day (two of which will be the subject of this post). As I toil through this dreary week of finals tests, I can’t help but still feel a sense of euphoria from the birding weekend I just enjoyed! Two crazy state rarities, great people and good weather all contributed to what I’ve come to refer as my Lucky Duck weekend.

On Sunday, January 15th, I took a little road trip south to Purdy Spit, near Gig Harbor. The subject of my visit: a female Common Eider, only the fifth for Washington State! Interestingly, this individual appears to be of the Atlantic subspecies “dresseri”, which certainly makes this bird even rarer!! In a last minute arrangement, I went with my friend Adrian Lee, driven by his dad. On the way south, we stopped in Tacoma for a fruitless search for a Slaty-backed Gull that has been in the area for years. However, Adrian was convinced that we should check a pond at Gog-Le-Hi-Te Wetland for good waterfowl. I was anxious to get to the eider, but I relented for a quick check.

The two male pintails we soon picked out were decent enough for the park. Suddenly, Adrian jumped back and declared, “Eurasian Green-winged Teal!”. He had just picked out a male Common Teal from the teal flock near the back of the pond. The subspecies is quite rare but regularly in singular numbers around western Washington in winter, but this was my first time seeing one! It may have been a returning male from previous winters.

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Bad digiscoped photo, good bird! Eurasian male on the left, American on the right. Note the Eurasian’s lack of vertical white flank bar, stronger horizontal wing bar, and white lines on the face!

 

After that success, we checked for the gull one last time at the 11th St. Bridge, and met up with local birder Paul Blaerny, who gave us a couple tips on seeing the eider. Soon, we were off to the Spit! At first, it seemed like our luck was running out. The eider was not in its usual location near a barge! However, a few minutes of diligent scanning later and I finally managed to pick out the female eider sitting on the water out from the far east end of the spit.

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Thar she blows!

I was able to get a couple more birders on the eider before Adrian and I relocated to a closer viewing point. As soon as we got to the beach nearest to the eider… she flew out into the middle of the bay! I missed the flight pattern itself, but it was apparently quite humorous.

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If this were at Loch Ness, I might be scared!

After a few more minutes of watching the eider dive in the middle of the bay, we decided to head back towards home after a successful outing. We checked North Lake near Auburn on the way home and found 3 Eurasian Wigeons, 2 Ruddy Ducks and 42 (!!) Redheads!

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I even got to hear them call!

Redheads are a good bird for King County, but a series of 2-3 small lakes in the southwest corner of the county – of which North Lake is part – regularly have sizeable flocks of a couple dozen birds, though rarely this large. It helped that the lake itself was mostly frozen over except for one crowded pool!

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You rarely see things like this in Seattle!

After the success of Sunday, I was prepared to enjoy Martin Luther King Jr. Day leisurely chasing a couple uncommon geese species in a local park. However, a text from my friend Josh Rudolph at 8:23 PM changed my plans immediately:

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Disclaimer: My anguish was over thinking I couldn’t chase it — my fear was misplaced!

FALCATED DUCK, found that morning by Rick Klawitter! Only the fifth record for the state of Washington of this incredibly handsome Asian duck! I set up an agreement with my dad to take me the next morning. I felt bad having to turn down two of my friends for a ride up to see the duck. After all, Adrian had just taken me to see the eider, and on the way home I even joked “now I owe you a rarity”! However, the next morning, I finally built up the courage to ask my dad if I could take someone… And he said yes to taking Adrian. On short notice, he was ready to leave. And we were off!

As we reached Padilla Bay at 9:50 AM, an uncommon White-throated Sparrow greeted us with heard-only song as we opened the car doors in the gravel parking lot. We ran down to the Padilla Bay Shore Trail dike, passing several top WA listers. Two teenagers sprinting with scopes on their shoulders must have been a sight to behold! Finally, Adrian and I reached a small group of birders scoping the enormous wigeon flock, and in just a minute I had trained my scope on the Falcated Duck in all his glory.

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One of my initial digiscoped photos of this incredibly beautiful duck. Better DSLR shot, comin’ up!

We enjoyed the Asian duck for almost two hours. The bird provided great looks in stellar light on the water for most of the time, surrounded by a flock that included 30 Eurasian Wigeons! Padilla Bay is the best place in North America to observe these ducks – up to 325 EUWI have been tallied in a single flock! It definitely makes sense why 3 of the 5 state Falcated Duck records, including this one, have been in the vicinity of this Bay.

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I’d give this bird an 11/10 on the knockout scale! The way that the green shimmers into red on the head… the slender, curled tertials that give this bird his distinctive name… the delicate speckled pattern on the breast… it would make any birder swoon!

 

Near 11 AM, I got to see the Falcated Duck fly off the water, over our heads and into the field behind the dike. I waited to get Josh Rudolph on the duck, basked in the glow of my first Code 4 rarity with some final views, and soon bid adieu to the present birding party.

So there you have it! In one unforgettable weekend, I had a Eurasian Green-winged Teal, an uncommon Common Eider and a knockout Falcated Duck. Thanks for reading, and good birding!

~ Joshua

***I dedicate this post to mi amigo Tim Swain from Massachusetts, whose favorite duck is the Falcated Duck! Hope you can see one soon!***

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