As I revelled in the fact that I was lucky enough to have a flock of scaup fly directly toward me (for a change) I steadied the monopod and fired away. The birds banked and passed close enough for me to grab several nice frames. I was thrilled! But as I reviewed my images I could not decide whether I was looking at Greater or Lesser Scaup. The birds weren't swimming, so I couldn't rely on head size/shape to make a call. So what do I look for in the flying birds to make a positive ID? Or do I have to resign myself in calling these 'scaup sp.'?
I headed down to Pt. Mouillee early Sunday morning hoping to see the multitudes of waterfowl staging in the marsh. A quick drive down Campau Rd. toward Pt. Mouillee HQ yielded a dozen Wood Ducks in the creek before the gate (a nice start to the day). However, the Huron River held only a few pair of Common Mergansers and several Mute Swans, so I kept moving. My next stop would be the parking lot at Mouillee Creek.
Unloading the bike from the back of the Escape I decided that today I would attempt to ride w/ the camera attached to a monopod. This would require some planning because I had to figure out how to hold the camera while keeping two hands on the handlebars. The solution? Tuck the camera into the lens pouch (mounted to the handlebars) and drape the monopod over my shoulder while I ride. It would then be ready for use at a moment's notice. The only problem was trying to get the lens out of the pouch fast enough when I needed. That, and the fact that I had a 5 foot pole sticking straight up in the air...
The Walpatich Unit held dozens of Ring-necked Ducks, Lesser Scaup, Wood Ducks, American Coot, and Bufflehead. Unfortunately for me the ducks scrammed the moment I came into view.
It was dark and overcast, so even digiscoping was useless. The flooded pond at the Lautenschager Unit produced similar results: dozens of Blue- and Green-winged Teal were quietly swimming but flushed as soon as I approached. I even tried crawling toward the pond on my knees, but carrying a tripod / scope in one hand while carrying a monopod/camera/lens in the other was next to impossible. So I continued on.
At the junction of Lead, Long Pond and Vermet Units I was greeted by hundreds of American Coot swimming in the Lead Unit. Among them were dozens of Lesser Scaup and Ring-necked Ducks. I managed a few pics of fly-by Bufflehead in the low light, but had no opportunities for digiscoping. Mute Swans were courting in the SW corner of the Vermet Unit, so I grabbed a quick pic before continuing up the Middle Causeway toward the Banana Unit. An Eastern Meadowlark was the only interesting bird in the fields along the path.
A quick stop at Cell 3 netted a pair of adult Greater Black-backed Gulls and a pair of immature birds. Mudflats were exposed, which means that shorebirding should be good in the coming weeks.
I scanned the Vermet Unit from the dike along the eastern shore, but failed to see any sign of the Greater White-fronted Goose reported a day earlier by Will Weber. Thousands of Coots were swimming near the banks, and created a spectacle when they all took flight to the middle of the unit.
Despite the sheer numbers of waterfowl the overcast skies and nervouse ducks generated few photo opps. I attempted to photograph a few fly-by flocks of American Wigeon and Ring-necked Ducks, but I ended up w/ just silhouettes. My only consolation was the group of scaup that flew directly at me before banking away at the last moment.
Studying Sibley's, National Geographic, and Peterson's Guides I needed to look at the white wing patch of the birds in order to correctly ID the type. On a Lesser Scaup the white wing patch ends at the primaries, whereas the patch extends into the primaries on Greater Scaup. Looking at my photos I had great views of the white wing patch, but couldn't tell if they 'ended' or 'extended'. Lucky for me I found David Roemer's website that shows a nice photo of both birds in flight. If you look at photo N of his series you'll see that the white wing patch on the Greater Scaup does indeed visibly extend into the primaries. I could now convince myself that I was seeing only Lesser Scaup in my photos! So despite a not-so-good day for photographing waterfowl I did manage to learn something new and add a nice diagnostic photo for future reference.