08 December 2013

Return of the Tufted

Lake Merritt, in downtown Oakland, has a knack for hosting a TUFTED DUCK, apparently.  According to eBird, this rare Eurasian species has been at Lake Merritt in 1976-77, 1987, 1991-92, 1994, and then annually from 2003 to 2013 with the exception of 2006.  I first saw the Tufted last winter and wanted to return this winter simply to add it to my "Sizable Year" list.  

The reports were saying it was hanging out in the extreme northeast portion of the lake.  I headed there and found it right where people said to look:

View Lake Merritt in a larger map

It eventually floated much closer to me but it seemed more preoccupied with taking a nap by that point:

Then it did something strange.  Having seen thousands of diving ducks through the years, I thought I had an overall understanding of what they would and wouldn't do... but I was so wrong.  The Tufted Duck start floating towards this dark crack of a culvert... and then it swam INTO it.  Not just briefly... but it went in and STAYED IN for ~10 minutes!  Then a COMMON GOLDENEYE did the same thing... and then a flock of 7 MALLARDS.  Where the hell does that thing go and why were ducks chilling in there?!

I didn't really stick around much to sift through the thousands of other birds present but this close HORNED GREBE let me photographically fondle it for a bit:

This place has the distinction in my mind of being a superior location for getting up close and personal with Aythya species.  Here's a GREATER SCAUP:

Maybe you've heard how the nail (tip of the bill) size and the amount of black can be a fieldmark between some Aythya species.  Well, take a good look at these three birds and see if you can tell a difference:

From the top, it's a LESSER SCAUP, GREATER SCAUP, and TUFTED DUCK.  Now you know.