Thursday, October 31, 2013

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

American Black Duck at Elk Island National Park

Once again I offer some sketchy video of an uncommon migrant in Central Alberta! The American Black Duck, whose range in Canada is primarily east of Saskatchewan, has been seen less frequently in Alberta in recent decades, mirroring a widespread decline. Only two Alberta occurrences, both from the Calgary area, are documented in eBird.

This individual showed up yesterday, October 21st. While American Black Duck x Mallard intergrades are not unusual, this individual showed no influence of Mallard genes. Note the pure purple speculum (no white border) and similarly a uniformly dark tail.

Helpfully, for comparative purposes, there are much paler female Mallards swimming in and out of frame.

For those birders less familiar with the American Black Duck, here are some distinguishing features:
  • size and structure very similar to the Mallard (distinguishing it from the smaller or less robust Gadwall and American Pintail
  • general colour pattern similar to female Mallard
In contrast to a female Mallard the American Black Duck:
  • has wings and body about four shades darker and shows marked contrast between lighter head/neck and darker body 
  • lacks white border to blue/violet speculum 
  • lacks any white on tail 
  • has a uniformly green or greenish yellow coloured bill.
Here's a typical male Black Duck.
American Black Duck (male), image shared generously under a Creative Commons license by Dick Daniels (

Update: Oct 23.

For the third consecutive morning the ABDU was present in the usual spot at 08:30 am. I tried paddling a canoe closer to get some better photos; however; the waterfowl assemblage was skittish. Here's the only capture I got, showing, at left, the spread wing of departing ABDU.

Update: Oct 25.

Still present at 8:40 am. Some skim ice formed overnight. With colder weather in the forecast, I suspect all waterfowl will leave Astotin Lake in the next few days.

Update: Oct 27.  Present at 11:30 am in the usual spot.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Pacific Loon at Elk Island?

I came upon this interesting loon at Astotin Lake in Elk Island National Park a few days ago. It was pretty far away but I was able to watch it in the scope for 20 minutes or so. I made note of its smallish bill and sharply bi-coloured neck. It was distinctly smaller than a nearby Common Loon and at the time I was pretty sure I was seeing my first-in-Canada Pacific Loon (eBird says I saw one off Monterey, CA decades ago).

PALO is not an Alberta mega-rarity by any means. Several Pacific Loons have been found elsewhere in Alberta this week.

I wasn't able to get any decent still photos - the light wasn't great and it was windy. I did get a minute of pretty lousy video.

What do you think? Am I dreaming? Pacific Loon? Common Loon? And what about the duck that swims through the frame near the end?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

October Grousing - plumage variation in the Ruffed Grouse.

The Ruffed Grouse is a well established, year-round resident of the Prairie Parkland region. I haven't found them to be particularly noticeable or abundant at Elk Island National Park - typically I might see or hear two or three birds in any given week.

In recent weeks they've been more conspicuous. With very large broods, numbers of grouse can fluctuate considerably between years - perhaps the 2013 nesting season was more successful than average.  Last Sunday we flushed eight from a hiking trail and spotted another six crouched along the roadside.

This is a typical view through the car window.

Less typical are autumn encounters with strutting males. I was fortunate last week to cross paths with this fine fellow. I knew that across their range, the plumage varies and red or gray morphs may predominate, but I'd never before seen a bird with a rich rufous ruff. Wow!

Here's a typical black ruffed, gray morph bird from northern Ontario. Notice how different the tail colouration is.

If you haven't ever seen a Ruffed Grouse in full hormone-crazed strut, check out this short video of the same bird, taken on March 17, 2010 in Pukaskwa National Park.

Related material:

Here are some excellent photos, among very few I could find on-line, showing a red-ruffed RUGR in Minnesota.

Evolutionary biologists consider grouse and their avian kin to be the original twerkers.