Sunday, October 14, 2007

Favorite birds I haven't seen

Favorite? I am not sure if that is the right word though. How can it be a favorite if I have never observed the bird? Either way I am going to stick with favorite because I can't come up with another word that describes my infatuation with a few species. Here are two.

photo courtesy of Pete Morris at the Surfbirds website

The first species is the Spectacled Eider (Somateria fisheri). Other than the obvious - the velvet green feathers on the head and the goggle eyed appearance - what I remember of my initial interest in this species was that it disappeared in the winter. Literally disappeared. No one knew where they went, but it was suspected that the wintering area was somewhere in the Bering Sea. Then in 1995, a satellite transmitters implanted in an eider on the breeding grounds that hadn't functioned for months, came to life and transmitted a coordinate and then fell silent again. A couple of weeks later two Fish and Wildlife Service biologists, Bill Larned and Greg Balogh, along with the pilot, checked out this location south of Saint Lawrence Island and found a brown smudge on the ice which turned out to be about 50,000 Spectacled Eiders crammed into a small lead in the ice. Here is the complete story from Greg Balogh. More information on the project that implanted the transmitters can be found here.

Photo courtesy of Bill Larned, USFWS. Bill told me there were 80,000 birds in this flock!

Photo courtesy of Pete Morris at the Surfbirds website

Spectacled Eiders were listed as a threatened species in 1993 after an apparent 96% decline in population from 1957 to 1992. Populations have since stabilized.
I once had a job to work on these birds on the winter grounds. I was ready to go but then got a new permanent job and was unable to make the trip. I still think about that missed adventure often.

Photo courtesy of Pete Morris at the surfbirds website at
The other species is the King Eider (Somateria spectabilis). I have been enamoured with this species since I was young. The pale blue head, sea-green cheeks, and large orange knob on the bill - what a look. I also like the shark fin feathers that project above the back.

I may have observed this species while working in the Canadian arctic a few years ago, but I was unable to get good enough looks at the only eiders I saw that fall to ID them to species.

Photo courtesy of Kit Day at the Surfbirds website at

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