Sunday, 9 March 2014

Messed up Redheads

Erica and I headed south this weekend to visit our friend Mothboy in Ithaca. Ithaca is a very scenic place with forested hills, deep gorges, and waterfalls all around. It felt like we were transported into the future - much less snow and open water made it feel like spring!

Out around Ithaca we got to enjoy lots of "carolinian" species like Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, and Red-bellied Woodpecker plus an Ithaca specialty Fish Crow. I was also successfully able to track down the ducks and gulls that have been missing from Ontario! Turns out Cayuga Lake is so deep that it doesn't freeze. They've had a great winter for gulls down there (explains where all those that I haven't been seeing have gotten to) - in the afternoon at the south end of the lake we had well over a thousand gulls on the little bit of ice there including Iceland, Glaucous and lots of Great Black-backeds (and Herring and Ring-billed of course).

Next to the gulls were hundreds of diving ducks- mostly Redheads but also a nice assortment that was eerily similar to what should normally be at Presqu'ile next weekend. But what was really cool to see here was a leucistic female Redhead - she was the same size and shape as the other Redheads and actively dove for food with the others but she was almost pure white. I sexed her as a female because the bill was greyish brown, rather than the blue of a male. But as it turned out that wasn't the only weird Redhead for the day...

We found this bird a bit further north along the east shore of the Lake at Meyer's Point. At first glance you might pass it off as a Canvasback (which we saw several of mixed in with Redheads earlier) but there were some things wrong: the back wasn't quite white enough, the eye was yellowish orange (vs red-orange), the forehead/bill slope wasn't straight enough, and the bill was not all dark. Those points all might suggest a Common Pochard (European relative) and that's probably what I would have thought.

However I knew that a couple of weeks ago Chris Wood and Jessie Barry had found and identified a male Canvasback x Redhead hybrid at the south end of the lake on February 15, so that made things simpler (and on closer inspection a few things didn't line up). According to eBird, presumably the same bird was then seen on February 24 at the north end of Seneca Lake by David Wheeler and Jim Tarroli. Also of interest, another Canvasback x Redhead hybrid was seen on 7 and 8 March in Jackson County, Michigan by Don and Robyn Henise - I wonder how many times two of these hybrids have been seen on the same day?

There was also a similar bird in Maryland in early January this year...maybe the same bird but who knows!

Anyways, here are a couple more photos:

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