Female Scaup and Red-necked Grebe

Out in the ocean, beyond the breaking waves, I could see dozens and dozens of dark ducks, maybe hundreds, widely scattered and floating and bobbing in the water. They were almost impossible to see well, even with a scope, but I could see them well enough to know that among them were Black-winged Scoters, White-winged Scoters and Scaup.

Then, as if out of nowhere, there were three dark ducks, very close, just beyond the breaking waves, bobbing up and down, in and out of sight among the swells. They were female Scaup – a kind of diving duck often found in the ocean along the coast. Because their heads looked more round than crested, I think they were Greater Scaup – but really can’t be sure. Lesser Scaup are very similar. The angle of the late afternoon light made possible a beautiful view of them, and they stayed close enough so that I could watch them for several minutes.

When floating, they looked copper-brown all over, with a reddish glow that may have come from the afternoon light. It looked as if they were bathing. They frequently rose up out of the water and flapped their wings, showing white or very pale bellies. Their heads looked round, and I could see white at the base of the bills and white stripes in the wings.

When they finally drifted further out, another swimming bird appeared fairly close in, going in and out of sight among the waves – and diving out of sight for seconds at a time. With a very pale chin and front of the neck that looked white, a distinctive, angular shape of the head and a long, heavy, pointed bill – it was a Red-necked Grebe in winter colors.

Though I’ve seen a Red-necked Grebe before, when it was pointed out by other birders, this is the first time I’ve seen and identified one by myself – a completely different experience. It was this kind of time and this kind of experience that was the best part of the short trip to Kiawah. There were no really spectacular sightings, no new birds for a life list, just time to take time, to walk and wait and watch closely, and enjoy seeing again some familiar birds in different ways.

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