Thanks to the tip from our birding buddy, Tom Starcic, we could be in a position to add our 4th lifer for 2009. He sent me a picture of Black Scoters that he saw at the Ballona Channel in Playa del Rey. That was last Tuesday, Jan. 6th. Saturday morning as we drove down to Ballona, we were hoping that the scoters were still there.
At 8:30 am we were scouring the east side of the channel. Except for a raft of Buffleheads and tons of Heerman's Gulls, the subjects of our search were nowhere in sight. There were some heartbeat quickening moments when I saw a dark scoter swimming nonchalantly by. Cynthia and I both took numerous pictures of it thinking we finally got our Black Scoter. Reviewing the pictures during a pause in our quest showed the bill to be too dark and too thick for a Black Scoter. It was, as a matter of fact, a female Surf Scoter. Slowly, disappointment started to creep in. Will this be our first heartbreak of the year?
Learning from our Solitary Sandpiper fiasco last year, we once again surveyed the east side of the channel with increased determination. The presence of a couple of bird photographers somehow buoyed our hopes. When we asked them, both gave us the same answer: no Black Scoters seen. It was then that we saw the male Common Goldeneye. Although we have already photographed this bird late last year, it is always nice to have another opportunity to see an uncommon avian visitor. Just as we were focusing on the Goldeneye, a kayaker came paddling by spooking all the birds along his way. Undaunted, we decided to wait a little while hoping the Goldeneye would return - we sort of gave up on the Black Scoters at this point.
Minutes went swiftly by. Only the Buffleheads returned along with a few Gulls. It was now past ten and our hopes were fading fast. I looked at my wife and she merely shrugged - her unspoken way of saying that it's time to throw in the towel. With heavy hearts, we trudged slowly along the berm all the while keeping a wary eye on the waters below. Then "whoosh" came a trio of brownish black birds flying close to the surface of the channel. I followed their flight with my binoculars and immediately knew that the Black Scoters have arrived. To our delight they landed on the channel waters about 100 feet behind us. "They're here!", I told Cynthia. We quickly turned around and I sprinted the distance with the speed of a hungry cheetah chasing an antelope. Then with caution I descended from the berm and were almost on an eye-to-eye level with the scoters. Cynthia, on the other hand, remained at the berm for a more panoramic view. The yellow coloring of the top of the beaks confirmed that we have indeed found our 4th lifer.
Not too far from them, the Common Goldeneye also returned and this time gave us another great photo op.
While the scoters were diving for food, I noticed another kayaker coming up our way. I knew she (this time it was a lady rower) would soon be scattering the scoters and the other avian denizens along the way. I climbed back to the berm and told my wife that it was now time to go. The walk back was now done in buoyant strides that complemented the smug looks on our faces.
* Poltergeist, 1982