No more outdoor ice skating at Westmoreland Park, which means it has returned to being a winter birding hotspot. Someone had reported a Eurasian wigeon there a couple days ago, so yesterday I decided to head out to try and find it. It wasn't until I reread the sighting report a little more carefully that I realized it was a single female Eurasian wigeon, which was going to make the task of finding it a little tougher. Female ducks aren't nearly as difficult as immature gulls, but they are not my specialty! So, I consulted the Sibley's on the nuances of female wigeon identification and off I went.
There were hundreds of wigeon at the park, but I found her! I was lucky that she was in a flock that was grazing on the grass rather than in the middle of the lake. I was able to pick her out of the crowd by her head, which was obviously a warmer brown color than the grayish heads of the female American wigeons. Check out this comparison shot, with the Eurasian in front:
The above photo neatly shows all three of the (admittedly subtle) field marks. First of all, the difference in head color as I mentioned above. As a result, the American wigeon has a starker contrast between the neck (gray) and chest (brown) plumage, while on the Eurasian its all a cinnamon brown color and blends together. Secondly, the forehead is steeper on the Eurasian and more sloped on the American. Finally, and you may have to click to enlarge the picture to try and see this one, the gape (the base of the bill where the two mandibles come together) is black on the American wigeon and there is no black on the Eurasian. Here's another nice photo showing just the female Eurasian:
In addition to birding Westmoreland and I head over to the nearby Crystal Springs Rhododendron Gardens which is another great place to view and photograph wintering waterfowl. Over the course of the afternoon I saw 20 species, eight of which were new to the year list bringing me up to 49 species on the year. The new species included three ducks and my first gulls of the year (since Dave requested it a while back, stay tuned for a gull quiz coming up in the next post!). Here are a few other photographic highlights from the day:
A pied-billed grebe that somewhat uncharacteristically wasn't shy and didn't just swim straight away from me