Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Eurasian Wigeon, Cape May Point State Park

Photo Courtesy of Bob Fogg,

I received word this morning from Bob Fogg that he had re-found a female Eurasian Wigeon on the second Plover Pond at the Cape May Point State Park.

Looking for a quick break from the sedentary, computer screen stare, Laura and I decided to take a quick walk at the State Park to see if the bird was still hanging out. As we approached the first Plover Pond we could see that there were only about 25 or so Canada Geese a couple of Mallards and a lone female Bufflehead. Looking down toward the second Plover Pond I could see that the water was pretty much devoid of birds suffice for one lone drake Mallard. Just about the time I had resigned myself to having to walk all the way down the dirt dune road to check the TNC Plover Pond (I did not dress for being out in the cold for too long today), a crash and squawk came from the Phragmities marshy area just behind the west bank of the first Plover Pond. Before we knew it a duck was headed our away and quickly dove into the water with a loud wheeer of protest. I quickly recognized that this was the bird we were looking for and thanks to a large female Cooper's Hawk we were able to get great looks at the bird we had ventured out to see.

Even though the chase happened so fast I luckily kept my wits about me and remembered to check the underwing of the bird as it flapped to adjust it's feathers after its splash landing, and the Coop made a wide u-turn back to where it came from. Indeed the underwing of the bird was grayish in contrast to the white underwing that an American Wigeon would have shown. All in all, according to the info that I could quickly dig up, this is by far the most reliable of field marks to separate a female American from a Eurasian. Though, if you look at Bob's image above you can see many of the other field marks that lead one to conclude Eurasian without seeing the underwing. The head is noticeably more rusty brown rather than gray. Not quite as much contrast between the head and the back/breast to my eye. The lack of the black border in the gape area is apparent as well as the lighter coloration at the base of the beak. The bird does seem to show a much less defined pattern on the back in addition to the above mentioned field marks. And of course if you have the opportunity, remember to check for the grayer underwing.

Just as an FYI- Tom Reed just texted and said that he had gone back to look at the bird again and that it seems to be moving around a bit between the Plover Ponds and the marshy area just to the west. So, if you attempt to look for the bird, don't be discouraged if you don't find it at first. The bird may just be out of sight in the reeds and phrags.

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