Common Eider (Somateria
Crescent City, Pebble Beach, Del Norte County, California
7 July 2004
Photos © 7 July 2004 by Joseph Morlan. All rights reserved.
Robbie Fischer and I drove up to Crescent City on 7 July 2004 hoping to see the Common Eider which had been found at the Battery Point Lighthouse on 5 July by Chuck and Barbara Vaughn and photographed that evening by Ron LeValley. The next day it was seen well in the morning by several people and photographed at close range by Kerry Ross & Mike San Miguel (see below). However, the bird disappeared around 1pm in the afternoon and was not seen for the rest of the day. The next morning, before we arrived, it was rediscovered on offshore rocks near Castle Rock, but flew back towards Battery Point in the early afternoon.
We arrived about 3:30pm and stopped at the foot of 5th Street. Almost immediately, I saw the Common Eider flying to the north from Battery Point, in the direction of Castle Rock. I pointed out the bird to Robbie and we watched it disappear behind a large rock to the north. We headed up to the area where the bird disappeared, looking from several spots when Rich Stallcup drove up and told us he had located the bird a bit to the north. We followed him in our car and arrived at a lookout along Pebble Beach Drive at the foot of Keller where Jim Lomax and Frances Oliver had the bird under observation. It was fairly distant and associating loosely with two Surf Scoters. The wind was quite strong, at one point blowing over my scope which, fortunately, was undamaged.
Rich and I set up scopes behind Frances Oliver's vehicle which sheltered us from the wind and I attempted to digiscope the bird with the results here. I also took a few notes while watching the bird. The following is based on those notes, but also on additional photos by Kerry Ross and Mike San Miguel (below).
The goose-sized sea duck was first seen in flight and was very distinctive. It was mostly white above with a black belly and tail, and a distinct black cap. Viewing from above, the wing coverts were white, but the primaries and secondaries were black. The wings appeared quite long and relatively pointed. The bird was a strong flier and did not show any obvious signs of molt or missing flight feathers. The long, bright orange bill was also distinctive and was easily seen in flight as the bird was below us.
The second observation through scopes of the bird in the water and diving occasionally, allowed observation of a few more details. The bright orange bill was strongly lobed at the base, with the lateral maxillary lobes extending high up toward the crown, separated by black feathers on the forehead and extending more than half way down the bill.
The black cap was very well defined and curved just under the eye to the nape where it sharply contrasted with the white face. The neck, and chest appeared all white connecting with the white back. A large dark belly patch extended up the flanks, but long white tertials hung down over the flanks resulting in a white spur just anterior to the black tail. While the bird was preening I was able to see, that the rump and underwings were white. I was able to see that the legs and feet were the same bright orange coloration as the bill.
I could not convince myself that the color on nape had any green in it. It just looked faintly washed in buff, possibly with an olive tinge. However some close-up photos show it to be tinged green. Close photos also reveal a clean black "v-shaped" marking extending back from just under the chin.
We returned the next morning to the same area, but the eider was much further away. Dave Weber spotted it foraging near an offshore rock. The light was better, but the extreme distance precluded seeing any more detail. The bird seems to have settled in this area where most recent sightings have been. At this time, we were joined by a number of other interested birders including Alan Barron.
This is the first confirmed record of Common Eider for California. A female eider seen off Fort Point, San Francisco, 12 December 1982, was reported as a Common Eider, but published as an "apparent female King Eider" (Am. Birds 37:333, 1983). It was not accepted by the California Bird Records Committee. There is also an old sight-record off Bodega Head of a female seen in flight by Gordon Bolander who thought it was likely a Common Eider, but not seen well enough, and never submitted as such.
The Common Eider occurs in two well-marked subspecies. S. m. dresseri in the Northeast and S. m. v-nigra in Alaska. There are records of dresseri as far west as Nebraska and Wisconsin while v-nigra has strayed to North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Kansas. The species was previously unrecorded on the West Coast south of British Columbia. This individual shows the characters of v-nigra, having a bright orange bill and a black V on the throat.
Both of these photos were taken early on 6 July. All rights reserved