Thursday, January 7, 2010

White-winged Scoters, The Crab Wars

These are White-winged Scoters and an American Herring Gull eating crabs. There are three kinds of Scoter, Black, Surf and the ones shown here. All of them visit the Maine coast in the winter, but breed further inland. White-winged scoters are easy to pick out by the white comma on their eyes. I wonder how their spelling is. At about twenty-four inches long, White-winged scoters are the largest of the scoters which are all a type of diving duck. They dive to the bottom, propelled by their bright pink feet where they take mostly mollusks. As you can see, they like crabs too. They will also eat small fish, aquatic insects and some aquatic plants. Totman Cove, here in Phippsburg, is a feeding ground for lots of sea birds. The bottom is sand rather than mud, but the shore is all  rock with lots of seaweed. This provides two types of food. The White-winged scoters prefer sandy bottoms. I don't. I like to be able to rinse out my bathing suit if it fills with sand, but they like it. As my mother liked to say, "There's no accounting for taste." Lately, there has been lots of sea bird action here, so I have done some 'pier time.' That's when I actually get out of my bathrobe, put on a jacket and sit on the end of the 118 foot pier until my hands are too numb to press the shutter or my memory card is full. Sometimes my battery runs out which happens faster than usual because of the cold. Yesterday, it was all three plus it just got too dark. That's winter wildlife photography for you! In addition to the scoters, there were Atlantic Eiders, Red-breasted Mergansers, American Black Ducks, Common Loons and Common Golden-eyes. I have yet to see a Barrow's Golden-eye in here or a Pacific Loon, both of which would be real birding catches. I do watch for them every day, though. The Herring Gulls do not dive, but hang around the diving ducks to steal their catches. They rely on those guys to do the diving, then bomb them from above and steal their catch when they drop it. The crabs start to sink really fast so the gulls are equally fast at snagging them before they sink out of reach. Even though it's only January, there is courtship behavior happening between male and female birds. All this diving, fighting, splashing and stealing gets the attentions of the Bald eagles. Two of them appeared making it additionally difficult to photograph the birds. When the eagles show up, many of the birds take flight and the rest bunch together and move away from the shore line as fast as they can. Oh, the drama!

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  1. WOW, you do have some action off your pier! Great shots Robin!!

  2. Thank you, Mainebirder! I try. Right now, there are two eagles cruising around so the ducks are all 'out to sea' where they can get away faster if an eagle decides to try to scoop one up.

  3. Thank you for that, though sadly, I can't read a single character. :(

  4. So...this is what it takes for you to get out of your bathrobe! Too bad the gulls, like in other countries, couldn't be trained to get the crabs and deposit them on your pier...yummy!