Over the weekend I was sent a photograph of the 'Scaup' at Parc Bryn Bach and noticed a few images popping up on social media. I had my suspicians but wanted to take a look before stating anything too categorical. Saw it on Tuesday, took a few pics,... and,... well,... I'm pretty sure this is our much-loved, regularly returning, Aythya hybrid (Pochard x ???). I might be wrong, it may moult in lots of lovely vermiculated mantle, scaps and flank feathers in the coming weeks and I'll have Scaup egg all over my face, but I fear it will hang around all winter looking more-or-less as it does now. If I'm correct, and if all our Scaup-like hybrids relate to the same long-lived bird, whilst appearing superficially like a juvenile, this bird is actually about 15 years old!
Dull, dirty yellow eye. Would most juvenile/first-winter Scaup show a cleaner, more striking yellow iris by early December?
Head shape not quite right, the forehead isn’t quite as rounded/bulbous as it might be (it isn’t the ‘high point’ of the head) and that little ‘peak’ behind the eye (producing a flattish crown) is not just due to it having been feeding or being alert.
Slightly over-exposed in this image but it does show the lovely patterning on the belly.
The amount of pure white in the blaze is very restricted (it's mostly sullied brownish), also the blaze doesn’t meet over the bill and is diffusely edged.
Do those greater coverts look adult shaped to you? They look adult-shaped to me. Also, would most Scaup show more white on the outer webs of those inner primaries?
One or two feathers on the left flank do show very fine vermiculation. They are not easy to see.
A few upper scaps and mantle feathers have been replaced, they appear blackish-brown amidst the older, dark brown feathers but don’t show any significant amount of vermiculation; I’d imagine the new feathers will, over time, fade/abrade to match the older feathers (i.e. the bird will remain essentially plain brown on the mantle and scapulars).
Blaze doesn't meet above the bill.
Always seems to exude strong Pochard vibes to my eye.
One adult-shaped central feather with the rest abraded, it’s very difficult to be sure but I can’t see bare shafts protruding from the abraded tips as might be expected with a juvenile.
It isn't actually that much bigger and bulkier than the accompanying Tufted Ducks. Would a Scaup look slightly broader in the beam? I do wonder whether it couldn't be a Pochard x Tufted Duck and the whole Scaup thing be a complete facade.
Pretty little thing though huh?
Is the mantle a shade too dark? Do I spend too much time peering at ducks? Is it possible to spend too much time perring at ducks?
The lower breast grades into greyish-white belly feathers (they look overly dark here due to slight under-exposure), finely patterned with dark feather centres and shaft streaks. Would a juvenile/first-winter Scaup show a clearer boundary between a dark breast and a cleaner whiter belly?
I don't think, in isolation, any of the above features rule out juvenile Scaup (they can show a dull eye, lack vermiculation, have a 'funny' blaze and dull primaries) but in combination they make me as suspicious as Mr. McSuspicious from Suspiciousville in deepest Suspiciousland.
If anyone takes the time to pop up and see this duck in perfect (bright but overcast) light and gets a definitive set of close-up pictures (including flight/wing stretch shots) please drop me a line. If this is the bird I think it is she really deserves an article in the bird report.
Finally, there are old posts on similar hybrids here, here, here, here and here. I also have images from more recent (non-blogging) winters. Whether the differences in appearance are down to the bird maturing, stage of moult, camera equipment, etc., or due to more than one bird being involved I just don't know. What is the more parsimonious explanation, one regularly returning bird slightly varying in appearance, Gwent being super lucky and being a mecca for Scaup-like hybrids or a combination of both?
PS. I've remembered why I don't blog anymore, I just don't have the time for this malarky.