Monday, February 13, 2012

Rare Tufted Duck Spotted at Union Bay Natural Area

A reader let us know about a rare bird sighting of a tufted duck (TUDU) at the Montlake Fill, also known as the Union Bay Natural Area, last Friday.

Connie Sidles, reported it in her blog, in a post called "His Little Tuft" and says it can still be seen early in the mornings on the East Point.

She writes:

On those rare winter days in Seattle when the sun shines, I like to get out to East Point to watch the dawn slowly light up the world. So there we were (with (famous as the Long Walker), watching the ducks float by, watching the sun rise higher, trading stories about birds, when all of a sudden, Mark says I shot up from my stool and began jumping up and down shouting gibberish, of which the only two words he could make out were, “Tufted Duck!” Mark realized it was just a birder finding the greatest bird she ever saw. I think I’m in love.

Tufted Ducks are rare at the Fill. In the past 117 years, since birding records have been kept, only one has ever been seen here before. Statewide, we’ve had only about 50 since record-keeping began. Tufted Ducks don’t belong here. Their true home is Asia, Europe, and Africa. Whenever a Tufted Duck appears on our shores, it means the bird has wandered far off course.

That’s why, when I glanced down at the scaup paddling serenely past the point, almost within touching distance, and I saw his little tuft arch out like a banner, I literally could not believe my eyes. 

Tufted Ducks are a kind of mussel-eating, fishing duck from Eurasia. They belong to the scaup family and closely resemble both our own scaup, Greater and Lesser. The males of our native species have black heads and chests, gray backs, and pale flanks.  They always look very tailored to me, like little businessmen dressed for success. I would not be all that surprised to see them someday with a tiny briefcase tucked under a wing, and a heavy schedule of appointments.

But the Tufted Duck is different from our own more buttoned-down scaup — he has a streamer of feathers sprouting from his crown and flowing down his neck. Picture a middle-aged rock star with receding hairline and a long mullet preserving his illusion of youth, dressed in a suit because he has to appear in court for some infraction — that’s the human equivalent of a Tufted Duck. A bird with attitude.

(The Tufted Duck continues to enthrall his fans. He’s best found in the early morning off East Point, eating his mussel breakfast.)
For the full blog post go here.

Connie has been going to the Union Bay Natural Area every morning for more than 20 years. She is a Master Birder, serves on the board of the Seattle Audubon Society, and is a member of the steering committee of Friends of Yesler Swamp.

Yesler Swamp is part of the 75-acre Union Bay Natural Area (aka Montlake Fill),which many birdwatchers consider one of the best bird watching sites in Seattle.  For more than 40 years a garbage dump, the natural area was restored beginning in the 1970s.  Today the area has ponds, meadows and woodlands that attract over 250 species of birds and is considered one of the best bird watching sites in Seattle.

Connie also maintains a kiosk which she updates regularly about the birds and wildlike,including a bird alert, running total of birds seen in the year and a story and picture about what the birds are up to at the Montlake Fill.

This information can also be found in Connie's blog which contains beautiful pictures of the many types of birds at the Fill and lively essays, many written from the perspective of a particular bird.

Connie has also written two books In My Nature and most recently, Second Nature.

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