Velvet Scoters in focus

Found on 27th October, a small flock of Velvet Scoters on Thrapston’s Town Lake is the first in the county since 1995 and rightly continues to attract a steady stream of admirers. Widely touted as ‘juveniles’, additional high-quality photos to emerge allow a more analytical approach to ageing, sexing and individual recognition.

The original eight, found on 27th October, had become six by the following day when two distinct individuals, which frequently kept apart from the rest of the flock, had departed. As well as being the largest flock to be recorded in Northamptonshire, the remaining six may also be in line to break the long stay record for more than one bird, having been present now for at least eleven days. The record is currently held by two which were mobile between Hollowell and Ravensthorpe Reservoirs, from 7th to 27th November 1983.

First-winter Velvet Scoters, Thrapston GP, 29th October 2018 (Bob Bullock)

Close examination of the excellent images obtained by Alan Boddington and Bob Bullock enables individuals to be readily identified by their head patterns, which are quite variable. Because of the broad, pale feather fringing on the wing coverts, the ‘long staying six’ (A to F) can be aged as first-winters and at least two of these (B, D) are young males, the dull yellow areas being visible on their bills. None of the other four shows the slightest hint of yellow but C, E and F are showing pale horn-coloured areas on, or around the sides of the nail. This is interesting because, according to Reeber (Wildfowl of Europe, Asia and North America, 1995), this is a characteristic associated with adult females and not present in first-winters.

Adult female Velvet Scoters, Thrapston GP, 29th October 2018 (Bob Bullock)

The ‘short staying two’ (G, H) are adult females with uniform dark plumage, which includes, most importantly, the belly – visible in the only flight shot (below) obtained so far. First-winters have a pale belly until adult plumage is acquired later in the winter or during their second calendar year. Hopefully, the remaining birds will continue their stay at Thrapston for some time to come.

Adult female Velvet Scoters, Thrapston GP, 29th October 2018 (Bob Bullock), birds ‘G’ (left) and ‘H’.
First-winter Velvet Scoters, Thrapston GP, 31st October 2018 (Alan Boddington). Birds ‘C’ (left) and ‘D’.
First-winter Velvet Scoters, Thrapston GP, 31st October 2018 (Alan Boddington). From left: birds ‘A’, ‘D’ and ‘B’.
First-winter male Velvet Scoter, Thrapston GP, 31st October 2018 (Alan Boddington), bird ‘D’.

5 thoughts on “Velvet Scoters in focus

  1. Very interesting article, but where is the best place to view them? I tried last Saturday, walking down from the layby after the mini roundabout, but the trees and lakeside bushes are so overgrown I could hardly see the Town Lake, let alone any ducks.

    1. There are short paths into the lakeside trees if you look for them. Most people watched them from a gap on the shoreline about 300-400 m along Town Walk (the track that runs west along the southern side you walked, no doubt). Alternatively, there is a track that runs along the north/west side of the lake, past the sailing club, which is accessible via Chancery Lane in Thrapston. Go down CL and turn left down a track called Meadow Lane, immediately past the small sports playing field on the left, It runs past the sailing club and you can park near the club and continue on foot.

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