It’s a duck with more front than the hurricane that helped it here but it was just a speck in my ‘scope. A black speck on the horizon with white in the right places. This, said birders with better than ‘scopes than me, was the Port Seton Surf Scoter. Only it seemed more accurate to say the Longniddry Surf Scoter, given its distance, floating at the far end of Gosford Bay. It was as disappointing as I’d always imagined an English one to be. Scotland is spoilt for scoters. Velvet as well as Common, and ones you can see well enough to actually make out identifying detail on. Not the normal case of guess the floating black flock and hope they’re all common. In Scotland, Velvet Scoters show well enough to make out the curve of the powerful mussel-munching bill and the white comma over the eye.
From Port Seton esplanade a few Velvet Scoters were floating in the Firth of Forth close enough for detailed study. It’s a really lovely, eye-catching duck if you take the time to watch its jet-black body against the sky blue Forth. The industrial orange of its bill seems almost shocking. Yet the rest of the flock – a significantly sized flock – was spread across the horizon, mostly beyond my range. A mixed haywire of scoters, mergansers, eiders and the odd Long-tailed Duck. No Wigeon though. The only one of those was floating past the shore, looking a bit lost with the company of Bar-tailed Godwits, Redshank and Turnstones. A Shag shone bottle green, its Morrissey quiff quivering in the breeze.
Apparently I should’ve been here an hour earlier. They had good views then, and a Glaucous Gull too. After half an hour of staring at dots another birder gets excited. He’d discerned enough detail to make out the white patch on the back of the head and the novelty oversized bill. I swung my ‘scope around and took directions off of Fife and a handily situated merganser. I could make out a string of four Velvet Scoters and one big-headed scoter with white in all the right places.
It disappeared soon after and for several hours nothing much happened. Birders, birds and the sun all came and went. Then another birder finds it at the limits of human visibility. It’s frustrating for the first I’ve ever seen to show so poorly, yet it ends my barren run of twitching American ducks and not seeing them. I’ll settle for that. It means the next one can only get better.