Verification of Unusual Sight Record
For Utah

Rec. # 2020-71

Common name:

Black Scoter

Scientific name: Melanitta americana
Date: November 4, 2020
Time: 10:15am
Length of time observed: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Number: 1
Age: Adult
Sex: Male
Location: River Lane – Sandy Beach. Viewed on the southeast end of Utah Lake from the beach, 150m east of River Lane.
County: Utah
Distance to bird: First spotted at 125 m; later viewed as close as 20m.
Optical equipment: Swarovski 20x60 spotting scope, 10x42 Nikon Monarch Binoculars. Photos with iPhone 6S+ (digiscoped) and Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm lens.
Weather: Fair weather conditions; partly cloudy. Light breeze at times and no precipitation.
Light Conditions: Viewed in good lighting. Sun had risen above eastern peaks of the Wasatch Range and was more or less at our backs as we looked north from the south edge of the lake.
Description:        Size of bird:  
(Description:)       Basic Shape:  
(Description:)  Overall Pattern:  
(Description:)            Bill Type:  
Field Marks and
Identifying Characteristics:
First observed the bird with its head tucked while resting among American Coots approximately 50m from shore. Noted typical Scoter GISS, with upright pointed tail and rich black body. Initially we presumed it was a Surf Scoter due to likelihood, but were troubled by how dark the body was as well as the rounded head. Appeared to be several shades darker than the dark chocolate brown coloring of 1st winter/female type Surfs and lacked the “patchiness” I typically associate with them.

After several minutes, the bird lifted its head and we were able to see the dark, unmarked face and bright yellow/orange knob distinctive of drake Black Scoters. The knob was incredibly saturated, and looked almost orange in direct sunlight. Head shape was indeed more rounded than the other two scoters, confirming our suspicions while watching the bird with its head tucked. Body was a dark, uniform black color as was the head and face.

The photos attached to this record will undoubtedly be enough to confirm this sighting.
(see photos)
Song or call & method of delivery: Wing whistle hear while in flight, otherwise silent.
Behavior: Resting, floating, and occasionally diving in shallows waters within 100m of the shoreline.
Habitat: Shallow open water of Utah Lake. Sparse stands of Phragmites along an otherwise sandy beach.
Similar species and how
were they eliminated:
White-winged Scoter, Surf Scoter, & Ruddy Duck (winter plumage). I will not go into detail for each of these species due to the rather straight forward ID of the male Black Scoter, but the following field marks noted are enough to rule out all of these species together.

Entire body (back, flanks, neck, and head) jet black with the only contrasting color seen on the bright yellow knob of the bill. No white visible in the face ruling out the other two scoters.
Previous experience with
this & similar species:
I have seen Black Scoter a handful of times in Utah prior to this sighting, of which only one was a drake. Much more extensive experience with Surf Scoter (Washington, Oregon, California, and Utah) and White-winged (several drakes, but mostly 1st year/female types in Utah).
References consulted: Sibley Guide to Birds.
Description from: Notes taken at time of sighting.
Observer: Kendall Watkins, Quinn Diaz
Observer's address: 2622 W Dry Creek Drive, Riverton,: Utah  84065
Observer's e-mail address: **
Other observers who independently identified this bird: Suzi and Amanda Holt, Bryan Shirley, James Hoffman, Charles Hurd, Vivian Schneggenburger, Lauri Taylor, and many others.
Date prepared: November 20, 2020
Additional material: Photos
Additional comments: