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Black or Surf Scoter? Tomales bay, Marin county, California.


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Four points to IDing this bird as a Surf:

1 - Note the triangle of feathering intruding onto the top of the bill; Black Scoter's meeting of bill and face above the gape is straight, as if the bill were simply a cardboard cutout pasted to the face; both Surf and White-winged have convoluted meetings of bill and face;

2 - Below the gape, Black Scoter feathering extends to well under the bill (see previous linked photo), while that of Surf ends, essentially, at a line drawn down through the gape from the vertical portion of the bill-face interface (though, as on your bird, it extends a bit farther forward);

3 - The nearly circular area of the bill just above the gape and just inside the interface of bill and face is distinctive of Surf (and is seen a bit better on the previous linked photo of Surf than on your bird, but it's still noticeable on the first pic of your bird); and 

4 - A feature that is visible at fairly great distance (unlike the above three) is the pale facial area. On Black, this area is virtually always roughly the same color from top to bottom and from front to back; on Surf, it is quite variable, from not much pale (as in the above linked photo) to extensively pale. However, it always -- always, always, always -- has two bright white patches that are separated by a darker area, often quite dark, in the vicinity of the eye. Additionally, Surf's pale facial area is also always -- always, always, alway -- darker below the gape than it is above the gape, unlike on Black.

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1 hour ago, Tony Leukering said:

Four points to IDing this bird as a Surf:

What Tony said. 

Plus, Tomales Bay hosts a few (typically 1-4) wintering Black Scoters annually. The high count on eBird since 1972 is 7 BLSC. Whereas SUSC winter in Tomales Bay in the thousands. So, in addition to the ID features pointed out by Tony, the numbers game strongly supports you encountering a SUSC in Tomales Bay. 

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