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  • J. Darris Mitchell

White Winged Scoter

I did not actually see a White Winged Scoter this week. I tried to, but alas, the bird evaded me. Normally when I miss a bird that I intended to see it leaves me with a sort of unfinished feeling, a particular sort of anxiousness I can’t quite shake. This time though, no such feelings came to me. That’s only because I had seen this particular white winged scoter before.

In fact, my sons and I were the first people to find it in Travis County.


We did not set out to find this chocolate colored duck with a big honking bill and a patch of white on its wing. Quite the opposite. We had bailed on a rare bird alert that would have been an hour away to instead go to a manmade lake near our new home that features mowed grass, and plenty or rocks to toss in the water. It was my two sons, Leo and Xander, myself, another birder dad and his baby strapped to his chest, and a birder that was soon to become a dad, and wanted to peer into his future.


So a low stakes kind of situation, as far as birding goes. We were walking along, counting coots, when one of us pointed out a heavy billed duck mixed in with the black feathered coots. We set the scope up (we had been carrying it in the wagon with one of the kids) and got glass on this bird, only to realize it was not a surf scoter (rare, but not SUPER rare) but was the white winged variety, a bird I had only ever seen in Maine.


I let my friends crowd around the scope while I entertained my kids. But then, when it was my turn to look through the scope, I noticed not a scoter, but a pair of rainbow spectacles, a red sweater, and a goofy grin,


“Uh, Leo? You mind getting out of the way so I can see the rare bird?”


Leo nearly died laughing at his deception, and only got out of the way after multiple requests. Then he wanted a turn to look. But he found there was a curly haired ding dong in his way.


“Uh, Xander? You’re blocking me so I can’t see!” Leo complained, just as I had complained moments ago.


Was this a form of birding justice? Whose to say? But I loved it.


This all happened in late November of 2022, and set off a cascade of birders the likes of which I have never seen. I receive rare bird alerts via email every day. It’s a really convenient way to see what oddities are in my county, and it’s also gratifying to see my name pop up, always with the best written description I can muster.


This was even better. Because after we first spotted it, someone came to see that scoter nearly every day, for over a month. Often ten people would come to see, one time it was twenty people in a single day! It’s rare enough in the state of Texas, that people were driving in from Dallas and Houston just to get this Texas lifer.


We weren’t able to resight it this week, but just being out there was a reminder that everyone that had seen the bird before it left had my two kids and their shenanigans to thank.

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