“Catch any Scoters Yet?”

Camera ready, I walked through the sand dunes at Salisbury Beach State Reservation to the Ipswich River, hoping not to spook any waterfowl.  My dog, Penny, was just ahead, nosing through the beach grass.  At once, I spotted a flock of water birds up in a cove — they looked like scoters through the binoculars.  I took a couple of quick shots and veered away, not wanting the dog to hassle them.  Little did I know that they were tethered decoys!

No wonder those birds didn’t spook, they are decoys

I walked down the beach and the Vizsla got involved with a Common Eider, and as I was getting her out of the water and starting back to the truck, this tall guy with binoculars strode up and asked, “Have you caught any scoters yet?”  Huh?  I guess my blank look gave him the answer so he continued, “Oh, I guess you’re not part of the team.”

Now my curiosity was piqued and I peppered him with questions.  I’d seen a number of boat with guys wearing camo and I thought they were hunters — but didn’t see any shotguns.  They were nosing into the group of scoters, and I had really wondered what was going on.

Black scoters, White-winged scoters, Surf Scoters, and a Common Eider rest on the Merrimac River

My visitor had just arrived from British Columbia — he was a wildlife biologist brought in to help.  He explained that it was a project by the Gorham, Maine BioDiversity Research Institute and the team was trying to capture a dozen female white-winged scoters.  They had mist nets set up and were also trying to snag scoters from the boats.  His job was to determine the age of the scoter.  They had a vet on the team to implant a satellite transmitter in the bird’s cavity.

We talked a bit about the importance of tracking individual birds to see better how migration patterns work – I noted a recent report I’d seen on perigrine falcons and how interesting it was.

It was cold and windy and he had work to do so I let him go but watched for a while — from the warmth of the truck.  Those scientists were earning their money — it was nasty weather – fit for ducks.

“Have you got a transmitter on board?”

It was a wonderful chance encounter with an interesting research operation.  And while it is tough for me to sort out the three kinds of scoters we see in this area, I’ll probably never see another one in the air without thinking, “have you got a transmitter on board?”

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