Not sure if this winter is going to be the winter of hybrids or not, but once again I got a look at another hybrid bird this week.
Alan Wormington posted to Ontbirds on Thursday about a Tufted Duck on Lake Erie north of Hillman Marsh. 30 seconds before my smartphone got the email I received a text from Jeremy Hatt:
"Ahhhhh Tufted Duck!!!!!"
"Hillman Marsh. I'm leaving ASAP. Alan found it"
"Oh God I see!! (referring to the ontbirds post that just came in) Sh*t I'm not done until 4pm. If you see it stay on it until 4 pm and I will come out there"
"For sure. Probably there in 20-30 mins! Exciting!"
"Stay on it until I get there I'm begging you. I'm coming without bins!"
"Oh my! It will be through my fogged scope but any look will be better than none"
"Screw this I'm leaving at 3pm. It's a Tufted Duck, so that will be my excuse. I will run home and grab my optics."
"LOL be safe. I'll see you there"
.............sounds like a normal conversation doesn't it?
So I bailed out of work at 3pm. Just when I'm pulling into my driveway another post comes onto ontbirds from Alan stated that the bird may be in fact a hybrid. Bummer.
Driving to the location I meet Jeremy and Richard Carr and we see the bird clearly. It was with all the scaup and diving constantly. Superficially to us, it looked like a pure Tufted Duck (uniform dark back with no vermiculations, a lot of black on the tip of the bill, a nice s-curve along the side with the slightest note of a spur towards the front, but a "bulb" instead of a defining crest so high up on the head was, well, disturbing. A first year male Tufted Duck was placed on the table for possible identification, but in the end it seems like the experts suggest it is a Tufted Duck x Lesser Scaup hybrid. Myself, I was leaning towards it being a hybrid with Greater Scaup.
See Bruce MacTavish's blog here for a couple of Alan's photos and more on the subject:
After doing more research today I thought has Common Pochard been considered in this scenario?
Let me explain from what I observed from my own observation, what I see in Alan's photos, along with looking through tons of images, and a few field guides.
Alan explained an interesting point made by Bruce on an Ontbirds post: "It is possible your bird could be an adult male [Tufted] that hasn't completely moulted out of eclipse plumage. The well-developed sturdy tuft sort of suggests that."
If you own a copy of the Princeton Field Guides to Birds of Europe, there is a page that shows Wildfowl Hybrids. Here we see a Common Pochard male x Tufted Duck female hybrid. It explains that it "can be deceptivley similar to a Tufted Duck male moulting out of eclipse plumage." This hybrid has a darker eye than the typical lemen yellow of scaups, a short "stand-off" crest like some adult female tufted ducks. This hybrid does "not have entirely black upperparts, being very finely vermiculated on some (visible at closest range only) and the flanks are rather darker towards belly, sometimes finely vermiculated."
Here is a link that displays some photos of this hybrid:
Mind you I saw the duck in low light conditions so no colour in the head was visible at all, and being a cloudy day and looking through a scope, if the vermiculations are as fine as they say (or as you see in some of the photos) there is no way we would've seen them at all. Looking at hybrids in these online photos the colour of the birds head varies from reddish to the the colour you would normally see in a Tufted Duck or Lesser Scaup. The colour of the head in the Princeton Guide shows that this hybrid can be the exact same colour as a Tufted Duck and Lesser Scaup.
Looking at some of Alan's photos, the hybrid may in fact have a slightly goldener eye than the surrounding scaup. Though this is too hard to tell, and I must admit that I don't remember if it was or not. Looking at online photos, this eye colour seems to vary. Hopefully someone will see this bird again.
Another feature to the hybrid we saw was that the black tip on the bill was extremely extensive, more so than any hybrid Tufted Duck x Scaup I have seen online, but matches perfectly to a Common Pochard x Tufted Duck hybrid. The bird that we all saw looked like it dipped the whole tip of its bill in ink. This is also visible in some of Alan's photos. Lastly, the size of the bird and the shape of the head (at least from profile view) seem to match....sort of...
One thing that I would like to point out as well is that the chances of this bird being a hybrid with a Pochard seems more likely then a Lesser Scaup based on their ranges, but anything is possible with ducks right? Maybe this bird is a second generation Pochard x Tufted Duck having backcrossed with Tufted Duck? It could also be the same with either Scaup species. One thing we can all agree with I think is that this bird is definitely not a true Tufted Duck, so it is back to looking through raft after raft of rolling Scaup on Lake Erie this spring in hopes that I see a full adult male!
Just my two cents. :D