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RAZORBILLS AND SCOTERS

December 17, 2012
Razerbill by Todd Ramsey

Razorbill by Todd Ramsey

          Last Saturday morning, we were on our way down A1A along the intracoastal waterway to our favorite breakfast place, John G’s, in Manalapan, FL. As we drove along, I kept glancing out toward the water, ever watchful. Suddenly, I saw a duck-like bird of a pretty good size floating near the edge of the water and told Phil, “Hey, turn the car around. I think I saw a scoter.” Sure enough, when we drove back, there it was, bobbing along – a scoter. But which one? We’ve seen 3 species in Florida – Black (the most common), White-winged, and Surf (both of those being rare to uncommon). (Robertson and Woolfenden, Florida Bird Species: An Annotated List, FOS, 1992.)

We were only about 10 minutes from home, so back we went for binoculars. And sure enough, when we returned – there was the scoter, still bobbing along, a little farther north but still close to shore. I was driving this time since Phil is the waterfowl expert, and I pulled over,  he hopped out, got his binos on the bird and since there were no cars coming, I got a quick look too before we continued on our way to breakfast. Female Black Scoter! Wow! Good bird! Pranty says, “. . . rare to uncommon . . . found in small numbers off Florida’s northern coasts. Black Scoters are the most numerous scoter . . .although numbers fluctuate annually.” (Birds of Florida, Pranty, Radamaker, Kennedy. Lone PIne, 2006.)

Apparently, strong east/northeast winds had driven these ocean birds in close to shore. We immediately called our friend, Brian Hope, who is the local hotshot birder who keeps track of sightings so we could report the scoter, and he said, “Where have you guys been? They’ve been around for days! Thousands of them off shore [in the ocean] and thousands of Razorbills! You need to get to the beach!”

Razorbills!?! Holy Toledo!! That would be a new bird for us!  We called a couple of friends we thought might be interested, met one of them at our house, picked up our telescope, and headed south to the Boynton Inlet. We walked partway out on the jetty where huge breakers were crashing over the top. There were a few birders “on duty” watching the ocean and looking through their scopes. Every few minutes someone would call out, “Here come more scoters!”, and we’d all look at the direction they were pointing and try to get our binoculars on them. Hundreds of Black Scoters scooted by, mostly heading south.

Someone nearby, looking through his scope, said, “I’ve got one!” And he described where he was looking, and we got our first look at a Razorbill. He very kindly (like most birders will) let us take a peek through his scope, and there floated a bird up and down in the waves that at first glance – if you were in the Southern Hemisphere –  you might think was a penguin! Mostly black and white, with a very thick bill, floating around on the surface – then all of a sudden it flew! As we all know, penguins don’t fly. The Razorbill is part of a family of birds known as Alcids (such as puffins, guillemots and murres) which are the Northern Hemisphere counterpart to penguins in the Southern Hemisphere. We continued watching and searching the ocean, and during the hour we were there,  we saw many flocks of Razorbills and scoters flying by. What a great way to spend a morning!

We drove back north on A1A and took time to let our friend see the Black Scoter we had originally found, and by that time there were 3 of them! We decided to go nearby and walk out on the Lake Worth Pier and see if we could see Razorbills from there. It only made sense that they’d be there also. And sure enough, we saw flock after flock of them flying by, in groups of 8 to 12, some very close to the pier. They seemed to be flying south, then they’d see the pier and head east, go out around the end of the pier, and then turn again and keep going south. Normally these birds are WAY out at sea, so this was really special for us to see them so close in.

As we returned home for the third time that day, we suddenly remembered our dear long-time birding friends, Marge Eaton and Gloria Hunter, who don’t often get out to do this kind of birding anymore, so we gave them a call, and Phil picked them up and took them to the pier and managed to find a few more Razorbills, still managing to avoid the pier as they headed south. By the time he took Marge and Gloria home, elated by their adventure, another pair of friends had called to say they were on the way and would Phil take them to see the Razorbills. Unfortunately, by that time, things along the coast – birdwise – had begun to taper off. They managed to see flocks of scoters, but no real good looks at the Razorbills.

So, next morning, I called Brian again to see what was happening at the beach and he was already down at the Boynton Inlet again, watching a lone Razorbill paddle around inside the inlet! So our friends came again and down we went, and after searching for almost an hour, we found the  lone Razorbill paddling around a nearby dock. What a nice way to spend a weekend – with birds and friends. Thanks Todd for sharing  your photo!

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3 Comments
  1. Well hooray for Ann’s Bird Adventures.! This morning I was in my boat with my wife slowly cruising up the Intracoastal at Tequesta and saw a duck I didn’t recognize bobbing on the salty brine. When I got home A’sBA was in my e-mail, and sure enough, I’m pretty sure the mystery duck was a scoter…or at least that is the conclusion I am going to register in my birdbrain. Will watch more carefully now.

  2. hibeers@comcast.net permalink

    Oh Ann you are such a great writer – I could picture all of this happening & what fun you all were having.  Wish I lived closer & could have joined in on the days adventure!!!!

    Looking forward to our Jan. 18th outing!

    Stay warm!!!! Helen

  3. sarah davis dean permalink

    Hi Ann, I was at Boynton Beach Inlet on Dec. 26 (1st chance I had to get there). There was one other birder there looking for Razorbills (or Scoters), too. He had been coming for the past few days but hadn’t had any luck. Unfortunately, we didn’t find any on Dec. 26 either but it was exciting to even think I might see them. I also called the Ft. Pierce Inlet State Park, but there were no reports. I went to the Inlet anyway to look, but no luck. But thanks so much for calling me to report your good fortune!!! xo, Sarah

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