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Rochester Rarities: King Eider and Yellow-headed Blackbird

Published January 23, 2015
Tags: General Observations, King Eider, Mute Swan, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Northern Mockingbird, Redhead, Long-tailed Duck, Fish Crow, Irondequoit Bay

I did some birding in the Rochester area this past week, pursuing two rarities that have shown up in the region.

The most outstanding bird, in my opinion, was an adult male King Eider seen, up until yesterday, at Irondequoit Bay.  He was breathtaking and one of the most unusual and handsome ducks I've ever seen. Prior to this, I had only seen a female at a distance, a first year male, and a second year male (not quite 2 weeks ago on Long Island).  Adult males are beyond compare, to say the least!

The King Eider normally winters along rocky, sea coasts, rarely coming south of Canada. Somehow, this gorgeous duck made his way to Lake Ontario and was hanging out with a raft of Long-tailed Ducks. He quickly became a celebrity and many, myself included, risked a perilous walk down the icy pier to get a glimpse of him. It was not without reward, though - and I was able to carefully grab a few photos of the uncommon beauty.

At Charlotte Pier, on the way home, I found a Fish Crow - or rather, it found me.  I had walked out the pier, not really looking for anything in particular, when I heard the unmistakable two-toned, nasal "uh uh" as I was almost back to my car.  Sure enough, there was a crow perched nearby in a tree.  A second crow joined it and, as I was just getting the first couple of photos of the one, the two took off together.  I'm assuming both were Fish Crows, but I never heard the second bird vocalize.

The other rare bird, a Yellow-headed Blackbird, was being seen a little further south at a private residence. The folks there were quite generous and allowed us birders to park on the roadside equipped with our binoculars and scopes as we eagerly waited, anxiously hoping for a glimpse of this western blackbird.  At one point, the homeowner came out carrying a gorgeous, male peafowl (Green Peafowl) he has living at his house. Mostly blind, the bird is very fortunate to have such a caring provider!

I've only seen one other Yellow-headed Blackbird (last year in Blasdel), so I didn't want to pass up the opportunity to see one again, so I waited for hours each of the two times I tried for him. Finally, on my second attempt, I got some quick, but good looks.

It was a bit challenging because predators were also watching the feeders.  An outdoor cat was frequently stalking the feeders putting up the birds every few minutes. There was also a Cooper's Hawk that periodically swooped through the yard looking for an easy meal. This made for much turmoil with the flocks and their times at the feeders were short.

An interesting thing I observed while I waited, was that the homeowners broke open pumpkins for the birds to eat. What a great way to re-purpose your leftover Halloween pumpkins - the birds loved picking at them!

A few other birds seen during both pursuits were: Redhead, Long-tailed Duck, Greater/Lesser Scaup, Common Goldeneye, White-winged Scoter, Mute Swan, Common Raven, and Northern Mockingbird.
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Adult Male King Eider
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King Eider
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King Eider
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King Eider
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Redhead
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Mute Swan - even though this is an invasive species and they're rather mean-spirited, they're still pretty to look at!
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Fish Crow - his "uh uh" call made me stop in my tracks!
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Northern Mockingbird - s/he showed up while I was waiting on the Yellow-headed Blackbird
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Yellow-headed Blackbird
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Yellow-headed Blackbird
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Yellow-headed Blackbird
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Yellow-headed Blackbird