'Black Scoter off Mountain Stage, near Rossbeigh, Kerry - a species new to Ireland' by Davey Farrar
While scanning a small flock of Common Scoter Melanitta nigra at some distance off Mountain Stage, near Rossbeigh, Kerry on 8th January 2015, I picked up a scoter with what looked like a prominent yellow ‘golf-ball’ adorning the upper surface of the bill. I was aware of the existence of aberrant Common Scoters with more extensive yellow on the bill than usual having occasionally been mistaken for Black Scoter M. americana, but after watching this bird for some time he felt that it looked sufficiently promising to merit a phone-call to Killian Mullarney for some advice.
I asked Killian what exactly I should be looking for to determine whether the bird was a Black Scoter, or an aberrant Common Scoter. He explained that the bill-shape should offer some clues and the yellow patch should extend squarely to the forehead, whereas in most aberrant Common Scoters the yellow patch gives way to the slightly swollen dark ‘knob’ at the base of the bill. Other details that could help the identification process were impossible to judge in the adverse weather conditions. However, after about another hour of scrutinising the bird for small clues I came away thinking that it almost certainly was a Black Scoter, but better views would be required to be absolutely certain.
I returned the following day with Michael O’Clery and despite the continuing bad weather we managed to relocate the ‘yellow-billed’ scoter in a flock of about 65 Common Scoter. Viewing conditions were atrocious, with rain and mist and a heavy sea-swell running, which meant that observations were intermittent and often frustrating. We persevered for about three hours, at which point we felt we had seen enough to conclude that it was indeed a Black Scoter, a first for Ireland.
Our concerns that it might have been a hybrid or an aberrant Common Scoter were assuaged by a combination of features including the extent and shape of the yellow on the bill and the bird’s subtly different jizz compared to Common Scoters alongside. This gave us the confidence to release news of the bird as ‘showing all the characteristics of Black Scoter and none of the characters of a hybrid/aberrant bird’.
The bird attracted a lot of interest over the subsequent days and weeks, while improved weather conditions permitted much better views and even good photographs. These established beyond doubt that it was an adult male Black Scoter. It remained until 3rd April, and then returned the following October to the same location, as well as off Waterville Golf Links for at least two days in November.