A true sea duck, most at home far offshore and easiest to spot when sea watching, the Common Scoter is an unusual visitor here at Montrose Basin. However, for the past few days there has been a group of 15 Common Scoter, both male and female, taking up residence on the reserve.
Common Scoter are in the most part winter visitors here in the UK, with around 100,000 of them found around our coasts, mostly from October until March. There are also around 50 pairs that breed in the North West of Scotland, however, mostly in Caithness and Sutherland. This means that, in the local area, close sightings are hard to come by and the scoters are often picked out only by the well trained eye as they form large bobbing rafts offshore. These rafts of Scoter often contain two different species, both Common and Velvet Scoter, and on the rare occasion include a third species, the Surf Scoter. Male Common Scoter are predominantly black and have a large yellow patch on their knobbed bill, whilst females are a duller black/brown colour with pale grey cheek patches. Common Scoter can be told apart from the other two species by the absence of any white on the body, with the larger Velvet Scoters having white wing and eye patches and Surf Scoters having white napes and white around the bill area. The easiest way to distinguish female Common Scoters is again by the greyish cheek patches, which are replaced by much smaller spots on the other two species.
So why not come down to the reserve and hone your Common Scoter identification skills before heading to the coast for the chance to see all three species.
Visitor Centre Assistant Manager.