by Rex Rowan, posted to Facebook November 1, 2018
At about lunchtime on October 30th, Rob Norton discovered a drake Eurasian Wigeon at Sweetwater Wetlands Park. He passed the word, and several local birders got to see it before the day was out – including Tom Tompkins, who took the photos below. It hasn’t positively been seen since, though a bird showing one of the field marks was briefly glimpsed the next morning, flying towards Paynes Prairie.
As the name implies, Eurasian Wigeons are native to Europe and Asia. Those that stray to eastern North America – a small number every year – are presumed to originate from a breeding population in Iceland. This was only the third in Alachua County’s history. There are stories connected with the other two.
The county’s first ever was shot by Dr. A.L. Strange at Orange Lake on December 26, 1931 and mounted by a taxidermist. Robert McClanahan, a UF undergraduate compiling an official bird list for the county, tracked down the mount in 1934 – it had lost its head by then – and secured it for the museum. Unfortunately the specimen was discarded in 1962.
The county’s second, a female, was discovered by Phil Laipis at the Hague Dairy on December 22, 2004. Puzzled – the female is nondescript – he found another birder at the dairy that morning, Pat Burns, and showed it to her. Pat suspected that it might be a Eurasian Wigeon, and she notified John Hintermister, Gainesville’s most knowledgeable and experienced birder. John drove over, examined the bird, and pronounced it either an American Wigeon or an American-Eurasian hybrid. Hearing that it was either an American Wigeon, which is common, or a hybrid, which is not countable, the local birding community stayed home in droves. Except for Steve Collins, who took several photos and circulated them among British birders. They were unanimous: it was a Eurasian Wigeon, the county’s first in 73 years! But by the time the Brits notified Steve of their conclusion, the bird had flown, so no one else got to see it. John is cheerfully unrepentant of his part in this fiasco, and when reminded of it he laughs uproariously and says, “Serves you right for not going to look at it!”