[Tweeters] caution Blue-winged Teal vs Cinnamon Teal ID

Gary Bletsch garybletsch at yahoo.com
Tue Sep 12 17:58:15 PDT 2017

Dear Tweeters,
Numerous recent eBird checklists have included sightings of Blue-winged Teal from the Fir Island Game Range (Wylie Slough). I think most of those were actually Cinnamon Teal in eclipse plumage.
Some of those checklists include notes about ID being made on the basis of wing pattern--"I noted the blue wing panel" or suchlike.
The Blue-winged Teal and the Cinnamon Teal have almost identical wings. They have a powder-blue patch on the upperwing, along with an emerald green speculum and a white stripe in between. Northern Shovellers have almost the exact same wing pattern, too. That's one indication of just how closely related these three species are; along with a handful of other species that are found in other lands, they were recently moved into their own genus, Spatula, separate from Anas (the traditional genus of dabbling ducks). 
I hardly ever see Blue-winged Teal in Skagit County after June. My personal records, dating back to the late 1980's and early 1990's,  include a total of eleven BWTE sightings from the period of July through December. The last time I saw one here in the latter part of the year was 2011. Six of my eleven late-season BWTE sightings were from 2008, when an unusual number of BWTE showed up around these parts. By contrast, I have found the Cinnamon Teal 147 times during that same period--they are easily ten times more common.
This time of year, birders could learn about this ID problem by studying the size and shape of the ducks' bills, the eye color, and the facial pattern. Almost all of the small teal on Fir Island right now are Cinnamon Teal and Green-winged Teal, and there are quite a few Shovellers out there as well. With ducks in their eclipse plumage, one must exercise caution in the ID. 
Yours truly,
Gary Bletsch
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