We were walking along the railway tracks heading in to Crescent Beach, and saw a black heap in the ditch alongside. It was a bird, freshly killed, entire except for the head, which appeared to be whacked off cleanly, as with a cleaver. Nothing else was damaged.
|Surf scoter, as we found him.|
The feet were intriguing. I had never seen any like that before; a vivid orange-red, with black webbing between the toes. The webbing defined the bird as a waterfowl, but without a head, we couldn't identify it.
|Underside. The toes on this side are spotted with black. The flight feathers are grey underneath.|
I had to read through the descriptions of black waterfowl in 4 of our guides before I found a description of the feet. This is a male surf scoter, a common bird off-shore, but which we usually see like this ...
|Flock of surf scoters, off Centennial Beach. Far off.|
They are a distinctive bird, but the defining characteristics are on the head. A white patch on the forehead, another on the back of the neck, and that fat orange, white and black bill. The feet, almost as dramatic, are rarely visible. (But I wish I had learned about them some other way.)
|Photo from Wikipedia, by Alan Wilson. Creative Commons.|
I found a very few photos showing the entire bird, on the web. Here is a good one, part of a series.
But what killed the bird? Not a predator; an eagle or an owl would have left nothing but feathers behind, a fox would have scattered feathers everywhere and left, maybe a few bones. The head had been cut off, not chewed off.
We have come to the conclusion that it was probably a collision with a train, possibly with some protrusion, something that removed the head with one blow. At least there was no long-drawn-out suffering involved.
|The tracks. The trains come along here at a fair clip.|