Sunday, December 25, 2011

Harlequin Duck - an ornamental duck for your merry Christmas

A beautifull marked Harlequin Duck floating in the Atlantic, Halibut Point State Park, MA; 11/12/2011.
Merry Christmas!  There is no bird (at least duck) more beautiful to feature on Christmas Day than the Harlequin Duck (Above).  One of the main reasons for my wanting to visit the Massachusetts Atlantic coast
was to try to find one of these torrent ducks. After reading John Nelson's article about "Birding Hotspots Near You" in the October 21, issue of Bird Watching ( ), I was motivated to try to get away for a long weekend to someplace interesting and with potential birding possibilities. Since I was too busy to get away during the long Thanksgiving weekend, I decided that I would try to find a place to go during the Vetrans' Day weekend, of which I had a 3-days away from school. The "hotspots" that the article featured were in Nestucca Bay NWR, Oregon; Middle Creek WMA, Pennsylvania; Merced NWR, California, and the Rockport Headlands, Cape Ann, Massachusetts. All of these places sounded interesting, but since Val has relatives in the Boston area, and one of the highlighted birds from Cape Ann was the Harlequin Duck among other sea birds that I do not get a chance to see here in the Midwest. Since Cape Ann is not more than an hours drive north of Boston, I proposed to Val a quick mini-vacation to the area.  Initially, she thought I was kidding, but I assurred her I was serious. She could see her relatives who she doesn't get to visit very often, and I get to go birding in places that I would not be able to do very often - a win-win situation. At the very least, a win-lose situation - even if I don't get to see the birds I would like to, at least she would get to see her relatives, so it would not be a wasted trip. She agreed.
A fly - by Harlequin Duck, Halibut Point State Park, Rockport, MA; 11/12/2011.
Since most of Val's relatives were busy during the day of our arrival, our plan was upon landing at Logan Airport in Boston, we would rent a car and immediately drive up to Plum Island (Parker River NWR - see my last few posts about birds from Plum Island), spend the day there, drive back to Boston, stay with Val's Aunt (Hi Celeste), then the next day drive out to Cape Ann and visit the "hotspots" that John Nelson mentioned in his article.  In his article, he said never to "gaurantee" that one will see a bird, but he mentioned that he has never failed to see a Harlequin Duck in at least one of three locations. So I thought, why not give these locations a try? The first hotspot was Halibut Point State Park in Rockport. After a short hike through some beautiful scenery past a water-filled- no longer in use quarry, we reached the ocean's coast, and within minutes I saw a female Common Eider (A bird I only have seen once before a couple of years ago in Rhode Island) riding the waves near the rocky shoreline.  While I was focussing on this Eider, another water bird floated right into my viewfinder. Lo and behold, it was a Harlequin Duck (Top photo). As it bobbed into and out of view in between the 2-foot waves, I managed several good pics. Later as I was exploring the rocky shoreline, another harlequin Duck flew by at quite a clip, but I was lucky to get a bead on its flight path and burst several shots (Above), which turned out to be one of my best photos (in my opinion) of 2011.

Harlequin Ducks riding the waves crashing into the Cathedral Rocks, Rockport, MA; 11/12/2011.
After completing our visit to Halibut Point State Park, we drove along some shoreline streets to further explore the area, and checked out two other hotspots that John Nelson recommended - Cathedral Rocks and Andrew Point. Near Cathedral Rocks, I hopped out of the rent-a-car, and ventured out onto the rocks so I could better see the ocean's shoreline. Within seconds I saw four more Harlequins (3 male, 1 female) riding the waves in a small cove (Above). They were content to let the waves push them to whereever it led them. As a wave would carry them over a rocky ledge, and when the wave subsided, the ducks would stay on the rock until another wave came along and washed them off the rocks where upon they would let the waves carry them to their next destination. This continued for several minutes until they decided they had enough of the waves and then climbed up higher onto the rocky ledge where the waves couldn't reach them (Below).
A row of Harlequins, Cathedral Rocks, Rockport, MA; 11/12/2011.
Native to Europe, Harlequins are also found in both the East and West ends of Canada in the summers, as well as in Alaska in the West and Greenland in the East, and year round in the Aleutian Islands. In winter months they can be found along both the North Atlantic and North Pacific coastlines. So my hats off to John Nelson from Bird Watchinmg Magazine for leading me to these magnificent ducks.


~Val said...

These ducks are so beautiful and it was great to see so many of them!

Sachin Saraf said...

Hi Jon,

Bird/Wildlife/Nature photography really is a difficult genre. These ducks are beautiful and it is worth a trip to see these in their natural habitat. And from your gallery of pictures I can see you have captured number of birds species and going strong.

Even I started writing about my birding/wildlife photography trips but could not continue it,coming across your blog made me rethink about it.

I will follow your work and looking forward to read and see more pictures.