Saturday, January 18, 2014

Harlequin Ducks - January 2014


We meandered along Maine's craggy coast to get our annual, stunning looks
at  Harlequin Ducks enhanced by sunlight. And rewarded we were as they loafed on
rocks in the churning sea.  They preened at low tide, and their gray-blue feet
were easily seen.  Behind and above them on an enrobed rock, 60 Purple
Sandpipers were asleep, having found refuge out of the wind.  We enjoyed our
winter picnic at Perkins Cove.

Rugged are the Harlequins!   They're torrent dwellers of swift flowing, rocky streams
and rivers in spring and summer and of the wildly jagged coasts in winter.  I think
of them as compact clowns in choppy water.


Harlequin Duck by Jeremiah Trimble


They have long-term pair bonds; most of the adults are paired prior to leaving
the sea.  In mid-April, these Harlequins abandon the rough coast and head to
nest near rushing rivers.  The female cares for the young.  Harlequins are
strongly philopatric [faithful to site] to their breeding, wintering and molting
sites.

These bouyant swimmers bob their heads while paddling forward. Their fondness
for rough water makes them exceptional among waterfowl. As surface divers,
they feed on some fish, crustaceans, mollusks and aquatic insects.  Harlequins
can pry mollusks from rocks, a feat which other sea ducks are unable to accomplish.
This extravagantly colored, small, sea duck is named for the character in early Italian
pantomime.  At the Cliff House, these jesters are playful and hop from rock to rock.
The drakes' white markings on the glossy finish of their blue-gray plumage is outlined
in black.  The flanks are a rich, chestnut color.  The short bill is gray-blue with a faint
yellow, small nail.  Their forehead is sloped with a round crown.  The stubby tall is
tilted upward.  A white collar encircles the lowest portion of their neck.

From a distance, when swimming in dappled waters, males often can be overlooked.
They ride high in the turbulence, and their hind third seems to ride lower.
   
In Chris Leahy's "The Birdwatcher's Companion to North American Birdlife", he states
that the male Harlequin Duck is "arguably the most strikingly patterned duck in
existence."
Good winter birding,
Sue

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