Thursday, December 12, 2013

Harlequin Duck a Delight.

Harlequin Duck at Bay Village, by Chuck Slusarczyk, Jr.
There is a seldom-seen-in-Ohio, rare duck which recently graced the jetty at Hunting Reservation's beach in Bay Village, Ohio.  Top notch Cleveland birder, photographer and all round good-guy, Chuck Slusarczyk, Jr. has been kind enough to loan this blog a few photos of this amazing visitor to the Greater Cleveland Area lakefront.  (Chuck's photos are the gorgeous close-ups, noted with his byline. The general snapshots found in this article are mine, and not to be blamed on him.)

The tower at Huntington Beach, Bay Village
 Harlequins are sea ducks.  They are born to rough waters and seek out pounding surf in their wintering grounds.  Occasionally the better birders will have "fly-bys" on their Cleveland Lakefront watches, but the bird that stays long enough to be seen well, now that is a rare duck. Recently, a Harlequin was seen at Huntington Beach in Bay Village.

View from the parking lot: birders have gathered on the beach to pay homage to our Harlequin.
The last time such a bird lingered in Cleveland was in 2008.  It is a sad story, as it ended in tragedy for the duck.  Although these unusual birds are protected in all of Eastern Canada and the US, they are not protected from hunting in our flyway. This loop-hole in hunting laws has probably been overlooked, as Harlequins are not commonly found in our area.

But first the gauntlet of icy stairs...
 Our recent bird was first  reported on the Ohio Birds list serve on Dec.5th.  Soon word got out that, again, hunters were taking an interest in this duck. The birders decided the safety of the duck was more important than reporting its location for birdwatchers. The Ohio-birds list-serve became silent on its whereabouts.

Harlequin Duck fears no crashing waves!  Bring on the sea-surf!
The Huntington Beach Harlequin Duck appeared on-and-off-again, for the next two days. The winds had gathered by my second trip to the beach, where we found the Harlequin gracefully bobbing in mighty Lake Erie's crashing waves. 
Inset: our little hero rides the waves.

Photographers and admirers lined the shore, a duck hunter would have to think twice.
It is nice to think this phalanx of birdwatchers may have created a "safe zone" for a duck of "conservation concern" from Canada's Northeast. It paddled about, fed and rested on the jetty.  We felt honored to witness this beautiful bird at close range.

If a hunter even thought about taking this "trophy," our numbers (and cameras) would have given great pause.

Male (juvenile) Harlequin Duck, photo by Chuck Slusarczyk,Jr.
 Harlequin Ducks have a fascinating life history.  They also breed in the Northwest and some parts of Montana, but are unprotected in these areas.  The Eastern Canada population is under close watch, as declines are attributed to habitat and water quality degradation.

Harlequin Duck, photo by Chuck Slusarczyk,Jr.
Three cheers for the Harlequin Duck!  We wish this one safety in its travels and appreciate the opportunity to learn more about ducks, hunting and conservation.  Perhaps it is past time to consider protecting these blue beauties in our Mississippi flyway.

Having spent a good bit of time researching hunting information on Harlequins, I can attest that the non-uniformity of the hunting laws on this species is confusing and disappointing.

It would be a tragic loss to have this duck species go the way of the Labrador Duck.

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