Friday, November 5, 2010

Harlequin Duck at Milford Point

Late this morning Dennis Varza found a female Harlequin Duck in Long Island Sound waters very close to Milford Point. You may remember Dennis from him finding the White-tailed Kite. Last week he also found a Western Grebe at Milford Point, which I had been waiting for photos of before making a post about. Dennis and the mouth of the Housatonic seem to be a nonstop source of rare birds in 2010, so our thanks and congratulations to him.

During the short time I spent with it, the female Harlequin fed constantly. It dove into the water and popped up to allow us short views repeatedly. It was very close to the end of the plover nesting bar. There were hundreds of shorebirds on the bars. Some gulls and cormorants were in the area, and Brant flew by, swam, and fed as well. I took a few poor photos, one of which you can see below, as I wanted to keep my distance and let it feed.

Harlequin Duck in the center of the photo

Closer view of the female Harlequin

I was happy to see the position it was in as it would be fantastic for many visitors to get great looks with scopes or binoculars. I also tried unsuccessfully to spot the duck from Stratford. I was hoping to be able to tick it off for the Stratford Point list as well as my own town list. The odd location the Harlequin was feeding in helped lead to its demise as mere hours after it was found it was attacked and killed by two Great Black-backed Gulls. Steve Spector was present for the attack and took a short video of it that you can see on his blog if you click here.

It is likely the duck was weak or sick to begin with. It was in an extremely vulnerable position and alone, easy prey for the opportunistic and aggressive species. One evening while the White-tailed Kite was on the beach eating a vole for dinner at Stratford Point I watched a Great Black-backed Gull circling it, looking to snatch the prey away from the raptor. The kite even looked a bit uneasy. While it was a truly sad ending to another beautiful rarity, but this is how nature works. It can often be quite brutal.

Photos © Scott Kruitbosch

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