First there was one, then there were three
From September 30, 2011 until November 25, 2011 birders, bird photographers, locals and tourists were treated to a rarity on the Antelope Island State Park Causeway when on September 30th a female Harlequin Duck showed up at the first “No Swimming Bridge” then later when a male juvenile molting into adult plumage and another female appeared it was even better.
These Harlequin Ducks are rare in Utah and at the time the first female showed up it would be the 13th record as noted on the Utah Bird Records Committee’s website and likely only the 7th officially accepted and documented. The three Harlequin Ducks seen from September until late November were very well documented as it seemed that every day someone was viewing and photographing them. Many times when driving by that bridge there would be cars lined up 5 in a row and people were out admiring the rare visitors to Utah from a respectful distance.
The first time I saw the male I presumed; incorrectly, that it was another female Harlequin Duck but I soon realized that it was a young male. I was tickled just to see him period and even more so when we could all see that he was molting.
Harlequins are small, sturdy sea ducks that normally winter along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. They are not common inland during the winter.
While on the island if I saw people with binocs scanning their surroundings I would get out of the vehicle and ask them if they were birders, if they were I would tell them about our rare and beautiful visitors. I wanted to share our good fortune with others as many other people in this area did. People blogged about the rare birds and the Utah birders list servs were buzzing about the Harlequins. There were almost daily reports about the ducks.
I didn’t even give a thought to hunters reading the posts on birding blogs, forums and list servs. But those posts were being watched very carefully by some duck hunters.
I am not a hunter though long ago I did do some deer hunting (never killed one) I now only shoot with my camera, I am not against hunting when it is done in an ethical manner. I have in the past written about my disgust for game farm or canned hunts, in my opinion that type of activity should not be called “hunting” and from my research into canned hunts most hunters feel much the same way I do. My post about that is here.
As days became weeks the male Harlequin began to show some signs of blue on his back and face, the white bands on his back became more clearly defined and the rusty crown stripe began to appear. What a handsome duck he was, I enjoyed seeing the Harlequins as I drove to or from the island on the causeway and was delighted to see so many cars parked there at the bridge with out of state plates hoping to see our celebrity ducks.
During the time period that the Harlequins were near the causeway they stayed primarily near the first bridge, I do recall the male being reported once at the second bridge but it appeared that he went back to the first bridge to hang around the females.
The last date the Harlequins were reported to have been seen was November 25th and at that time I wondered if the birds had flown to the Pacific Ocean to spend the rest of the winter but have recently found out that the birds were shot and killed and that it was perfectly legal. Duck hunters can shoot along the Antelope Island causeway as long as they follow certain restrictions like not shooting from a vehicle or firing from or over the road.
The Harlequins were “sitting ducks”. And then there were none.
There is a thread on a hunting forum that can be read here about the Harlequin Ducks that is interesting as it seems that there were hunters who expressed hope that the rare Harlequin Ducks would not be shot. Others seemed to be chomping at the bit to shoot an “exotic” duck despite them being rarity.
To those hunters who recognized and respected the rarity of those beautiful and very uncommon birds, you have my respect and I am personally very grateful that you preferred to give these ducks a pass even though you knew that hunting them was legal.
To those hunters who argued about the legality versus the ethics of killing the Harlequin Ducks:
Prostitution is legal in our neighboring state of Nevada, perfectly legal. But does that make it right to drive to Nevada and cheat on your spouse? Why not ask your spouse or significant other if they think cheating is right? It is a no brainer but you may want to think about it.
Just because it is legal that doesn’t make it right.
PS, duck hunters are no longer allowed to hunt close to the causeway. A win for the birds!