Birding trip yields harlequin duck sighting

Posted Jan. 03, 2011, at 7:13 p.m.

I went birding with my brother Zip Kellogg and his girlfriend bb Adams in Damariscotta. It was my birthday and I told Zip that I wanted to get a present — seeing a king eider! King eiders are beautiful and rare; I have seen one only six times in Maine.

They are sea ducks, and have a black tail and wings, with only two white spots on their side and a blue head with a large orange swollen knob at the base of the orange bill.

I told Zip and bb that king eiders live in the surf. We went to Pemaquid Point and Ocean Point, near East Boothbay, looking for these birds. We did not see a king eider, but we found something better — we saw six harlequin ducks!

They are the most beautiful duck with their — No! I cannot describe their beauty with only words — look them up in your bird book or online. They are even more beautiful than wood ducks.

Harlequins are very small ducks; buffleheads are 13½ inches long, green winged teal 14 inches long and harlequin 16½ inches. These measures from books are from a dead body spread out from the bill to tail feathers — I would guess it would be 1 foot long at the water line.

On the West Coast of the United States, there are more harlequin ducks than here in Maine, and hunters have found them with broken bones, presumably from being dashed against rocks in the rough surf. (In Maine, it is not allowed to hunt for this duck.)

Harlequin ducks eat snails, clams, small oysters, crustaceans (small crabs, shrimps) aquatic insects and a few small fish by diving underwater. “Harlequin” means “looks like a clown.” There are 1,000 of this species in Maine in winter, and they are “state threatened” in Maine, but they love the open ocean surf around distant islands; you usually go on a boat to see them.

I got a great birthday gift — six harlequin ducks!

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Fields Pond Audubon Center will offer “Stories in Snow with Footprints” with leader Matt Dubel for an investigation of the stories told by tracks and other signs in the snow. We’ll begin indoors and venture out to practice our skills on the trail 10 a.m.-noon Saturday, Jan. 8. The event is suitable for the whole family. The cost is $8 member families, $10 others.

For information on Fields Pond Audubon Center, call 989-2591.

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