Whether floating along rocky ocean shorelines or navigating the raging rapids of a mountain stream, Harlequin Ducks are totally at home in rough water. The fast-flowing, high elevation rivers and creeks flowing throughout the boreal forests of northern Idaho are the perfect haven for these colorful ducks, and I was really looking forward to turning one up while I’m working out here this summer. Finally the day came this past weekend – on the hike out to the Jerry Johnson Hot Springs with Mark Mizak and Cory DeStein, we spotted a female Harlequin sitting on a log stuck in the rapids along Warm Springs Creek! A few hours later, on the hike back out, the Harlequin was still there so I snuck down into the shallow edges of the creek and waded out to hide in some willows growing up out of the cold water.
After a few minutes, the duck stretched it’s wings and slipped down into the river. Despite how gnarly the water conditions looked out in the center of the creek, the duck effortlessly made it’s way over towards where I was hidden in the brush! Before I knew it, the duck was within 30 feet of me and actively foraging in the willows. She would occasionally dive under the water and dig through the pebbles for macro-invertebrates, but would more often just push against the willow branches with its feet and dig around the bases of the branches.
This is the first time I have seen a Harlequin Duck away from the ocean, during the winter season. I was so excited to finally get to see one in their mountainous breeding habitat, and I couldn’t believe how cooperative she was for photos! It’s so amazing to me how such a little duck could thrive in such rough conditions, and make it look easy!