Wednesday, 22 May 2013

43. Harlequin Duck (Histrionicus histrionicus)

Maybe I'll make Harlequins my honorary favourite duck. They are pretty special - the only part of Europe they occur in (except for the odd vagrant) is Iceland - they also breed in Greenland and parts of North America and Siberia.

Harlequin Duck, ©omarrun, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Harlequin Duck sketch.

This gives me an excuse to reminisce about one of my favourite recent birding experiences and show off more holiday snaps! I went to Iceland last year, it wasn't a birding holiday but we travelled to a few different areas so there were good opportunities to see a range of species. The time of year (September) meant that the adult male Harlequins were in eclipse, but it also meant we were able to experience the below encounter....

The first place we visited was Þingvellir National Park, the location of Iceland's ancient parliament and also the site of some pretty amazing geology, loads of rifts where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates are drifting apart and some lovely lava flows.

Þingvellir National Park.
Öxarárfoss - created by rifts opening as the tectonic plates move apart.

Lava flow.
We were walking over the bridge in this photo when suddenly there was a splash in the water below us.

Þingvellir National Park.
Right below us in the water were 3 juvenile Harlequin Ducks! They were unconcerned by our presence and seemed happy for us to watch them diving and foraging, then resurfacing like bobbing corks. The water was completely clear so they could clearly be seen underwater. They seemed quite keen to stick close together, doing everything in unison and making little cheeping contact calls when they resurfaced. Even my non-birding friends were excited and watched the Harlequins for a good 10-15 minutes! What a great start to the holiday!

3 juvenile Harlequins! O joy!

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