Thursday 23 June 2016

Harlequin Happenings....Was the 2015-2016 Winter the Best ever for Harlequin Ducks in SW Ontario?

A long title, I know, but this is a question that has been on my mind for months.

Now, I've only been birding since March 2015, but I do believe that this winter has been the best! I started paying close attention to Harlequin Ducks when an adult male was observed at Springbank Park (Middlesex) for a couple weeks in the February and early March of 2015. I didn't know about the bird until he was already gone, and ever since it was a bird that I really wanted to lay my eyes on. I finally did on March 20th, 2016. A young male spent a couple months at Springbank Park in London, Ontario. I believe that the last time it was observed was May 20th, exactly two months after I observed it. It was apparently around since the middle of February.

Springbank Park Harlequin (April 9, 2016)

I've spent some time on eBird, pouring over species maps and bar charts. Here are some of my results.

This one is where the species were observed from October 2015 to April 2016. Each purple rectangle means it was seen there, the darker the colour, the more it was reported.

Here is the results from October 2014 to April 2015. You will notice that the southern limit in Ontario seems to be around London (where the duck was observed Feb. 2015).

Now, here is the data from October 1990 to April 2014. You may notice that in 24 years, only a few locations weren't included in the 2015-2016 map. But also note that a few places that weren't included in this map were present in the 2015-2016 data. What this maps also shows is that the observations were made around large bodies of water (Great Lakes). The 2015-2016 map shows sightings inland.

Now, 2015 had one of the earliest fall sightings that I can find. The only one I saw in SW Ontario that was earlier was in Oxford County, September 25th, 1987. On October 10th 2015, the first Harlequins of the year for SW Ontario or possibly the whole province, were observed at Kettle Point (Lambton).

Another duck was spotted near Sarnia on the American side October 18.

The first of the long-staying Harlequins was spotted in Sombra (Lambton) on December 19, 2015. The last it was seen (on eBird) was January 2, 2016. I was told by a local that the female duck sadly died between the 2nd and the 10th.

Another long-staying duck was first spotted January 21, 2016 in Erieau (Chatham-Kent). It was a young male that was joined by a female and another male in time. The three ducks were seen regularly until at least April 29th. There were many observers, but sadly I wasn't one of them.

The ducks in Erieau were the only reliable ones until around March 17th, when one was spotted at Springbank Park. This one hung around until the end of May. This, however, was not the first time this bird was spotted on the Thames River. On February 15th and 21st, a group of three Harlequin Ducks was spotted. Three represents a new county record.

Harlequin on the Thames River (April 9, 2016)

Three birds were also spotted March 13 in Brantford. Their description matches that of the birds seen in London.

On April 24, a male Harlequin was spotted on the west side of Point Pelee National Park. These bird are very rare in the Pelee area, with a surprisingly low amount of records. The funny thing was I was at PPNP just the previous day, and saw no trace of the bird. Well, you get some and miss some.

Meanwhile, although not really included in SW Ontario, the Niagara Falls area was getting Harlequin Ducks galore. On April 23, they reached their peak of 7 individuals. According to eBird, the records high number of these ducks in Ontario is 8. These ducks were seen December 3, 2015.

 As of June 2nd, there were at least 2 ducks remaining, a male and a female.

This data was collected using eBird, and may not reflect all sightings and records in SW Ontario. If you have other data that may be useful, please comment about it below!

Immature Male (April 9, 2016)

From the data I've collected, the period of October 2015 to April 2016 seems to be the best ever for Harlequin Ducks in SW Ontario. Both in numbers and the amount of observers that viewed them reflects that statement.

I'm very happy to have had the chance this year to add Harlequin Duck to my life list, and I'm sure that many more Ontario birders feel the same way. Thank-you for reading this post!

This is the first ever image of a Harlequin that I got! (March 20, 2016)

Note: all the photos are my own, but I didn't go through blogger while downloading them.