When last we left our adventure in progress, John and I had each scored a lifer in the form of a sleepy Glaucous Gull at Jones Beach. But like the man said, if you rest on your laurels, you’re wearing them on the wrong end. We had new targets to target, new species to lay our eager eyes upon – notably the Harlequin Ducks that had been reliably appearing for weeks at Point Lookout for weeks.
Harlequin Ducks have long haunted my dreams. First it’s absurd for them to look that way, sort of as if Keith Haring was designing ducks for Ikea’s prestigious Zulu line. And then on top of that, they favor fast-running and/or rough water and lurk out of sight for most of the year, just waiting to pop up in the bleakest days of the year and get birders out on the windy shore where they can be freeze-dried and salt-cured by the unforgiving elements.
And if that doesn’t spell birder doom, well, you have to watch out for unforgiving jetties.
Still, even with all those hazards facing us, it was worth the risk. Buy howdy, was it ever! As Corey’s and Patrick’s stunning photos document, we got excellent close looks at no less than four very obliging Harlequin Ducks – one female, two immature males, and an adult male in all his purple glory.
This stop also turned up more Loons, quite a lot of Oystercatchers, a very close pair of Horned Grebes, and a lonely Sanderling (as well as a cast-up starfish and many lovely shells) but the Harlequins were far and away the highlight. Nothing could possibly top that, unless we pulled into some unprepossessing little town park with a blatantly artificial pond in a drab Long Island town like, say, Merrick, and found something entirely uncharacteristic for the habitat like, say, a Ross’s Goose.
Which… yeah. This Ross’s Goose was, I must say, a fine example of team effort in birding – Corey had heard about the bird previously and suggested going after it, Patrick drove us there, John spotted the bird lurking behind an island, and I very valiantly looked at it.
The lake also yielded some Black-crowned Night Herons, a lot of excellent ducks, and a Ring-billed Gull with either road rage or the first documented case of avian rabies.
Thus ended our adventure, except for the part where I almost fell asleep on the shuttle bus on the A line, and I think I’m not overstepping my journalistic bounds to say that a good time was had by all, and that as pleasant as solitary and contemplative birding often is, there’s a lot to be said for making it a party. Especially when you have companions as knowledgeable and genial as Corey, John, and Patrick.