Harlequin Duck - Histrionicus histrionicus
I am pretty sure there are few things more sublime than the breeding plumage of a male Harlequin Duck. I remember looking at them in my first Peterson guide, and my 10 year old brain thinking that the day I could see something as beautiful as the Harlequin, it would be a pretty good day. That day was last Thursday, when volunteering at the Field Museum. Dave Willard strolled in to the lab to say that a Harlequin Duck had been spotted out in Monroe Harbor, on the north side of the museum. Like any good bird nerd, I scrambled for my coat and followed Dave and the other 2 volunteers outside. It's spring here, but the weather was still brisk. Our little group stood at the edge of the harbor, while Dave scanned the water with his binoculars. He quickly spotted it, and easily picked it out of a large group of American Coots bobbing about in the choppy waves. Its bold, white patterning was unmistakable, even from a healthy distance. At first it was squatting happily on a concrete break wall, constantly being splashed and sprayed with cold Lake Michigan water. They have a preference for cold, turbulent waters, and are very agile swimmers. This was quickly demonstrated by it getting in to the water and diving repeatedly. Harlequin sightings in Chicago, I believe, are quite infrequent. There are wintering populations on both coasts in the northern regions, and then breeding grounds as far north as Alaska, and Newfoundland. I'm not sure where exactly this fellow was headed, or from whence he came. Perhaps he flew off course as he was heading north from east coast wintering grounds. Hopefully, as I write this, he has continued on his way north and will find a wind swept, wave pummeled, rocky ledge in Newfoundland, and a mate that will appreciate his impressive plumage.
*watecolor available in the store.