Mrs. H. was going about her business but keeping close to the Mister after such a hard migration. The usual rigg-raff was in the neighborhood of course, but that was to be expected in NJ. What she had not expected, afer all off this time, was a blip in her martial bliss. And she most certainly did not expect it to come from Mister H’s roving eye.
When a beautiful alluring Oldsquaw started hanging around; she paid her no heed. She was gorgeous, it’s true, but Mrs. H. knew what Mister H did not. Ducks that completely changed their look in winter were not to be trusted. She had often wondered what they were hiding from. Why the disguise? She snorted to herself; with that ridiculous long tail, it wasn’t even much of a disguise. She watched the Oldsquaw out of the corner of her eye. A tiny voice murmured in her head. “Pale ducks have more fun.” The first tendril of jealousy wrapped around her heart.
Then to her horror, she noticed Mr. H, actually looking at the pale beauty too. She had thought that Mister H only had eyes for her. Her opinion of the entire Oldsquaw species changed in an instant. How dare that hussy try to intrude!
Mrs. H. flew into a rage. After all she had done for him: the long flight; the nest building; bringing up the ducklings by herself. How dare he look at another female. What to Mr. H. had only been an idle glance, had tightened the tendril of jealousy of his mate. Mr. H. had seen a side of her that he had not known existed. He hastily reassured the Mrs. that she alone reigned in his affections. She had the dark beauty that he preferred and he vowed to himself that even in the secret recesses of his heart he would never think of her as dowdy again. The Oldsquaw flew off once the fighting started. She had merely been separated from her clan after a particularly long dive.
Tranquility restored; the H’s paddled off resume fishing.
Barnegat Light is the mecca in NJ for wintering diving ducks. Now, winter birding is a chilly business at best, but if you have ever been to the Jersey shore in January; you know it can be downright cold. Of course you would not be birding tucked in close to the shrubbery around the lighthouse, oh no, you are going to be in the bracing, scope-shaking wind out at the jetty. Walking out yesterday, the wind was at our backs, pushing us along. I had dressed for the occasion with my long down coat and furry hat with the ear flaps, so I was comfortable. But the longer we stood there, the stronger the wind got; pulling at my hat and tearing at my coat tails. I had my coat partially unzipped so I could stuff my camera inside to try and keep the battery warm, which did nothing for keeping me warm.
Looking through a scope from the safety of the sand, we could see Surf Scoters as they bobbed in the rough surf; a Red-throated Loon popped up and down; Black Scoters huddled beyond the breakwater; Great Cormorants winged past; both Common and Red-breasted Mergansers skimmed above the waves and there were flock after flock of Long-tailed Ducks. Sanderlings ran before the waves, Ruddy Turnstones balanced on algae-covered rocks; Dunlins took salty baths in shallow pools; and mixed in with all this activity, were the odd Black-bellied Plovers in winter wear and the sought-after Purple Sandpipers resplendent in charcoal with its orange bill and feet.
This was all fine and good, but I wanted to get out on the jetty. Clambering up onto the rocks; I hopped from boulder to boulder, occasionally backtracking when the space between the stones got a little too big to jump easily; while my birding buddies walked on the hard-packed sand. From this vantage point, I could get closer and look down on the birds as they worked the rocks. I had come with a few target birds in mind, the Purple Sandpiper being one, but my main focus was Harlequin Ducks. I could see them up ahead, but the further I got out on the jetty the further they seemed to be. Until I looked down and there they were.
He almost looks fake doesn’t he? They are so worth the 2 1/2 hour drive, the cold, and the wind. I’d go again tomorrow. Wanna come?