Sunday, November 13, 2011

NHBPM Day 13 ~ How to be a duck, part 2

Yesterday’s prompt for NHBPM was to teach a class; to post a tutorial on something we do particularly well (and/or enjoy, as far as I can remember).
I posted a few pictures yesterday of Harlequin ducks (and a black bear that happened by during a survey).  I couldn’t finish the post because I just haven’t had as many spoons to work with this week as I’ve had most of the time over the past few months.  At the moment, I’m finishing on an airplane from Kalispell to Minneapolis.  Appropriate that I’m migrating east to west, as Harlequins do (as opposed to most north/south migrations).
I was intending to write about how to monitor Harlequins, but instead I think I’ll write about how to be one.  If I were a duck, I’d be a Harlequin.  Or any bird, for that matter.  Their habitat needs meet my outdoor aesthetic perfectly.
To be a Harlequin, you would spend your winters on the turbulent surf of rocky ocean shorelines (our Montana breeding population heads to Washington/Oregon coastlines).   When you felt it was time to return to breeding habitat, you’d fly following major rivers as you migrated in-land (they are very cool birds), then smaller and smaller tributaries headed toward the perfect stream (biologists know what some of the perfect traits are, but it’s hard to say why so many of the ‘perfect’ streams stay unoccupied).
You’d be looking for a relatively small mountain stream, as isolated as possible, without too steep a gradient.   You’d want water at least a foot or two deep, with pools and ripples for feeding.  You’d want exposed rocks and logs and sand or pebble bars for loafing in areas where you have a good view in both directions.
If you are a hen planning to rear a brood, you’ll want a nice, calm protective backwater and a protective structure for nesting (a stump near shore is perfect, as far as the few documented nests indicate—before this season I think there was only one documented nest, but I heard that at least two were found through a new study in my area this summer). 
If you are a hen that doesn’t breed, you may choose to stick around anyway and help another hen with her brood for the season, or you may choose to head back to the coast by early summer. 
If you are a male, you’ll be headed back to the coast by early summer.
Through the summer months, if you are a hen with a brood, you’ll teach your young to bob and dive for food.  When they are ready, you’ll take them from the backwater into the little mountain stream you’ve chosen (very likely where you were born, but not necessarily), then gradually into faster and wider streams.  If high water comes (flooding from high rains or run off from burned slopes near your stream) you may lose a few young (either drowning or being washed downstream, in which case they can join another brood if they find one downstream).
The rest I'll have to tell you tomorrow, so my typing doesn't keep my family up in this hotel room, so....
But in the mean time, here's some footage from Spotted Bear River in 2010

This post was written as part of NHBPM – 30 health posts in 30 days:
I am also participating in my Bread and Roses Blog

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