I have been looking forward to helping the biologists of Glacier National Park with the Harlequin Duck survey since last year. It just never worked out for last year, but this year, I was able to head out into the field looking for these amazing ducks along McDonald Creek.
It was a beyond beautiful spring day as we gathered at the bridge that crosses over McDonald Creek where it feeds into Lake McDonald. Pine Siskins were singing like crazy and zipping around everywhere. We plotted out which teams were going to do which sections, radio protocol, meetup times, safety, etc. One group started out at the bridge while the rest of us piled into two trucks to head up to Avalanche where we were dropped off to do our section from where Avalanche Creek empties into McDonald Creek, all the way up to Logan Creek. (The last crew would work from Logan Creek up to Mineral Creek on McDonald Creek.)
The protocol is to make sure that there is always one set of eyes on the creek, so we go in pairs. One person watches the creek and reports anything they see such as number, GPS location, sex, behavior, etc. We also would record any other waterfowl or mammals seen as well. The other person works there way up ahead a bit, then the previous watcher leapfrogs past them to a new location while the new creek observer makes notes on what they’re seeing.
One needs to be mentally prepared for the bushwhack as following the creek doesn’t have a maintained trail. One minute you’ll be following a fairly nice game trail, then the next, you’re trying not to get stuck by hawthorne bush spikes while balancing on downfall. The ducks, the creek and the surrounding mountains more than make up for it.
Our team ended up seeing three males and no females. Our group total for the day was only ten ducks which means that they are still just showing up. They tend to peak mid-May, so more should be on the way!
If you want to see Harlequins, the best way is to hike along the McDonald Creek trail and paying attention to the water. Make sure you keep a good distance as it may affect their breeding habits and we want to have them around for many years. If you happen to see a band on one of the ducks, please report it by emailing Lisa Bate or shooting me a message on my Contact Page. Best case scenario would be to see the color of the bands and the letters on them, mark the time and your GPS location. Of course, all of that is very difficult, but even the presence of a band and the color is helpful.