Lifer Harlequin Duck in Lifeless Irvine, CA
You’ve got to have a really good reason to go to Irvine, California. It’s a monument to vapidity, a man-made (master-planned!) anodyne nightmare. It’s also full of those rage-inducing, suburban intersections where red lights last for hours. But, truth be told, it’s got a lot of open and green space. And I somehow stumbled onto an eBird report of a female Harlequin Duck hanging out at a creek in Irvine. It’d been around for more than a week, and would be a lifer. (In fact, if you plug your nose and count exotics and escaped or released pets like Budgerigars, Island Canaries, and Helmeted Guineafowl, it would be worldwide bird species #900 for me). So I decided to try and find it.
I arrived at the spot, the San Diego Creek right next to the Irvine Civic Center, just after 9:30am. I missed the bird during my first sweep of the area. Back at my starting point, I met up with another birder who’d been walking around for an hour looking without success. We bantered for a few minutes. And then I spotted the Harlequin Duck, directly in front us, 30 feet away. It was actively feeding amongst the swift moving water around a bunch of rocks. As we watched, it disappeared behind a big boulder and didn’t come into view again for at least a minute. Had it been there all along, feeding or maybe napping, but obscured from view?
Male Harlequin Ducks are decidedly more colorful. Harlequin Ducks primarily breed along whitewater rivers, and winter in rough surf along rocky coasts. They apparently regularly suffer broken bones. No one would describe the San Diego Creek as a whitewater river, and this certainly was a rocky coastline. And these ducks aren’t regularly seen south of Morro Bay, California. So what is was doing in Irvine, and why it was staying around, was a pretty good mystery.
Beyond the Harlequin, the spot was surprisingly productive. There were American White Pelicans, White-faced Ibis, all kinds of ducks, and some Swinhoe’s White-eyes buzzing around. With the pandemic suppressing traffic all over, maybe I’ll peek more regularly at what’s being found in Orange County.